Note: Shortly after Chadi posted our Sada Miyako video based upon this article, a commenter, Ricardo Kersher, noted that Sada Miyako’s birthname was actually Saku Miura. This has led to me finding additional information regarding Miyako/Miura’s life which I have added below. Thanks again to Ricardo for the tip.
Six years prior to Mitsuyo Maeda’s arrival, Brazil received its first, professional Jiu-Jitsu fighter and instructor. Saku Miura was born in 1881 in Ehime Prefecture and was a 27 year-old, part time junior high school teacher in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture when he departed Japan. Miura, who would fight under the ring name, Sada Miyako, arrived in Rio de Janeiro on the 16th of December 1908. Miyako, as well as his assistant, a young man named Kakiara, traveled to Brazil aboard the Brazilian Navy ship, Benjamin Constant. [Note: Most historians refer to Kakiara as Mme. Kakiara, implying Kakiara was female (Mme = Madam). I believe this to be a mistranslation as the ship’s log shows just “M. Kakiara”. I believe that if there was a female Jiu-Jitsu fighter performing in Brazil in 1908, it would have been quite a newsworthy story. However, there are no references to Kakiara being female that I could find. Jigoro Kano did begin teaching women in 1893 (Sueko Ashiya), so it is possible Kakiara was female, but I find it much more likely he was a young man or teen. See accompanying picture and log reference.]
Two competing narratives describe how Miura/Miyako and Kakiara came into contact with the Brazilian ship:
1. The two men were part of a crew of 20 Japanese fisherman who shipwrecked on Wake Island (approximately 2,000 miles southeast of Japan). The Benjamin Constant crew discovered the shipwrecked men and rescued them. While the Constant’s crew returned the other men to Japan, Miura and Kakiara identified themselves as Jiu-Jitsu instructors and decided to travel with the Brazilian sailors on their journey back to Rio.
2. After the Russo-Japanese War, the Brazilian Navy sent the Benjamin Constant to Japan to learn Japanese culture and fighting arts. The ship’s captain, Antônio Coutinho Gomes Pereira, under the direction of the Minister of the Navy, Admiral Alexandrino de Alenca was ordered to have the Constant’s officers trained in Jiu-Jitsu. During these training sessions, Pereira came into contact with Miura and Kakiara who then travelled back to Brazil on the Constant.
It is unclear which story is correct or if the truth is a combination of both accounts. Regardless, the two departed the ship when it docked in port in Rio and began performing Jiu-Jitsu shows to crowds by April of 1909. Exactly how skilled, experienced and qualified the two were in Jiu-Jitsu or Judo is unknown.
They performed at the theater, Pavilahão Internacional; appearing twice a day. As would become common for Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Judo men over the next few decades, the two made ends meet by performing exhibitions, fighting challenge matches and formally teaching military and law enforcement personnel. As mentioned in previous articles, Western governments were eager for their soldiers, sailors, marines and police to learning the fighting arts of the Japanese as a result of Japan’s surprise victory during the Russo-Japanese War. The men would perform matinee and evening shows for paying audiences alongside other typical carnival, circus and fighting acts. Their shows would be a combination of rehearsed demonstrations coupled with occasional challenge matches with money prizes if someone could defeat Miyako.
Miyako’s challenge matches appear to have occurred under a variety of rule sets. Some challenges required contestants to avoid getting taken down for three minutes in order to win prize money. Other matches appear to have taken a more submission grappling focus, but with specific prohibitions for finger grabbing, eye gouging, groin attacks and spine bending (I am not sure as to what exactly spine bending is. Perhaps a reference to neck cranks?). The matches continued for several weeks and appear to have drawn much local interest. The results of specific challenges were not reported, so it is difficult to gauge his skill and success.
On May 1, 1909, a fight occurred that is perhaps the first professional Vale Tudo (“anything goes”) fight in Brazilian history. It began with Miyako challenging Cyriaco Francisco da Silva, a Capoeira fighter from the Campinas region of São Paulo. It is unclear if Miyako intended for this fight to include striking, but that is how the fight occurred. The match took place on the stage at the Pavilahão with Miyako being immediately knocked down with a Capoeira kick known as the Stingray’s Tail (Rabo de Arraia). Miyako got up and was immediately hit with the kick a second time and knocked out. The loss was a humiliation for Miyako and while he continued performing for another couple of weeks, his reputation never recovered. By June, Miyako had entirely stopped performing shows. This was the end of his professional fighting career and an unfortunate stumble in Brazil’s introduction to Japanese fighters and their fighting arts.
Miura did continue to teach around Rio de Janeiro. He was under contract with the Brazilian Navy from 1909 to 1912 and taught Jiu-Jitsu to seaman, soldiers and marines first at the naval school on Villegagnon Island in Guanabara Bay and then later as part of an army physical training program. He continued to teach privately as well, giving private lessons from his home at Rua Gonçalves Dias 73 Centro in Rio.
Sometime after 1912, he relocated to São Paulo and resumed using his birth name of Saku Miura. In 1919, Miura purchased a local newspaper, the “Nippaku Shimbun Sha” (Japanese Newspaper Company of Brazil) and became its president. He used the newspaper to promote a strongly anti-authoritarian message that put Miura at odds with the local Japanese population and the Brazilian government. In May of 1939, the Brazilian authorities banned the newspaper and in July deported Miura from Brazil. He first travelled to Europe and then returned to Japan. While in Japan he continued to run afoul of authorities who imprisoned him in May of 1945. He would be released in October of that year due to illness and die a short time later. He would have been around 64 years old at the time of his death.
While Miyako’s fighting success and impact would not be as great as Maeda, Satake, Omori, Yano or the Ono brothers, he was the first. The first to come to Brazil. The first to teach Jiu-Jitsu and the first to fight Vale Tudo.
Sada Miyako demonstrating a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu headlock to the Brazilian sailors on the deck of the Benjamin Constant as it steams toward Rio de Janeiro in 1908. Kakiara is likely on bottom.
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