Hélio 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 Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Judo
Teacher(s) Carlos Gracie
Orlando Americo da Silva
Rank      10th degree Red Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Notable students Rickson Gracie, Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Relson Gracie, Rorion Gracie, Carlos "Caique" Elias

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 and with Luiz França and Oswaldo Fadda the martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ).[1] According to Rorion Gracie, his father Hélio 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] A patriarch of the Gracie family, he was the father of Rickson, Royler, Royce, Relson, 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. A very athletic boy, he trained in rowing and swimming from his childhood,[5] and had his first contact in martial arts at 16, when he started training judo (at that time commonly referred to as "Kano Jiu-jitsu" or simply "Jiu-Jitsu"),[6] with his brothers Carlos and George. He also learned catch wrestling under the renowned Orlando Americo "Dudú" da Silva, who also taught his brothers for a time.[7] When he was 16 years old, he found the opportunity to teach a judo class and this experience led him to develop Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.[8] 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. Consequently, he began adapting Maeda's brand of judo, already heavily based around newaza ground fighting techniques, for his particular physical attributes. From these experiments, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was created.[8] Like its parent style of Judo, these techniques allowed smaller and weaker practitioners the capability to defend themselves and even defeat much larger opponents.[9][10] “Carlos and Helio Gracie . . . brought a fresh eye to jujitsu just as their fellow countryman brought a special new approach to football.”[11]

Fighting career

Gracie had 20 professional fights in his career. He had 10 wins with 8 draws and two losses. 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.[12]

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.[13][14] He defeated the Japanese heavyweight judoka and sumo wrestler Massagoishi via armlock. Gracie had two fights with Yasuichi Ono after Ono choked out Jorge 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[15] by front choke from the guard.[16]

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.[17] This would be the last of Helio's matches that involved striking (i.e. Vale Tudo)

Kimura vs. Gracie

Kimura versus Gracie with his winning "Kimura lock." The headline reads: "(Moral) Victory for Helio Gracie."

Gracie issued a challenge to a highly touted Judoka named Kimura.[18] An agreement was made under what would be known as the "Gracie Rules" via the Gracie Challenge that throws and pins would NOT count towards victory only submission or loss of consciousness.[18] This played against Judo rules in which Pins and throws can award someone a victory.[19]

In 1951, famous judoka Masahiko Kimura defeated Gracie in a submission judo/jiujitsu match held in Brazil.[15] 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 Yukio Kato, 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.[20] 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 refused to submit.

In a 1994 interview with Yoshinori Nishi, 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.

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.[21] 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

Hélio Gracie had been married to Margarida for fifty years.[22] 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.[13][23] After Margarida's death, he married Vera who was 32 years his junior.[22] Gracie was grandfather to many BJJ black belts, including Ryron, Rener, Ralek, Kron, and Rhalan.

In his late years, Gracie was quoted as saying: "I never loved any woman because love is a weakness, and I don’t have weaknesses."[24]

Career highlights


See also



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]


  1. Ericson, E., Jr. (2009): Never Give Up: Helio Gracie Baltimore City Paper (December 30, 2009). Retrieved on April 6, 2010.
  2. Jeffrey, Douglas (March 1999). "Helio Gracie on Brazilian Jujutsu". Black Belt. Retrieved July 25, 2010.
  3. 1 2 Kimura, M. (1985): My Judo (Part 2) Retrieved on April 6, 2010.
  4. 1 2 Hill, R. (2008): World of Martial Arts! Retrieved on April 6, 2010. (ISBN 978-0-5570-1663-1)
  5. Roberto Pedreira, Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949, 2014
  6. H Irving Hancock (2009) [1905]. The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu - Jiudo - The Official Jiu-Jitsu Of The Japanese Government - With Additions By Hoshino And Tsutsumi And Chapters On The Serious ... Japanese Science Of The Restoration Of Life. Katsukuma Higashi. Grizzell Press. p. ix. ISBN 1-4446-5253-2. the most modern and effective school of the art, the Kano system, which is to-day the real jiu-jitsu of Japan
  7. "The history of Luta Livre and Vale Tudo in Brazil - Part I -". Luta Livre Academy.
  8. 1 2 "Gracie family patriarch Helio Gracie dead at 95". NBC Sports. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
  9. "Helio Gracie, Promoter of Jiu-Jitsu, Dies at 95". New York Times. January 30, 2009. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
  10. Gracie, Helio; Thomas De Soto (2006). Gracie Jiu-Jitsu: The Master Text (1st ed.). Los Angeles: Black Belt Communications. p. 284. ISBN 978-0-9759411-1-9.
  11. Law, Mark (2007). The Pyjama Game: A Journey Into Judo (2008 ed.). London: Aurum Press Ltd. p. 222.
  12. "Kakutou Striking Spirit". May 1, 2002.
  13. 1 2 "Gracie Family Tree". Gracie.com. Retrieved January 30, 2009.
  14. Noblat, Gustavo (January 30, 2009). "Hélio Gracie cumpre sua missão". Terra Networks. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  15. 1 2 Chen, J. (c. 2003): Masahiko Kimura (1917–1993): The man who defeated Helio Gracie Retrieved on April 7, 2010.
  16. "Helio x Kato". YouTube.com.
  17. Grant, T.P. (January 2, 2012). "MMA Origins: Carlson Gracie Changes Jiu-Jitsu and Vale Tudo". Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved July 2, 2012.
  18. 1 2 T.P. Grant. "Gods of War: Masahiko Kimura". Bloody Elbow.
  19. "Gurnee Judo Club-Club All Stars". gurneejudoclub.com.
  20. Jim Chen, M.D. and Theodore Chen Masahiko Kimura The Man Who Defeated Helio Gracie Retrieved on April 24, 2012
  21. "Helio Gracie Dead". Sherdog.com. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  22. 1 2 "Helio Gracie 2001 Playboy Interview". global-training-report.com.
  23. Knapp, Brian; TJ DeSantis (January 29, 2009). "Helio Gracie Dead". Sherdog.com. Retrieved January 30, 2009.
  24. "Vale Tudo Relics: The Life and Times of Helio Gracie". Sherdog.com. Retrieved December 18, 2015.
  25. Archived December 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.

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