Soshihiro Satake, sometimes referred to as Nobushiro Satake, was born in Japan in the late 19th century (possibly 1880). At a height of 5’9” and 180 pounds, he first trained in Sumo and appears to have been quite successful at the amateur level. At some point later, probably in the late 1890’s, he joined the Kodokan and would become peers of Mitsuyo Maeda.
The two judoka trained together under Sakujiro Yokoyama, who was known as one of the Four Guardians of the Kodokan. Yokoyama, along with Yoshitsugu Yamashita, Tsunejiro Tomita and Shiro Saigo were first generation students of Judo’s founder, Jigoro Kano, and were responsible popularizing the art. Interestingly, Yokoyama, after joining the Kodokan in 1886 when he was 22 years old, was known for fighting challenge matches against Japanese Jiu-Jitsuka in the 1880’s and 1890’s to prove the superiority of Kano’s Judo. Perhaps Satake and Maeda developed their interest in challenge fighting from their instructor, Yokoyama.
In 1903, Kano began spreading Judo throughout the world. First, another one of the Four Guardians, Yamashita traveled to the US. He was quite successful in promoting the art, having President Theodore Roosevelt as a personal student and taking a formal position teaching Judo at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. With the success of Yamashita’s work, Kano sent Tomita, Satake and Maeda to New York in 1904.
Over the next ten years, the Four Guardians as well as Satake, Maeda, Tokugoro Ito and Akitaro Ono (who would later be known as the Four Kings) traveled the world teaching, performing demonstrations and fighting challenge matches. Satake and Maeda would remain a team, often joined temporarily by various combinations of the others. Members of the squad would appear in 1907 in England, 1909 in Mexico, 1911 in Cuba and then take a Central and South American route in 1913 (performing in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru). Once in South America, the team would also be joined at various times by Laku, Shimitsu, Matsura, Akiyama and Okura.
Satake arrived in São Paulo on September 23, 1914 along with Mitsuyo Maeda, Okura, Matsura and Akiyama. They began performing demonstrations two days later at Paschoal Segreto’s variety show and remained in São Paulo for three weeks. At this time, challenge matches were not the norm and the Japanese fighters would mainly perform exhibition grappling matches with each other that would often end in ties. These were likely not true, competitive matches, but more likely, what we would consider “friendly rolls” with an agreement to end the match in a draw. The goal was to show the public Judo/Jiu-Jitsu, not to demonstrate who was the better fighter. As Satake and Maeda would find out, Brazilians were less interested in watching demonstrations and exhibitions. The crowds wanted to see fights.
By March of 1915, Maeda, Satake and the other Japanese fighters had arrived in Rio de Janeiro. Maeda would be billed as the World Jiu-Jitsu champion and Satake would be listed as the Jiu-Jitsu champion of New York. The troupe would do promotion for their shows over the next several weeks before beginning performing in May. Maeda would often offer money to amateur challengers who would be paid 500 francs if they could survive 15 minutes or 5,000 francs if someone could beat him. During this time Satake would continue to perform on the undercard, facing of in grappling exhibitions against the other Japanese performers.
On May 5th, 1915, Satake had an actual challenge match. It may have been his first since arriving in Brazil. He faced a wrestler named Matuchevich in a submission grappling match. Matuchevich weighed 198 pounds while Satake weighed only 180 pounds. The size difference did not impact Satake as he defeated the larger wrestler via choke.
Of interesting note, Satake was often described in the newspapers as having won matches (both against local challengers and the other Japanese fighters) by leglock. It is something to keep in mind as we often view Judo and early Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as completely void of leglocking. As we see with Satake and later with Takeo Yano, leglocks were very much a part of both arts from the earliest stages.
Over the next few months, Maeda’s troupe would crisscross Brazil performing demonstrations and taking on local challengers in Belo Horizonte, Salvador Bahia and Recife. In October of 1915, the team would arrive in Belém, stay briefly, then head to Manaus to perform and then return once again to Belém. By January of 1916, Maeda and Satake would split up for the first time since they left Japan twelve years prior.
Maeda, along with Okura and Shimitsu would travel to England, Portugal, Spain and France. Satake would remain in Brazil, returning to Manaus and establish a home base there. He performed demonstrations, fought challenges, officiated matches and in early 1916 established a Judo/Jiu-Jitsu school within the Rio Negro Athletic Club. It is believed the Satake’s academy within the club was Brazil’s first Judo/Jiu-Jitsu academy. Technically, Mario Aleixo opened his school in 1913 (three years before Satake), but as Aleixo had only learned from books, and was not a legitimate, Kodokan black belt, he is often dismissed.
Maeda would return to Brazil in 1917, establish a home base in Belém and begin an academy.
It appears that Satake would stay in Manaus for five years, until September 1921, where he would reunite with Maeda and the troupe in New York. In 1922, Satake traveled to Europe but we do not know much more after that.
While I cannot confirm it, I believe it is likely Satake returned to Manaus sometime after his European trip. Eighth degree, Brazilian Judo Red and White belt, Vinicius Ruas Ferreira da Silva claims he began his training in 1938 at the Rio Negro academy under Satake when he was fourteen years old. I have not been able to corroborate this, however. It appears that Ruas is still alive and I have reached out attempting to connect with him. If I get a response, I will update the article.
Some Judo archives put Satake’s death in 1942. Once again information is scarce, but this is not an unreasonable claim. If Ruas’ recollection is correct, we know that Satake was confirmed alive just before that date. He would have died at 42 years old. At some point during his time in Brazil, Satake became a naturalized citizen and legally changed his first name to Antonio to better fit in with his adopted country.
The Rio Negro Athletic Club and Satake’s grappling program exist to this day. It is likely the only continuously operating Judo/Jiu-Jitsu program in Brazil from the Maeda era. The Judo team now competes in local, regional and national competitions and the Jiu-Jitsu program eventually spawned the Rio Negro Fight MMA promotion.
In addition to the Rio Negro academy, Satake impacted multiple lineages that also remain to this day. As mentioned above, Satake’s Judo student, Vinicius Rua taught his nephew, Marco Ruas, who would one day win the Ultimate Fighting Championship VII and establish a Luta Livre team.
In addition to sprouting a Luta Livre lineage, Satake also was the first teacher of the famed Luiz França. França would begin his Judo/Jiu-Jitsu training under Satake at the Rio Negro academy in 1916 before transferring over to Maeda’s academy in Belem in 1917. He would later relocate to São Paulo to continue his training under Geo Omori before ultimately settling in the Rio suburbs and opening an academy. There, França would go on to train Oswaldo Fadda, who would spawn the Fadda lineage which would create academies, such as Nova União (co-founded) and GFT.
Unfortunately, despite his great contributions, Satake is almost never mentioned in the standard version of our history. As we have seen with Geo Omori, Takeo Yano and the Ono brothers, other Japanese masters were erased from BJJ’s history as they diminished Carlos’ “sole” mandate from the “sole” Japanese master in Brazil.
It is a real shame too. Satake appears to have been one of Maeda’s oldest friends and training partners, was considered an excellent grappler and teacher and had a significant impact on what would become Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. While he is unknown to many his legacy lives on.
The Four Kings of Judo (from l to r): Ono, Satake, Ito and Maeda
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