Gracie family patriarch and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pioneer Helio Gracie died in early 2009 in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 95. Its impossible to overestimate his influence on martial arts, and particularly his pathbreaking role in what is now the sport of mixed martial arts. 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 his training in mixed martial arts early, and by his teenage years was already teaching judo. While he had no problem mastering the theoretical aspects of judo, he found that many of its techniques were less effective for a practitioner with a smaller build. Along with his brother Carlos, Gracie began to work out his own fighting system by adapting many of judo’s techniques and making them more a product of leverage rather than brute strength. This led to 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 grueling, unregulated affairs with rules that were often made up as they went along and time limits that seem barbaric by todays standards. By his own recollection, he had 15 fights against the top fighters of his day. These included pro wrestlers, boxers and other martial arts specialists.
His most famous battle was against Japanese judo legend Masahiko Kimura, resulting in a rare loss for Gracie. Despite the setback, he fought bravely and may have actually enhanced his legend after refusing to submit to a reverse arm bar (the same move that now bears Kimuras name). Only after his arm was broken did his brother Carlos throw in the towel.
Gracies influence on the Brazilian sports scene, and later the nascent sport of mixed martial arts, would continue through his family. 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. At the time of his death, Helio Gracie was a 6th Dan Judo black belt and the only living 10th degree master of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The cause of Gracies death was officially given as natural causes. He had been having stomach problems for several days prior to his passing, and was admitted to a Rio hospital for this reason. His seriously epic last words will go down as a fitting envoi to a man who gave so much of himself to fighting:
“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 widely published freelance sports writer and highly respected authority on sports betting odds comparison. He writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sportsbooks 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 energy secretary Donald Hodell.