Osvaldo Alves – BJJ Master of Masters

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Among the BJJ legends, there are legends among legends. Osvaldo Alves is one of them. Known as the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu encyclopedia, he is very famous in the BJJ world, that’s for sure, yet, once in a while, a human being truly changes the way a martial art develops and is seen. Osvaldo is a true virtuoso and one of these rare people.

Until his passing away, Osvaldo Alves was one of the most senior BJJ instructors alive, his name should be on the Mount Rushmore of the Jiu-Jitsu world and even in Brazil’s decorated sports history.

Osvaldo is one of the few BJJ practitioners to have reached the red belt (9th degree) in the world. Alves was always more than a mere practitioner, he was always an ever-studying martial artist and a true student of the game, always learning, challenging and developing techniques. Due to his monstrous curiosity, his BJJ IQ and ability to see the big picture, he has helped to develop Jiu-Jitsu greatly and it could even be argued that he was at the tip of the spear in BJJ’s historical development throughout the years.. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he has a direct role in the development of over a quarter of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu techniques that are used today.

Master Osvaldo Alves BJJ
Master Osvaldo Alves BJJ

Contrary to popular belief, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was not born directly from Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. On the family tree of Grappling martial arts, one could say BJJ is the fruit of one of its branches: Judo. Mitsuyo Maeda, one of the most prominent of Jigoro Kano’s Judo masters, arrived in Brazil in the 1920s and became Carlos Gracie’s teacher. It was also during this time that Hélio Gracie also started training.

After that, BJJ started to walk its own path, and, for almost half a century it would not really evolve to what we know of BJJ today. Osvaldo Alves was the man who directly influenced the evolution of BJJ into the beast we know today.

Years prior to becoming a BJJ legend, Osvaldo used to be known for his Judo skills. He had a true talent for understanding the techniques, tactics and strategies in Judo. He would take his Judo training seriously and thus he would develop even more his take-downs and his newaza game. Although ground work is what differs BJJ to all other grappling styles, some Judo styles and Japanese Judo schools also preferred to train mainly on the ground and it was while training in the art of Judo that Osvaldo Alves developed his famous side control and closed guard skills. 

Osvaldo dedicated most of his time to training and after a few years, teaching Jiu-Jitsu. He helped to develop BJJ by bringing in dynamic and aggressive movements, more effective techniques and refined submissions that ultimately changed BJJ from a slow and defensive orientated martial art to a dynamic and aggressive martial art. It should be noted that Osvaldo was a great friend of Reyson Gracie and he was in the eye of the storm in BJJ’s development.

Osvaldo Alves and Reyson Gracie were friends since childhood. Eventually, in addition to training Judo, he started to train BJJ with the Gracies and Reyson became one of his best training partners. At that moment, there was a clear separation between these martial arts. Basically, nobody but Osvaldo was training both BJJ and Judo at the same time. 

Where Did Osvaldo Alves Train Judo?

Master Osvaldo Alves
Master Osvaldo Alves

Osvaldo’s Judo training started under Shunji Hinata, a world class Judoka. It was a perfect environment for a talent like Osvaldo to learn Judo and the proof is in the pudding as Osvaldo’s Judo knowledge would be truly world class. Osvaldo would become one of the best Brazilian Judo coaches during the golden era of Judo in Rio de Janeiro.

How Did Osvaldo Alves Start BJJ?

In Jiu-Jitsu, Osvaldo trained with several renowned masters. Some that are worth mentioning are George Gracie, Carlos Gracie, Gastão Gracie, and Oswaldo Gracie. These masters were very important in his development as a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and coach. More than this, it was the fact that they were open-minded teachers that allowed Osvaldo to make his BJJ skills more malleable.

When Osvaldo started Jiu-Jitsu, he realized that this martial art had only around 5 techniques to unbalance someone on their feet. Alves helped bring more than 40 new Judo techniques to Jiu-Jitsu, which turned it into a more dynamic and unpredictable art. There is a saying in chess that states that “adding a single piece would turn chess into such a complex game that it could not be called chess anymore”. If BJJ is a game of human chess, Osvaldo Alves is the man who changed the whole board by himself. The fact that remains true, though, is that this evolution of BJJ just by mixing Judo and BJJ is a reason that Osvaldo Alvesis considered one of the most influential Jiu-jitsu masters of all time.

How did Osvaldo Alves Change BJJ?

Osvaldo Alves with Students
Osvaldo Alves with Students

Osvaldo Alves changed the whole dynamic of the game by strengthening and weaponizing all the positions found in BJJ as well as developing the idea of dynamic pressure based drilling that we find in BJJ today, prior to Alves, BJJ was very slow and static. Alves even created a sequence of movements called the “Osvaldo Alves drills” and “Osvaldo Alves Movements” which are used to this day in the best BJJ academies in the world.  BJJ would also become, some years later, a huge component of the creation of Mixed Martial Arts. The absence of the Gi makes the control positions very important in this sport and Alves always was the best in emphasizing control when on the ground. It’s not without reason that many outstanding MMA athletes came from Osvaldo Alves’ gyms. Some examples are Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort, Ronaldo Jacaré Souza, Marco Ruas, Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, and Pat Miletich.

Osvaldo came from a time when BJJ wasn’t quite a competitive sport. So, unless a person was looking for medals and other distinctions as an athlete, he might not be your guy as Osvaldo wanted to train students that wanted to do everything they could to be a champion. Besides being one of the people responsible for turning Jiu-Jitsu into the martial art we know these days, he has an extensive list of athletes who became or taught champions in many categories, not just in MMA.

Some of Alves’s best students were Bibiano Fernandes, Pasqual Duarte, Fredson Paixão, Amaury Bitetti, Paulo Filho, João Roque, Ronaldo Jacare Souza, Gabriel Kitober, Paulo Boca, Sergia Penha, José Mario Sperry, Paulo Caruso, Carlos Gracie Junior, and Rolls Gracie.

A great example of Osvaldo Alves’s teaching legacy is Paulo Caruso, who is considered one of the top athletes of the 80s. Besides, he is also known for being a great conditioning coach for many athletes around the world. This is a feature he definitely owes to Osvaldo Alves and Alves’s teaching methodology.

Towards his later years of life, Alves was the technical director of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), showing his prominence in regards to the technical development of the sport of BJJ.

The Impact Osvaldo Alves had on BJJ Conditioning

Osvaldo Alves is the person who truly introduced conditioning to Jiu-Jitsu. Before that, BJJ fighters used to rely only on the conditioning acquired with the training itself. Osvaldo successfully added specific training to increase his athletes’ endurance, strength, and speed. Osvaldo had been working on sports specific conditioning for many years prior to bringing his knowledge and approach of the subject to BJJ.

Osvaldo Alves with Gabriel Kitober
Osvaldo Alves with Gabriel Kitober

The first program he developed for a top level Jiujiteiro in regards to physical preparation was made for Rolles Gracie to work his heart, his pace, and his muscular explosion. As for Judo, balance is a key factor for Jiu-Jitsu. The same can be said about explosive movements and as a consequence, endurance. The great results soon started to show up for all of Alves’s students and the proof is their dominance in BJJ competition.

After seeing Rolles Gracie’s amazing results, Rickson Gracie and Sergio Penha began focusing their training on that same system. Nowadays, it is inconceivable a BJJ or MMA fighter would not add strength and conditioning to his daily routine yet Osvaldo was decades ahead of the BJJ community when it came to sports specific conditioning for grappling.

Osvaldo Alves was more than a great athlete in Judo and BJJ. He was responsible for the development, directly and indirectly, of many champions. Fredson Paixão, for instance, is a three times IBJJF world champion (2001, 2002, and 2005). Amaury Bitetti was the first to conquer the same championship twice in the open weight category. Marco Ruas managed to be the winner of UFC 7 after two submissions and one TKO. Paulo Caruso, who was known as one of the best BJJ athletes in Brazil during his days, became a world class trainer even being the trainer of Flávio Canto, bronze medalist in Judo at the Olympics in Athens – 2004.

Osvaldo Alves was also the first Brazilian to be invited to lecture in a Seminar at top level Judo Institute in Japan, the birthplace of Judo. That’s an incredible deed that speaks for itself. It became clear very early that Osvaldo is not an ordinary man. A Brazilian fighter teaching Judo to the Japanese in Japan is hard proof of his outstanding knowledge in the grappling martial arts of Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

Osvaldo Alves Passes Away

On July 18th, 2022, Osvaldo passed away due to complications from prostate cancer. His passing made news all over Brazil, being shown on all major Brazilian media outlets.

His passing came as a surprise to many of his students as Osvaldo was always a positive man and an incredibly fit and strong person but as with all of us, it sadly was his time to pass away.

In Conclusion

Osvaldo claimed to have created nearly a third of the moves that Jiu-Jitsu showed in the last decades. Many consider him to have even created more, thus showing his importance to the gentle art of BJJ. Truth to be told, even if taken a much lower percentage, his role in the development of BJJ as the martial art we know today is undeniable. 

Master Osvaldo Alves is a BJJ master who will always be remembered as a BJJ legend. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as a martial art would not be the same without his guidance and know how and Osvaldo Alves’s impact on the sport and the people who trained with will live on for generations to come. Osvaldo Alves truly is the BJJ master of masters.


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