By Felix Rodriguez, Staff Writer / Photographer
Respect your Elders will be an on-going TXMMA series meant to celebrate and keep alive the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The goal is to honor those who practiced the art before us by having some of the most recognized names in jiu-jitsu today share anecdotes about their own instructors. If you earned your black belt from a legend and would like for the jiu-jitsu community to know a little about them, send us a message!
From Rags to Red Belt – Mestre Deo’s First Gi
Remember the first gi you ever wore? To many people who train in BJJ, their first gi holds special significance. Before that first gi became its current ripped and frayed extension of the self, it was more of an obstacle than a friend. Some readers may recall how confusing it was to know which side of the pants were the front and the struggle to keep them securely tied on. Others may smirk when remembering not knowing if the right or left side of the lapel should show when tying the belt. What about the first time you posed in front of a mirror wearing your very first gi – still brand new, the colors popping and every thread of the patches still in place? That first gi is special, whether it worked out at that school or not, that first gi is about the martial artist and the art, it’s a connection between those whose bond is established by that uniform and the sense of belonging it bestows upon whoever wears it to train. Grand Master Deoclecio Paulo wore his first gi 70 years ago and he remembers it vividly, because of all the kimonos he has ever worn, his first was the most special. This is the story of how Oswaldo Fadda recruited Deoclecio Paulo to train jiu-jitsu and made him his first gi.
Carlos Gracie Sr. and Luis França Filho were among the first people to study under Mitsuyo Maeda in Brazil. These men represent the starting point for the Gracie and França Filho lines of jiu-jitsu, which are BJJ’s two main lineages. Oswaldo Fadda learned jiu-jitsu directly from Luis França Filho and received his black belt from him in 1942. Not too long after that he encountered a lively boy named Deoclecio Paulo in the modest suburb of Rio de Janeiro where they both lived. Mestre Deo grew up in a home with the humblest means imaginable and liked to settle differences arising from soccer games with his fists as a child. Mestre Deo and his friends wanted to become better fighters and soon started showing up to watch Oswaldo Fadda’s self-defense class through the window. Fadda knew that the boys could not afford the lessons, so he would let them stay and watch the classes; sometimes he would let them play around on the mats if they swept them after class or cleaned the windows.
Mestre Deo kept showing up to watch classes despite his other friends losing interest, and as time went by Fadda began taking a special liking to little Deo. When he was nine, Fadda invited him to join the class as a fulltime student. Even as a young child, Mestre Deo recognized that jiu-jitsu was a ticket out of poverty, so he was delighted by the invitation. Unfortunately, Deo knew that there was no way his family could pay for the monthly fee, so he didn’t even bother asking his parents if he could join. The following day when he showed up as usual to watch the class, he told Fadda that his parents couldn’t pay, so he would just watch as always. Fadda knew how much these classes meant to the future red belt, so he told Mestre Deo not to worry about the fees. He would train for free; all he had to do was have his mother buy him a gi for the class. Deo didn’t have the heart to ask his family for this either, because even a gi was too much of a financial burden for them. When Mestre Deo told the professor he could not afford to buy a gi he was prepared to let go of his dream to train jiu-jitsu. Upon hearing this Fadda shocked him when he told Deo not to worry and to have his mother find six canvas bags for him to make a kimono if he couldn’t buy one.
This was not the first time that Fadda served as benefactor to impoverished children who couldn’t afford to train. He kept a template for sewing the fabric from wheat and coffee bags into gis next to an old sewing machine in his garage for occasions such as this one. When Mestre Deo showed up with the empty bags, Fadda went to the garage and made him a gi with them that same day. The bags Mestre Deo found were made of a coarse brown fabric that was covered with different logos for brands of wheat, rice and coffee. His first gi looked like a poorly put together and very stiff version of what we wear to train today, a brown gi made out of burlap sacks with multi colored stamps advertising dry goods all over it.
Rather than be embarrassed by his lack of means, Mestre Deo could not be happier with his good fortune. He wore his gi proudly for his very first class and refused to take it off when it was time to go home. Mestre Deo’s house was a 30-minute walk away from the school, but he didn’t care. Each one of the loose strands of the weirdly shaped gi belonged to him alone. Empowered by his newly found sense of ownership, the 9-year-old boy walked for half an hour knowing he had everything needed to finally be a part of Fadda’s class and learn the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Mestre Deo fell in love with the sport at a time where its practice was mostly reserved for the privileged society of Brazil. His master discovered and nurtured his love for the art and jump-started his jiu-jitsu journey with what may be the single ugliest BJJ uniform ever made in the history of the art. The 9-year-old boy didn’t care about the way it looked though, because he understood even then what it represented. 70 years and hundreds of kimonos later he still remembers that cornucopia of empty wheat bags that became his first gi as the nearest and dearest to his heart.
For more information about the Fadda line of jiu-jitsu visit this website. To learn more about Mestre Deo, contact him directly on Facebook or through Ronny Lis here in Texas.