Monday, November 9, 2015

Mitsuyo Maeda's biography tell us old world and old fight world relate to early MMA

If Mitsuyo Maeda had not visited Brazil, MMA may not exist. If it did, it would be very different.

"A Lion's Dream (Conde Koma)" is the biography of Maeda. Written by Norio Kouyama, this book was honored with the Shogakukan Non-Fiction Award. Kouyama is not a martial arts specialist, so in this review of the book I evaluate how much merit it has as a biography.

Jigoro Kano was ambitious about education. He had dedicated himself to developing judo in Japan, but at the same time he was known as an educator. During this time, Japan was not valued as an equal by the western world, and martial arts were regarded lightly because of western culture and its guns. Martial arts were treated as strange samurai tactics that were not useful (against guns) during the Meiji period in Japan.

Kano believed that education could change the perspective about martial arts and of Japan itself. Therefore, he believed that he needed to expand traditional martial arts by introducing them to the western world. He dispatched many of his students around the world. Tsunejiro Tomita was set to be dispatched, but he was already more than 40 years old and Kano felt that he needed to recruit more of the younger active martial artists for this task. Luckily for Maeda, his other mentors were sent to Butokukai and he was able to travel abroad.

Butokukai Head Quarter

Before two judokas began the trip, one was recognized in America. That man was Yoshitsugu Yamashita, who impressed Theodore Roosevelt with his judo. Roosevelt wanted to bring a judo class to Annapolis, but Annapolis did not like that idea. After further discussion, Yamashita was permitted to compete at Annapolis. He fought a wrestler, Lieutenant Joseph Grant, who was roughly 10 years younger than Yamashita. Grant stood 2.0 meters tall and weighed 160kgs. Yamashita was 1.6 meters tall and weighed only 68kgs.

Yamashita had already spent one year in the United States and he knew how wrestlers fought. He countered Grant's forward movement with a throw and immediately went for a rear-naked choke. Grant stood up to try to flip Yamashita, but Yamashita secured an armbar when Grant used his left arm to stand. Grant gave up the fight and that made Yamashita the new judo coach at Annapolis.

Tomita and Maeda arrived in New York and were invited to West Point due to Yamashita's success at Annapolis. Maeda fought a school wrestling champion who took top position early in the match. The audience believed that that was the definition of victory, but Maeda rose to his feet and threw the wrestler before submitting him with an armbar. The audience still believed that the wrestler had won by pinfall.

Even at his advanced age, the audience believed that Tomita was better than Maeda since he was Maeda's mentor. As an athlete, Tomita was past his prime, but West Point arranged for him to compete against an even better fighter than Maeda had faced.

Tomita lost that fight and that made his and Maeda's evaluations lower. This is why Maeda went on to challenge many other martial arts fighters for money and recognition. He made trips to many countries to challenge other martial artists, and he understood judo's merits and faults against various disciplines.

During his breakdown of wrestling, Maeda noted that he would only accept fights against clothed opponents. He felt that he would still defeat unclothed wrestlers who were the same size as him, but he could lose to heavier opponents simply due to a power disadvantage. He recommended the Tsurikomigoshi technique against wrestlers because catching an arm would benefit the judoka and also defend against an opponent's attacks if a throw failed.

Maeda broke down tactics for competing against a boxer as well. He tried to challenge Jack Johnson, but Johnson refused to take part in a cross martial arts battle. The author of "Conde Koma" points out that this was similar to how proud Helio Gracie was when Joe Louis refused his challenge.

Maeda's foes were not billed as the strongest martial artists. Each one would simply be presented to him as a boxing champion or a wrestling champion. Maeda was confident that he could beat all of them, but there was a level of respect from both sides and his opponents did not proclaim to be "masters" at boxing or wrestling.

Maeda gained fame among Japanese immigrants in the United States due to the martial arts contests that he won. At the time, a movement had begun in America against Japanese immigrants. Maeda was conscious of the respect from immigrants and also of the social circumstances. He used the ring name "Yamato Maeda" to encourage people and himself.

During his trips all over world, Maeda spent time in some countries where Japanese people had comfortable lives. Brazil was undeveloped compared to America, but Maeda felt that there were still opportunities for Japanese immigrants to thrive.

I have omitted Maeda's time in Japan and in Brazil from this review because that should be read if and when it is presented in book form. "Conde Koma" is more about the social situations that Maeda faced and it includes almost nothing about his relationship with the Gracies or his education. Still, it is interesting because it explains how he encountered cross martial arts fights and how his journey resembled that of the early Gracies. It also educates newer MMA fans who are not familiar with the lineage of martial arts.

Yoshizo Machida, who manages Maeda's grave, shows a copy of "Conde Koma."

My other artcile about Judo's advance to the world

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.