BJJ’s Origins: Osvaldo Alves

Last updated on 16.08.2022 by

Master Osvaldo Alves was incredibly influential to the growth of BJJ and coached numerous greats. Unfortunately, we lost Master Alves in late July, but his legacy lives on in the thousands of students he taught.

If you don’t know who Master Alves is, you’re in for a real treat. This is the story of one of the most influential BJJ practitioners who has ever lived.

Osvaldo’s Start in Judo

Osvaldo was born in the small Brazilian state of Acre within the Amazon rainforest before moving to Copacabana in Rio. As a child, Alves loved superheroes and read comics like Captain America.

His love of comics made him want to begin his martial arts training at an early age and led him to begin training Judo at the age of six.

Alves Befriends The Gracie Family

When Alves walked to his Judo school, he always passed by the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy. He would always talk with the other Jiu Jitsu kids during his walk.

One of these Jiu Jitsu kids was Carlos Gracie’s son, Reyson Gracie. Reyson and Osvaldo became friends, and soon thereafter Reyson invited him to train with him at the Gracie School.

Osvaldo Alves, Helio Gracie and Nahum Rabey
Osvaldo Alves (left), Grandmaster Helio Gracie and Nahum Rabey
Credit: Facebook

Alves’ mother gave him permission to train with the Gracie’s while he continued his Judo training. The Gracie family quickly embraced the young Osvaldo and invited him into their circle.

Alves Excels at Judo

While Osvaldo trained both in Judo and Jiu Jitsu from an early age, he truly excelled at Judo. By the time Alves was a teenager, he was already competing internationally in Judo.

He won two Pan American Gold Medals in competitions held in Canada and Cuba before he was eighteen. These accomplishments resulted in Alves receiving a sports scholarship from Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro.

The university paid for Osvaldo’s travel expenses to Japan, giving him the opportunity to train Judo at Tenri University. This university is renowned for having some of the best Judo training in the world.

Alves accepted the scholarship and began his five-year journey learning Judo in the sport’s motherland.

Alves Develops New Skills

Alves’ already robust skills were sharpened during his five years training in Japan. Tenri University’s Judo program specialized in newaza, ground grappling, within Judo, and exposed Alves to new ground skills that had not yet been adopted within Jiu Jitsu. This included the yoko shiho gatame or, as we call it in BJJ, side control.

Alves also became proficient at various submissions that weren’t commonly used in early BJJ. He was perhaps best known as a master of wrist locks, and passed on that knowledge over the following decades.

Alves Returns to Brazil

Osvaldo Alves and Yvone Duarte
Laila Zalfa (Left), Osvaldo Alves and Yvone Duarte (Right) in 1985
Credit: Instagram

After Osvaldo’s five-year excursion in Japan ended, he returned to Rio and shared what he had learned. He reunited with his old friend Reyson and the two began cross-training to see what the other had learned.

Later a young Rolls Gracie would also begin learning Judo skills from Osvaldo. Alves introduced his Gracie friends to a wide variety of techniques that had not yet been adopted into BJJ.

The two most significant concepts that Alves brought back with him from Japan were the use of the side control position and takedowns. The Gracie family at the time focused more on the guard and the mount position.

They also only had a basic knowledge of takedowns and takedown defense compared to what Osaldo knew. After seeing the effectiveness of these techniques, the Gracie family learned and implemented these Judo techniques.

Grandmaster Osvaldo Alves and Master Sergio Penha
Grandmaster Osvaldo Alves and Master Sergio Penha
Credit: Instagram

During this time, Alves was training students out of his home. His mats were small – only big enough for four people to train on simultaneously. Even though his school and student base were small, Alves’ school proved successful and some of his early students, including Sergio Penha, won numerous BJJ tournaments.

Alves Helps Bring BJJ to the Amazon 

In between growing his school in Rio de Janeiro, Alves traveled to the Amazonas state with Reyson Gracie and Arthur Neto. They were on a mission to bring Jiu Jitsu to the state where it had not yet been introduced.

The three would find themselves in the city of Manaus and got in a small fight with some tough locals. Alves and the other two beat these notoriously tough locals and word got around that they were BJJ practitioners.

Many locals began seeking out the three BJJ practitioners, wanting to learn their martial art. This trip proved to be successful and extremely vital for the growth of Jiu Jitsu in the area.

Thanks to these three, Manaus would become famous for producing some incredibly talented BJJ athletes and MMA fighters.

Master Osvaldo went on to coach numerous students who became some of the all-time greats including Fredson Paixao and Bibiano Fernandes.

Thanks to the success of Osvaldo’s mission to bring Jiu Jitsu to the Amazonas, athletes from the region have had the opportunity to train and influence our sport. Some of BJJ’s top competitors, like Mica Galvao, Diogo Reis, and Fabricio Andrey, are from Manaus.

FAQs About Osvaldo Alves

When did Osvaldo Alves begin training?

Alves began learning Judo at the age of 6 in 1944. At 7, he began learning Jiu Jitsu under the Gracie family.

What did Osvaldo Alves accomplish as a competitor?

In Judo, Alves won two Pan American titles that took place in Canada and Cuba. He was also considered a fierce BJJ competitor during the 1960s.

What innovations did Osvaldo Alves make within Jiu Jitsu?

Master Alves was responsible for innovating various positions and techniques within Jiu Jitsu. Most notably he helped develop the side control position, introduced better Judo takedowns, the high guard, and of course wrist locks.

What BJJ rank did Osvaldo Alves hold? 

Alves was one of the small handful of BJJ practitioners to hold the 9th degree red belt in BJJ. In total, he practiced martial arts for over 77 years.

The Legacy of Osvaldo Alves

Osvaldo Alves Jiu Jitsu
Grandmaster Osvaldo Alves
Credit: Carlos Uka

Master Alves was the embodiment of what it meant to be a BJJ practitioner. Not only was he an innovator, but also a pioneer for introducing Jiu Jitsu into Amazona.

Osvaldo taught thousands of students and world champions in his nearly 80 years in martial arts. He was loved and respected by anyone that had the chance to meet him. 

Never forget this legend and all that he gave to the martial art that we love. RIP Master Alves.

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