‘Gracie’ Responsible for Worldwide Explosion of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Never has there been a family more beloved in the world of martial arts than the Gracies. When you talk to MMA and UFC fighters they all speak with a tone of reverence and admiration for the family that changed the face of modern hand to hand combat.

Luis Fernando Heredia A.K.A., Luis ‘Limao’ said, “I have been training with the Gracies for over 30 years, I am also part of the first Jiu Jitsu academy in the U.S., THE GRACIE ACADEMY in Torrance, CA. Personally speaking about the issue, I HAVE LIVED the Jiu Jitsu REVOLUTION in this country and the world, I am obligated and responsible to publicly acknowledge the GRACIE influence on the world of Martial Arts, all of its styles. I have been benefited greatly from the Gracies and their JIU JITSU, especially MMA. I am very thankful to RORION GRACIE and ALL HIS BROTHERS AND COUSINS, of course TO HELIO AND CARLOS GRACIE; they are great athletes, teachers and role models.”

Just who are the people behind the story of a new style of martial arts called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (B.J.J.)? B.J.J began its formation in 1914, when jiu-jitsu master Esai Maeda, aka Count Coma, traveled to Brazil. In the northern Brazilian state of Para, Maeda first met and became friends with a powerful businessman named Gastao Gracie. Gracie generously helped Maeda get started. In exchange, Maeda taught traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu to Gastao’s eldest son, Carlos Gracie. Carlos was the first Gracie to gain a mastery of the fighting style; it was then that he taught his Brothers, according to The Gracie Academy.

Helio Gracie, the youngest son of Gastao and Cesalina Gracie’s eight children wasn’t the strongest; in fact he was a very frail child prone to fainting spells. Helio at age fourteen moved in with his older brothers. It was there that he began to learn Jiu Jitsu in a house in Botafogo, a borough of Rio de Janeiro. Helio wasn’t able to participate in the classes his brother taught due to his frail demeanor, but that didn’t stop him from attending and watching his brothers.

Helio taught his first lesson one day when he was 16, when a student showed up for a lesson only to learn Carlos was nowhere to be found. Helio quickly seized upon the opportunity to start the class, confident in the knowledge that he had memorized all the techniques his brothers had taught over the years.

Carlos finally showed up after the class had already ended and was surprised when the student told him he had enjoyed the class with Helio very much and, wanted to continue learning from him. Carlos agreed, and the rest was history.

Helio knew he didn’t have the strength to use the tactics he learned from his brothers, so he started to experiment with using leverage, and an opponent’s body weight against them, it wasn’t long thereafter, that he realized the size didn’t matter at all, and that is how he developed the style we know today as B.J.J.

This was merely a milestone for the Gracies’ form of Jiu Jitsu, and soon it would spread around the world and to the U.S.A.

Rorion Gracie was a child prodigy of Helio and was said to have put on a GI at the age of 2 and do public demonstrations. It was Rorian who was responsible for the worldwide explosion of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The Gracie Academy states, “In 1978, with only $2,000 in his pocket and a dream to make Gracie Jiu-Jitsu known worldwide, Rorion moved to Southern California. He worked as an extra in movies and television. At the same time, he put some mats down in his garage and invited every person he met for a free introductory jiu-jitsu lesson. The word spread quickly and in 1985 Rorion invited his 18-year-old brother, Royce, to move to America.”

“One day on a movie set, Rorion met director Richard Donner and, after a demonstration, he was invited to choreograph the fight scenes for Mel Gibson and Rene Russo in Lethal Weapon 1 and 3. Playboy Magazine and leading martial arts publications all over the world helped spread the word with articles profiling Rorion and his unique Brazilian system of self-defense.” In 1988, Rorion produced the documentary film Gracie Jiu-Jitsu In Action. By 1989, Rorin and Royce had more than 100 students and many more waiting to get in, and it was then that they created the world headquarters for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Royce was the first ever U.F.C. fighting champion.

Rorion Gracie came up with the idea for the UFC and he teamed with Art Davie who sold the idea to Bob Meyrowitz in 1993, but they sold it to Zuffa, LLC around 2001. Rorion is also said to be the one who designed the octagon. The UFC was started by the Brazilian Gracie clan, to showcase their Gracie style Jiu Jitsu against all other fighting disciplines, in 1993. Early UFC fights had very few rules and were considered No Holds Barred, resulting in very brutal and violent fights. Feeling pressure from those opposed to the event’s violent nature, UFC went into the underground. http://www.mahalo.com/ultimate-fighting-championship/

“Political pressure continued and UFC slowly began to enforce stricter rules for their fights. UFC soon became sanctioned by state athletic commissions and was soon considered a legitimate sport. The removal of the no holds barred label caused UFC to regain its pay-per-view deal. The sport was now marketed as mixed martial arts.”

Master Pedro Sauer and one of his classes.

See Also:

Master Pedro Sauer, Gracie Jiu Jitsu, The Making of a Legend.

Master Robert Lovi, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu From The Source, Gracie Style

Living Legend Master Luis ‘Limao’ Heredia, 5th Degree Gracie Black Belt


Russell W. Dickson
Russell W. Dickson, lives in upstate NY, and is a Freelance journalist. He has written for both print and online news/opinion pages.Russell holds a B.A. in English, minor Journalism from The University at Albany, Albany, NY. His writing experience spans more than a decade and his work has graced the pages of newspapers, magazines, online news orgs, and political websites in both the U.S. and abroad.