Rio de Janeiro has served as a fitting backdrop for the evolution of Jiu-Jitsu. As the city’s urban landscape has changed drastically over the decades, so has Jiu-Jitsu in the Cidade Maravilhosa.
But in the quiet residential neighborhood of Tijuca, insulated from the tourist hot spots of Zona Sul, a little-known academy has quietly but faithfully upheld the Helio Gracie lineage for nearly 50 years. Grand Master Francisco Mansor opened the Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu in Tijuca in 1965, where it has operated since. This means Escola Kioto is one of the oldest continuously operating Jiu-Jitsu academies in the history of Jiu-Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro.
About Grand Master Francisco Mansor
Francisco Mansor was 15 years old when he moved to Rio de Janeiro city, where he met Grand Master Helio Gracie in 1954. Initially unable to afford Jiu-Jitsu lessons with Helio, Mansor began training Judo instead. Soon, Mansor followed up on one of the Gracies’ open challenges to outsiders at their Academia Gracie. While Mansor handled himself well in the stand-up game, he was overcome by the Gracie students’ superior ground game. However, Helio was impressed by Mansor’s courage. He accepted him as a student, and waived the usual training fees. Mansor continued his training under Helio and represented the Academia Gracie in the best of forms by fighting in and winning all 38 of his no-holds-barred fights. Mansor became only one of 6 men outside the Gracie family to receive a black belt from the hands of Helio Gracie.
Grand Master Mansor founded the Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu in the Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro in 1965. It’s address has never changed, making it one of the oldest continuously operating Jiu-Jitsu academies in the history of Jiu-Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro.* In founding the Escola Kioto, Mansor developed and implemented a systematic curriculum still in use today. The curriculum is based primarily on the teachings of Grand Master Helio Gracie. Today, Mansor teaches out of his academy in New York, USA. His son, Kraus Mansor (a 5th degree black belt), now manages the Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro under the supervision of his father. At 73 years old, Grand Master Mansor still frequently visits the academy he opened in 1965.
Finding the Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu
The neighborhood of Tijuca is a solidly middle-class outpost in the otherwise dicey Zona Norte. Tijuca is a large neighborhood (more than twice the size of Copacabana and more than three times the size of Ipanema). It is well served by 3 Rio Metro stations and many bus lines linking the neighborhood to Zona Sul. Escola Kioto is located only 2 blocks from Saens Peña station, the last station on Line 1 (about a 30-minute ride from Copacabana stations).
The Saens Peña station and main bus stops are right on the Saens Peña plaza, which is shaped like a triangle. Once on the plaza, make your way to the narrow corner of the triangle and look for the small side street off the plaza named Rua Carlos Vasconcelos. Walk down Rua Carlos Vasconcelos, past the first intersection, and over the small canal. Take your first left after the small canal onto the narrow residential street of Rua Jurupari (unmarked). Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu is about halfway down the block on the left at Rua Jurupari #18. It is clearly marked with a sign on the exterior.
Intruction and Training at Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu
The original Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu functions today much as it did when Grand Master Mansor (or Tio Chico—Uncle Chico—as he’s affectionately called at the academy) first opened the doors in 1965. The academy has always used a strict, systematic, and pre-defined learning curriculum. The openly posted curriculum specifies the techniques that students must progressively acquire during each class if they want to advance. As explained by André Carvalho, one of the head instructors, this system has two specific advantages. First, each student knows exactly the techniques he or she must learn in order to progress. Second, all of the instructors know exactly which techniques must be taught, which saves time and guarantees consistency.
The emphasis on a traditional, systematic curriculum might give some people the wrong impression—that the curriculum hasn’t evolved as Jiu-Jitsu has evolved. While the core curriculum remains the same, elements have been developed and added over time. As proof of this, drills to counter the berimbolo were part of the instruction on the day of our visit to the academy. The curriculum presently in use is dated 2008, heavily notated, and due for a new revision soon. It is also important to note that the curriculum is primarily aimed at beginners (white and blue belts) in order to develop a strong foundation for more advanced instruction later on. Advanced belts have more independence from the curriculum, allowing them to work advanced techniques, including many which are not on the curriculum at all.
A typical adult class is comprised of 25 to 30 students, evenly split between white/blue belts, purple belts and brown/black belts. Class begins with about 15 minutes of light warm-ups and slow stretching exercises, followed by solo body movement drills. Escola Kioto embraces the stand-up game more than most of its peer BJJ academies in Rio, and instruction begins with one Judo technique from stand-up. Fortunately, the mat space is large and there is plenty of room to drill techniques, even with 30 students. Later, in accordance with the curriculum, a sequence of related techniques is reviewed with one or two new additions for that day’s instruction. The instruction-to-student ratio is very good, with multiple instructors during large classes. Advanced belts have substantially more flexibility with the curriculum, and sometimes review more advanced techniques as a separate group. Once instruction has finished, 6 pairs are arranged for sparring, starting with the most advanced belts.
Despite Escola Kioto‘s position as one of the “most traditional” BJJ academies, the environment is relaxed. Bowing before stepping on the mat and proper greetings all around are still expected of course. But the open, friendly and social environment shows that Escola Kioto is as much a family as it is a BJJ academy. Joking and teasing among students is ever present (as in all academies, this is Brazil after all), but it never descends into vulgarity (as in some academies). Egos are clearly left at the door. And everyone is there because they love Jiu-Jitsu. Among the black belts training on the day of our visit was a coral belt (7th degree). Not teaching. Training.
Dropping in at Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu
Escola Kioto operates a first-class-free policy (aula experimental) for Brazilians and foreigners alike. The academy receives few foreigners, and those it does receive tend to be from Grand Master Mansor’s academy in New York. Foreigners are welcome, but do not expect anyone to speak more than a bare minimum of English. Prepare a few important phrases in Portuguese in advance.
Escola Kioto has operated from its original location for 48 years (and counting), since 1965. It might be the oldest continuously operating BJJ academy in Rio de Janeiro.
The original Academia Gracie is of course much older as an organization. The Academia Gracie opened its doors in the Flamengo neighborhood in 1925 before moving to Centro in the 1950s (perhaps, more specifically, on 18 April 1952). Thus, it operated probably operated from a single location for a maximum of only 27 years. Later, the academy moved to Lagoa in 1981, and again to its current location in Humaitá in 1985. It has operated from that location for only 28 years. Today, the academy is known as Gracie Humaitá.
The Carlson Gracie academy appears to have opened its doors in 1964, one year before Kioto Jiu-Jitsu. However, these early years during the formation of the academy were rocky due to problems with an early investor. It is not certain whether the Carlson Gracie academy was actually “open for business” in 1964. If it was, Carlson Gracie academy has been operating for 49 years and is the oldest continuously operating academy. If it was not, Escola Kioto is the oldest continuously operating academy.
If you have any additional information to clarify the matter, shoot us an email or leave a comment.
Escola Kioto de Jiu-Jitsu Highlights
- The oldest continuously operarting Jiu-Jitsu academy in Rio de Janeiro
- Founded by Grand Master Francisco Mansor, one of 6 non-Gracies to receive a black belt from Helio Gracie
- Strict, systematic curriculum for beginners
- More flexibility in the curriculum for advanced belts
- A bargain at only R$ 100 (about US$ 50) per month
- Located in the Tijuca neighborhood in Rio’s Zona Norte