The founding father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and patriarch of the Gracie family, Helio Gracie, died in early 2009 at the age of 95. His influence in martial arts as well as the sport of mixed martial arts is mind boggling. The Gracie family name will forever be synonymous with Brazilian sports, jiu-jitsu, MMA and the UFC”not only due to Helios own accomplishments but the legacy he created both by training others and through his family.
Helio Gracie began training in judo early in life, and by the age of 16 had already begun to teach others in his native Brazil. He was bothered by judo’s reliance on ‘brute strength’, however, and along with his brother Carlos began to adapt many of its forms to a new fighting system more reliant on leverage than strength. This prompted the creation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), frequently called Gracie Jiu Jitsu in his honor.
Gracie also had a professional fighting career of his own, taking on champions from other fighting disciplines in an early version of modern MMA. These bouts were arduous, unregulated affairs with arbitrary rules and no time limits. By his own recollection, Gracie fought 15 times against the top opponents of his time. He began his career in’32 by submitting professional boxer Antonio Portugal in just 32 seconds. Later that year, he fought American catch wrestler Frank Ebert to a draw after the ringside doctor ordered the bout stopped after an ungodly fourteen ten minute rounds.
Gracie’s most famous opponent was against legendary Japanese judoka Masahiko Kimura. Gracie fought bravely in a losing cause, and ironically may have enhanced his reputation in defeat. He refused to submit to a reverse arm bar (the move that is now known as a ‘kimura’ in honor of its inventor), and the fight ended after his brother Carlos threw in the towel after Helio’s arm had been broken.
Helio Gracie’s impact on fight sports and mixed martial arts would continue through his offspring. Married twice, he had seven sons (Rickson, Royler, Rolker, Royce, Relson, Robin and Rorion) and two daughters (Rerika and Ricci), many of whom went on to make their own mark on the fight sport world. Royce Gracie is well known as the first UFC superstar, while sons Rickson Royler, Renzo have also achieved considerable fame in professional MMA.
Gracie died at age 95, after suffering stomach problems though the cause of his death was officially listed as ‘natural causes’. His last words are classic and highly fitting for a man who gave so much to martial arts and fighting sports:
Gracie’s last words are as follows:”I created a flag from the sports dignity. I oversee the name of my family with affection and nerves of blood.
Ross Everett is a freelance sports writer and noted authority on sports betting odds comparison. He writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sports news and sportsbook directory sites. He lives in Las Vegas with three Jack Russell Terriers and an emu. He is currently working on an autobiography of former interior secretary James Watt.