The oft repeated history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu goes as follows:
As we have seen with the previous articles in this collection, Jiu-Jitsu was first introduced to Brazil as early as 1905 via Irving Hancock’s and other writers’ books. A Japanese Jiu-Jitsu instructor (Sada Miyako) arrived in Brazil six years prior to Maeda and taught and fought Brazilians. Due to these facts, not surprisingly, a Brazilian before the Gracies, began teaching Brazilians using this early Jiu-Jitsu. His name was Mario Aleixo.
There is not a tremendous amount of detail available regarding Aleixo and some interviews and articles of the day contradict each other. It is also possible there were other Brazilians, who were contemporaries or predecessors of Aleixo, that taught using Jiu-Jitsu, but there has been no documentation discovered to substantiate that.
What is known of Mario Aleixo:
He had a background in fencing. It appears that his experience in that combat sport led him to learn martial arts covering other ranges of combat. Aleixo was eventually acknowledged to also be a master of Jiu-Jitsu, boxing and capoeira. He combined these styles into a complete system, something Bruce Lee would do 50 years later (Jeet Kune Do) and Mixed Martial Arts fighters would start doing in the 1990’s. Aleixo would call his system the Escola de Defesa Pessoal (School of Self-Defense).
He began teaching and Jiu-Jitsu at the Centro do Sportivo do Engenho Velho in the northern suburbs of Rio de Janeiro in 1913. This is most likely the first instance of a Brazilian teaching Jiu-Jitsu professionally in Brazil. As to where Aleixo learned Jiu-Jitsu; it was most likely via the Hancock and other Jiu-Jitsu books written by foreigners and translated to Portuguese that were available in Rio bookshops. It is possible that Aleixo had some interaction with Sada Miyako during his brief stay in Rio, but this cannot be verified. During different interviews, later in his life, Aleixo claimed to have learned from or at other times fought Miyako. However, the dates of these events claimed by Aleixo (1904) do not appear to coincide with Miyako’s time in Rio (1908-1909). It is likely that Aleixo was embellishing his credentials, by saying he alternatingly learned from or fought the first Japanese Jiu-Jitsu man to come to Brazil. That would be more powerful marketing for his academy than saying he simply learned from some books written by Americans.
On September 8, 1914, Aleixo relocated to the Club de Regatas Boqueirão do Passeio to teach Fencing and Jiu-Jitsu. In 1920, Aleixo had another school that taught Capoeira and Jiu-Jitsu in Rio. Aleixo’s academies continued to be Rio’s source for learning Jiu-Jitsu through the 1920’s. While Aleixo and his students gave multiple public demonstrations of their Jiu-Jitsu skills, it appears that Aleixo did not participate in professional Jiu-Jitsu, grappling or vale tudo fights for most of his career. In the late 1920’s, Aleixo did develop a very public rivalry with the Gracie brothers regarding whose style of fighting was more effective or more legitimate. Many offers for fights were thrown back and forth, with Aleixo finally fighting George Gracie on December 3, 1931 at the Theatro Republica in Rio.
This was not a good match up for Aleixo. He was older than George and fighting the Gracie’s most experienced fighter. The fight was full vale tudo rules, with only eye gouges and groin attacks illegal. George would wear a kimono and Mario would wear a sailor’s uniform. The fight would take place in a boxing ring and was scheduled for 5 five-minute rounds with one minute rest between rounds. Mario was unable to utilize his Capoeira or Boxing and the majority of the fight took place on the ground. George was able to utilize his experience and more refined Jiu-Jitsu to defeat Mario by armlock in the second round.
After the loss, the public and the press turned on Aleixo. He was criticized for his performance, his fight strategy and his fighting ability. It was a fight that helped solidify the dominance of the Gracie style of Jiu-Jitsu and Mario Aleixo, Brazil’s first Jiu-Jitsu instructor, faded into obscurity.
Mario Aleixo in 1918.
Mario Aleixo, the first Brazilian to teach Jiu-Jitsu professionally (1927).
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