Helio Gracie

Helio Gracie

Hélio Gracie
Gracie in 2004
Born (1913-10-01)October 1, 1913
Belém do Pará, Brazil
Died January 29, 2009(2009-01-29) (aged 95)
Petrópolis, Brazil
Style Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo
Teacher(s) Carlos Gracie
Rank      10th degree red belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
     6th degree black belt in Judo
Notable students Rickson Gracie, Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Relson Gracie, Rorion Gracie, Carlos "Caique" Elias, Pedro Sauer, Gui Valente,

Hélio Gracie (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈɛlju ˈɡɾejsi]; October 1, 1913 – January 29, 2009) was a Brazilian martial artist who, together with his brother Carlos Gracie, founded the martial art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, known internationally as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).[1] According to Rorion Gracie, his father Helio Gracie is one of the first sports heroes in Brazilian history; he was named Man of the Year in 1997 by the American martial arts publication Black Belt magazine.[2] He was the father of Rickson Gracie, Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Relson Gracie, and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Co-founder Rorion Gracie, among other sons and daughters. According to one of his most notable opponents, Masahiko Kimura, Gracie held the rank of 6th dan in judo.[3][4][a]

Early life

Gracie was born on October 1, 1913, in Belém do Pará, Brazil. When he was 16 years old, he found the opportunity to teach a jiu jutsu class (at that time judo was commonly referred to as Kano Jiu-Jitsu or simply Jiu-Jitsu),[5] and this experience led him to develop Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.[6] A director of the Bank of Brazil, Mario Brandt, arrived for a private class at the original Gracie Academy in Rio de Janeiro, as scheduled. The instructor, Carlos Gracie, was running late and was not present. Helio offered to begin the class with the man. When the tardy Carlos arrived offering his apologies, the student assured him it was no problem, and actually requested that he be allowed to continue learning with Helio Gracie instead. Carlos agreed to this and Helio Gracie became an instructor.

Gracie realized, however, that even though he knew the techniques theoretically, the moves were much harder to execute. Due to his smaller size, he realized many of the judo moves required brute strength[6] which did not suit his small stature. Consequently, he began adapting judo for his particular physical attributes, and through trial and error learned to maximize leverage, thus minimizing the force that needed to be exerted to execute a technique. From these experiments, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, later known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, was created.[6] Using these new techniques, smaller and weaker practitioners gained the capability to defend themselves and even defeat much larger opponents.[7][8]

Fighting career

Gracie had 19 professional fights in his career. He began his fighting career when he submitted professional boxer Antonio Portugal in 30 seconds in 1932. In that same year, he fought American professional wrestler Fred Ebert for fourteen 3 minute rounds. The event was claimed to have been stopped because Brazilian law did not allow any public events to continue after 2:00 AM, but in an interview Gracie admitted that he was stopped by the doctor due to the high fever caused by a swelling, and he had to undergo an urgent operation the next day.[9]

In 1934, Gracie fought Polish professional wrestler Wladek Zbyszko, who was billed as a former world champion, for three 10 minute rounds. Even though the wrestler was almost twice Gracie's weight, he could not defeat him, and the match ended in a draw. Gracie then defeated Taro Miyake, a Japanese professional wrestler and judoka (practitioner of judo) who had an extensive professional fighting record and worked for Ed "Strangler" Lewis in the United States of America.

Gracie also fought several Japanese judoka under submission rules. In 1932, he fought Japanese judoka Namiki. The fight ended in a draw although Hélio was already twisting his arm when the bell rang.[10][11] He defeated the Japanese heavyweight judoka and sumo wrestler Massagoishi via armlock. Gracie had two fights with Yasuichi Ono after Ono choked out George Gracie (Hélio Gracie's brother) in a match. Both fights ended in a draw. Gracie fought judoka Yukio Kato twice. The first time was at Maracanã stadium and they went to a draw. Afterwards, Kato asked for a rematch. The rematch was held at Ibirapuera Stadium in São Paulo and Gracie won[12] by front choke from the guard. [13]

In May 1955, at the YMCA in Rio de Janeiro, Gracie participated in a 3 hour 42 minute fight against his former student Valdemar Santana with Santana knocking out Gracie with a soccer kick.[14] This would be the last of Helio's matches that involved striking (i.e. Vale Tudo)

Kimura versus Gracie

Helio Gracie issued a challenge to a highly touted Judoka named Kimura. [3]

In 1951, famous judoka Masahiko Kimura defeated Gracie in a submission judo/jiujitsu match held in Brazil.[12] During the fight Kimura threw Gracie repeatedly with Ippon Seoinage (one arm shoulder throw), Ouchi Gari (major inner reap), Uchimata (inner thigh throw), Harai Goshi (sweeping hip throw), and Osoto Gari (major outer reap). However, Helio Gracie was able to perform ukemi, as demonstrated by his earlier match with Kimura's fellow judoka Kado, was in excellent condition, benefited from the soft mat used in competition, and showed a strong will to win and refusal to lose - he was undeterred.[15] Unable to subdue Helio through throwing alone, the fight progressed into groundwork. Kimura maintained a dominance in the fight at this point by using techniques such as kuzure-kamishiho-gatame (modified upper four corner hold), kesa-gatame (scarf hold), and sankaku-jime (triangle choke). Thirteen minutes into the bout Kimura positioned himself to apply a reverse ude-garami (arm entanglement, a shoulderlock). Gracie did not submit to this technique which has been widely incorrectly reported as his elbow being dislocated as well as the radius and ulna bones being broken. Gracie's corner threw in the towel at this point, where it has been speculated that they delayed this action due to being instructed not to by Gracie.

In a 1994 interview with Nishi Yoshinori, Helio Gracie admitted that he had been rendered unconscious very early in the bout by a choke although Kimura released the choke and continued the bout.

As a tribute to Kimura's victory, the reverse ude-garami technique he used to defeat Gracie, has since been commonly referred to as the Kimura lock, or simply the Kimura, in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and, more recently, mixed martial arts circles.

Kimura describes the event as follows:

"20,000 people came to see the bout including President of Brazil. Helio was 175cm and 68 kg. When I entered the stadium, I found a coffin. I asked what it was. I was told, "This is for Kimura. Helio brought this in." It was so funny that I almost burst into laughter. As I approached the ring, raw eggs were thrown at me. The gong rang. Helio grabbed me in both lapels, and attacked me with O-soto-gari and Kouchi-gari. But they did not move me at all. Now it's my turn. I blew him away up in the air by O-uchi-gari, Harai-goshi, Uchimata, Ippon-seoi. At about 10 minute mark, I threw him by O-soto-gari. I intended to cause a concussion. But since the mat was so soft that it did not have much impact on him. While continuing to throw him, I was thinking of a finishing method. I threw him by O-soto-gari again. As soon as Helio fell, I pinned him by Kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame. I held still for 2 or 3 minutes, and then tried to smother him by belly. Helio shook his head trying to breathe. He could not take it any longer, and tried to push up my body extending his left arm. That moment, I grabbed his left wrist with my right hand, and twisted up his arm. I applied Udegarami. I thought he would surrender immediately. But Helio would not tap the mat. I had no choice but keep on twisting the arm. The stadium became quiet. The bone of his arm was coming close to the breaking point. Finally, the sound of bone breaking echoed throughout the stadium. Helio still did not surrender. His left arm was already powerless. Under this rule, I had no choice but twist the arm again. There was plenty of time left. I twisted the left arm again. Another bone was broken. Helio still did not tap. When I tried to twist the arm once more, a white towel was thrown in. I won by TKO. My hand was raised high. Japanese Brazilians rushed into the ring and tossed me up in the air. On the other hand, Helio let his left arm hang and looked very sad withstanding the pain."

Later life

Gracie's son, Rorion Gracie, was the first Gracie family member to bring Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the United States of America. Royce Gracie, Rorion's younger brother, went on to become the first UFC champion in the organization's history; Helio coached Royce from outside the cage at UFC 1 and UFC 2.

Gracie died on the morning of January 29, 2009, in his sleep in Itaipava, in the city of Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro.[16] The cause of death, reported by the family, was natural causes. His last words were: "I created a flag from the sport’s dignity. I oversee the name of my family with affection, steady nerves and blood." Gracie was able to utilize the same Jiu-Jitsu techniques which he helped to develop until his death. He was 95 years old, and was teaching/training on the mat until 10 days before his death, when he became ill.

Personal life

Gracie had been married to Margarida for fifty years.[17] During their marriage, Gracie became the father of three sons (Rickson, Rorion, and Relson) with Isabel 'Belinha' Soares and four sons (Royler, Rolker, Royce, Robin), two daughters (Rerika and Ricci) with Vera.[10][11] After Margarida's demise, he married Vera who was 32 years younger than he.[17] Gracie was grandfather to many BJJ black belts, including Ryron, Rener, Ralek, Kron, and Rhalan.

Career highlights

  • 1932: Submitted Antonio Portugal by armlock
  • 1932: Draw with Takashi Namiki
  • 1932: Draw with Fred Ebert
  • 1934: Draw with Wladek Zbyszko
  • 1934: Submitted Taro Miyake by choke
  • 1935: Submitted Dudu by Side kick to the spleen.
  • 1935: Draw with Yassuiti Ono
  • 1936: Draw with Takeo Yano
  • 1936: Submitted Massagoichi by armlock
  • 1936: Draw with Yassuiti Ono
  • 1937: Submitted Erwin Klausner by armlock
  • 1937: Submitted Espingarda
  • 1950: Submitted Landulfo Caribe by choke
  • 1950: Submitted Azevedo Maia by choke
  • 1951: Draw with Kato
  • 1951: Submitted Kato by choke
  • 1951: Defeated by Masahiko Kimura by Kimura lock
  • 1955: Defeated by Valdemar Santana by TKO (fight duration 3h 42min)
  • 1967: Submitted Valdomiro dos Santos Ferreira by choke


See also

  • List of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners



a. ^ According to Masahiko Kimura in My Judo (1985), Gracie was ranked 6th dan when he issued a challenge to Kimura.[3] According to Robert Hill in World of Martial Arts! (2008), Kodokan records show Gracie at the rank of 3rd dan, but Hill also noted that it was not unusual for Kodokan records to show a lower rank than that actually held by non-Japanese judo practitioners.[4]


External links

  • Academia Gracie de Jiu Jitsu
  • Gastão and Hélio Gracie talk about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu - interviewed in 1997 for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Videos
  • Interview with Helio Gracie from Brazilian Playboy February 2001