Master Wilson Mattos: BJJ the Fadda way

 

The old adage says there are always two sides to every great story… Luis Franca Filho, a man little known compared to his Gracie family counterparts, began learning jiu-jitsu from legendary Japanese master Mitsuyo Maeda in 1917. In developing Brazilian jiu-jitsu during the early days of the art’s inception, Franca would in turn pass his knowledge onto the renowned Grande Mestre Oswaldo Baptista Fadda, a man who has built one of the most loyal and passionate followings in the art today. And yet, the influence of the Fadda lineage remains relatively unknown to the majority of those practising the art. However, 9th Degree Red-belt Master Wilson Mattos might have just helped change that with a recent visit to his affiliate academies in Australia. Blitz was lucky enough to meet Master Mattos — so far the highest ranked BJJ teacher to set foot on Aussie soil — and chat about his amazing martial arts journey, the legend of his teacher Oswaldo Fadda, and why the world needs to know that there’s more to BJJ than the Gracie way.

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Mattos' Fadda BJJ style features a lot of different foot attacks. 

They say you can judge a man by his handshake, so perhaps my anxiousness could be forgiven as I extend my hand to greet the aging, well-wrinkled figure of Brazilian jiu-jitsu master and pioneer Master Wilson Mattos. It’s not every day you meet a 9th Degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu Red-belt; in fact, it’s not often that one ventures away from home to visit Australian shores. Dressed in board shorts and a pair of worn thongs, it looks as if he could’ve walked straight off those sunny beaches back home in Brazil. We shake hands, I feel his firm grip, he reveals a cheerful grin. “Let’s go have a chat,” he says. 

A passionate lover of jiu-jitsu, it doesn’t take long before he begins musing over old memories. As one of the star pupils of BJJ legend Master Oswaldo Fadda and a student of the art during the early years of its development, he begins by giving everyone in the room an insight into the man he calls ‘the most influential person’ in his life.

Having joined the navy in 1937, Oswaldo Fadda began learning the art of jiu-jitsu from the great Luis Franca, a man who had been taught and graded to Black-belt by Mitsuyo Maeda alongside Gracie jiu-jitsu founder Carlos Gracie. In 1942, Fadda received his Black-belt and decided to pass on his skills to those in the Brazilian naval forces. After his stint as an instructor to the Navy, Fadda moved back to his hometown of Rio before opening an academy in Bento Ribeiro, a northern suburb on the outskirts of town. He wanted to make the art available to anybody, and the effect of Fadda jiu-jitsu was quickly felt by the town’s locals, says Master Mattos. 

“We used to challenge the ‘tough guys’, and these guys would realise they weren’t so tough after experiencing the technique. Most of them ended up signing up to the academy,” Mattos recalls. “These guys used to get into trouble on the streets but after joining us they became much better people for society. They became quite famous around the region because of it. There were even kids with disabilities, Downs syndrome, that Fadda helped and taught jiu-jitsu to.” 

Arguably one of Fadda’s most famous and unique students was a fighter nicknamed the ‘Torpedo’. Not letting his disability get in his way, the fighter went on to win many challenge matches against able-bodied fighters from rival gyms.

“This guy ‘Torpedo’ had no legs, and he represented the academy against other schools in challenges. He beat a lot of those guys, even some big names,” says Mattos. 

Master Mattos describes modern jiu-jitsu training as ‘luxurious’ compared to the early days at the Fadda academy. With the expansion of sports-orientated BJJ schools and the changing of rules in modern competition, he believes that students often overlook important techniques. For Mattos, the major differences in modern gyms are their lack of focus on self-defence techniques and theory. 

“Back in the day, we did a lot of self-defence in the gym. He did a lot of work without the gi. In Brazil, we called this luta livre. Fadda actually made it so you had to get your luta livre Black-belt before you were allowed to get your jiu-jitsu Black-belt. Black-belts today, most of them don’t know these aspects and only know the sport side.”

Master Mattos believes firmly that modesty and being a great martial artist go hand-in-hand. Although Fadda passed away in 2005, the lessons in humility that he left are what Mattos feels define him more as a martial artist than any choke, or joint-lock he was ever taught.

“Fadda taught me many great things, but the most important was to always be humble. I feel being humble is everything. He told me not to let my belt level get to my head or change me. Humble people are the ones who are always learning. I even learn from White-belts. I have achieved a lot in the art, but I don’t want to go around thinking I’m better than everyone and that I know everything. That was Fadda’s way of life, and that’s how I choose to live mine.” 

Ask the majority of Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners about who created the art and you’ll most likely hear the same name time and time again. The Gracie family dynasty is undoubtedly the most prominent in the art today, accounting for most of its recognisable names and associations. The recent growth of MMA as well as UFC has helped further extend the Gracie name to even armchair martial arts fans. As to why the Fadda lineage has remained a relative unknown compared to that of their Gracie counterparts, Master Mattos explains that it wasn’t of a case of what you knew, but rather who you knew.

“The Gracies started their academy in the centre of Rio, right in the city where all the politicians and the media were. The Fadda academy was in the suburbs and wasn’t exposed to the media like the Gracies. A lot of people even thought that the Fadda style was actually a Gracie style of jiu-jitsu. At the end of the day, we actually both came from the same source. Gaston and Carlos Gracie both learnt from Mitsuyo Maeda along with Luis Franca, so we all learnt the same jiu-jitsu. I respect the Gracie family, but the guys from the Fadda lineage have done a lot as well. We weren’t in the media back then and that’s why it’s hard for people to see that side of BJJ history.” 

In the early days of the art’s development, academies would issue challenges to one another in the hope of asserting themselves and demonstrating the effectiveness of what they were teaching. Naturally, the Fadda clan were keen to showcase their skills to the public and challenged the famed Gracie academy, pitting their best fighters against the top Gracie fighters. With the two academies being the only two in Rio at the time, the event received a lot of publicity from the local sports media. The result, a one-sided domination by the Fadda academy, remains one of the art’s lesser-told stories and one you probably won’t see mentioned on any Gracie promotional video. 

“The Fadda academy ended up winning all 12 fights at the challenge; we were really big for using foot-locks at the time. After the challenge, Helio Gracie even told one of the sports newspapers that the Fadda guys showed that jiu-jitsu wasn’t just a privilege of the Gracie family,” Mattos recalls.    

However, he also remembers there being a bit of niggle between the two clans prior to the clash, which provided the impetus for Fadda to issue the challenge to the Gracie school.     

“Before the challenge I remember the Fadda gym was getting pretty big in the suburbs. The Gracie academy was big, but I don’t think they liked the fact that we were getting pretty big as well. They used to call us names and discriminated a bit. They used to call us the ‘germs from the suburbs’. This is when Fadda wrote a letter to a local newspaper issuing the challenge to the Gracie academy. He said in the letter that we respected the Gracies, but we didn’t fear them. The rest is history.” 

In terms of their respective styles, the Fadda academy was renowned for their deadly foot- and leg-locks, techniques often frowned upon in some jiu-jitsu circles. Mattos believes that this was the main difference between the techniques taught by the two clans and feels that the current international competition rules reflect that.

“The Gracies were the ones that ran the international federation and they actually took out a lot of those foot- and leg-lock techniques so we’re not allowed to do them anymore. Back in the day, a lot of our challenge matches were won with these techniques.”

To those just starting the art, the majority would probably have never heard of Oswaldo Fadda or Luis Franca. Saddened but not deterred, Master Mattos hopes to spread knowledge of their work and hopes that one day the Fadda lineage, as well as others, can receive the same praise and recognition held by their Gracie kin.

“The Fadda family have put in just as much effort in trying to grow the art as the Gracies. The work we did in the suburbs was as important as what the Gracies did, but the media really only say their side of the story.”

In 2nd Degree Black-belt Minol Tavares Tutida, Master Mattos has one of his most accomplished students based in Melbourne teaching jiu-jitsu the Fadda way. Currently the head BJJ instructor at Evolve MMA, from where he oversees the growth of Master Mattos’ Equipe Mestre Wilson Jiu-jitsu Association in Australia, Tutida offers an insight into the enigmatic Red-belt.

“I have him (Mattos) as a master, a friend and a father figure. He is an incredible instructor who knows a lot,” says Tutida. “When I was training with him during my visits to Brazil, he never repeated a move, which I think is pretty amazing. If I ever manage to know even one per cent of what he knows, I’ll be pretty happy with myself… Big names like (world champions) Andre Galvao and Rodolfo Vieira used to visit him back in Brazil all the time.”

Despite being all business in the gym, Tutida reveals that Mattos is just another one of the boys when off the mat, with some of the most loyal students in the BJJ community.  

“He’s really quite a character. He likes his drinks; he loves his beer,” says Tutida, laughing. “We joke around a lot together. All his students really feel like he’s a second father to them.”

 In Melbourne during the Pan Pacific Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Championships, Master Mattos was lucky enough to witness the tournament first-hand while coaching his own student Fernando Burgemeister to gold in the 67 kg Black-belt division. Impressed by what he saw at the local tournament, he feels the presence of top Brazilian instructors such as Tutida can only help to improve the quality of local talent, while the ever-evolving nature of the art is what will ensure its continual growth and relevance.  

“In jiu-jitsu, you have to be creative. Brazilians are very creative. One academy will create a new move and use it in competition. When they do that move, another academy will see it and create a counter to that move. Then another academy will create a counter for that counter. I feel it’s never ending, unlike other martial arts, where you seem to be able to only do combinations of a set amount of techniques,” explains Mattos.

Winning the final of his division via spectacular flying arm-bar at the Pan Pacifics, Burgemeister owes a lot to his mentor, who took him away from Sao Paulo and provided him with a new home as well as a place to train. 

“I didn’t get to see real jiu-jitsu until I started training and living with Master Mattos in Rio. I got much better after going there. He’s done things for me even my own father wouldn’t do, and for that I’m really grateful.”  

Having spent so much time in the martial arts, Master Mattos’ aspirations are simply to keep teaching and passing on his knowledge as taught to him by the great Oswaldo Fadda, ensuring there are no ulterior motives influencing his own decision making, as well as that of his students — a sentiment he feels is perhaps not shared by everyone in BJJ.   

“Just like anyone else, there will be a time when I have to go from one life to the next. I just want to keep teaching serious jiu-jitsu, which will in turn help create serious instructors that really give back to the art itself,” the master muses. “Too many people worry about money nowadays, when you have to do things for the love. You have to really love what you do. I don’t teach jiu-jitsu because of money, and I hope my students think the same way. I want that to be my legacy.”

With his dedication to the Fadda way, some might see Master Mattos as a testament to the endurance of loyalty and passion as hallmarks of martial arts, at a time when personal gain and politics seem to dictate the thinking of many. Living on through his own academies, as well as associations such as the famous Nova Uniao, the Fadda jiu-jitsu lineage is far from forgotten. Still, Mattos doesn’t care whether you choose the Gracie or Fadda way, as long as it’s done ‘for the love’.    

As we wrap up our chat, he thanks me for helping bring the Fadda lineage into the light. We say our farewells and I congratulate his student Fernando on his win at the Pan Pacifics. Gesturing to slap his student, Master Mattos laughs and shouts in his thick Portuguese, “If he didn’t win I would’ve f***ing killed him!”

I guess he is just one of the boys after all.  

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