Luta Livre is a Brazilian martial art, which is primarily a mixture of Catch wrestling and Judo. There are also forms of Atemi, striking techniques with hands, feet, knees and elbows. The name "Luta" is Portuguese for "Fight" and "Livre" for "Free", roughly meaning "Free fighting". There are two styles known as "Luta Livre Esportiva" and "Luta Livre Vale tudo". Both styles are no-gi. Noticeable practitioners are Marco Ruas, Ebenezer Fontes Braga, Johil de Olivera and Alexandre Franca Nogueira.
Luta Livre Esportiva (Esportiva being Portuguse for "Sporting") is a style of submission wrestling with the aim to force his opponent to submit via armlock, leglock, choke or necklock or by points to win (i.e. takedowns, domination position). Punches, kicks and other "hard" techniques are not allowed as this is seen as more of a sport than an actual form of self-defense or fighting.
Luta Livre Vale Tudo includes techniques in the clinch, as well as on the ground for Vale Tudo and other MMA-style fights. Here, punches and kicks are allowed. The ground fight and submission is still it's strongest element.
Luta Livre's founder is credited to be Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem, who was originally a catch wrestler. He began teaching catch wrestling techniques to others in Rio de Janeiro in 1927 while experimenting with some of his own innovative techniques. He received popularity when he submitted George Gracie in 1940 and when one of his students, Euclides Perreria defeated Carlson Gracie in 1968. Around the 1970s, the art of Luta Livre was influenced by Robert Leitao, a practitioner of Judo and Wrestling. Leitao also articulated the "Theory of Grappling", sometimes referred to as "Theory of Luta Livre". Leitao also chose to innovate techniques, stating in an interview that he would keep a notepad by his bedside and whenever he thought or dreamed of a certain technique, he would write it down and attempt it the next day. This helped Luta Livre became a more unique style of martial art.
Luta Livre and Brazilian jiu-jitsu
Luta Livre, in its early days, was largely considered to be a "poor kids martial art" due to appearances since they didn't fight with a gi. By the 1980s, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu had become very popular in Brazil and Luta Livre representatives were wanting to help popularize their art by accepting challenges from Brazilian jiu-jitsu champions in Vale Tudo and Submission matches. However, this would hurt Luta Livre's reputation with Hugo Duarte losing to Rickson Gracie then getting knocked out by Tank Abbott at UFC 17 and Eugenio Tadeu losing to Wallid Ismael due to his inability to re-enter the ring in time. While Tadeu did battle Royler Gracie to a draw in an indoor fight, his battle with Renzo Gracie in 1997 ended in a No Contest due to fan's rioting. In 1991 Desafio hosted a Jiu-Jitsu vs Luta Livre card that had three representatives of Brazilian jiu-jitsu up against three representatives of Luta Livre, with BJJ winning all three fights.
When MMA became popularized and after BJJ having such success against Luta Livre practitioners in the more popular MMA fights, more Luta Livre practitioners left their original camps and went instead to the Jiu-Jitsu camps hoping for success in a fighting career. Despite their overall losses against Jiu-Jitsu, Luta Livre seems to be making a resurgence in mixed martial arts.