The Greatest Gracie
Who Was He (or She)?
Carley Gracie says
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),
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?
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
since 1969 through 1972, in both sport jiu-jitsu and vale tudo?
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
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
Is it true that Carley Gracie was widely regarded as the most
technical fighter of the Gracie Family (before Rolls and Rickson) and O
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....")
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.
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
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
11. In an interview with Rickson Gracie published in 1998 by Free
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)?
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.)
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 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
Roberto: Some people adored Carlos, some people
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,
Carley: Carlos (Gracie) began studying with Conte Maeda Koma in
1919 (or when Carlos was 17).
Carley: Carlos opened an academy of jiu-jitsu in Belem in
(approximately) 1921. There, he taught his brothers George, Oswaldo,
and Gastão Junior.
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,
Fact: False. Carlos'
competition career consisted of one grappling match for a total record
of 0-1. His opponent was a Brazilian.
Carley: Carlos managed and taught his four brothers and arranged
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).
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
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.