Almost everything everyone believed
about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) up until the recent past derived from three sources, which were Gracies
in Action 1 (1988), the 1989 Playboy
Rorion Gracie article by Pat Jordan, and Gracies in Action 2 (1992). In all fairness to Rorion, he
probably wasn't trying very hard to deceive anyone. He was simply marketing his
school while trying to solidify his place in what he knew (if he was successful)
would be a stampede of competitors from the ranks of his own family and anyone else who
wanted to cash in. He didn't invent the story entirely. His uncle and father
were saying most of the same things in Brazil before Rorion went to Hollywood to
be a movie star. Rorion's unique contribution was to vastly exaggerate his
father's ring record and historical importance, which of course benefited
himself and enraged the other factions of the family, who ignored the harsh
reality that the demand for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in America was essentially zero
(and near zero in Brazil also, at the time), until Rorion created that
Rorion also conspired with
the family and other Brazilians to suppress the seamy facts of the family's
history, including fraud, aggravated assault, adultery, bigamy, statutory rape, narcotics
trafficking, and various other questionable and criminal activities. Possibly, he
didn't think it was relevant. After all, the efficiency of Gracie jiu-jitsu did
not depend on the personal qualities of individual members of the Gracie clan.
It was a big clan and there was a lot of diversity within it. But after living a decade in Los Angeles, he
understood mainstream Americans' propensity for panicking over things as innocuous as comic books, let alone what the Gracie family had on its rap sheet.
Rorion wanted to keep the dark side of the family deep in
the shadows. Unfortunately, some younger members of the family had self-control
issues. It was a problem of continuous damage-control. For a while, Rorion
kept the lid on. No one was better qualified to do it. He was the Bill Gates of
Jiu-jitsu became a fad. It was an
unstoppable martial arts tsunami. Even Rorion was surprised. His
little marketing story and Playboy hyperbole grew into an overwhelming
mythology not unlike those of scientology and other cults. Black Belt magazine
duped itself into designating Helio the Man of the Year in 1997, based purely on
Rorion's claims, and
even the New York Times declared him to be the creator of BJJ.
Cracks appeared in the facade
beginning with GTR's publication of its George Mehdi article in 2000.
Mehdi-sensei was too discrete, decent, and moral to expose everything, but it was enough to make thoughtful
people begin to wonder if what Rorion had told them was really true. Reila
Gracie's 2008 biography of her father provided some unpleasant shocks for Gracie
hero worshippers (see here
or read her book). But Reila's book was in Portuguese and difficult to buy
outside of Brazil. GTR's Roberto Pedreira offered a synopsis of the first part
of Reila's book, which was enough to rock the BJJ world, despite the efforts of
certain dark forces to cover up the truth by SEO and wiki-manipulation.
While everyone can appreciate the
Gracie family for making an honest living, paying their taxes, and introducing
the world to the awesome form of Kodokan judo now known as BJJ, the public
has a right to know the truth. That is what motivated Roberto Pedreira to
spend 15 years researching and writing Jiu-jitsu in the South Zone, 1997-2008,
and the definitive history of jiu-jitsu in Brazil, Choque; The Untold Story
of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, in three volumes covering the years 1859 to 1999.
For many people the number one
"Go To" source for fast information is Wikipedia. If you google
"Helio Gracie life" the first source of information you are going to
find is Wikipedia. The second is the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California. Both
recycle most of the myths and misconceptions. The Academy however has taken a
defter approach by gradually writing Helio out of the story, preserving him
mostly as a symbolic object of ritual veneration, leaving it to Wikipedia and fan-sites to disseminate the misinformation (possibly so that
Academy can't be blamed for it.)
The myths and misconceptions are too
numerous to address in a single article. The following touches on only a few,
and only briefly. For more details, references, and source citations, see
Choque 1, Choque 2,
and Choque 3 and other sources as indicated. Wikipedia editors and
Rener, take notes.
The 30 Top Myths and
Myth 1. Anyone who doubts GIA is a
Fact: An intelligent person can
and should reject falsehood, myths, misconceptions, and misinformation. The
truth should be respected and revered. This is in no way incompatible with
admiring individuals for their achievements. Doubting misconceptions,
misinformation, and factual errors does not make one a Gracie-hater. One the
contrary, by seeking out and sharing the truth, one is doing a service to
jiu-jitsu and humanity in general. Grandmaster Helio would have wanted it
that way. He hated the "mystification" that some martial arts teachers
resorted to to promote their schools. The truth is on the mat and in the ring, he
believed (helped along with "marketing.")
Myth 2. Helio invented modern
Fact: Every aspect of early modern
BJJ was already being trained and taught as early as 1905 in the USA and
England. (Obviously, BJJ has evolved independently of judo since the late
1990's. The Gracies and other jiu-jitsu people experimented with different rule
sets in the 1950's before eventually deciding, in the 1960's and 1970's, to
adopt post-WW 2 judo style rules. Judo rules continued to evolve and note that
even today there are more than only one set of rules used in competitions, just
as jiu-jitsu rules also evolved and today more than one set of rules are used in
competitions.) Until the shift to judo type rules (modified to de-emphasize
throwing and pinning), the Gracies used the same competition rules that everyone else did,
which were the rules published in Irving Hancock and Katsukuma Higashi (1906).
Conde Koma and his troupe also used these rules for their shows in 1914 in São
Paulo and 1915 in Rio de Janeiro. The rules were published in local newspapers
multiple times over the years. For mixed styles fights, specific rules were
negotiated. There was one exception. Rules 2 and 3 defined how a contest could
be won or lost by pinning. The Gracies refused to accept these rules. Rules 8-10
defined fighting from the back. The Gracies did not invent the rules and did not
invent any techniques for fighting from the back, with one exception described
in Choque 1 and Choque 2 (it was invented by George in 1933.)
It is a fact
that Helio's opponents between 1932 and 1937 generally did not know how to neutralize his "leg
guard." The Gracies did not use any techniques that were not used by every
jiu-jitsu man and some luta livre fighters, until very recently. Incidentally,
every professional jiu-jitsu man was a also a luta livre fighter. They
represented "jiu-jitsu," but they fought "luta livre." What
they did do, eventually, was rediscover and preserve many forgotten techniques.
And the evidence strongly indicated that they were often led to these
rediscoveries by judokas such as Takeo Yano, Haroldo Brito, Oswaldo Alves, and George Mehdi.
Helio Gracie, who might
reasonably be considered well informed about the subject, denied that he
invented anything. He just added leverage to what Carlos was doing (see here.)
He didn't invent jiu-jitsu competition rules either. At first, they were old
judo rules, and eventually they were more modern judo rules (with of course, a
ground grappling twist). Neither Helio nor Rorion denied that. What Helio did
do, Rorion said (GIA 2) was to make judo efficient for street fighting. But it
is debatable that he really did that. Gracie street fights were like street
fights everywhere. The side with more people (participants/attackers and
"supporters"), weapons (sometimes), and element of surprise won. They
didn't use Gracie jiu-jitsu in their street fights that we have evidence of.
There was one exception. Helio pulled guard in a street fight. He ended up in a
hospital (see Choque 3 for details and documentation.) Eventually, Rorion
was reduced to the claim that what Helio invented was his teaching method. But
George was using the same method, which he learned from Takeo Yano. It was the
systematic, detail oriented pedagogical method introduced by Jigoro Kano in his
Kodokan school of judo. None of the above should be taken to imply that Gracie
Jiu-Jitsu isn't awesome. It is awesome. Roberto Pedreira can personally testify
to that. But it's awesome because of what it borrowed from judo (as Rorion
admitted, see Choque 3, appendix 5, and notes to appendix 5.) Rorion
deserves full credit for re-introducing it, of course (see preface to Jiu-Jitsu
in the South Zone, 1997-2008.)
Myth 3. Helio invented leverage.
Fact: Helio didn't say he invented
leverage. He said, in 2001 (here), that he added leverage to the techniques that he
assimilated by watching Carlos. That could mean that Carlos taught himself, or
that Conde Koma taught him badly, or that Conde Koma didn't teach him, or that
Koma's own skills were lacking leverage, or that
Carlos didn't learn the techniques correctly, or that he forgot them by the time
Helio saw him teaching them (according to Helio).
Myth 4. Gracie Jiu-jitsu was undefeated
between 1927 and 1992.
Fact: The first documented Gracie
fights were exhibition matches in 1929, 1930, and 1931. Carlos met Geo Omori
three times (April 28, 1929, January 5, 1930, and January 19, 1930). All three
ended in draws. George confronted defeated amateur boxer Johannes
Toon on January 19, 1930 and was scheduled to meet Gabriel on January 5. In 1931 George, Oswaldo, and Benedicto
Peres met three supposed capoeira "representatives" under rules that
prohibited the capoeiras [capoeiristas] from striking on the ground. The
jiu-jitsu men won all three fights. George won because his opponent punched him
on the ground. The first professional fight was Carlos
Gracies vs. Manoel Rufino dos Santos in 1931. Carlos lost when he left the ring
and refused to fight. Between then and 1992, Gracies and jiu-jitsu won fights,
lost, fights, and drew fights, the same as representatives of other styles. That
proved only that the better fighter won, not that one style was better than
another in general.
Myth 5. Choque claims that Carlos could not
possibly have learned from Conde Koma.
Fact: Choque did not claim that Carlos Gracie
learned nothing from Conde Koma. What Choque said was that, given his
lifelong pattern of story-telling, lying, and exaggeration, Carlos own words
can not be taken as gospel. Yet, there is no other evidence that he studied with
Conde Koma. There is also no compelling evidence that he didn't. He might have. He might have
learned from Koma's assistant Jacyntho Ferro, but that too is only a
possibility. The best and only evidence that we have that Carlos took lessons from Conde
Koma is the statement of Donato Pires dos Reis (the head instructor at the
jiu-jitsu academy in Rio in 1930 where Carlos and George were
"monitors" and later assistants) that "some people" (meaning Carlos) exaggerated
their relationship with Koma.
Most tellingly, Conde Koma
was alive until 1941 and never indicated that he even knew Carlos, let alone
that Carlos was his best student (as Carlos claimed until as late as 1973.) Nor
did Carlos ever ask him to speak up on his behalf. Nor did anyone ever ask Koma
about Carlos Gracie, as far as we know. Takeo Yano trained with Koma and was his
assistant before he (Yano) came to Rio (see Choque 2, appendix 4). Yano
knew the Gracie family very well and was a close associate of George Gracie
throughout their long careers. Yano never mentioned anything about Carlos
learning from Conde Koma. Carlos could have asked him to. (Maybe Yano was
prejudiced against Carlos? But then, what about Conde Koma? Was he also
prejudiced against Carlos?)
Jose Cairus, Reila
Gracie, and various other researchers, have written about Carlos' contact with Conde Koma.
should be noted that none of them offer any evidence that Carlos ever met Conde Koma. All
of them simply trusted what Carlos himself said as true, more often than not via
recycled second-hand accounts. But as Reila documented, Carlos had a "vivid imagination."
He made a lot of stuff up (see Choque 3, chapter 3, for one particularly
egregious example, which Reila also writes about extensively.
Myth 6. Maeda's jiu-jitsu was not
efficient for real combat. Carlos (or Helio, depending on the version)
Brazilianized it and made it efficient for real combat.
Fact: Detailed and thoroughly document
accounts of Maeda's stage shows presented in Choque 1 chapters 5 and 6 indicate that his jiu-jitsu was the standard
theatrical jiu-jitsu of the time, strictly adhering to the Hancock & Higashi
rules, in which striking was not permitted and kimonos were required (Choque
1, pp. 66-67). In addition to which his only known martial arts training was Kodokan
judo. Whether it was efficient for real combat is an open question. But the
Carlos, Helio, George Oswaldo, and Gastão Jr. did little or nothing in
the 1930's to modify it in any way. They didn't need to. Their fights
were fought according to the same or similar rules.
In addition, they
didn't claim to have "perfected", "modified" or
"Brazilianized" jiu-jitsu. On the contrary, what they were insisting
was that they were trying to preserve jiu-jitsu from being watered down by
people who wanted to distort and pervert it into a "sport". Helio
hammered the point home by implying that judokas were closet homosexuals, or at
least, sissies who liked unnecessary luxuries like air conditioning (see Choque
2 and Choque 3 for many examples). It was only after Rorion made
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu a valuable brand that Helio began repeating Rorion's line that
Helio "improved" jiu-jitsu by adding leverage and positioning.
Myth 7. The Gracies invented vale tudo and
mixed styles fights.
Fact: The Gracies didn't invent either.
There had been boxing vs. jiu-jitsu fights as early as 1908 and no doubt much
earlier. Paschoal Segreto promoted a wide variety of mixed styles fights in São
Paulo, Rio, and Niteroi as early as 1909. Sumo (usually called "the
Japanese style of wrestling") vs. catch wrestling matches were
conducted in North America early as 1884. Mixed fights were common in Brazilian
circuses and on theater stages before the Gracies showed up in 1929. Geo
Omori fought capoeiras [aka capoeiristas], catch wrestlers, boxers, and anyone
else who wanted to give it a go.
Myth 8. The Gracie Academy was
established in 1925.
Fact: According to Helio himself
(in1951) neither he nor anyone in his family had ever heard of jiu-jitsu until
1929 or 1930 (he was referring to one of Carlos' exhibitions with Geo Omori, but
didn't specify which one). Moreover, he said, no one had any idea that Carlos
was a "jiu-jitsu fighter." So much for the theory that Helio had been
watching Carlos teach jiu-jitsu lessons in his home in Botafogo. It also casts
doubt on Carlos story about being Conde Koma's best student in Belém do
Myth 9. Helio Gracie was Brazil's first
sports hero. Helio Gracie was a living legend
Fact: Brazil has long history of sports,
imported to Brazil from Europe in the second half of the 19th century. Brazil
had plenty of sports heroes, especially, but not limited to, soccer [futebol]
players. Professional fighting wasn't even considered a sport. Since 1955
Correia da Manhã, one of Rio's two elite newspapers, published an annual
list [quadra de honra] of the best Rio athletes in 22 categories of
sports, not including soccer. Ping pong was a sport, among others. Judo was a
sport, and George Mehdi was honored several times. Jiu-jitsu was not a sport.
Helio never made the list. In 1967 the Museum of Image and Sound, created in
1963 by Guanabara governor Carlos Lacerda, decided to honor the best athletes in
Brazilian history. Thirty-four athletes were nominated and 27 received at least
one vote. Helio was among the eight who received one vote. A ping pong
player received two votes. One of the reasons Helio Gracie was not a
sports hero in Brazil was because no one considered jiu-jitsu a sport until
Helio was already deep into retirement. To the extent that Helio is honored as a
hero today, it is thanks to his role in fathering Rorion and helping
him establish his academy in America. Helio is remembered today because Rorion
made jiu-jitsu successful in North America.
If there really was a Gracie
who was sports hero and living legend in Brazil prior to 1993, it would have
been Carlson. But by 1970, Carlson was better known as a soccer referee than as
a former fighter. Fame is fleeting.
Myth 10. Kato was the vice-world
champion of judo and outweighed Helio by almost 44 pounds. Kimura
was the undefeated world jiu-jitsu champion and outweighed Helio by 77-80 pounds
(depending on the version of the story).
Fact. No one knows the actual
weights. There was no weigh-in. The press, or promoters, estimated the Japanese
judoka's weights, or made them up, which the press reported. The best estimates
by people in close contact with all of the fighters were that Kimura had 33 pounds (15 kilos) on Helio and that Kato
had up to 12 pounds (5 kilos) at most and possibly weighed the same (Kato's
usual competition weight was 70 kilos, which is what Helio weighed for the
fight, observers estimated). Both Kato and Kimura were Kodokan
judoka. There was no such thing in Japan as a jiu-jitsu champion. There was no
such thing as a world champion of judo either. Kato was a young inexperienced
regional judo competitor with some successes but not the vice-champion of
anything. See Choque 2 for details and fully cited sources.
Myth 11. The Gracie Brothers were falsely
accused of assaulting a man in 1932.
Fact: They were not falsely
accused. They (Carlos, George, and Helio, with Oswaldo serving as the get-away
driver) were witnessed stalking and then assaulting Manoel Rufino dos Santos.
They were arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and put behind bars. They were
pardoned, but no one denied that they had been guilty, just that they shouldn't
be punished for it. A few influential friends pulled strings with dictator
Getulio Vargas, who pardoned them. The brothers also gang assaulted João Baldi in the
same fashion, which they didn't deny. And they tried to do the same to Dontao
Pires dos Reis (but he escaped unharmed). In the first two assaults, witnesses
testified that Helio had used a weapon, a "steel box" of some sort.
Helio later said, in 2001, that it was the biggest mistake of his life (see
interview here). The official post-Gracies in
Action story is that Helio did it all by himself in retaliation because
Rufino Santos insulted the Gracie family (which was untrue, Rufino Santos did
not insult the Gracie family, only Carlos, and his insults were factual
statements, disguised as questions).
Myth 12. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is not Kodokan
Fact: We don't know who they learned
from but whoever it was was either a Kodokan judoka or learned from one, i,e.,
Conde Koma, Jacyntho Ferro, Donato Pires dos Reis, Geo Omori, Takeo Yano,
Sumiyuki Kotani, Chugo Sato, or someone else. It is a fact that they read
Irving Hancock's book, and other books all of which were available in Brazil.
Everything that Carlos, George, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., and Helio knew, used, and
taught, could be found amply illustrated in the 1905 and 1906 books of Sadakazu "Raku"
Uyenishi, Tani & Miyake, and Hancock & Higashi, among many others, one
of which was written by Conde Koma himself while he was in Spain.
Whoever the Brazilians
learned from and
however they learned, it was Kodokan judo (and wrestling, which was also mixed
in with Kodokan judo). For anyone with doubts, look at the techniques. If there
were any old jiu-jitsu techniques that still existed that were not incorporated
into judo, it didn't matter, because they Gracies didn't know them. What they
knew was judo, or to be precise, the judo of that epoch.
There has been an internet
theory going around since Choque 1 (1st edition) was published in 2014
that someone in Osaka invented or perfected a style of ground-fighting and that
this is what the Gracies learned. This theory seems based on pure speculation
and perhaps the possibility that Sadakazu "Raku" Uyenishi, Taro
Miyake, and Yukio Tani came
from Osaka (so their ghost-writers said).
There are several flaws in this theory.
First, all of the techniques shown in the Sadakazu Uyenishi and Tani &
Miyake books are the same as Kodokan judo.
Second, they are basic. Third, in the 1930's, the Gracies didn't use any but the
basic chokes and armlocks used by Kodokan judoka, such as Geo Omori (with
occasional exceptions, which they said they created themselves). If they knew
any secret Osaka ground fighting techniques, they kept them secret and never
used them. Fourth, no Gracie, no Brazilian for that matter, has claimed to have
studied with any of these Osaka stylists. It's not impossible. Conde Koma gave
lessons in his free time in Rio. Raku was a member of Koma's troupe in Rio in
1915 and traveled North with him. Raku might have taught lessons too. Maybe Carlos learned ground fighting from Raku in Belém? If so, he kept
it a secret. Maybe Raku taught Koma, who then taught Carlos? Both Koma and Raku
worked with Tani and Miyake in England and toured Spain and Portugal with them
from time to time. Maybe Koma learned from Tani and Miyake, who might have
learned ground fighting in Osaka (although we have no evidence). Everything is
remotely possible. What is missing is evidence. The most relevant evidence
is what Carlos might have learned, assuming any of the above happened.
Carlos's only fight was his 1931 loss to Rufino Santos, we need to look at George and Helio. Their jiu-jitsu was
basic pre-WW 2 judo. They could have just as easily learned from reading Raku or Tani
& Miyake's books as taking lessons from anyone. It was all in the books.
Certainly, they could have put their own spin on the basics. Every judoka is
expected to do that. They also could have made specific tactical choices in
their matches. And they did. Helio made one set of choices, based on his
reluctance to take chances, preferring to "draw" rather than to risk
losing. George made another,
based on his willingness to take chances, in order to win at risk of losing. They both often ended
up on the bottom because they were either lighter than their opponents, or were
inferior in stand-up skills. But as pointed out previously, they did not choose
to be on the bottom. They played from top when they could get top position.
They also could have learned advanced leg and guard
Geo Omori, who we know did them, because there are photographs of him doing
them. If the Gracie brothers didn't learn from Omori personally, they could have
learned from watching his fights and seeing the same pictures that we can see
today (some are included in Choque; for others, visit the
archives). Yes, it's all speculation. That's the point.
Perhaps this is why in December
2013 Rener Gracie explained that "the Gracie family was introduced to
jiu-jitsu by a Japanese man back in the early 1900's." That leaves the door open for almost unlimited
speculation. Which member of the family? Which Japanese man? When? The Academy
seems to want to back down from the claim that Carlos mastered the secrets of
jiu-jitsu under the loving personal guidance of Conde Koma. Rorion
probably wishes he never mentioned "Esei Maeda."
Myth 13. Carlos Gracie and Helio Gracie
were the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champions.
Fact: Carlos liked to describe himself
as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion but in reality there was no such thing. He never
competed in a jiu-jitsu competition and never won a fight. Carlos also claimed to be a boxing champion and to be in
personal communication with Peruvian magician who transmitted messages from a
higher spiritual entity requesting that Carlos's best friend Oscar Santa Maria
give him money for 30 years and to let him impregnate his fiancée,
Lair de Aguiar Silva (who ended up being Reila Gracie's mother).
Helio proclaimed himself the
Brazilian champion after staging a match with a nobody named Landolfo Caribé,
who had no record up to then (despite claiming otherwise). Even Carlos and Helio
said that Caribé was not qualified to fight for the so-called title that
they invented out of thin air. Most of the press and the sports authorities
either ignored Helio or refused to accept his claim, labeling the fight a fraud.
Helio said he didn't care what authorities said. He was the "people's
champion." This was how Helio Gracie became the Brazilian jiu-jitsu
champion in 1950, a title he refused to relinquish even after being demolished
by Kimura and Waldemar Santana. (He finally passed it on to Carlson, and
after Carlson beat Waldemar in a jiu-jitsu match (the only jiu-jitsu match of his professional
career), the "public" accepted Carlson as champion. But by that time
the public had lost what little interest they had in jiu-jitsu as a spectator
sport. Judo and luta livre had more to offer. That's why all of Carlson's other fights were
Myth 14. Helio Gracie did not "really lose to
Kimura because Kimura told newspapers that if Helio lasted 3 minutes he should
be considered the winner"(according to Gracies in Action 1).
Fact: Why would Kimura throw Helio around for the first 10-minute
round if he wanted to win within 3 minutes? He knew Helio wouldn't be KOed by a
throw. Kimura explained why after the fight: He wanted to give the fans a show
before submitting Helio.
Myth 15. Helio
"came to the conclusion" that he could have defeated Kimura
if they were the same weight.
Fact: That's what Gracies in Action 1
said that Helio said. Helio didn't say that at
the time of the fight. Why would he? He fought other judokas who were less
skilled than Kimura (Namiki, Yano, Ono), but the same size as Helio, or smaller,
and he couldn't beat them, with two exceptions (He choked out Naoiti Ono in a "test of sufficiency". Naoiti Ono weighed 55 kilos. At that time Helio weighed in
the area of 66 kilos, give or take a couple. He also choked out Kato in their second fight, after
drawing in the first.) In the Kimura fight, Helio was never on the attack at any
time. It is difficult to imagine how he could have converted his ultimately
unsuccessful defense into a victory, at any weight. Unlike Kato, Kimura was not
just a stand-up judoka. He was a master of ground fighting as well.
Myth 16. Kimura was so impressed with
Helio's jiu-jitsu that he invited him to teach at the Imperial Academy in
Fact. Kimura didn't speak Portuguese. Helio didn't speak Japanese. Yassuiti
Ono and Takeo Yano usually served as Kimura's translators. Perhaps there was a
translation error? It is a fact however that Kimura (and his colleague
Yamaguchi) invited or challenged Helio and his colleagues to go to Japan to fight them. Helio
never accepted the invitation. In addition, there was no such thing as an
Imperial Academy in 1951, and Kimura had no authority to invite anyone to do
anything in Japan and he didn't think what Helio was doing was jiu-jitsu (Kimura
had studied ju-jutsu and knew the difference between ju-jutsu and judo). He
thought Helio was playing an older style of judo (which he approved of). Also, for the
record, he said that Helio had a good defense but lacked stand-up skills.
Overall, he was not impressed with Helio's skills, but Helio did surprise him by
how slippery he was. Years later Kimura said he "felt like he lost,"
which was half Japanese modesty but possibly also suggested that Helio's defense
on the ground did surprise him. Credit where
it's due. Helio had a good defense. It took Kimura almost 3 minutes to submit
him (more accurately, for Carlos to submit on Helio's behalf).
Myth 17. Helio Gracie defeated a Brazilian
Fact. Helio Gracie fought
Portugal in the prelim to the Geo Omori vs. Tavares Crespo fight on January 16,
1932. Antonio Portugal was never a Brazilian
boxing champion. He was a washed up, exceptionally poor boxer with a weak punch
and who had rarely won a boxing match.
Myth 18. The Gracies were ground fighting
Fact. All grapplers fought on the
ground. All jiu-jitsu fighters, judokas, and luta livre fighters fought on the
ground. Even the pro "catch" wrestlers. There was nothing unusual
about the Gracie's philosophy, strategy, or methodology. However, it is true
that some of their opponents sometimes preferred to fight standing up, which
they could choose to do, being superior in that aspect of the fight, and in some
(but not all) cases, bigger. The idea of neutralizing a striker by tackling him to the
ground was not new and didn't always work. Jiu-jitsu fighters did get KOed and
on occasion killed by boxers. Moreover, the Gracies did not specialize in
fighting off their backs. They used bottom "legs around" position for
defense, exactly as rule # 9 in Hancock and Higashi advised (as Rickson said
much later, the guard should be used for defense. He got it.) George and Helio
always fought from top whenever they were able to do so. (According to
descriptions, Carlos was usually on his feet or on top in the Rufino Santos
fight; Oswaldo preferred top position when he could get it, and Gastão
Jr. never fought).
Myth 19. Carlos Gracie was a great fighter.
Fact. Carlos had one professional fight,
a grappling match with middle-aged wrestling teacher. Carlos lost when he walked
away and refused to fight. He had three exhibition jiu-jitsu matches with
Geo Omori. All ended in draws. He had one other grappling match with an
unnamed, unskilled opponent at the ACM in Rio. It ended in a draw (according to
George Gracie. )
Myth 20. Helio Gracie defeated
the famous jiu-jitsu fighter/pro wrestler Taro Miyake.
Fact: Helio never fought Taro Miyake. Helio's opponent
(June 23, 1934) was a Japanese named Miyaki. (Taro Miyake's name was also
sometimes spelled "Miyaki" in North America). Miyaki appeared out of
the blue in April 1934, matched against pro-wrestler Roberto Ruhmann in a no-gi
jiu-jitsu contest. Miyaki supposedly had a Kodokan black belt. Ruhmann choked
him with his famous "headlock."
A GTR reader suggests
where this myth may have originated. He writes: "This
one is important. Wrestling historian Mark Hewitt claims that the Miyake
defeated by Helio was Taro Miyake in his book Catch Wrestling. I think
Hewitt is just assuming this without any proof or real evidence, and unfortunately
I might be the source of this, unwittingly. In 2001 or so I gave Hewitt
information about Helio's record on a message board, using only the name
"Miyake" for this opponent of Helio's as it was all that I
had. Hewitt then made the leap to this Miyake being Taro Miyake and now it has
been written into much of pop BJJ history."
Recent (as of May 2016)
Wikipedia revisions and assorted blog posts referencing Wikipedia are now
claiming that Miyaki was part of Yassuiti Ono's troupe, perhaps implying that
although Helio Gracie failed in his two attempts to defeat Ono himself, at least
he beat a member of Ono's alleged troupe. This is incorrect. Yassuiti Ono and
his younger brother Naoiti and eight other Japanese immigrants first appeared in
the São Paulo press on October of 1934. The group was described as a
"troupe of 10 jiu-jitsu fighters" (see Choque 1, 295-296)
and included someone named Miyaki among them. But this must have been a
different Miyaki, because Helio Gracie had already fought the Miyaki that we
know about on June 23 of that year. Moreover, Miyaki already had several professional "fights" under his belt. In
case, it was not Taro Miyake, who would have been about 54 years old and weighed
90 kg. at the time (Miyaki was about 20 and weighed 64.2 kg., one kg. less than
Helio Gracie). Photographs of Miyaki and Taro Miyake taken at about the
same time leave no doubt that they were not the same person.
Myth 21. Helio was small, sickly, and weak.
Fact. We don't know. That's what
Helio and Rorion say. Lots of children are small and weak, and
"sickly" is a vague word. Helio didn't like going to school. Maybe he
pretended to be sick to avoid going? If so, it worked, according to Reila Gracie
and Helio's lawyer. But by 1930, before he began learning jiu-jitsu (according
to Carlos), he was a champion swimmer.
Myth 22. Helio Gracie was a great fighter.
Fact: Helio Gracie had
10 public professional fights between 1932
and 1936. Eight of
the 10 were grappling-only matches. His opponents were (in order) Antonio Portugal, Takashi Namiki, Fred
Ebert, Miyaki, Wladek Zbyszko, Dudú, Yassuiti Ono (1st
fight), Takeo Yano, Massagoichi, Yassuiti Ono (2nd fight), and, assuming it
happened, Erwin Klausner.
(Note: Helio didn't consider Antonio Portugal a "professional" fight
because the money was donated to the Brazilian Olympic team). His record for these
10 fights was 4 wins, no losses, 6 draws. He then stopped fighting
Two Rio newspapers
reported that Helio Gracie defeated boxer Erwin Klausner in a jiu-jitsu match in
Belo Horizonte on September 26, 1937. There was no pre-fight build-up or
post-fight analysis and boasting, features of all of Helio Gracie's other
fights. There is reason to suspect erroneous reporting. Reports from outside Rio
did sometimes confuse one Gracie brother with another, and misspelling of names
in general was not unusual (the concept being that as long as you know who was
being mentioned, it didn't matter how their name was spelled). George lived in
Belo Horizonte. Helio only fought outside of Rio once. The reportage was skimpy,
with no photos. If Helio had really defeated a legitimate heavyweight boxer, one
with luta livre experience, such as Erwin Klausner (even in a jiu-jitsu match),
it is difficult to believe that Carlos Gracie wouldn't have tried to capitalize
on it. It is a genuine possibility that Helio Gracie's victory over Erwin
Klausner is another myth. Choque 1 (1st and 2nd eds. corrected in 3rd
ed.) reported that the fight was reported,
not that it actually happened. This distinction is apt to be overlooked in the
Helio Gracie had five professional fights between 1950 and 1955.
His opponents were Landolfo Caribé, Yukio Kato (twice), Masahiko Kimura,
and Waldemar Santana. His record for these five fights was 2 wins, 2 losses, and
His career ring record was
therefore 6 wins, 2 losses, and
7 draws. He also had at least two documented non-official sparring matches (Azevedo
Maia and Arturo Emidio, who soon after lost to Robson Gracie), and one
"test of sufficiency" with Naoiti Ono. Helio submitted those three
opponents. He never fought Geo Omori, contrary to some sources, although on at
least one occasion, he said he wanted to. Choque 1
reported, based on a single news article, that Helio lost an amateur luta livre
match against Dudú in 1937. Because it was only one article, and the
press did sometimes err, we cannot be sure that Dudú's opponent wasn't
really George Gracie, rather than Helio Gracie (such mix-ups did sometimes
happen, but generally there were multiple articles to eliminate the confusion.
Not in this case however.) In any event, it was an amateur match. Perhaps
Helio's greatness as fighter was based on something other than his ring record.
As Jack Dempsey said, greatness is bestowed by the press. As Mike Tyson said,
greatness is bestowed by the people. The reader will have to decide about Helio
Myth 23. Helio challenged world
heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis (who was unquestionably the greatest heavyweight
boxing champion, see proof here). Joe Louis
Fact: It's true. Helio Gracie did
"challenge" Joe Louis. Joe Louis, or his rather, Joe's manager, did refuse. In return, Joe
Louis (his manager rather) challenged Helio. Helio refused.
George Gracie also challenged boxers. Boxers challenged George and other jiu-jitsu
challenged everyone else. It was a way to publicize themselves by giving
newspaper writers something to write about.
Then there's Muhammad
Ali--the heavyweight champion, not the founder of Islam (neither of them were
born with the name Muhammad Ali, by the way).
Carlson's opponents, a pro-wrestler named Martin Karadagian, challenged Muhammad
Cassius Clay, as he was usually called in Brazil) too.
Was Ali afraid of Karadagian's pro-wrestling skills?
According to Rorion-logic, he must have been. There could be no other imaginable
reason he would decline to accept a challenge from a publicity-seeking
But Ali fought pro-wrestler Antonio Inoki. The
difference was that Inoki's challenge was backed up with a lot of money.
Myth 24. Helio Gracie had many vale tudo
Fact: Helio Gracie had two vale tudo fights (Dudú and Santana).
He won the first, lost the second. He also had one mixed
styles fight (Antonio Portugal). He won.
Myth 25. Helio jumped into a turbulent shark infested sea to
rescue a drowning man. Helio was award a medal of honor.
Fact: There was newspaper report to that effect
in 1946, although it didn't say anything about turbulence or sharks. Helio was a good
swimmer, so it is possible. It also could have been one of Carlos's
publicity stunts. Carlos admired Jack Dempsey's promoter, Tex Rickard, and imitated his tactics,
which included fabricating stories (as did all promoters and
managers). According to Reila, Carlos was also on the boat and encouraged Helio
to jump in the water. Being seasick, Carlos couldn't do it himself. Helio was given
a medal of honor in 1952 by the Standard Oil Company. It has never been
explained why the Standard Oil Company awarded the medal and why it waited until
Sadakazu "Raku" Uyenishi, who was also a good swimmer, dived into the
Lagan River in Belfast to save a drowning man (according to Chp. 6 of Uyenishi's Textbook of Jiu-Jitsu in
Myth 26. Rolls Gracie introduced the
triangulo [triangle choke, sankakujime, 三角締め]
to jiu-jitsu after seeing it in an old judo book.
Fact: Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone,
1997-2008 (JJSZ) quoted Romero Cavalcanti, one Roll's black belt students,
as saying this. Cavalcanti also said it in a magazine interview in 1998. JJSZ
didn't say it was true, only that Romero Cavalcanti said it
Choque 1 and Choque 2
revealed that, while Rolls might have learned the triangle from an old judo
book, judokas and some jiu-jitsu people in São Paulo knew the triangle very
well. The triangle originated
and was perfected in Japan by 1922. Yassuiti Ono, before he immigrated to
Brazil, had been a student of the man who perfected and introduced it. Another
Kodokan judoka named Ryuzo Ogawa immigrated to São Paulo at just about the same
time, 1934. Oswaldo Alves learned judo from Hikaru Kurachi, who was Ogawa's
student. Alves later became an instructor at Haroldo Brito's
academy in Rio, where Waldemar Santana had been a student and Carlson Gracie had
trained judo (briefly). In 1955, it was reported in the local press that Haroldo
Brito's favorite technique was the "triangulo." Later, Alves taught
Rolls Gracie judo and jiu-jitsu (see Oswaldo Alves interview here.)
Perhaps Alves neglected to teach Rolls the triangle. Maybe Alves never learned.
Both possibilities are hard to believe, but they are possible. What is 100%
certain is that Haroldo Brito and probably most judoka in São Paulo and Rio knew the
triangle by not later than 1955.
Myth 27. The Gracies renamed the judo
technique udegarami [腕がらみ]
Kimura, in honor
Fact: Rio sports
writers began referring
to Kimura's signature move as "Kimuriana" during his second tour of
Brazil in 1959.
Myth 28. Rolls learned the "bent
armlock" from an American wrestler named Bob Anderson and named it
Americana in his honor.
Fact: Why didn't he named it
"Bob" or "Anderson"? The Americana was called "bent arm
break" or something similarly descriptive in most early jiu-jitsu and judo
books. Eventually becoming known as one of various forms of udegarami [腕絡み;
the same name as for the Kimura version: it literally
means "arm-twist" or something similar, such as arm twine, arm caught in a
tangle, entangled arm, arm entanglement]. According to contemporary writers,
catch wrestlers adopted it from the early jiu-jitsu books, renamed it and
claimed it is their own. When the Zbyszko Troupe of catch wrestlers came to Rio
in 1934 sport writers began calling it Americana,
probably because the troupe was established in America and catch wrestling was
believed to be a North American sport.
Myth 29. The Gracies didn't know,
teach, or use footlocks.
Fact. Most early jiu-jitsu instructional
books depicted footlocks. The first, Sadakazu Uyenish's book (1905) and Tani
& Miyake's book (1906) included examples of footlocks and how to apply them,
with multiple clear illustrations. The Gracies, along with everyone else, knew
and taught them. In 1955 George Gracie, while discussing favorite techniques,
said his was the choke, but Helio's favorite technique was the footlock. Helio
might have learned it from Geo Omori, because Omori used a footlock to defeat
the boxer Tavares Crespo with a footlock in 1932, the same event where Helio
fought Antonio Portugal. If Helio did not learn it from Omori, there were
plenty of other places where he could have learned.
This myth seems to have
arisen when an inattentive reader falsely accused JJSZ of saying that the
Gracies didn't know or teach foot locks. On the contrary, the author of JJSZ
knew that the Gracies taught foot locks because he learned foot locks from
Rickson. What JJSZ actually said was that in 1997 footlocks were considered in Rio
to be "cheap" ways to win matches. And also that beginners were not
encouraged to use leg locks in sparring due to the risk of knee injuries and
they discourage the formation of good grappling habits. Obviously people used
footlocks in competition when they were allowed to use them and needed to use
them. One of the subjects of one of JJSZ's chapters used a footlock to win the
1999 Mundial black belt absoluto gold medal.
Myth 30. Rorion Gracie introduced Brazilian
jiu-jitsu to America.
Fact: Reylson was first, followed by
Carley. Rorion was already living in Los Angeles trying to break into show
business. Reylson opened an academy in Florida, which did not flourish.
Carley had no success until the UFC made his name well-known (it is debatable
that he had success even after that but he had a real job and didn't need
jiu-jitsu.) Reylson and
Carley tried to teach jiu-jitsu the way George, Oswaldo, and Helio had taught it, as a
series of short lessons based on traditional Japanese stand-up self-defense.
(Reylson already had successful academies in Rio, where he taught this
traditional curriculum.) Rorion, with Art Davie, repackaged jiu-jitsu for Americans and was successful, as we know.
(It might be more accurate to say Art Davie, with the cooperation of Rorion, did
it. Be that as it may, it couldn't have happened without Rorion.)
Gracies in Action 1 and 2 were
designed to stimulate interest in the Gracie's style of judo, which they called
jiu-jitsu, and, reasonably enough, to make sure Rorion benefited from his
efforts. It's not surprising that he tweaked history and exaggerated his
father's accomplishments, or, given what Rorion surely knew about his uncle
Carlos, and what the world now also knows, that he left Carlos out of the story
once the prologue was finished and the obligatory link to an Asian master was
If we subtract the historical part of
GIA what remains is: (1) some fights go to the ground and (2) if they do, Gracie
Jiu-Jitsu is a good ground system to know. It's hard to argue with that now but
at the time there were lots of people who naively believed that they had the
skills to avoid ever "going to the ground". Rorion needed dramatic visuals to punch
his message across. To alleviate the potential boredom of a series of amateur
videos showing what probably did not look like what Americans thought fighting
should look like, he added voice-over explaining what was happening during which he
interpolated his version of jiu-jitsu history. The theory that the Japanese always
tried to hide real jiu-jitsu from foreigners was not invented by Rorion. The
early pioneers of jiu-jitsu in North America said the same things in order to
make jiu-jitsu seem more exotic and precious. When judo became a threat to the
Gracies in Brazil they added and emphasized the part about judo being fake and
incomplete jiu-jitsu. Previously, in North America, England, even Brazil,
martial arts entrepreneurs like Hancock & Higashi described non-Kodokan
jiu-jitsu (judo was still often referred to as jiu-jitsu at the time) as
"older and inferior" and less effective. Geo Omori (or his manager)
wrote a series of articles stressing the same theme in Brazil in 1932, as did
others from time to time. The Gracies merely reversed the comparison.
Masterpiece of marketing though it was,
GIA had flaws. The first is that he completely ignored the single most important
Gracie in the story of jiu-jitsu in Brazil. That was Carlson, who is not
mentioned by name even once on either GIA 1 or GIA 2.
Actually, that isn't
surprising. How could Rorion monopolize his family's jiu-jitsu if Carlson loomed
could Rorion possibly hope to match achievements and jiu-jitsu knowledge with
Carlson? Moreover, Carlson would rock the boat in addition to teaching jiu-jitsu
his own, non-"pure water," way. Rorion did not believe that Carlson's
personalized "pro re nata" [as needed] methodology
(which originally was also Rickson's way) would work with Rorion's target clientele
or that it would fit his assembly-line model of instruction. On top of that, Carlson couldn't speak English, had no
head for business, and would have let all of his friends, and he had many, share the wealth,
establishing affiliates without paying exorbitant fees, and might even have let
students train for free, as he did in Brazil.
The most important Gracie in the triumph
of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was of course Rorion himself. But (obviously) that wasn't
true in 1988 or 1992. Even so, he did include himself, modestly and to good effect,
showing that even a skinny would-be movie star/businessman can kick ass
if armed with a knowledge of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. But where was Carlson?
Neither Rorion nor Art Davie in 1988, smart as
they were, could have anticipated the internet, Google, Wikipedia, and the
digitization of archives in many national libraries, including Brazil's. Little did they know that what Rorion included in GIA as filler
material would end up being believed by everyone across the globe as historical
On second thought, it isn't surprising
at all. It's just the same as it ever was in the world of "martial
For full details and documentation, see
Choque 1, Choque 2,
and Choque 3 and other sources as indicated.
For more, see:
Top 18 Myths and
Misconceptions about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Gracies in Action 1
Myths and Misconceptions about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Pat Jordan's 1989 Playboy
here for some background on this article. Don't be misled by misguided,
mendacious trolls into believing
that Roberto or Choque are anti-Gracie. Roberto and Choque are not anti-Gracie.
Osaka theory seems to have originated as early as 2007 (maybe even earlier).
There are number of evidential gaps in the theory but the primary weakness is
that the Gracies didn't have a unique system of fighting. They simply used judo
ground techniques when they were on the ground and fought from the bottom when
they were on the bottom. Theorists are confusing what the Gracie Brothers did
during the 1930's with what their offspring did during the 1990's and after. The
false assumption is that Royce's early UFC game was personally created by Helio
Gracie in the 1930's. This is precisely what Rener, Ryron, and more recently
Kron, are claiming.
The idea that Yukio Tani was a ground specialist who learned in Osaka seems
to originate in an off-handed comment in Graham Noble's otherwise excellent
2000 article "The Odyssey of Yukio Tani". Graham Noble conceded
that "We know little about Tani's early training" and quotes an
acquaintance to the effect that "Tani trained with Fusen-ryu groundwork
specialists Torajiro Tanabe and/or Matauemon Tanabe". The acquaintance
did not provide any evidence as to how he knew that.
Graham Noble then
says that a 1997 Japanese book indicates that Tani's father was a friend of
Matauemon Tanabe. Graham Noble and other writers who cite this book, such as
Svinth & Green, and Renzo Gracie & John Danaher, misidentify it as Maeda
Itsuyo: Conde Koma (or Maeda Mitsuyo: Conde Koma). The correct
title of the book is 前田光世―世界柔道武者修行―by
[Marushima Takao] (島津書房、1997年
). "Conde Koma" is merely printed on the dust jacket (below), and isn't part of the title itself.
Graham Noble, Svinth & Green, and Renzo & John Danaher can read
Japanese with a high degree of fluency, which does not appear to be the
case, it is safe to say that they do not really know what the book says. In
any case, this is slim evidence at best.
information about the Choque series, see here. Note
that references to Choque 1 are specifically to the third edition unless indicated otherwise.
(c) 2016, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Last Updated December
22, 1917 (clarification about Maeda's name added.)