Non-Gracie Lineage: Oswaldo Fadda


10th degree red belts are reserved for the true pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Only a few have ever been awarded, and all to members of the Gracie family. This would be completely understandable and acceptable if the Gracie family had a monopoly on the spread of the art. However, there is at least one other man who truly pushed the art forward that is often left out of the BJJ histories.

Oswaldo Fadda (1921-2005), was a true pioneer of the art who learned Jiu-Jitsu from the same source as Carlos and Helio, and at around the same time. Mitsuyo Maeda, who had the nickname “Conde Koma” (Count Combat) is the Judoka who first began to instruct the Gracies. At the same time, he also taught a man named Luis Franca, who introduced Oswaldo Fadda to Jiu-Jitsu, just as Carlos Gracie introduced Helio.

Fadda was a poor man who lived in the slums of Rio. After receiving his black belt from Franca, he began teaching classes free of charge in unorthodox locations such as parks, the beach, etc. Because he was lacking funds, he had to advertise his school in the obituary section of the local newspaper.

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As time went on, Fadda became well-known for his use of leg-locks. At the time, leg-locks were very looked down upon in the grappling martial arts, often being referred to ad the “dirty little thief” of submissions. The Gracie schools at the time even referred to them as “suburban” techniques, in order to imply that they were techniques for the poor and lower class individuals.

Eventually, Fadda issued a challenge to Helio Gracie’s school. He famously stated, “We wish to challenge the Gracies. We respect them as the formidable adversaries they are, but we do not fear them. We have 20 pupils ready for the challenege.” It was a bold statement for the time, and continues to be popularized. Helio accepted Fadda’s challenge and set up the matches at his own school.

Fadda’s team emerged victorious, winning 19 of the 20 matches. Most were said to be won by the use of leg locks. Witnesses to the events stated that Helio’s students would shout “sapateiro” at Fadda’s students when they would attempt a leg lock. It translates to “cobbler”, which was considered a poor man’s occupation. It is rumored that this is why reaping the knee remains illegal in competitions today; that it is a left-over rule made after the Gracie school’s loss to Fadda.

It is also said that Fadda and Helio also grappled, with Fadda being the first person to submit Helio. That said, the story is obviously disputed. The Gracie lineage denies that this ever occurred, while the Fadda lineage vehemently defends it as the truth. So take it as you will.

After winning the challenge, Fadda claimed to have ended the Gracie monopoly of Jiu-Jitsu. Helio stated, “All you need is one Fadda to show that Jiu-Jitsu is not the Gracie’s privilege.” It is said that the challenge was reissued, but the second time by Helio, with similar results. However, there is little information to support this claim. It seems likely (from the information I have been able to gather) that if a second challenge ever occurred, it was unofficial; but it appears as though that story is probably not based in true events.

As time wore on, the Fadda lineage grew weak. The Gracie lineage exploded with the popularization of BJJ in the United States. However, one of Carlson Gracie’s students, Pederneiras, eventually joined schools with one of Fadda’s Students, Wendell Alexander, to create Nova Uniao, which remains strong today. One of the most notable people with Fadda’s lineage would be Rodolfo Vieira, a four time world champion.

Today, though Fadda has passed away, he is without a 10th degree ranking. To many, myself included, it seems unfair that he be excluded from this honor. Fadda truly was a pioneer of the art. He brought it to those who were too poor to go anywhere else. He gave it freely. He defended it and promoted it wherever he went. Fadda deserves to have the honor posthumously bestowed upon him for all he has done for the art.



  1. Carlos and Helio didn't learn from the same source as Fadda. They never had contact with Maeda, Carlos first instructor was a man called Donato Pirez then a Japanese man called Geo Omori. There is a lot of the history that is untold or it was told as a lie, things will start coming out soon and a lot of people will be surprised…

    • Minol Tavares Tutida – Can you be more specific about what you are saying? I am doing research on the history of BJJ and would like to understand its roots and lineage more clearly. Thank you

  2. I have meet personally several Gracies, including grand master Helio. And learn from them.
    Helio Gracie stated very clearly how he learned Jiu Jitsu.
    I don't get what is the purpose of implying he lied about his roots.
    Can you offer more veridic data than Helio, Rorion, Royce, etc themselves?

  3. Neris Gonzalez helio said he was weak and frail.. but he was a competitive swimmer. He claimed to be undefeated, but lost to Waldermar and Kimura. He claimed Kimura was 220lbs but Kimura was 180. He simply was a barely literate elementary school dropout..

    • Fraud? Helio faced Japanese fighters and put Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the map. The world practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu developed by the Gracie family.

    • No one did. The Disgracies as you call them (I’m a pankration/ catch wrestler, So lol to that.) gave themselves their belts. They went straight from navy blue belts to red belts and black belts when they decided to create their belt ranking system to further monetize their system. This is also around the time that they decided no one that isn’t a Gracie could be a 10th degree red belt, and that Gracie’s are promoted faster to black belt than non Gracie. The average person taking 10 years ( and lot of cash) to get, while most Gracie’s receive theirs as early as 5 years, with exceptions of course. A simple google search on red belts and bjj will return this information and more if your interested.

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  5. I am not disputing what people are saying about the history….however say what you want ..the gracies proved jujitsu on a world stage….i dnt know about you …I’ve rolled with a gracie and if that aint a black belt (referring to giving themselves rank) than i would love to roll with a real black belt….The truth is these guys are the real deal they have proved it in practice and dnt have nothing to prove

  6. All this Gracie and Fadda talk! Yet no mention of Master Sa. This man was a pioneer in northeastern Brazil and I feel deserves the same respect!

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