Helio Gracie

Helio Gracie
With will power, courage, discipline and genius that insists on defying the impossible, he was the fundamental gear in the machine of the development of Jiu-Jitsu, the martial art that conquered the world through its efficiency.

From this point on, you can explore through exclusive and unprecedented accounts of this historic saga in three parts about the life, routine and mindset of grandmaster Helio Gracie, the greatest living martial arts legend on the planet.

“It was only one round, lasting three hours and forty-five minutes. There has never been and will never again be a fight like that one. Not even animals fight for so long. I had an ear infection, 38 degree (100 degrees Fahrenheit) fever, was 42 years of age and weighed 60kg. He was 23 and weighed 88kg. It was so bad that, in the end, I got dizzy and passed out. Some say he kicked me, others say it was a punch, and my corner threw in the towel".

Over 45 years have gone by since the episode, but its main character talks of the outcome with admirable clarity. It was an historical battle, which marked the end of fighting career of grandmaster Helio Gracie, the man who dedicated over 70 years of his life to Ju-Jitsu’s development. “It’s incredible, I think about this stuff [Jiu-Jitsu} all the time”, the teacher confesses, while sitting on the veranda of his country home, now without his gi on, and even still very willing to teach classes, not only of Jiu-Jitsu on the mats, but of how his profound knowledge of how the gentle martial art is reflected in how he thinks and faces life.

And if the teacher no longer wears 16 gis to teach the almost 40 classes per day he was accustomed to teaching in earlier days, his will power and discipline can be measured by the simplicity with which he carries out his daily routine. It is seven in the morning at the top of the mountain. It is the hour activity begins in that simple house that is “stretched according to the number of children to visit”, and that decorates “Our Valley”, an over 300 thousand meter piece of land located in the most valuable part of Itaipava, in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

They say its worth something around seven million dollars. “I bought this here ranch from the Sul do Brasil real-estate company, which was owned by my in-laws and went bankrupt. It took me 10 years to clear up the paperwork, close the deal and have it as mine. It is the best place in the world, I wouldn't even trade it for Michael Jackson's mansion", he says with pride and without showing any signs of wanting to trade his simple concrete floor for one of granite, or trade the crude finishing he did himself for a finer one.

But regalia would not be appropriate for this general that always takes his position at the front lines of the battle fields, led by a single, sometimes suicidal goal: to prove the effectiveness of the martial art that gave meaning to his life.

At seven in the morning, already the start of his day, the Gracie philosophy is present in the traditional breakfast the instructor prepares for himself and his wife, based on the nutritional guidelines laid out by his brother Carlos. Fruit juices – guava with coconut water, sugar and date palm fruit, for example – accompanied by sandwiches filled with fresh white cheese made by Master Helio himself from the milk of his own cows.

This would be the menu of the substantial meal. “I am gluttonous, but not with anything that will harm my health,” he says, justifying his adoption of the diet that he has followed with discipline for more years than double the number of fingers you have on your hands. The water he drinks is only coconut water or water from the source in the valley itself.

Seasonal fruit, like jack fruit and fruta do conde (a sweet, somewhat perfumed Brazilian seasonal fruit), are stocked in a freezer, so as to last until the next season. The only sophisticated electric domestic appliances are a powerful blender and a centrifugal machine imported under the brand name Champion, which is common to all the family members for over thirty years and without equal in the importance it has in separating seeds from the juice of apples, watermelon and melon.

“The ones that need my Jiu-Jitsu are the skinny, scared, wimpy, insecure, defenseless guys. Not the athlete"

These, besides the grapefruit extract and the already mentioned coconut water, are, separately, the “water” that mixes with all the other fruits to result in exotic juices (“apple, fig and date palm fruit, or fruta do conde with grapefruit juice.

After breaking fast, the eight dogs that guard the property, some Mastiffs, Filas and mutts, except the mild mannered Labrador bitch that is the darling of the grandchildren, are kept behind wire fences that surround the house. So Master Helio rolls up his sleeves and goes out to feed the dogs, check whether the grass needs to be mowed, and do maintenance chores around the property, making sure there isn't a place on the ranch, from the walls to the roof, that doesn't have his personal touch: "Either I built it, or helped the workers.

To this day housework consumes my whole day. I wake up at seven, go out after having breakfast, come back in for lunch, go out again and only come back at night. To me, nothing I do is work, just a work out. This is how I’ve always been; I never worked out, ran. My preparation for fights was always working, teaching," he compares. "I would teach the self-defense program, which is basic, and the ground positions, which are also basic fighting moves: passing the guard, guillotine choke, mount, armbar, footlock, chokes. All that during the nearly 40 classes in the day.

At the end of each class, there were always five or ten minutes with the student. At the end of the day, that was the work out, and I was tired.” When not working on his own house, the neighbors from the surrounding area find the pleasure of crossing paths with the master at the Bramil market, buying legumes or food for the fish and dogs, or at the bank, for example.

Lunch time approaches on a typical day and Mrs. Vera, mother of Mater Helio's six youngest children, is responsible for the meal. She is proud of her skill in preparing the diet. “I learned quickly,” she boasts, laying out the food on the cupboard, behind the dining table, with basins of corn, green beans, chicken, white rice, beats and hear of palm pie, whose breading is made from creme of rice, and not wheat, which would throw off the balance of the carbohydrates, were to be combined with the rice. Over the last few months, a special guest, who the instructor says "eats like a horse", has been taking a place at the table to enjoy these delicious meals.

He is none other than Ryron Gracie, who, with his 19 years of age and 92 kilos, surprises no one by eating this way. Despite the fact that he already teaches classes at the Torrance, California academy, Rorion’s first-born comes from the United States to study Jiu-Jitsu for a season under Helio’s tutelage. Repeating his customary discourse, the master declares: “I’m not going to teach him Jiu-Jitsu. He already knows everything I do. The only thing he will learn here is to do the same thing, just without using force.”

And to illustrate his point, the instructor extends his customary invitation to visitors to visit the latest environment to be built at the ranch, the academy built on the far right of the house. There, he offers gis and puts on his own, tying it with a blue belt in place of the red one. His disdain for the color scheme of today is nothing new. When he fought the great Japanese champion Kimura, in his most famous fight, he wore the same belt. “He didn’t like it, he asked why I wouldn't use the black. I responded: “Because I like this one,” he recalls.

“Kimura asked why I would use the blue belt. ‘Because I like it’, I responded"

A few months from now, on the first of October, the instructor will begin his ninetieth year on the way to heaven,” as a poet once said, and on the mat is where you would be most doubtful of that. With the nimbleness of a cat stalking its prey, Master Helio makes his move, his years serving as a fine tuning and not a burden. Anyone can come with all the tricks they know, like the fox. Gracie prefers to act like the porcupine, who knows only one trick, the best one. “I don’t beat anybody. I just don’t let myself get beat.

If they try to win, they get tired and lose,” he reveals, flashing a toothy smile. He challenges anyone to mount and try to attack him. Who knows what he is trying to do by putting himself in one of the worst situations in fighting, under someone invariably heavier, and starting the training there. From this totally unfavorable situation, he uses all his defense techniques to annul the attempted attacks.

He never gives up and, usually, his adversary will simply tire of attacking. He asks to switch places and shows the lethal venom of his surefire and unexpected attacks and moves. If the opponent doesn't keep up, he will likely have his arm extended. And if his two hands get to the neck, things get even worse, there is a risk of going to sleep. The training session goes on, and if a position he doesn't agree with pops up, he stops, explains and fixes it. “I’m a freak, but I’m obsessed with perfection", he justifies.

He says he is always getting better: "I don't have strength or stamina, but I keep evolving, using less force. I’m the best at the finer details, the subconscious relaxation”, he analyses. The explanation is as follows: “You might not want to use force and control that mentally, but if I stab you, you will become tense. To transform this relaxation into something instinctive is very difficult and takes a long time. I am relaxed even when I am sleeping. The minute someone tries to move on me, their tenseness warns me, and as my reflexes are quicker, I move forward and defend. Nobody can surprise me."´

If to most people a lesson like this one is as rare as a precious diamond, for a privileged group of students the story is different. Once a week the instructor goes to Rio de Janeiro to share his knowledge, through private lessons he teaches in the academy his sons Royler and Rolker manage in the high school Padre Antonio Vieira, in the Humaita neighborhood. He charges 200 dollars each lesson.

He does not attend to professional fighters, just to common people, who come from far away, such as Dr Jose Eduardo Camargo, a successful businessman from São Paulo who flies to Rio with the sole intention of learning from the master. Beyond him, Mrs. Maria Alice Dantas, Dr. Marco Aurelio Pacha and the writer Gustavo Barbosa, among others, also drink from the source. “I never liked teaching athletes,” he says. “Athletes don’t need it. The ones that need my Jiu-Jitsu are those skinny, scared, wimpy, insecure, defenseless guys.

Can you imagine that guy if he were sure he wouldn’t get stabbed, clubbed, stomped on, punched, kicked? He would learn how to get out of any situation and become invincible. His timid posture would change to become one of self-belief, and that is something priceless. It's as though you were to win a million dollars tomorrow. You will change completely,” he compares. “I still haven’t found a student that has wanted to sell, for any price, what they learned from me.

“I challenge Sakuraba to beat me without using a single Jiu-Jitsu move”

I created a means of providing people security", he says with pride, criticizing the Jiu-Jitsu taught in most academies: "There is no way to teach the method of the system in a group-class. Nobody learns the details, they forget about self-defense and made Jiu-Jitsu about competition, where only the strongest win. My own nephews, to whom I gave their diploma, know very well, but don’t teach the way they should,” he reveals with sadness.

Master Helio takes advantage of his day in the city to go to the Ceasa market, on Brasil Avenue, and fill his blue VW Santana with fruit to replenish the stock in his kitchen. He doesn’t let anybody drive for him, “I consider myself to be the best driver in the world," he says, alleging that cars is one of the three subjects that he has become a specialist in, next to Jiu-Jitsu and horses.

"I was very imprudent, it used to take me 45 minutes to get from Itaipava to Rio, at 170 km per hour," he recalls. "But as I almost died once when I bumped a gasoline truck, I created some rules. To correct myself, I create rules. So, I started steering the car with one hand, one year. Then, I steered only with the other, for another year. Next, I started braking with the other food. There was a time when I would focus on curves, highways, traffic, etc. By doing one thing at a time, over the years, I became specialized.”

The greatest legend in Jiu-Jitsu’s life is not summed up only by the Itaipava – Rio de Janeiro circuit. His presence is also very common alongside his son Rorion in California: “I've spent longer times in the United States, but I avoid flying because I don't eat or sleep during the flight," he complains. "I go there when there is work for me, like courses for the armed services, seminars, recordings of tapes." Another reason for him to curtail his travel habits is to be ringside, at the fights of the son he says mirrors his own style.

The one that is, possibly, the most famous fighter in the world, Royce Gracie. "He insists that I must be there. And that is good because then I can see if he did well or messed up", he judges, as he did with his son’s last performance, in the one and a half hour fight against Sakuraba. “It was me that decided he should stop fighting, because Royce had a broken foot. It wasn’t worth continuing with the sacrifice,” he remembers, and contests the reasons for the champion to still be fighting MMA. "In truth, I prohibited my sons from fighting, because there is no longer any reason to. Everybody already does Jiu-Jitsu. So, my whole life I'm telling some guy to learn Jiu-Jitsu and, when he learns, I go and beat him up???

My whole sacrifice has been to prove that Jui-Jitsu is the most efficient fighting style. I challenged all the greatest fighters of my time. Even the champion John Louis had to write and say he would only accept a fight under boxing rules. I scared everybody, but with the idea that they would believe in the Jiu-Jitsu that I was doing. They accepted that in Brazil and, now, the whole world. So, my reason to fight is over. If they want to make money, that is fine, go there and fight, but my goal was different. I never looked at how much I could make for a fight.

My brother Carlos took care of everything and, when I wanted, he gave me money to go to the movies," he remembers. “To fight against a student indirectly, that is wrong. Today, I challenge Sakuraba, for the price of a ticket from here to Japan: if he can beat me without using a single Jiu-Jitsu move, nothing that is in my 40 class program.

“I don’t beat anybody. I just don’t let anybody beat me. If they try to win, they tire and lose"

And he can start from any position he wants,” he says with the conviction that made him one of the most valiant men in the world, who was able to face down someone twice his size. And who began the story as a mere spectator in his brother Carlos’ gym, prohibited by doctors from exerting any physical force.

Thus, impeded from practicing the art that consumed his life, a life of battles and lessons within and without the mats, as we will find out in the next edition.

Source: www.graciemag.com


Interesting stuff for sure.



TTT. Give the man the respect he deserves.

TTT for Helio

Truly a pioneer......


I stopped reading at " And if the teacher no longer wears 16 gis to teach the almost 40 classes per day he was accustomed to teaching in earlier days... "

How many hours in the day are there in Brazil?

great article, thank you for posting it! Prof. Helio = living legend.


"I challenge Sakuraba to beat me without using a single Jiu-Jitsu move"

Is sprawl and brawl a jiu-jitsu move? Saku would kick Helio's legs off.

to be honest, he is a very cocky man, but he is a pioneer and a legend! you cant ever take away what he has done for the sport of bjj and mma

He is a legend, but it'd be kinda funny to see Sak take him up on his challenge(why Sak? Bitter much?) and do that running baseball slide sidekick through his guard..

Maybe he teaches 15 min per class. Or he figured out away to stop time.

Wore a blue belt against Kimura?

I think Helio's diet is very interesting.