Author Roberto Pedreira has surprised many in the mixed martial arts world with his series “Choque,” which explores Brazilian jiu-jitsu history.
Its title is said to be a Portuguese word for a competition, in this case a “ring sport” – and fittingly, it’s pronounced like the English word “shock.”
In his first volume of “Choque,” released in 2014, the author took on the “creation myth” of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He cast doubt on the widely-circulated story about Carlos Gracie beginning the family’s tradition from traveling Japanese master Conde Koma (Mitsuyo Maeda), offered descriptions of the family’s struggles and scandals in and out of the rings, and much more. The book covered 1856 to 1949 – including some dry early material — and is reviewed here.
Pedreira’s second volume covered 1949 to 1961, including what Pedreira dubbed a “Golden Age” as jiu-jitsu competition came into prominence. The author chronicled the rise of Carlson Gracie and Waldemar Santana, the famous challenge between Oswaldo Fada’s academy and the Gracie Academy, and much more. As I wrote in a review here, I found it overall a better read than the first installment.
Back in July, Pedreira released the third volume of Choque, subtitled “The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1961 to 1993,” shedding light on the modern roots of MMA and much more.
Interest in jiu-jitsu in Brazil is on the downturn as the book opens, and judo is gaining popularity as a worldwide sport. Pedreira notes that mixed-rules fighting declined as well, with the mid-60’s seeing only a few noteworthy fighters finding the spotlight — like Carlson Gracie and Ivan Gomes. The two combined for a vale tudo in 1963 dominated by the younger and larger Gomes, but the bout was officially ruled a draw, according to Pedreira’s sources. Gomes and Gracie would later open an academy together, and Gomes eventually travelled to Japan to work with Antonio Inoki.
Pedreira has been accused of offering a biased account of history, and while I’ve been quick to defend his previous volumes – I’ve got to admit the third volume may deserve the criticism. Instances abound where rather than questioning a previous telling of history, Pedreira outright scoffs at them — and then, adds his own, often bitter, slant.
Take, for example, his chronicling of George Gracie, whose story just doesn’t get that much attention. Pedreira, naturally, wants to shine some light on him. Then, he goes to extremes.
Here’s Pedreira comparing George to his brother, Helio Gracie:
“George never claimed he learned anything from Conde Koma. George didn’t need a lineage to an Oriental master because unlike Carlos, he had ring results to point to. As a result, he was regarded an expert by those whose opinions mattered most.”
Gracie tried to bring vale tudo and luta livre back to prominence with a new promotion in 1972, but the public, which was increasingly interested in “telecatch” (pro wrestling) was no longer interested.
“Telecatch appealed primarily to children and younger women. They didn’t know the difference between real fighting and telecatch and if they had, they probably wouldn’t have preferred real fighting because real violence is disturbing to psychologically normal humans.”
Still, Choque Volume 3 offers plenty of interesting material, as expected. Pedreira describes a bullying incident that forced Roger Gracie out of Brazil and into Britain. Clair Gracie is a tragic figure who dies while mixed up in drugs and gangs. Rolls Gracie is briefly mentioned in several chapters, including fighting in a famous challenge against karatekas, then competing as a wrestler in 1977, and medaling (along with Rickson and Carlos Jr.) at the SAMBO Pan-Ams in 1980. But he never seems to receive the focus that he receives elsewhere.
Everything changes with the advent of the UFC in 1993, which drop-kicks Brazilian jiu-jitsu and vale tudo fighting into the status of worldwide phenomenon. Here, Pedreira is on well-trodden soil, though.
Still, Choque Volume 3 is a worthwhile read. As in previous volumes, it remains a scholar’s take on, what we had mostly only heard marketing previously. The continuing scholarship on the day’s major figures does help to “fill in the blanks.” Sadly, it all feels like a bitter endeavor – an impression which stands in contrast to its previous two volumes.