Guest post by Nobuo Yagai, Rigan Machado’s only Japanese BJJ Black Belt.
Conde Koma, as many know, brought the art of JiuJitsu to Brazil during the years of 1916-1921. Due to language barriers there are lots of information about this pioneer that is unknown to many people outside of Japan. As a martial artist born in Japan and traveling to the US in search of martial wisdom through BJJ; I am inspired by Conde Koma’s example. In this article I will share some stories about him that have been shrouded behind cultural and language differences for over 100 years. Now, as we look at the growth of the art, I see a timely need to honor the seeds of evolution that Conde Koma spread throughout the soil of the world.
Conde Koma grew up in the biggest change in the history of Japan; the transition from the Samurai era to the Modern era. He had a samurai spirit and started to journey around the world with his Jiu Jitsu/Judo. He influenced many different cultures with his devotion to martial arts and in the process evolved by testing himself in unknown territories. He was surely one of the toughest guys of his time but he was not just tough guy. He had exhibited the samurai traits of generosity, integrity, honor and respect ,loyalty.
Conde Koma was born on December 18, 1878 in Funazawa village, Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan as Mitsuyo Maeda. His family were samurai and his dad loved sumo wrestling. He and his dad played sumo which helped develop his base to be strong. He picked up a 133lb rice bag when he was elementary school. In 1877 the samurai era was coming to a close against the new Japanese government. The fictional movie “The last Samurai” with Tom Cruise actually had much historical accuracy in it. Maeda left Japan in search of broadening his vision of the world and in turn his own identity. He was always looking to face challenges in search of self-growth and to understand what it meant to be a modern Samurai. During the time of his initial travels outside of Japan he took the ring name Yamato. Yamato means Japanese Samurai Spirits. Born at the end of the Samurai era he was strongly inspired to live like the samurai.
The way of Samurai, Bushido was an idea or way of approaching life with honor and integrity. There was no written code or scripture. It meant the way of Samurai could evolve and keep current with each era. This enabled the concept of bushido to flow harmoniously with the changing of times. The art we now call BJJ was inspired from these seeds he planted in Brazil.
While Yamato (Conde Koma) was in Madrid, the Capital of Spain, he heard of someone claiming to be the number one Judo champion and taking on challengers. Yamato was interested to find out the truth to his claim but wanted to take an unassuming ring name as he was well known at the time. He tried to make a new humorous ring name but was having lots of trouble finding the name. Trouble in Japanese means Komaru like “oh man”. He thought the Spanish wouldn’t get the humor behind Komaru but it sounded cool. So he took the end syllable “Ru” off and we got Koma. His Spanish friend suggested adding Conde (Count in Spanish) in front of Koma for an epic name of comic book proportions. Thus, the name Conde Koma was born internationally with playfulness in mind.
Our lives are built around meaningful coincidences and as a Bjj practitioner in the modern era, I hope we can all appreciate the way he carried authentic martial arts out of Japan to remote places with openness and playfulness. Please stay tuned for more interesting and inspiring facts about Conde Koma and the men of his era in articles to come.
As a young boy in Japan, Nobuo Yagai was raised in the traditional art of kendo. Heavily influenced by the way of the samurai, his path in martial arts has taken him around the world and in 2002 the life of BJJ. Since then, he has forged life long friendships on the world stage of competition with some of the best of the best. He currently operates Way of Jiu Jitsu in Denver, Colorado and is writing a unique book on BJJ. Through the famous stories of samurai, origins of BJJ, and his own martial arts journey, Rigan Machado’s only Japanese black belt, Nobuo Yagai will challenge you to take your BJJ off the mat and infuse ancient wisdom into your own practice. Way of Jiu Jitsu is more than just a book for martial artists, but for anyone who dares to make more than a hobby out of life.