Reveals the True Story behind his EPIC
Battle with Kimura
Interviewed by Nishi Yoshinori
From Kakutou Striking Spirit
May 1, 2002
Translated by Yoko Kondo
Nishi Yoshinori came across the
"Warrior" Helio Gracie!
Nishi Yoshinori participated in a seminar held one day before the Ultimate in
Charlotte. What drew an attention there was Helio Gracie who was teaching Nishi
with care. On September, 15, four days later since then, Nishi visited Gracie
Jiu-Jitsu Academy owned by Rorion in Los Angeles. Helio, who postponed his
return to Brazil in expectation of his visit, was waiting for him there. Nishi
took a private lesson on the advice of Rorion. When the one-hour training was
finished, Helio came to Nishi saying "there is something I want to show
you." What was put in front of Nishi were rare pictures of his
legendary fight with Kimura Masahiko, the master.
Nishi: What valuable pictures they are! I don't think even the wife of
Kimura has pictures like these. Well, what kind of rule was this fight done
under? Was it the vale tudo rule?
Helio: No, it was the jiu-jitsu rule.
Nishi: Then, you didn't exchange blows with Kimura, did you?
Helio: That's right. We could do anything except kicks and punches.
There were no points and no time limits. But when I challenged Kimura and we met together for
the first time, he seemed to be very surprised when he saw how small I was (laugh).
So I was told to fight with a man named Kato at first.
Nishi: Then, did you fight with a Japanese Judo-ka before the
fight with Kimura?
Helio: Yes, I did. He was 20 kg.
[44 lbs.] heavier than me and
built. But I was able to win by good luck [in the original Portuguese Helio
probably said "graças a Deus" which in no way implies that only
luck was involved].
Rorion: My father finished Kato with a choke less than six
minutes. So Kimura accepted my father's challenge. But the people around strongly objected to it. It seemed that
especially uncle Carlos didn't want him to do it.
Nishi: Did the people around think that Kimura was
more than a match for you from the beginning?
Helio: Not only the people around, but also I myself thought
that nobody in the world could defeat Kimura. (laugh) Especially my
brother Carlos was worried that I would never give up under any
condition. He thought I would get seriously injured. So he gave me
fight with Kimura on the condition that I would "give-up" without
fail. Regret? I didn't regret it at all either before or after the fight. For me
who aimed at jiu-jitsu at that time, fear was surpassed by desire to know what on earth such a strong man
like Kimura would do in the fight--he
might open the door to an unknown world for me. I heard that you are the same
type of person too.
Nishi: Yes, I am. (bitter smile)
Helio seemed to know that Nishi had fought with Rickson [Mr.
Nishi, representing Jacket Jiu-Jitsu, faced Rickson in Vale Tudo Japan Open 95
and was defeated by mata leão rear naked hadaka jime [裸締め]
choke in 2:58 seconds of
the first round], and he has been fighting in kickboxing and karate
well. It could be felt here and there in Helio's words that Helio was sympathizing
with Nishi's action.
What is jiu-jitsu introduced by Maeda
Nishi: I would like to ask you something
technical before the story about Kimura. What kind of style of
jiu-jitsu was it you learned?
Helio: I remember vaguely that my brother Carlos
was learning it from Konde Koma (Maeda Mitsuyo) around 1914. Anyway I was just
four years old at that time. To tell the truth, I don't remember well the
technique directly taught by Koma. Carlos opened the dojo in Rio when he was 25 years old, and I was watching the techniques
that he had learned from Konde
Koma. But I kept thinking about what a small and weak man like me should do
to win, and developing the theory to control an opponent by technique.
Rorion: It seems my father didn't teach it
anybody in the beginning. But one day he had to teach the training in place of
uncle Carlos who was late for the class. My father was only 16 years old yet,
but the improvements my father made in the techniques to control an opponent with a minimum power
was persuasive enough to satisfy the students. Since it doesn't require power,
it makes it possible for you to fight for 20 or 30 minutes. After that, it seems that
uncle Carlos left the teaching to my father.
Nishi: That has become the base of Gracie
jiu-jitsu of the day, hasn't it? Was a style Mr. Carlos learned from Maeda
Kousei centering on "kata"?
Helio: There weren't so many techniques. Most
techniques were something mainly based on power. But Konde Koma was always
fighting in real fights, so a lot of tricks to win in a real fight were
incorporated in his teaching.
Nishi: Striking was also included, wasn't it?
Helio: No, it wasn't included.
Maeda Kousei known by the name of Konde Koma
was a judo-ka who got out of Japan to spread Kodokan Judo to the world in Meiji
period, and performed an open fight with a different style in each country.
(However, Kodokan removed his name from the register in the later years.) But
why did he call it jiu-jitsu, not judo in Brazil? Nishi has secretly thought
that jiu-jitsu introduced to Brazil might be something like a variant form
Nishi: Did Mr. Maeda call it jiu-jitsu, not judo
from the beginning?
Helio: I heard that Konde Koma called it
jiu-jitsu. We didn't even know the word of judo itself until it came into
Brazil. At that time (the time when jiu-jitsu was brought by Konde Koma), there
were many Japanese immigrants and local people had a friendly relationship with
them. I heard that they often helped Japanese people in many ways. So I think he
taught us their traditional jiu-jitsu in return for it.
Nishi: When judo came into Brazil, didn't you
think it was similar to jiu-jitsu?
Rorion: I have a strong impression about judo
that judo is a sport where the objective is to throw the opponent to the ground
using power. But I think maybe the original art is
jiu-jitsu. When Japan lost in the World War II and America was occupying Japan, they taught the Americans judo, but not jiu-jitsu. In that
sense, we were lucky to have been able to come in contact directly with
jiu-jitsu first, rather than judo.
Helio: (nodding to what Rorion said) They didn't
teach the Americans the mind of the samurai.
Nishi: (being confused with a small voice) It
doesn't seem that judo itself was completely introduced to you........... I wonder
if Maeda Kousei introduced something he made up and called jiu-jitsu, or if it
had originality as a result of the improvements made by Mr. Helio. It draws my
interest very much.
Helio performed his first open fight
different style at the early age of 16
Nishi: Then, when is the start of vale tudo?
Helio: It was not something like vale tudo, but
the first fight between different styles was in 1932 when I fought with an
American wrestling fighter named Fred Ebert when I was 17 years old.. He
described himself as a world-class strong fighter.
It seems that Fred Ebert was a fighter who
took second place in the 95kg class in the world wrestling championship held
in New York in l928. This coincides with the story of Helio who described him as
a giant with 98kg, but it turns out to have been nearly 40kg difference in
weight between them. Helio's weight was about 60kg.
Nishi: How about the result?
Helio: (with a frown) The fight started at 12:00
at midnight, and fought until 2:00 in the morning. But we were told to stop the
fight by the police.
Rorion: The fight lasted 2 hours and 10 minutes.
To tell the truth, he was stopped to fight by the doctor then due to the high
fever caused by a swelling. Anyway he had to undergo an urgent operation next
day of the fight.
Nishi: It sounds...... (breaking off in his
Helio: I didn't want to be said that I avoided
the fight under the pretext of the doctor-stop. That's all. However, I regret
that we couldn't get the result.
Nishi: What if Mr. Ebert is in good health and
challenged you to do the sequel to the fight now?
Helio: I will do it, of course! (laugh) But he might
need some handicap because he was pretty older than me.
For Helio, who has such a "never say
die" attitude toward a fight
as mentioned above, I wonder what came to his mind when he threw in the towel in
the fight of Royce
[vs. Sakuraba in Pride Grand Prix 2000], his son, with his own hand. I wanted to ask him about it.
But maybe there was something wrong in the way I started to question saying
"I am sorry for the result of Royce, but....", they stuck to the
answer made by Rorion, who was voluntarily working as an interpreter, that
"No matter how nice a car you drive, it sometimes happens to you to get out
of the course due to a puncture. Neither Shamrock nor Royce lost to anybody this
time." (Helio speaks only Portuguese, so the interview was done in such a
way that at first Nishi's words were conveyed to Rorion in English, and then
Rorion conveyed it to Helio in Portuguese) However, I felt like that I saw
Helio's deep attachment to fights in difference in words between Helio, who used
simple and clear words, and Rorion, who used a metaphor.
Vale Tudo was a title of a popular TV
Nishi: Mr. Helio, did you have a favorite
technique other than jiu-jitsu?
Helio: Does it mean a technique in striking? I
was good at side kicks. I did it in my own way, but kick the body of the
opponent using the heel. Don't ask me to demonstrate it here now! (laugh)
Nishi: No! (laugh) You said it was your own way,
but did you study it watching the move of karate?
Helio: Karate? No. Judo came to Brazil around
1950〜1960 and Karate was later than that, maybe around 1970. So I had no
chance to study it. Besides when I saw karate for the first time, I didn't
think it was effective for self-defense or kakuto art.
Nishi: Well then, do you think kakutogi based on
striking are not effective for all?
Helio: Generally they are not, are they? I think
you know about it much better than I do.
Rorion: In a fight like the Ultimate, all you
have to do about striking is to kill the distance. If you do it, then you can
control the fight.
Nishi: They are at a disadvantage under the rule
of the Ultimate for sure, but I can't agree with you who say positively that
they are not effective from the view point of self-defense and kakuto arts
either. (bitter smile) Then, when did you start fighting with striking?
Helio: I don't remember clearly, but jiu-jitsu
was considered something oriental in Brazil and there was some guy saying that
he could defeat me in a street fight. So I accepted the fight with him including
punches and kicks.
Nishi: Unbelievable! (laugh) He must have
sorely regretted his words after the contest.! [kuchiwa wazawai no moto] Was
that the beginning of vale tudo?
Helio: Maybe so. I'm the one who started vale
tudo. But we didn't call it "vale tudo". It was a TV producer who
decided to call
Nishi: A TV producer?
Helio: That's right. I held style vs. style tournaments
spread jiu-jitsu. The producer found them
interesting and decided to telecast them. The title of that program was
"Vale Tudo". Later the form was changed to one-match fight between a
winner of the jiu-jitsu tournament (it was held under the original jiu-jitsu
rule and striking was prohibited) and a challenger invited from a
different style. This program started around 1960 and became very popular. It
used to be aired every week at one time.
Nishi: It is a model of the Ultimate........
Anyway, I'm surprised to see that it was the title of the TV program, and vale
tudo was performed every week! What an amazing country Brazil is!
Helio: Many people were scared of punches. But
since they watched the fights on TV, they started to understand that punches were
good, but they could be nullified by using different techniques, and a small man
like me could fight.
Nishi: I was doing judo and was afraid of
getting punched. That's why I started learning striking and still now I am
studying. Mr. Helio, did you have any fear of getting punched?
Helio: If I get punched, I feel happy and more
guts. But I feel pain too. (laugh) So I developed the way of fighting to avoid
to get punched.
Nishi: And at first you keep the position not to
get punched, then give the opponent punches whenever you want to.
Helio: That's right (laugh).
Nishi: How about a throw? Throwing is not
Helio: No, it can be very effective at times. Anyway, a fearful throw by Kimura remains vividly in mind. It was very
impressive to see that Kimura made the opponent KOed with one throw. When it
was decided that I would fight with Kimura, I was careful about his
Nishi: Could you tell me more details about the
fight with the master Kimura?
Helio: Sure! (happily)
Humiliation at Maracana .......
Secret story about the hard fight with Kimura Masahiko
Helio: In the beginning I carefully tried to find a
breakthrough, but I was in his control as soon as we stood close to each other. I
had no time to even hold or grapple him. What I barely could do was to avoid his
perfect throw in such a way that I relaxed the strength of all my body and moved
my position a little bit at the moment when Kimura tried to throw me and as a
result Kimura lost his balance. I was taken into the ground, and I got choked at
first. It was difficult to breathe.. I felt it working enough so I was
wondering if I should tap as I promised Carlos......
Helio: Well, this is what I've never told anybody
before......... It seems I went unconscious while I was thinking about what to
do [give up or not].
Naturally all the staff let alone Nishi were surprised to
hear that at this moment, but what was more impressive than that was the shocked
expression [驚いた表情] on Rorion's face.
Helio: If Kimura had continued to choke me, I would have died
for sure. But since I didn't give up, Kimura let go of the choke and went into
the next technique. Being released from the choke and the pain from the next
technique revived me and I continued to fight. Kimura went to his grave without
ever knowing the fact that I was finished. If possible, I wish I could have
talked about the fight with him and let him know about it.
Nishi: I will tell his wife without fail.
Helio: Thank you. But then, Kimura was strong....... strong
and a gentleman. He spoke in my ear in Japanese "いい！いい！"
[good, good] while catching me with arm-lock. I don't understand Japanese at
all, but strangely I was encouraged by his voice. It gave me power. (laugh) I
was anxious about it, so I asked him later. He said, "I was admiring your
Nishi: Kimura also talked about the fight with Mr. Helio in
his book, and says that you had a strong heart.
Helio: Same to him. I think I got the authentic samurai
spirit from him. I might have been Japanese in a previous life.
Nishi: By the way, what shall I do with my plan?
prepared to do a challenge match here aiming at defeating a Gracie, but I
touched the heart of the master Kimura in the talk with Mr. Helio. Now I've had
one more teacher, Mr. Helio. Indeed, I must have been Brazilian in a previous
Helio: (being very happy to hear what Nishi said) Thank you.
If you continue to train, you will be the champion in a jiu-jitsu tournament in
Brazil for sure. Age? No problem. I am 82 years old now, but martial arts are
what you search for at the risk of your whole life.
**Part of Helio Gracie's
matches with Kato and Kimura can be seen on Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action:
(c) 2002, Yoko Kondo. All rights reserved.
Several errors were corrected December 28, 2012.
Use caution when referring to or citing unauthorized earlier versions.
For more information about the Masahiko Kimura versus Helio Gracie battle,
and a different point of view about the origins of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, be sure to
see Chapter 14 (George Mehdi and the Gracies) in Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone:
Note: This interview was
conducted in 1994 just after the UFC 3, but was published for the first
time on May 1, 2002 in Japan, and is presented by Global Training Report
for the first time
use of GTR's copyrighted materials is a serious offense. Severe
penalties may be incurred for copyright infringement.
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