Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Untold Story of Jiu Jitsu

At Meerkatsu blog, there is a review of Choque: the Untold Story of Jiu Jitsu in Brazil 1856 - 1949. At 744 pages, it must be quite a book and is certainly on my wish list. 

An excerpt is below and the full review may be read here.

Book review: Choque: The Untold story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949

Writer Roberto Pedreira delves into Brazilian newspaper archives in a quest to uncover as much verifiable information about the origin of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Along the way, he uncovers some uncomfortable truths that may alter your perception over who did what, where and when between 1856 and 1949.  At 744 pages, it is a weighty volume and much of it consists of lists of names, fights and other accounts of raw data culled from newspaper reports and adverts. 240 pages are dedicated as an appendix and this includes numerous photographs and press clippings. It all adds up to an essential read for any self respecting BJJ enthusiast and sets the scene for an eagerly anticipated Volume 2.

Available from: Amazon in paperback or digital format
Pages: 744 (240 pages of which form the appendix)
Price: £10.68 book, £6.19 Kindle
Language: English
Print version weight:  1.2kg

What was the actual truth to events that happened a long time ago? Reading Choque, this question popped up into my mind frequently. Clearly, if you believe what you read from the internet, the alleged story of how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu came to be born will yield a variety of versions - hardly any of them accredited to verifiable sources. There is of course the book by Kid Peligro called The Gracie Way. It is extremely interesting to re-read The Gracie Way in the light of the content within Choque - a subject that perhaps for another post.

I can't imagine how time consuming and laborious it must have been to wade through the dusty archives of Brazilian newspapers and interpret events that happened over 100 years ago. With no living witnesses who can verify events, Pedreira is left to interpret the newspaper articles and opinion pieces in his own way. A lot of reports were simply spin doctored press releases, some were more analytical, others were just adverts to promote a fight event. Throughout these scattered pieces of data, Pedreira picks up the story and charts the progress of the key players in Brazil who all contributed towards the sport that we know today. It's a pretty bumpy ride. A lot of preconceptions about who did what and when are overturned in Choque. Amidst the wealth of sports coverage, the drama and incidents all play out like a long-running TV soap drama.

About the author
I don't know anything about Roberto Pedreira. I don't even know if that is his real name. The only interview with him has since been deleted, but thanks to Wayback machine, you can read it here.

Paperback book
The version I have was printed in Great Britain under Amazon's own book publishing brand. The version in the US is published by CreateSpace, which is also owned by Amazon. The paper quality is good with print quality crisp. The paperback cover does curl easily, mainly because of the hefty size of the book, it's impossible to read without it suffering wear and tear. The typesetting and fonts used are rather simple and if I was being honest, it's not a pretty book to look at. But the content is what is King here.

Writing style
The format chosen by Pedreira is to write in chronological order. Paragraphs are written with a recall of the facts as they would have appeared in the original newspaper article. Pedreira then fills in between with his thoughts on what may or may not have happened. Often, the author has to introduce certain key people and jump around with dates in order to explain a certain fact or event, but largely, he sticks with the year in question. Quite often, in subsequent chapters, Pedreira will repeat a fact or explain something that he has already explained before. I actually found this useful since there is so much to digest within each page.

Pedreira's writing is sometimes less that fluid but far be it for me to critique his writing for he has had work published in numerous English language magazines and is the author of the popular title "Jiu Jitsu in the South Zone" as well as probably being the very first BJJ blogger with Global Training Report which was established in the year 2000!

The difficulty with writing any historical account is the reliability of the source information. Pedreira's exhaustive research into the newspaper archives and examination of other written sources, eg the Carlos Gracie biography and the Playboy interview with Rorion Gracie suggests he has at least tried to cover as much ground as humanly possible. The skill of the historian is with the interpretation of the facts and here, Pedreira fills in the gaps with as much plausible speculation as he will allow.

By his own admission, many newspapers of the time (as they do now) tend to accept source reports and quotations from interviewees without much critical analysis. Like any good academic textbook, Choque is stuffed full of citations with the original sources. I doubt the basic reader (like me) has the time or energy to verify any of these sources so I'll have to take the author's word that these are all accurate and accountable.

There are a number of spelling errors littering the chapters. Some are intentional - as the author explains, newspapers at the time were rather lax about how certain words and names were spelled. But Pedreira himself misses out on many common English words that a decent proof reader (human, not a computer) would probably have picked up a lot better. Still, given the sheer weight and length of the volume, it's something I could overlook whilst reading.

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