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Founder of Luta Livre: Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem


Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem is a central figure in the world of Brazilian martial arts, recognized as the founder of the grappling martial art Luta Livre. Born in 1914, Hatem was instrumental in developing a system of combat that came to be known as Luta Livre Esportiva. This form of martial arts places a strong emphasis on ground fighting and submission, without the use of a Gi or kimono, differentiating it from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which utilizes the traditional uniform.

Throughout his life, Hatem was not only a practitioner but also an innovator and a teacher, spreading Luta Livre across Brazil and sparking a longstanding rivalry with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. His contributions extend beyond technique; they encapsulate a philosophy of accessibility and adaptability in martial arts. Unlike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the time, which was often taught in exclusive academies, Hatem’s Luta Livre was accessible to the masses, reflecting his belief in the democratization of martial arts training.

Hatem’s contribution to martial arts stretches across decades, influencing countless students and shaping the landscape of combat sports in Brazil. His legacy is evident not only in the techniques of Luta Livre but also in the sport's culture, which champions resilience, resourcefulness, and a spirit of inclusivity. Hatem passed away in 1984, but his impact on Luta Livre and modern combat sports remains profound, cementing his status as a pivotal figure in martial arts history.

Origins of Euclydes 'Tatu' Hatem

Euclydes Hatem, better known as "Tatu", is recognized as the founder of Luta Livre in Brazil, blending wrestling techniques with street fighting knowledge.

euclydes tatu hatem

Early Life

Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem was born in 1914, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Coming from a modest background, he grew up in a society where social class heavily influenced one's opportunities. Born to a Brazilian family with Lebanese roots, Hatem discovered his passion for catch wrestling at the age of 14 at the Associação de Cristã de Moços in Rio de Janeiro. Known since childhood as "Tatu" ("armadillo") due to his compact and sturdy physique, he demonstrated remarkable aptitude in the sport. His primary mentor was the esteemed Orlando Americo da Silva, also known as "Dudú," who was also a mentor to George and Hélio Gracie.

Martial Arts Beginnings

Hatem's initiation into martial arts began with his interest in wrestling, an uncommon practice in Brazil at the time. His dedication to learning combat sports eventually led him to explore a range of techniques including catch-as-catch-can wrestling. Coupled with the essential self-defense skills relevant to the urban environment of Rio, Hatem adapted these techniques, which became the foundation of Luta Livre.

Fighting Career

Euclydes Hatem, after intensive training, went pro, navigating the fluctuating fighting scene of catch-as-catch-can and vale tudo. By 1935, he had already made a name for himself, defeating notable fighters like Italian Attilio and Brazilian Bogma. That year, he triumphed in Brazil's first international wrestling championship, notably submitting the experienced Kutter. Shortly after, as "Mestre Tatu" or "Tatu," he faced the 300-pound "Máscara Negra" ("Black Mask"), suspected to be the renowned Wladek Zbyszko. Despite losing after 40 minutes, Tatu's skill impressed everyone, particularly his proficiency in chokeholds, which led some opponents to only engage him if chokeholds were banned.

In 1937, Tatu encountered Takeo Yano, a judoka and hand-to-hand combat instructor for the Brazilian Navy. Despite their prior training relationship, their match was fiercely competitive, with Tatu winning by choke. Yano sought a rematch under new rules requiring Tatu to wear a judogi, which played to Yano's advantage, resulting in Tatu's shoulder injury and defeat. After recovering, Tatu moved to Porto Alegre for new challenges, including a notable victory over Luiz Stock, despite Stock's protests and demands for a rematch.

Three years later, in the Copa Mundial Benito Valladares, Tatu's win set him up against Charles Ulsemer, the French wrestling champion. Their first match ended in a draw, but in the rematch, Tatu secured victory with an armlock, refereed by Oswaldo Gracie. This victory led to a friendship with Ulsemer. Tatu continued competing, participating in an elite São Paulo tournament against renowned wrestlers. Despite a ruleset that disadvantaged him, his efforts were lauded by the Brazilian press.

1942 saw Tatu back in Porto Alegre, facing off against George Gracie, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu exponent and catch wrestling trainee. Tatu won with a rear naked choke in the second round, a victory often misattributed to an Americana lock due to a newspaper photo. His dominance led to a dismissal of any rematch prospects.

Tatu's 1947 Argentina tour remained unbeaten, and he revisited his rivalry with Takeo Yano, winning by submission. That year, he also faced Leon Falkenstein, a Russian superheavyweight nicknamed "Homem Montanha" ("Mountain Man"). Despite Falkenstein's proposal for a staged match, Tatu insisted on a genuine contest, defeating him in just 37 seconds. Falkenstein sought a rematch after additional training, but Tatu again emerged victorious by submission.

euclydes tatu hatem demonstrates a leg lock
Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem demonstrates a leg lock


Tatu concluded his fighting career in the 1950s, transitioning from professional combat to training others. He opened a gym where he taught his version of luta livre. Despite stepping back from professional bouts, Tatu remained engaged in combat; notably, he swiftly defeated Valdemar Santana when Santana challenged him at his gym. A potential matchup with Hélio Gracie was discussed, but it never materialized due to a disagreement over attire; Gracie insisted on a gi-clad fight, which Tatu declined. Devoting himself to instruction, Tatu imparted his extensive knowledge to students, including Carlos and Fausto Brunocilla, until his passing in 1984.

Development of Luta Livre

Luta Livre, a form of Brazilian wrestling, was systematized by Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem. It emerged as a distinct and influential martial art form that incorporates elements of catch wrestling and judo.

Influence and Evolution

Euclydes Hatem, often referred to as "Tatu," is considered the patriarch of Luta Livre. In the 1920s, he began to incorporate techniques from various grappling disciplines. Hatem's integration of catch-as-catch-can wrestling methods with traditional Brazilian techniques marked the evolution of Luta Livre into a unique combat style. During the mid-20th century, this martial art further developed under his guidance, as he trained several generations of fighters. The expansion of Luta Livre was also propagated through its rivalry with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, each style vying for dominance in martial arts circles.

Distinguishing Features

Key Techniques: Luta Livre is known for its versatile ground game and submission holds, emphasizing agility and strategy.

Training Philosophy: It stresses the importance of adaptability and resilience, favoring a more open and flexible approach than some traditional martial arts.

Rule Set: In competition, Luta Livre allows a wider array of submissions compared to some of its counterparts.

Legacy and Impact

Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem left an indelible mark on the world of combat sports, solidifying Luta Livre's place in martial arts history. By emphasizing no-gi techniques, Hatem was ahead of his time in appreciating the practical aspects of grappling without the traditional kimono. This approach made Luta Livre particularly relevant for mixed martial arts (MMA) and no-gi grappling competitions, influencing these sports significantly.

While his impact is most pronounced in Brazil, Hatem's influence extends internationally, as practitioners of no-gi grappling and MMA globally have adopted techniques and strategies that can be traced back to his teachings and style.

Contributions to Martial Arts

Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem pioneered the development of Luta Livre, a form of Brazilian wrestling known for its no-gi emphasis and integration with combat techniques. He established a unique fighting system by combining catch wrestling principles with local traditional practices. Key points in his contributions include:

  • No-Gi Focus: Popularized the practice of submission wrestling without the gi, allowing for a different range of techniques compared to traditional gi-based Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  • Technique Innovation: Created and refined techniques that are fundamental to modern no-gi grappling and mixed martial arts.

Recognition and Followers

Hatem's legacy lives on through the recognition he garnered and the practitioners he influenced. Notable aspects are:

  • Acknowledgments: Recognized as a pioneer in Brazilian martial arts, contributing to the evolution of combat sports globally.
  • Influencing Fighters: His teachings laid the groundwork for future generations of fighters and instructors in Luta Livre and MMA.

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