Oswaldo Fadda; ‘The other’ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Oswaldo Fadda (January 15, 1921 – April 1, 2005) was one of the greatest figures in modern Jiu Jitsu history. Not comming from a Gracie lineage, Fadda reached the “nono grau” (9th dan) – red belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the greatest honour a non-Gracie can ever achieve – the 10th degree red belt is permanently reserved to the “pioneers” of BJJ: Carlos, Gastão, Jorge,  Hélio and Osvaldo Gracie –  the family that claims inventing new techniques in Jiu-Jitsu – the ones who first ‘capitalised’ on the art of Jiu-Jitsu.

Oswaldo Fadda was also the first instructor to take and teach Jiu-Jitsu to the poor comunities of Rio de Janeiro, where Jiu-Jitsu was regarded as an upper-class sport with only the rich practicing the sport.

Full Name: Oswaldo Baptista Fadda.

Lineage: Kano Jigoro → Tomita Tsunejiro → Mitsuyo Maeda → Luis França → Oswaldo Fadda.

Favourite Technique: His school was famous for using footlocks.

Association/Team: Academia Fadda.

Fadda’s lineage still survives through his links with today’s teams such as Nova União, Grappling Fight Team and other.

Early Life

Fadda was born in Bento Ribeiro, a suburb in the north of Rio de Janeiro. At the age of seventeen, while in the Brazilian Marines, he began to study Jiu-Jitsu under Luis França, a black belt (earned at the same time Carlos Gracie was taught Jiu Jitsu) under Mitsuyo Maeda. Maeda was an expert Judoka, with direct lineage to the founder of Judo, Kano Jigoro, who had travelled around the world as a prize-fighter, while also teaching the locals self-defence techniques. After settling in Belém  in 1917, Maeda had continued to teach Jiu Jitsu to a select group of students (including França and Carlos Gracie).

By 1942, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was becoming well-known in Brazil, although the prices of tuition were too high for most residents of Rio. Also in 1942, Fadda receiveds his own black belt from França and soon started teaching Jiu-Jitsu, free of charge, in unorthodox locations such as public parks and beaches, often without the aid of crash mats, aiming to spread the art of jiu-jitsu to the poorer folks, in  outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

Always trying to promote the JJ way of life through discipline and honour, he would often do demonstrations in public squares, beaches, favelas (slums), ouside churches and even circuses and church patios. Fadda also saw Jiu-Jitsu as a way to help people with physical or mental disabilities, especially the city’s numerous polio victims. With no real income from his teaching he was forced to advertise within the obituary section of the local newspaper.

Fadda managed to finally open his very own academy,  fully dedicated to Jiu-Jitsu, on the outskirts of Rio, on January 27, 1950, but he was always seen as an outcast by the Gracie’s who failed to see the potential of a JJ team in the suburbs.

He and his students began specialising in the use of footlocks, an often ignored part of the (Gracie/Brazilian) Jiu-Jitsu curriculum.

The next year, 1951, Fadda felt confident that his school was ready for the next step and issued a challenge to the Gracies through the media, stating in the Globo Journal: “We wish to challenge the Gracies. We respect them like the formidable adversaries they are, but we do not fear them. We have 20 pupils ready for the dispute”.

The Challenge

Hélio Gracie accepted the challenge and the two teams fought at Gracie’s academy. Fadda’s team emerged victorious, making good use of their knowledge of footlocks, in which the opposition was lacking – something the Gracie’s lacked and frowned uppon ever since, calling it “Tecnica de Suburbano (suburban technique)”.

The highlight of the competition was when Fadda’s pupil “José Guimarães” choked Gracie’s “Leonidas” unconscious. Oswaldo himself became the first man to beat Hélio in competition.

After the challenge, Fadda gave an interview for the “Revista do Esporte” (sport magazine) “We finished with the Gracie’s tabu”. Also Hélio Gracie in a interview to news paper said “All you need is one Fadda to show that Jiu-Jitsu is not the Gracie’s privilege”. The Gracies had previously derided the holds as “suburban technique” but were quick to applaud Fadda’s win as a sign that Jiu-Jitsu was for everyone, not just the well off.

The result of the challenge was well publicised across Brazil, which had a double effect; many new students arrived at Fadda’s school seeking tuition, but the added notoriety of the win also attracted brought the interest of all the hardman of the nearby cities who would often come over to the academy to issue challenges to Fadda and his students.  The occurence gained such proportions that Fadda decided to make a weekly event in which all challengers could compete against his students in a closed-door environment. For many years, these fights took place and it is said that never did  Fadda and his students lose a fight.

Later Life

He spent the rest of his days in his hometown of Bento Ribeiro, like the humble man he was, with his students and his family. With age he started suffering from Alzheimer’s desease struggling with the illness for years. He finally succumbed to bacterial pneumonia on April 1, 2005. He was 84 years old.