Luta Livre means wrestling in Portugal. That said, the term Luta translates to ‘fight’ and Livre translates to ‘free’. Therefore, loosely the term means ‘free fighting’.
Luta Livre as we know it today emanated from Brazilian judo and wrestling. It was founded in the mid 20th century by Euclydes Hatem, who went by the name Tatu. Luta Livre truly burst into Brazilian social consciousness when the first of the major Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu vs. Luta Livre encounters happened in the 1940’s, with Hatem defeating George Gracie.
Later in the 1970’s, the art was influenced by Tatu’s students Fausto and Carlos Brunocilla, who graduated several experts. Perhaps even more so, the art was later positively impacted by Roberto Leitao, a Wrestling and Judo practitioner. This University professor of Engineering learned to use technique over raw force -similar to Helio Gracie– due to the fact that he was a smaller man and helped to refine several techniques of the art. Though Leitao certainly used leverage to his benefit, his words to Fight! Magazine note a major difference between the philosophies of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Luta Livre, with Luta Livre following an ideology more akin to what Catch wrestling or shootfighting might.
“Gracie was stubborn,” Leitao said, referring to Helio Gracie. ”He believed that leverage was enough, but he was wrong.” Those that agree with him, of course, might site the success that wrestlers had against BJJ practitioners once they adapted to the submission game.
Regardless, during the 1980’s and 90’s, the majority of the fights/challenge matches between the two arts went to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, not Luta Livre, which, along with a lack of finances- due to the fact that Luta Livre has always been considered more of a poor person’s art than jiu jitsu, which was more for the elite- declined in the eyes of MMA historians and practitioners.
Styles of Luta Livre
Luta Livre Esportiva: This style of Luta Livre refers to no-gi submission grappling. It looks similar to Catch wrestling, though it developed independently in Brazil.
Luta Livre Vale Tudo: This is really Brazilian MMA, which happened before the UFC took hold. In other words, no-gi submission grappling plus striking.
Characteristics of Luta Livre
Luta Livre looks a lot like catch wrestling, in that takedowns, takedown defense, and ground control are emphasized, as are submissions on the ground. Since Luta Livre practitioners recognize that most fights go to the ground, ground fighting is the number one priority. That said, striking of the Muay Thai variety is also currently taught within the style.
Goals of Luta Livre
The goal of Luta Livre is to take down and submit an opponent as soon as possible. Again, since striking is taught, the goal might also be to stop an opponent with strikes. That said, Luta Livre is primarily a grappling art, so the tendency would be to go with the former.
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