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Roberto Pedreira















The Greatest Gracie

Who Was He (or She)?

Carley Gracie says he was

Roberto Pedreira

July 20, 2020  

A GTR correspondent writes: [According to Carley Gracie] "from 1969 to 1972, he was the most highly regarded fighter in the Gracie family and was undefeated even among the Gracie fighters. He says that no Gracie ever beat him. Do you know if Carley had this fame among the members of the Gracie Family? Is there any evidence that no Gracie ever beaten him or were afraid of him?"

The correspondent poses the following specific questions about Carley's claims and asks if Roberto knows of any evidence as to whether they have a foundation in fact and reality, or rather are (or were) simply Carley's subjective impressions and wishful thoughts.

1. Was Carley Gracie the first Gracie to teach BJJ in the United States (invited by the American marines)?

Roberto: According to Reila Gracie (Reila 2008, p. 441), Carley immigrated in 1971 (Reila was mistaken about the year, however.) Also according to Reila, Carley went in search of "better opportunities." There is no evidence that he was teaching BJJ or was invited by US Marines (which doesn't mean it isn't at least partly true; teaching BJJ and "being invited by marines" can mean many things.) But if he taught jiu-jitsu, no one seemed to notice or care very much. 

2. Is it true that Carley Gracie was the only member of the Gracie family to learn BJJ exclusively and directly from Carlos Gracie and Carlson Gracie and never from Helio Gracie?

Roberto: Carley was Carlson's teaching assistant at one time so he certainly learned from Carlson. As for learning from Carlos, not Helio, and being the only one, evidence is lacking. 

3. Is true that Carley Gracie was the Brazilian Champion, since 1969 through 1972, in both sport jiu-jitsu and vale tudo?

Roberto: No evidence that Carley ever participated in a vale tudo, although that depends on what Carley meant by vale tudo. His statement makes it seem like he fought vale tudos throughout 1969 to 1972. There is no record of any such fights. There was also no such a thing as a Brazilian champion of either vale tudo or sport BJJ (although any person or group was free to describe the result of a dojo match as a Brazilian or even world championship. Unfortunately, despite the impressive-sounding title, it was still a dojo match.) 

4. Is it true that Carley Gracie never was defeated n any match, public or private, not even within the Gracie family? 

Roberto: No record of that. Note that due to the differences in ages between the members of the clan there really weren't many people in his family who he could have competed with during the period in question.

5. Is it true that Carley Gracie was widely regarded as the most technical fighter of the Gracie Family (before Rolls and Rickson) and O Indestruvel (The indestructible one)?

Roberto: According to Reila (2008, p. 411), Carley stood out among the family in arguments and rolling around. However Reila doesn't know that from personal experience. And it's not the same as being the "most technical." The only family members in Carley's age range at the time in question would have been Rorion, Relson, and Rolls. Rorion was not gifted in jiu-jitsu and not all that interested (says Reila.) Relson had other things on his mind. Rolls was too small. Rickson was too young (Reila: "Desde os 15 anos Carley se destacava nas brincadeiras e dispoutas no tatame domestico. Era fisicamente bem desenvolvido....")

6. Is it true that Carley Gracie had so an extraordinary technique, that he was  awarded the rank of seventh degree black belt when he was only 20 years old?

Roberto is unaware of any evidence to that effect.  

7. Is it true that Carley Gracie was so dominant even within the Gracie family that he could break up a dispute among Gracies by simply offering to join in the fray?

Roberto is not cognizant of relevant evidence.

8. Is it true that Carley Gracie fought and won a tough fight with Sergio Ires de Almeida? Was it a vale tudo fight? 

Roberto: According to Reila (2008, p. 458) Sergio Ires, aka, Serginho de Niteroi, was Carlson's best student. Serginho submitted Carley in an intra-academy tournament. According to Oswaldo Alves, it was Rolls who beat Serginho. In any case, it wasn't vale tudo. Carley and Serginho were both assistants to Carlson in 1972 so make of that what you will (see Choque 3 for more, but there isn't a lot of information about Carley because other than being Carlson's younger brother and assistant, he didn't do much.)

9. Is it true that on Sundays (when the Academy was closed), sometimes the Gracies (i.e., the sons of Helio and Carlos) solved their disputes and differences fighting in private matches (modified vale tudo fights)? 

Roberto: No evidence (it isn't the sort of thing that would be documented.). According to Reila, when Carley and Rolls had a dispute (both living with Helio at the time), Helio kicked Carley out of the house.

10. Is it true that Helio issued many challenges to Carlos, to see who won between Rorion (Helio's son) and Carley (Carlos' son) and that Carley won all of the fights?

Roberto: No evidence. As mentioned in several other questions, the age and weight differences at the time made such tests meaningless.

11. In an interview with Rickson Gracie published in 1998 by Free Fight magazine in Japan, Rickson seemed to dispute some of Carley's claims: "... he [Carley] tells everybody that he was the family champion and how the other Gracies are scared of him. Why doesn't he tell what happened to him 12 years ago?" Is there any evidence of something remarkable happening to Carley Gracie 12 years before the Rickson interview (i.e., in 1986)? 

Roberto: Carlson (quoted by Reila 2008, p. 411) regarded Carley as his successor. His reasons were that Rorion wasn't interested and Rolls was too small. Everyone else was either not interested, too young, too old, too small, not born yet, or female. Rickson's comment is an example of a Gricean implicature. He doesn't literally say anything but wants us to think that if we asked Carley what happened, Carley would confess that he got spanked, or some such thing. And Rickson asks us to consider why Carley isn't talking about that. It must be because he is trying to hide the truth! But for unknown reasons Rickson didn't want to come right out and say that directly, or to tell us what happened 12 years (prior to the 1998 interview.)

It might have been true, as Carley hints, that he was the "family champion" in the sense that Carlson considered him to be his potential successor. But the reasons were that no one else was interested, or big enough, or the right age. So in that sense Rickson was justified in calling out Carley on making a misleading claim (not that Rickson hasn't done the same thing numerous times, for example here.)

12. Is it true that people said that Carlos Gracie was like "Dale Carnegie" due to Carlos' openness, happiness and very friendly manners?

Roberto: Some people adored Carlos, some people detested him. Some people started off adoring him but ended up detesting him. Apparently the reason people were drawn to Carlos Gracie was because he told them what they wanted to hear and he was convincing. The reason they started out or ended up loathing him was because what they wanted to hear wasn't true. See Reila's 2008 biography of Carlos Gracie and Choque 1-3 for details.


Bonus Misconceptions and Myths: Carley's two interviews were published in the pre-Choque days, so it is understandable that his "facts" are what Carley heard (and as he later admitted, he didn't know if they were true or not.)

From 1994 Interview with Jose Paman in Martial Arts Masters, September 1994.

Carley: Carlos (Gracie) began studying with Conte Maeda Koma in 1919 (or when Carlos was 17).

Fact: False.

Carley: Carlos opened an academy of jiu-jitsu in Belem in (approximately) 1921. There, he taught his brothers George, Oswaldo, and Gastão Junior. 

Fact: False.

Carley: Carlos was the Brazilian boxing champion. 

Fact: There is no record of Carlos Gracie participating in a boxing contest, and he definitely and absolutely was never a Brazilian boxing champion. However, his brother George did briefly take some boxing lessons, and did on one occasion register to compete in an amateur boxing match. But George didn't show up. Perhaps not coincidentally, Donato Pires dos Reis was an amateur boxer. (Carlos and George both worked as assistants to Donato at his academy of jiu-jitsu in Rio de Janeiro in 1930, see Choque 1, chp. 10.)  

Carley: In the 1920's and 1930's Carlos fought both Brazilians and foreigners, including the Japanese jiu-jitsu champion, Giomori [sic, Geo Omori].

Fact: False. Carlos' competition career consisted of one grappling match for a total record of 0-1. His opponent was a Brazilian. His three encounters with Geo Omori were exhibitions.

Carley: Carlos managed and taught his four brothers and arranged their fights.

Fact: False. He managed Helio, but mostly relied on professionals to set up Helio's few matches. 

Carley: Carlos had 21 sons and daughters. Every one of them, even the girls, trained in the Gracie jiu-jitsu.

Fact: False. Carlos did have 21 sons and daughters. They were (in birth order: Carlson, Geysa, Robson, Rose, Sonja, Reyson, Oneika, Reylson, Rociley, Rolange, Carley, Rocian, Carlion, Clayr, Rolls, Carlos Jr., Karla, Crolin, Reyla, Rilion, and Kirla. However they didn't all train jiu-jitsu. Mostly notably, Reila Gracie didn't train jiu-jitsu and didn't want her son (with Maurico Motta Gomes) Roger to train jiu-jitsu (she felt it was too brutal; obviously, he did anyway.)

Carley: Carley was the "Brazilian professional national champion from 1969 to 1972). He fought in both kimono fights (grappling) and vale tudo fights (full-contact punch and kick fights.)

Fact: False (see above).

Part 2

Carley: The Gracie challenge started with Carlos in the early 1920's. Carlos fought with muscular Greco-Roman fighters to prove the superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. 

Fact: False. See Choque 1 for details and documentation.

From 1997 Interview with Paul Clifton in Combat (UK), December 1997.

Carley: "Conde Koma" means "Count of Combat."

Fact: False. Conde means Count, but Koma does not mean Combat. It means komaru 困る (see Craze 2 for Maeda's own explanation for why he selected Conde Koma as his ring-name.) (More about Koma's names here.)

Carley:  Carlos was 14 when he began training with Maeda. He was Maeda's favorite student.

Fact: False. He wasn't 14, he wasn't Koma's favorite student, and he wasn't Koma's student, period.

Carley: Carlos originated "vale tudo" in Brazil.

Fact: The origins of the word vale tudo and the sport of vale tudo in Brazil had nothing to do with Carlos Gracie (see Choque 1.) 

Summary. Everything considered, self-hyping interviews in martial arts magazines and on web sites are not the best places to seek accurate historical information. Sadly, for a long time, that's about all there was. Now however there are more reliable sources.


(c) 2020, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Slightly tweaked September 10, 2020.




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