Takeo Yano, known as the “Eastern Demon”, was a prominent member of the second wave of Japanese Judoka to arrive in Brazil. Japanese professional challenge wrestlers, such as Geo Omori, Soshihiro Satake and Mitsuyo Maeda, were already firmly established members of Brazilian fight society when Yano arrived in 1934. As the first generation of Japanese fighters grew older, Yano was one of the fighters who took their place, continuing to teach, fight and develop the art throughout Brazil.
There is not much information known about Takeo Yano, but it is believed he may have been born in 1909 and trained at the Dai Nippon Butoko Kai academy in Kioto under famed Judoka, Hajime Isogai. The academy was established in 1895 by the emperor and served as a location to maintain and transmit various samurai fighting arts. Yano’s instructor was an early student of Jigoro Kano and became the second person to ever be promoted to Judo 10th dan. Additionally, Isogai was known as ground fighting expert (newaza) and was an early supporter of Kosen Judo (an offshoot of Judo that emphasized ground fighting). Yano trained at the academy until he received his 3rd dan and then began travelling internationally.
Upon arriving in Brazil, Yano immediately connected with the Japanese Judoka community (namely Geo Omori) and began teaching at the Club Naval (São Paulo) and the Flamengo sports Club (Rio de Janeiro). Through that community, Yano began developing a relationship with the leadership of the Brazilian Navy. At this time, there were two competing factions in Brazil fighting to control the soul of what would become Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The Brazilian Navy, headquartered in São Paulo, who supported Yano and other Japanese born fighters, was pitted against Brazilian President Getulio Vargas, based in Rio de Janeiro, who supported the Gracies. This led to several bouts throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s between the Gracies and Japanese fighters with both sides attempting to establish a mandate to lead Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil.
The rivalry materialized in the ring on Sep 28, 1935 when Yano fought George Gracie in a sport Jiu-Jitsu bout at the Estadio Brasil. In addition to the powerful social and political forces behind the fight, the match had the added drama of a soccer rivalry. Yano was fighting out of the Flamengo club while George had recently started teaching at arch-rival, Fluminense. The fight was scheduled for five 20 minute rounds. Yano dominated from the feet, yet time expired without a submission, so it was ruled a draw.
Yano’s second match with the Gracie family occurred in 1936 in a sport Jiu-Jitsu match with Helio Gracie. The match consisted of 3 rounds of 20 minutes and was once again held at the Estadio Brasil. Once again, Yano demonstrated superiority on takedowns but was unable to do much on the ground. The fight was also ruled a draw.
In his third match against the Gracies, Yano lost to George at the 52 minute mark due to a choke during a no-gi submission grappling match on Nov 30, 1936.
While his rivalry with Carlos and Helio would continue, Takeo Yano and George Gracie would become friends and two would travel Brazil competing against each other. The two performed in at least seven more matches together, with George winning their third fight by leglock and Yano winning their fourth and fifth matches by judges’ decision. Many of their remaining fights were draws and may have been works (matches with pre-determined outcomes).
In addition to his matches with the Gracies, Yano took on many of the top wrestlers and strongmen of his era, competing in Gi, No Gi and Vale Tudo matches.
A strange fight occurred on Jul 10, 1939 between Yano and German wrestler Fitz Weber in Belo Horizonte. The fight was officiated by Oswaldo Gracie and in the fifth round Weber applied a choke to Yano, while Yano applied a footlock to Weber. The German ultimately tapped to the footlock, but when Oswaldo went to declare Yano the winner, he observed that Yano had been rendered unconscious by the choke. Oswaldo declared both men had both lost and won and the match was ultimately ruled a draw. It was possible this match was also a work as Yano would also have a suspicious double unconsciousness bout with George on Mar 16, 1940.
Yano accomplishments and impact spanned decades. He was incredibly active as a fighter during the 1930’s and 1940’s and even had matches into the 1950’s. Yano also taught in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Northern Brazil. He was revered as an innovator by legendary fighters, with the likes of Ivan and Jose Gomes and Carlson Gracie Senior acknowledging Takeo Yano as introducing the heel hook to Brazil. The three, along with Euclides Pereira, also credited Takeo Yano for developing and spreading leglock techniques across multiple academies and lineages across Brazil.
Interestingly, it was Ivan Gomes, who was taught by students of Yano, that reintroduced leglocks to the Japanese. After Gomes had already become a prominent fighter in Brazil, he was hired by a Japanese promotion to compete in Pro-Wrestling matches in Japan and across the world. It was there while training and performing with the Japanese wrestlers that he taught them the techniques of Yano. The leglocks, which has been a part of early Kodokan Judo, had been prohibited by the Kodokan and the knowledge lost to much of the Japanese community. Yano’s venture into Brazil, not only helped develop Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it also served to preserve a fundamental element of submission grappling
He spent the later years of his life in Belo Horizonte and passed away in 1988. However, his lineage lives on, through the Sá family. Yano taught Francisco Sá for six years, who in turn established his own academy and taught his sons. The Sá’s continue to have their own global affiliation under the name, SAS Team, and maintain one of the only surviving, non-Maeda lineages of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
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Takeo Yano in a pre-fight publicity photo.
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