Luta Livre

Master Roberto Leitao

Photo credit by BJJ Eastern Europe

November 29, 2018

I do not speak Portuguese, but in my opinion, it is the best-sounding language in the world.  Take for example the words, Luta Livre. Without evening knowing what they mean, let them roll off your tongue. And not to worry, many people, even those in the martial arts world, do not know the meaning of Luta Livre.


     Luta Livre means “free fighting,” specifically referring to the martial art developed by Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem in Rio de Janeiro during the 1920s. Mestre Tatu began practicing Catch wrestling when he was just 14 years old. By 1927, he had begun to teach his own style of fighting based on his experience in Catch wrestling and called it Luta Livre. Today there are two styles of Luta: Luta Livre esportiva and Vale Tudo. Esportiva resembles a Nogi BJJ match. Vale Tudo is anything goes fighting.

     Hastily setting aside our eagerness to make comparisons, Luta Livre has often been defined by its rivalry with Brazilian Jiu jitsu. Almost since before its inception, there were contests between the two fighting styles. Over the decades, this rivalry has grown with many well-documented contests, some available to watch online.

     There are interesting comparisons to note between Luta Livre and Brazilian Jiu jitsu. This should come as no surprise, because both arts are rooted in early 20th century Brazil. Both arts stress the importance of grappling on the ground due to its strong application during a street fight. Once on the ground, chokeholds and joint locks, including attacks to the joints of the legs, are employed to subdue one’s opponent.

     Luta fighters do not wear the gi. Much has been made of this, insinuating that Luta fighters were too poor to afford a gi. Consider instead the influence that Mitsuyo Maeda had on the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu jitsu. After all, Maeda wore a gi. Recall that the roots of Luta Livre are in Catch wrestling, a sport in which the gi is not worn.

     Comparisons between anything hide the sometimes unspoken question of, “Which one is better?” While it is natural and useful to compare, it is also potentially a trap to fall into thinking of Luta Livre in terms of its rivalry with Brazilian Jiu jitsu. If you are reading this, you are most certainly a fan of the grappling arts. Even more to the point, if you are reading this you are more than just a fan, you are a grappler. No matter if you prefer to train gi or nogi, or if you train grappling for MMA, you are assuredly a grappler. This is in stark contrast to fans of other sports.

     Just consider the number of football fans you know who have never taken the field. In many cases, the very existence of sports fandom lies in the rivalry between teams. Consider another contrast in the form of a question, “Are you, the reader, drawn to grappling because of your love of grappling rivalries or because of your love of grappling?”


Train and sustain.

Written by David Kipper