Born on November 18th 1878 in Funazawa Village, Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan, Mitsuyo Maeda was perhaps the world’s first modern age mixed martial artist. Known for travelling the world and challenging combat practitioners of all styles. Maeda (along with Soshihiro “Antônio” Satake) brought attention to Judo all across Europe and Brazil. Maeda won more than 2,000 professional fights in his career. His accomplishments led to him being called the “toughest man who ever lived” and being referred to as the father of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
As a teenager Maeda began to practice sumo wrestling but his lack of build inhibited his success in the art so he soon switched to Judo. This was due to the major publicity Judo was receiving at the time concerning its success in contests against jujutsu.
In 1894, at seventeen years of age, Maeda’s parents sent him to Tokyo to enroll in Waseda University. He joined the Kodokan Judo Institute the following year when he stood at 5 ft 4 1⁄2 in tall and weighed in at 141 lb. Upon arrival he was mistaken for a delivery boy!
As he began his training Maeda caught the eye of judo’s founder Jigoro Kano who assigned him to Tomita Tsunejirō (then a 4th dan). Tsunejirō was the smallest of the teachers of the Kodokan’s “Four Heavenly Kings” (Shitennō) and it was believed that Kano did this to illustrate to Maeda that size is not important in Judo.
With Soishiro “Antonio” Satake, Maeda formed the head of the second generation of Kodokan judoka, which had replaced the first by the beginning of the 20th century. Satake would later travel around the world with Maeda taking on all comers. At one point they visited South America and whilst in Brazil met and trained Carlos and Hélio Gracie. Little did they know what impact that would have on the grappling world in the decades that followed! Both Maeda and Satakae are now considered the pioneers of judo in Brazil. Whilst Maeda continued traveling. Satake would become the founder of the first historically registered judo academy in Brazil in 1914.
After 15 years together, Maeda and Satake had finally split up. Maeda went from England to Portugal, Spain, and France, coming back to Brazil in 1917 alone. Settling in Belém do Pará, Maeda where he got married to D. May Iris. Maeda only fought sporadically after his return to Brazil although around 1918/19 Maeda accepted a challenge from the famous capoeirista Pé de Bola. Maeda allowed Pé de Bola to use a knife in the fight. Maeda won the match quickly.
In 1921, Maeda founded his first judo academy in Brazil. He named it Clube Remo; later that year on September 18, 1921, Maeda, Satake, and Okura were briefly in New York City before travelling to to the Caribbean, where they stayed from September to December 1921. At some point in this trip, Maeda was joined by his wife. In Havana, Satake and Maeda took part in some contests. Their opponents included Paul Alvarez, who wrestled as Espanol Icognito. Alvarez defeated Satake and Yako Okura—the latter being billed as a former instructor at the Chilean Naval Academy—before being himself beaten by Maeda. Maeda also defeated a Cuban boxer called Jose Ibarra, and a French wrestler called Fournier. The Havana papers attributed Maeda with a Cuban student called Conde Chenard.
In 1925, Maeda became involved with helping settle Japanese immigrants near Tome-açú, a Japanese-owned company town in Pará, Brazil. Maeda also continued teaching judo, now mostly to the children of Japanese immigrants. Consequently, in 1929, the Kodokan promoted him to 6th dan, and later to 7th dan on November 27th 1941. Sadly, Maeda never knew of his final promotion as he passed away on November 28th 1941 after a battle with kidney disease.