As the UFC plans to visit Brazil again this weekend I thought it would be interesting to examine some of Brazil's rich history involving mixed martial arts. Kid Nate has already chronicled the feuds of Brazil and losses of luta livre, T.P. Grant has examined the rise of Vale Tudo and the luta livre-BJJ rivalries, while I myself have looked at Helio's matches in the 30s. Now we investigate how it all came to be...
On the first day of May, in the year 1909, a large crowd filed into the International Pavilion Paschoal Segreton in Rio de Janeiro to witness another demonstration given by the "Professor of Jiu-Jitsu" Sada Miyako. Miyako was one of two Japanese nationals recruited by the Brazilian Navy to instruct their sailors in the art of hand-to-hand defense, and, as so many of his countrymen had done before him in North America and Europe, had taken to giving jujutsu exhibitions before a paying audience. [EN1]
"For some days a terrible player has haunted the amusement hall audience with his indescribable agility, a jumping Machiavellian. Every night the Japanese champion challenges the audience to test themselves against him..."
"JIU-JITZU" A Pacotilha, June 14, 1909
And every night the outcome had been the same for any man that dared climb onto the stage to accept the challenge: a quick and embarrassing defeat. But the large crowd that filled the theater that night had not come to see the usual line of local strongmen trying their hand against the invincible "Jiu-Jitsu champion". Intermixed amongst the usual spectators were contingencies of Japanese nationals, Navy officers, government officials, journalists, members of high society, and students from the Faculdade de Medicina. With that last group sat Cyriac Francisco da Silva, a 38-year-old former street fighter from the Municipality of Campos dos Goytacazes who now worked carrying sacks of coffee from the docks to downtown Rio. He was better known as "Macaco" ("Old Monkey"), one of the best, if not the best, capoeirista of the era. He had been brought here by his pupils, the medical students, to challenge Miyako and defend Brazil's national honor from the foreign import. His presence was responsible for the night's considerable attendance, as both fight aficionados and the merely curious crowded in to the theater to witness this confrontation between two masters of jujutsu and capoeira.
The fact that the match was even taking place was itself a surprise to many, for at the time capoeira was illegal, outlawed by the republican Criminal Code of 1890. Insistent requests were sent out for the law to be relaxed by Cyriac's supporters, while the capoerista himself argued that he be given the chance to defend the nation's honor : "I am quit confident in my skills, if I have a shot, I will not disappoint". Eventually the Federal authorities, military officials and the owner of the International Pavilion, Segreto Pachoal, all conceded to permit the match take place,
As soon as the nightly challenge was made on Miyako's behalf, Cyriac climbed on to the stage to accept. He then proceeded to remove his jacket, vest, cuffs, collar, and boots revealing the gi he was required to wear for the bout before taking his place opposite Miyako. Cyriac later described the match in the pages of the magazine "O Mahlo":
"I went up there, saluted the Japanese and began my ginga. I sized him up, faked a slap and applied a leg sweep that had him off balance. But he stood. The crowd yelled: ‘Go for it Cyríaco!' I resumed my ginga leaning my body left and unleashed a rabo de arraia (stingray tail) that made him eat dust. I saluted the audience, gazed towards the man holding the clock, but the gringo refused to continue." [EN2]
And with his victory, Cyríac was hailed a hero, carried in triumph by the students along the newly built Concerto Avenida, as they sang "a Ásia curvou-se ante o Brasil" ("Asia bowed to Brazil"), a quadra that was repeated all through the streets of Rio de Janiero. [EN3]
For Jujutsu, the loss was a setback. In embarrassment the Navy removed Miyako and his countrymen as instructors. The interest and excitement the Japanese discipline had generated amongst the public now waned. Where the Fabril Athetic Club boasted in 1908 the large following jujutsu had at its club, by 1912 the sport had been eliminated. Jujutsu would need another attempt to plant its seed and see it take root in Brazil.