Luiz França Filho is a name that comes up often when discussing non-Gracie BJJ lineages. The reason for this is due to the significant success of Oswaldo Fadda (1920 – 2005) and his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy. Rival academies to the Gracies were nothing new, even during the Foundational Era (1904 - 1942), but most were led by former Gracie students. Fadda’s students, who competed against and beat Gracie disciples and would later go on to help establish the Nova União and GFT teams have been touted as having no discernable connection to the Gracies. So, who taught Oswaldo Fadda?
Fadda’s answer? Luiz França.
So, who was Luiz França and who taught him Jiu-Jitsu? This is where the story gets complicated. What I have attempted to do on this site is to utilize primary sources directly in order to get the most accurate depiction of the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. These records include newspaper articles, court filings, police reports and real estate records. When it comes to Luiz França, I and other researchers have failed to find many direct references to him. Most information is conveyed through oral tradition via Fadda students and is many degrees removed from the primary sources of França’s era.
Does that mean that mean the Fadda lineage biography of Luiz França is correct, fabricated or somewhere in the middle? As we have seen with the “Gracie Version” of BJJ history; what we are told happened and what did happen can often be two different things. Especially when it comes to who taught who.
What I will detail below are some of the common biographical details attributed to Luiz França, some alternative theories and my opinions. As more information is unearthed, I will edit this page to provide the most accurate picture possible.
Most summaries of Luiz França’s training history will highlight four major elements:
· França started training in Manaus at Soshihiro Satake’s academy at the Rio Negro Athletic club. Satake was a friend and training partner of Mitsuyo Maeda and Satake’s academy was the first Judo/Jiu-Jitsu academy in Brazil that was run by a legitimate Japanese teacher. The club is still in existence today and you can read more about Satake and his academy here. Supposedly, França trained at Rio Negro for around a year. The exact date is unknown. Satake opened the school in 1916 and my best guess is França may have been there sometime between 1916 and 1921.
· After training with Satake, França re-located to Belem and began training under Mitsuyo Maeda. After an unknown period of time, França would move to São Paulo. There are no specific dates mentioned regarding his time with Maeda, but in order to fit the narrative, I would assume it would either be between 1917 and 1921 or between 1922 and 1934.
· In São Paulo, França would supposedly train for an unknown duration under Geo Omori. For those unaware, Geo Omori was one of the greatest contributors to the development of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. While the Gracies helped promote the legend of Maeda, Omori fought, taught and spread the art within Brazil just as much as Maeda or more so. He is not a well-known figure as the Gracies viewed him as a rival and someone who would diminish their claim to solely owning Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil. You can read more about Geo Omori here. I would guess França may have trained at Omori’s sometime between 1931 and 1935.
· At some point, França moved to Rio de Janeiro and began teaching Jiu-Jitsu to the Brazilian marines. In 1937, he would meet and begin instructing seventeen-year-old marine, Oswaldo Fadda. Sometime before 1942, França would promote Oswaldo to Black Belt and the Fadda story would continue from there.
It is a great story. If it were true, one could argue that Luiz França would be the most completely trained Brazilian of all time. He would have spent time training directly with three of the most influential Japanese forefathers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Something no other person has claimed.
Could it be true? Yes. Is it likely to be true? Unfortunately, probably not.
In writing this article I really thought I would be documenting the life of possibly the best trained Brazilian of the Foundational Era. Someone who traveled from Japanese master to Japanese master, absorbing the three legends’ fighting philosophies, personal styles and technical variations. Someone who then, took those teachings, developed their own personal style and then started a powerful Jiu-Jitsu lineage.
However, in researching references to Luiz França, I kept running into a problem. No one, during the 1910’s, 1920’s or even into the mid-1930’s mentioned him. It was strange.
Now I am not saying the absence of references to França makes him illegitimate. We do not know every student of Satake, Maeda nor Omori. Over their decades of instruction in Brazil, I am sure they taught hundreds of people. We only know the names of a sliver of them. It is entirely possible that Luiz França was at those three academies and just happened to slip under the radar.
However, it would be unfair for me to state with certainty that the legend of Luiz França is as factual as the other biographies and incidents I document on this site.
The absence of França from the dialog in those decades is a red flag. As I mentioned, not every student was cataloged, but we see most professionals in the early BJJ world had numerous mentions in the public record. Amateur fighter profiles, in-house tournaments results, who cornered a particular fight or who someone trained with prior to a competition were all commonly mentioned in newspapers. Academy openings and demonstrations were often topics for articles. When instructors were hired to teach at police academies or military bases, there were often press releases.
There was also an extremely vicious back and forth in the Brazilian press starting in the 1930’s as to which Brazilians were legitimate Jiu-Jitsu people and who were frauds. Not only were the Gracie brothers attacking and being attacked for their credentials and abilities, Geo Omori, Takeo Yano, the Ono brothers, Donato Pires and a dozen other Brazilian academy owners/trainers frequently entered into the debate. They would criticize each other or endorse each other and call each other’s claims into question.
Even if people wanted to stay out of the argument, they often could not avoid it. If Carlos and Helio felt someone was a threat to their business, whether they were legitimate or not, or even part of the argument or not, Carlos and Helio would often take the opportunity to bash them.
It was a messy situation that lasted decades but tells us much information. By seeing which claims were challenged by their peers and which were not, it is has given us a roadmap of who likely had what background and qualifications. If someone made a claim and their competitors did not challenge it, it was probably true. While formal records may no longer exist or may never ever have existed detailing certifications or rank, these arguments documented in the press serve as a type of “echo” of the underlying facts.
If França had truly trained with three of the most high-profile masters of the Foundational Era, wouldn’t someone have mentioned that during a debate as to who was really trained by legitimate Japanese instructors? If there was an argument as to who trained where or when, wouldn’t França be asked to weigh in? When various Brazilian instructors performed Jiu-Jitsu demonstrations or competed, other Jiu-Jitsu instructors often offered critiques and insight as to the performer’s knowledge and experience with Jiu-Jitsu. Where was França?
It is possible he did not want to get involved in the politics and drama. Possibly, he considered his background and qualifications beyond doubt. Maybe that is why he did not talk to the press. But it still does not answer why other people did not mention him.
Jacyntho Ferro does not appear to have kept a high profile or waded into these kind of public arguments himself. But people definitely mentioned him when they wanted to reference a qualified person or example of someone who trained directly with a legend and knew what he was doing.
To date, I have only found one early, direct reference to Luiz França. To be clear, it is someone named, Luiz França. I cannot be sure it is ‘our’ Luiz França. But someone with that name signed up for an amateur boxing tournament in Rio in 1928. That is all I could find.
So where does that leave us?
Robert Drysdale, a BJJ Champion and historian, has claimed that there is no evidence available supporting França learned from any Japanese master. The artifacts available suggests an apprenticeship under the Gracie Academy.
To support this argument, Drysdale points to two newspaper quotations:
· A Nov 1938 article listing a Luta Livre (No-Gi Submission Grappling) match between “Gaúcho (C.R.F.) and Luis França (A. Gracie)”. Brazilian newspapers, at this time, would list the fighter name and the academy they fought for in parenthesis. “A. Gracie” stands for Academia Gracie. The Rio de Janeiro school run by Carlos and Helio.
· A Nov 1956 article that referenced a fight that Talvanes Falão was having. It noted that Falão was a student of Luiz França and that França had previously been a student of the Gracies.
While this is far from a tremendous amount of evidence, it definitely supports Drysdale’s position. The only reason I do not say that França was definitively a Gracie student is that with only two references and those references being eighteen years apart, there is room for error. We have seen Brazilian newspapers of the era, get fighters names wrong, as well as get their histories, backgrounds, fight records and styles. If these two articles referred to ‘our’ Luiz França, are we sure they listed his academy correctly? In 1956, how did the journalist know that França trained under the Gracies decades earlier? Was it a rumor? Was it a guess? Was it a mistake?
I want to present facts in these articles, but the story of Luiz França raises more questions than it answers.
Is it possible all of these elements are true? That he trained directly with the Japanese masters and then became a Gracie student and then went out on his own? While it is possible why would he do that?
If the story is true, why did he change instructors so many times? Why did he move around so frequently? It appears França was in the military at one time. Maybe he was moved to various duty stations?
Is it possible that França embellished his credentials to promote himself and his academy? Possibly. But we don’t have any evidence of França publicly claiming a Maeda, Omori or Satake lineage.
Would Oswaldo Fadda not have known his instructor was a former Gracie student? If Drysdale is correct and França was a Gracie student in 1938, I think Oswaldo Fadda would have definitely known that, as Fadda stated he trained under França starting in 1937.
We already know the Gracies modified their own history, eliminating intermediaries and streamlining events to establish a direct link and implied mandate from Maeda. Did Oswaldo Fadda, as one of the Gracie Academy’s chief rivals, feel pressure to do the same with his own lineage in the 1960’s? Did he ask himself what is better than a direct connection with one Jiu-Jitsu legend? Was his answer a direct connection with three Jiu-Jitsu legends? Did he feel that removing the Gracie student part of França’s biography and emphasizing França’s existent or fabricated non-Gracie lineage was a way to stand out from the Gracie Academy and other affiliated schools? We just don’t know.
If that were the case, why didn’t Carlos and Helio criticize Fadda’s claim to a non-Gracie lineage? Is it because the Gracies knew their own direct claim to Maeda was also embellished?
This is not a criticism of França or Fadda’s Jiu-Jitsu or the accomplishments of their students. There are just so many questions.
As additional information is discovered regarding Luz França, I will continue to update this profile. It is a shame that we do not know more about him.
A photo believed to be Luiz França in 1951. The teacher of Oswaldo Fadda.
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