Born in Japan in 1878, Mitsuyo Maeda was one of the first and most prodigious students at Tokyo’s Kodokan Institute, the first school in the world to teach judo techniques. As a teenager he practiced sumo but lacked the size to succeed in the sport.
At that stage of his life another discipline grabbed his attention; due to the interest generated by the stories about judo’s dominance in competitions between it and jujutsu, Maeda was further moved to make the change from sumo.
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Mitsuyo Maeda was described as an unusual fighter and his physique was not imposing.
His 1.64 m height and 64 kilograms did not prevent Jigoro Kano, creator of this fighting style, from seeing Maeda’s innate skills and therefore assigned him to Tsunejiro Tomita (4th dan), as his trainer. Tomita was also physically the smallest of the masters, and it was Master Kano’s intention to show that size in judo was not the most important thing.
In 1904 Mitsuyo Maeda’s journey began with him moving to the United States as an assistant and exhibition partner to his master instructor Tomita. Maeda, was at that time 26 years old and already a brilliant 4th degree dan and professor of the Kodokan. On those trips to the U.S., Maeda and Tomita were also accompanied by Satake Soshihiro, who intended to promote judo outside of Japan.
Between 1904 and 1915 they visited several countries, in the Americas and Europe, where in Spain Maeda was nicknamed Count Koma. They spent more time in the American continent however. Maeda also spent quite some time in Cuba.
In November 1914, he arrived in Brazil for the first time and in 1915 visited Belem de Para and Manaus, in the north. In 1917 he made his second trip to Brazil where he met Gastao Gracie, father of Carlos and Helio Gracie, who are recognized as the creators of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. That year Maeda settled in Brazil, becoming a teacher to the Gracie family, considered the fathers of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in martial arts and MMA.
Maeda not only taught Carlos Gracie the discipline, he also passed the philosophy of combat by dividing it into stages, such as hitting, flooring, fighting, among others.
Mitsuyo Maeda and Satake Soshihiro did a great job in giving rise to judo around the world, and specifically in Brazil, where they were the pioneers of judo in the Cariocas.
In 1921 Maeda founded his own academy in Belem, Brazil, becoming a naturalized citizen and adopting the name of Otávio Maeda.
“Count Koma” was an extraordinary fighter who was rarely defeated. His important role in the spread of judo around the world, led him to be recognized as a 7th dan after his death. His legacy as an Asian-Latino pioneering athlete is recognized and celebrated during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage.