Helio Gracie (October 1, 1913 – January 29, 2009)
Since I began my training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I have been fascinated by the story of the Gracie family. I looked up some information on the Gracies, and this is what I found:
The Gracies are renowned worldwide for popularizing the martial art of Jiu-Jitsu through their effective and innovative understanding and application of the Japanese art, thus founding Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ for short. For many people, martial artists or otherwise, the Gracie name has become synonymous with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The Gracie Family has Mitsuyo Maeda to thank for giving Carlos Gracie his first taste of the martial arts back in 1917, when Carlos witnessed a Judo demonstration by Maeda at Da Paz Theatre in Brazil. Maeda was a Judo expert and prizefighter in no holds barred competitions. Maeda introduced Judo to various countries, including Brazil, not long after the turn of the 20th century. Maeda accepted Carlos Gracie as his student after expressing his desire to learn Judo.
Carlos shared his instructor’s teachings with his brothers. Carlos’ brother Helio was too sick to practice the art at first, but learned by watching Carlos and his other brothers train. Eventually, however, Helio’s health improved, and he eventually became an instructor. Helio realized that, while he understood the techniques conceptually, he had more difficulty executing them properly due to his small size. Consequently, rather than relying on brute force that many of the Judo techniques required, Helio modified Judo, utilizing leverage and position and thus requiring less raw strength, to compensate for what he lacked physically. As a result, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu evolved into a martial art in which smaller and weaker practitioners could defend themselves from – and defeat – larger and stronger opponents. Because of this, many consider Helio to be the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, though many believe Carlos deserves as much credit. Carlos is, as his daughter Reila Gracie refers to him, the “creator of a dynasty.”
Some consider Rolls Gracie to be the true creator of the modern form of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Rolls was a son of Carlos, who trained extensively under Helio, and was the instructor of many of the most notable members of the Gracie family, including Royler, Rickson, Rillion, and Carlos Jr. Ultimate Fighting Championship Hall of Famer Royce Gracie, son of Helio, is considered a pioneer in the sport of mixed martial arts, or MMA, and is arguably the most famous member of the Gracie family.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, was founded by Helio’s oldest son Rorion Gracie and business executive Art Davie. The UFC began as an eight-man single-elimination tournament with few rules and restrictions. The winner of a UFC tournament received $50,000. The UFC was created as a means of determining how different styles of martial arts would match up against each other. Rorion chose his younger brother Royce to represent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Royce implemented his father’s understanding of the art by defeating opponents who were much larger and stronger. Royce was the tournament winner of UFC 1, UFC 2, and UFC 4, and still holds the record for most submission wins in the UFC. Controversy and legislation later led to the reformation of the UFC, with new ownership, new rules and a new format, quite unlike anything Rorion had in mind at the start.
The Gracie family remains quite active, teaching and sharing the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu around the world, in academies and on the Internet.