‘The Dirty Thief’: A brief history of leg locks



Helio Gracie: The man who redefined fighting. The God father of Mixed Martial Arts and submission fighting. The man who adapted a martial art to use leverage instead of strength and gravity, and subdued men 100 pounds heavier than him using his system of jiu jitsu, Gracie Jiu Jitsu. All roads to Jiu Jitsu go through him…..

…or do they?




Enter Oswaldo Fadda  [Mitsuyo Maeda > Luis França > Oswaldo Fadda]

Many people make the mistake of seeing Helio Gracie as the biblical Adam of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The one and only red belt in history from which all Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts descended. Although the Gracie family is often credited with the ‘invention’ of BJJ due to their popularity and media power in Rio and the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Helio wasnt the only cat in Rio who knew a thing or two.

Oswaldo Fadda is one of the often overlooked pioneers of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Fadda received his instructors rank under his coach Luis Franca and began operating his own academy on the outskirts of Rio in the 1950’s. It’s been said that only the people with money and certain social status were worthy and able to train with the famous Gracie academy, while Fadda trained people from all walks of life, including those in the favelas [bad neighborhoods]. Naturally, Helio Gracie and Oswaldo Fadda quickly became rivals in Brazil. Fadda was often labeled an outcast by the BJJ community for operating in the slums and suburbs, and this lack of respect among Jiu Jiteiros drove Fadda to issue a formal challenge to the Gracie academy via Globo Jornal newspaper in 1951:

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.

Helio and his pupils accepted the challenge , and it took place at the Gracie academy in Rio. To the surprise of many of the inner city dwellers and all the media covering the event, Oswaldo Fadda’s team emerged victorious over the Gracie’s, much to the credit of (drum roll please….) their use of leg locks. After the fact , Helio disparaged the use of leg attacks, calling them a ‘Suburban technique’. In his own mind, foot locks and leg attacks were ‘below’ Helio, so he didn’t teach them much. And since the Gracie family was the one with the political connects, money and media push, their system became the driving force of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This anti-leglock mentality trickled down to what would become the most notable Jiu Jitsu federation in the world, The IBJJF. Where most leg attacks are either completely outlawed, or only legal for brown and black belts.

But Fadda didn’t just fade into obscurity , Fadda’s lineage would eventually produce two of the best teams in the world, GFTeam and Nova Uniao. GFTeam has produced notable black belts such as Vitor Oliveira , Igor Silva, Rodolfo Vieira, and Julio Cesar Pereira. While Nova Uniao has produced big names like Gustavo Dantas, Vitor ‘Shaolin’ Ribiero , Bruno Bastos and Robson Moura. All from the non-gracie Fadda lineage, one rich with leg attacks.

So why do you think leg attacks are so taboo in modern BJJ? is it simply a safety concern, or has this decades old rivalry transcended into modern day competition settings? sound off in the comments with your opinion.



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