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Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949 (Volume 1)
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For those who want or need a book like this, it is a five star; it will never be supplanted. For everyone else, despite the author's best efforts to liven up the material it is a long, dry slog. I have compromised by giving it four stars, partly because (disclaimer) the author is a friend, but mostly because it is the product of impressive research, which deserves recognition.
Just think about the number of books and, above all, instructional videos which suddenly "rediscoveried" grappling and ground fighting in their classical martial styles after the BJJ and NHB revolutions were begun by the Gracies at the 90s!
Fortunately, there are members of the martial arts community which are serious scholars and researchers. Without a question, Roberto Pedreira is one of them.
Choque is not an easy read. And probably, most grappling and BJJ "enthusiasts" would find it very boring.
But for the scholar, academic or researcher of the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, this book is a must read.
The book is organized chronologically and Pedreira documents each single important event (related to BJJ in Brazil) which happened in each year.
A lot of notes and independent references are used to document the facts mentioned by Pedreira. Also, it seems to be that Pedreira tried to hard to present and organize the facts, while keeping his own opinions or interpretarions of the facts at the minimum level.
This aspect tends to make Pedreira's style of writing a little bit "dry", emotionless and uninteresting from a formal, purely literary point of view. But in turn, such approach tends to preserve the objectivity of the narrative.
An important aspect which is missing from Pedreira's book is an in-depth discussion of the origin of the "techniques" of BJJ. Pedreira correctly notes and implies that the Gracies were taught a version of the Kodokan Judo which existed in that moment. This is well-known for any informed person interested in the history of BJJ.
But we want and need more specifics. For example, in some internet forums and blogs, people have begun to ask exactly what is the historical source of the so-called "stand up self-defense" program of 36 lessons taught by Helio Gracie and his sons. Or what are exactly the "modifications", if any, that Helio (or Carlos or George) produced in the jiu-jitsu (judo) that they learnt.
It is paradoxical to note that Helio's jiu jitsu is presented by himself and his sons as a "street self-defense" martial art (not just a sport) and the main techniques taught by him are "stand up self-defense techniques" (see Helio's book Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the video "episode one" which presents the original 36 lessons taught in the Gracie Academy. Most of such techniques are standing up!), when his family is known worldview for dismissing as highly ineffective most traditional standing up martial arts and promoting the combat philosophy of "close the distance, take the opponent to the ground and finishing him there" (ground fighting) as the best combat strategy.
So, although BJJ includes stading up techniques, without a question it is known as primarily a ground fighting art. In fact, for all practical purposes "BJJ" has become equivalent to ground fighting in many circles.
Pedreira could be excused from such omission on the grounds that he's not presenting an in-depth account or biography of Helio or Carlos Gracie. Or perhaps, given that his book only address documented facts and there is not documented facts which answer the questions posed above, he couldn't address them specifically.
I guess it is what Pedreira would say. So, even though I wished to find an in-depth discussion of such things, I don't think such omission undermine at all the value of Choque.
In any case, I think adding a chapter in Choque (perhaps in volume 2?) about these "technical" questions would be a helpful and original contribution to a missing, interesting and much neglected aspect of the history of BJJ.
Nothing but pure fact in this book.