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Top 24 Myths and Misconceptions about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Pat Jordan's 1989 Playboy Article about Rorion Gracie

 By Roberto Pedreira

Posted May 11, 2016



"Truth is the quality that moves us forward, expands our horizons, and ultimately sets us free. We should never fear it. Those who do, do so perhaps, because they have something to hide. Perhaps they worry that the relentless light of truth may expose the inadequacies or worse, the deliberate deceptions, in their own words."--Rorion Gracie (Gracies in Action 2, 1992)


 1989 Pat Jordan article


Pat Jordan was an experienced journalist who had contributed a fair number of articles to Playboy. Playboy paid generously (as Roberto knows from personal experience), so no doubt Pat was generally on the look-out for suitable topics. Why he choose an obscure Brazilian wannabe movie actor is anyone's guess. Indeed, in 2013, prior to the publication of Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone, 1997-2008, Roberto Pedreira contacted Pat Jordan inquiring about that very matter. Pat Jordan never replied.

The article would have ended up buried in Playboy's archives, along with interviews with Bertrand Russell, Stanley Kubrick, Miles Davis, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and many others. But along came Art Davie, and the world as we knew it changed. A basically forgettable fluff piece became the foundation of myths and legends, believed by millions of fans, cultists, and people who should know better. 


Myth 1: "A touring Japanese master taught Rorion's uncle some basic moves."

Reality: This is a myth that may actually turn out to be true. If it is not, we have to believe that Carlos Gracie was Maeda's best student and that Maeda taught Caló (as Carlos said Maeda called him) all of his secrets of real fighting. That doesn't mean that Helio's version was correct either. A third alternative is that they were taught by someone other than Maeda, or that they taught themselves out of books (which were readily available in Rio at that time). Meanwhile, the jiu-jitsu secrets that they learned seem to have been nothing more or less than basic Kodokan judo throws, armlocks, chokes, and traditional self-defense techniques. See Choque 3, chp. 13 for Carlos' account of his relationship with Maeda.

Myth 2: "Helio once fought an opponent  in the ring before 20,000 screaming spectators for three hours and 40 minutes, nonstop, before the police finally separated the bloodied combatants."

Reality: Pat Jordan is conflating three different fights here: The Fred Ebert match in 1932, the Dudú match in 1935, and the Waldemar Santana match in 1955. The Santana fight was the one that lasted roughly 3 hours and 40 minutes. However there weren't 20,000 spectators, and the police didn't stop the fight. The match was held in the presence of a small group of invited guests (and of course, representatives of the press). The police didn't separate the combatants. The fight finished when Santana kicked Helio in the head, knocking him out. The fight was filmed and the last part (5 minutes) was shown in Rio theaters (Choque 2, p. 143-144). This was not included on the either of the Gracies In Action videos. Santana became a national idol and embarked on his long career in the ring, fighting everywhere and everyone, especially the new Gracie champion, namely Carlson. Pat Jordan described Waldemar as a former student. Waldemar denied that he was Helio's student. He was an instructor and ring representative, he insisted. He learned nothing from Helio, he said. Carlos and Helio described the result as a victory for the Gracie Academy, because, thanks to the Gracie's efficient teaching method, even a clueless novice could defeat a great master (Choque 2, chp. 6). 

Myth 3: "In another fight, he so savaged his opponent with kicks to his kidney that many attributed his subsequent death to the fight."

Reality: The fight took place February 2, 1935. Dudú died November 4, 1938 after a long illness. Nothing was mentioned in the obits about kidney damage.

Myth 4:  "When a rival martial arts teacher once accused the family of fixing its fights, Helio, surrounded by a taunting crowd, confronted him on the street."

Reality: Rufino Santos accused the Gracies of arranging the capoeira versus jiu-jitsu matches (July 3, 1931) in such a way that the capoeiras were at a significant disadvantage. He also pointed out that the capoeira "representatives" were not really capoeiras (capoeiristas were called capoeiras at the time, and capoeira was usually called capoeiragem) but were just random guys recruited by Gracie friend Jayme Ferreira (who was a former Greco-Romana wrestler posing as a capoeira teacher). His accusations were not unfounded, on the contrary they were completely accurate, as the Rio sports community was well aware  Helio did not confront Rufino Santos on the street. He, Carlos, and George (Oswaldo drove the get-away car) ambushed him as he was leaving the Tijuca Tenis Clube late at night. The taunting crowd consisted of Gracie "supporters". As newspapers declared, it was one man versus a gang (see Choque 1, chp. 11 for details).[1]

Myth 5: "Helio reigned as the self-proclaimed toughest man in the occidental world for 25 years."

Reality: Helio's ring career lasted from 1932 to 1936 (possibly 1937, see here). He was inactive from 1936 (or 1937) until 1950. He fought three times in 1951, than retired again, as he promised to, after being crushed by Kimura. He un-retired in 1955 after being challenged by Waldemar Santana, and then retired permanently after being demolished by Santana. He began calling himself the "the best non-Japanese Jiu-Jitsu fighter of all time" when the 151 Rio Branco Academy opened on April 23, 1952 (Choque 2, p. 80), and especially after Brazilian judokas began having some international successes. He never really called himself the toughest non-occidental man. He called himself the Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion. Apparently, it was his victory over Kato that made Helio believe he was better than his brother George. But they never met in a ring, so that was merely his own opinion. 

Myth 6: "He fought 14 fights in the ring and lost only two of them."

Reality:  Helio's confirmed ring record was 15 fights, out of which he won six, lost two and drew seven. He may have also fought Erwin Klausner in 1937, but this is only a possibility. If he did, his record would be 7-2-7. Helio generally did not count the Antonio Portugal fight as a "professional fight", however, Pat Jordan obviously did. It seemed not to have occurred to Pat Jordan that fighters usually need more than a 6-2-7 (or even 7-2-7) record to deserve to be called legends.

Myth 7: Carlos and Helio... founded the Gracie Jujitsu Academy in Rio in the Twenties."

Reality: Donato Pires dos Reis founded the Academia de Jiu-Jitsu at Rua Marquez de Abrantes no. 106 in the Flamengo Beach area of Rio, on or a few days before September 6, 1930. Carlos and George were Donato's monitors and assistants (Choque 1, p. 139). Donato moved on, Carlos assumed command of the academy, George left, Helio came in. At that point, it became the Gracie Academy (and also relocated to Rua Marquez de Abrantes no. 117; details are in Choque 1-3).

Myth 8: Zulu was thirty pounds (13.6 kg.) heavier than Rickson.

Reality: Zulu weighed 91.8 kg. Rickson weighed 79 or 80 (depending on the report). (See Choque 3, chp. 23 for details). 

Myth 9:  "Rickson has never been one will challenge him after Zulu."

Fact: Zulu challenged Rickson again. Rickson declined. Flavio Molina also challenged Rickson. Rickson declined.  (Rickson's student Marcelo Behring fought Flavio instead.) Kick boxer Sergio Baterelli also challenged Rickson, but then lost to Zulu in what was packaged as a qualifying fight to see who would earn a crack (for Zulu, his third) at Rickson. The result indicated that Baterelli wouldn't have much of a chance against Rickson so everyone immediately lost interest. In any event, the Brazilian public was not greatly interested in seeing Rickson fight because his mythical status as a fighter existed only outside of Brazil. 

Myth 10: "Carlos....[is] a nutritionist."

Reality: Carlos had a primary school education, according to his daughter and biographer Reila Gracie, and also according to Carlos' lawyer Milton Barbosa (who in 1963 was trying to argue that Carlos was too poorly educated to be able to defraud Oscar Santa Maria over a period of more than 30 years). Carlos was occasionally invited to appear on TV talk shows in 1982 as a "dietista". He had no more qualifications as a nutritionist than any random person walking down Av. Copacabana.

 Myth 11: "When Carlos and Helio returned home one night and found a robber in their house, they offered him the choice of fighting or going to jail.  In minutes, his screams woke the neighborhood: "'Jail! Jail! Jail'".

Reality: Cool story. George Mehdi's students tell the same story about him, except the thief broke into his dojo in Ipanema rather than his house. 

Myth 12: "When Carlos found opponents scarce for his ring fights, he advertised for them in the newspaper under the headline that read, "If you want a broken arm or rib, Contact Carlos Gracie at this number."

Reality: Carlos only had one ring fight. Even for that, his opponent had to pressure him into getting into the ring and Carlos walked away from the ring in the middle of the fight (twice, in fact....his supporters pressured him to return the first time, which he did, but he then walked away again). Carlos didn't need to look for opponents. They looked for him. He always refused to fight, trying to substitute a brother or "representative" instead.  

Myth 13: "Carlos and Helio's fights were the stuff of legends"

Reality: Two of Helio's were (Kimura and Santana) almost deserved to be called legendary, and the fight with Dudú was memorable in some ways. The matches with Ebert and Zybszko were legendary only in how boring they were, according to contemporary observers.  Carlos only had one fight and it was not legendary. 

Myth 14: Helio was the first jujitsu master in the occidental world to defeat a Japanese master, Namiki, in 1932."

Reality: Namiki (Takashi, aka Takeshi Namiki) was a 19 year old Kodokan judoka who had never had a professional fight. He wasn't a master of anything let alone jiu-jitsu. Moreover, Helio didn't defeat him, The official result was an empate (no decision). Reports of the fight indicate that Namiki dominated throughout. He did outweigh Helio 72 to 65 kg.  (See Choque 1 for details). 

Myth 15: He challenged any and all comers to fight in the ring with him, without rules, to the death."

Reality: Helio never challenged anyone to fight without rules or to the death. The Gracie brothers were notorious for negotiating rules that they liked, beginning with the first of their "fights", the jiu-versus capoeira challenge in 1931 (see Choque 1 and Choque 2 for details.).

Myth 16: "He fought a man to the death, only to have him surrender after four minutes. The newspaper said the man had chosen not to die and dubbed him 'The Dead Chicken'."

Reality: Dudú was called Pobre Gallinha Morta, [poor dead chicken] not because of his loss to Helio Gracie in 1935, but rather due to his losses to pro wrestlers Roberto Ruhmann and Manoel Fernandes in 1933 (Dudú was a pro wrestler, needless to say, but Helio, as well as George Gracie, Oswaldo Gracie, and Geo Omori were all too happy to work and train with him. Dudú broke Oswaldo's leg in a training session, it was reported). Another fighter was also called "Dead Chicken", in 1937, [Gallinha Morta]. That was Ary Martini, who was a Gracie Academy student (Details in Choque 1, chps. 14 and 17).

Also, "The Man" (Dudú) didn't surrender after four minutes. He quit after 13 minutes. Much respect to Helio. He won. But he didn't use jiu-jitsu. He used punches and kicks. Even so, Dudú basically just gassed out. 

Myth 17: "When Helio challenged a famous Brazilian boxer known as The Drop of Fire to a fight to the death, more than 20,000 fans showed up at the stadium. Only the Drop of Fire never showed [up]."

Reality: Didn't happen. A fight that drew an enormous crowd would need to be hyped months in advance and publicized daily, and if suddenly cancelled due to a "no-show", would have been extensively discussed. Never happened. In the case of smaller events, last-minute substitutions were brought in, as when Helio Gracie failed to show up for his fights on June 23, 1936 with Geroncio Barbosa, Manuel Fernandes, and one other opponent, possibly Simon Munich. Instead, George Gracie stepped up and fought Geronica Barbosa and two other opponents, all on the same night. (Choque 1, p. 334-335). 

Myth 18: "Once, Helio dived into the turbulent, shark-infested Atlantic Ocean to save a man from drowning and was given the nation's Medal of Honor for his heroism."

Reality: An item appeared in the Friday November 15, 1946 issue of A Noite (p. 10), p. 10] saying that "Caiu ao mar o passageiro--e salvou-o corajosamente o atleta Helio Gracie" ["A passenger fell into the sea--saved courageously by the athlete Helio Gracie"]. Nothing was mentioned about sharks or turbulence. Oddly, the news report referred to Helio as a famous [muito conhecido] professor of physical culture [cultura fisica] although he had been retired for at least ten years and appeared, occasionally, in the news only when he pulled a publicity stunt such as challenging world champion boxers for purses that no world champion would be tempted by. The Medal was awarded by the Standard Oil Company in 1952. It has never been explained why the Standard Oil Company awarded the medal and why it waited until 1952). Coincidentally, Sadakazu Uyenishi, who was also a good swimmer, dived into the Lagan River in Belfast to save a drowning man (it was reported by the editor of Strength and Health magazine in Chp. 6 of Uyenishi's Textbook of Jiu-Jitsu in 1905).  

Myth 19: "Helio choked to unconsciousness Japan's number two master, Kato."

Reality: Kato was not Japan's number two master. There was no such a thing and even if there had been, Kato wouldn't have been it (see Choque 2,  chp. 2 for details.) Even his compatriots agreed that Kato's newaza was very poor. It is worth noting that in their first match, Helio was unable to keep Kato on the ground. It was only because Kato, demonstrating his lack of skill and experience, recklessly insisted on trying to choke Helio that he himself was caught. 

Myth 20: "Kimura [was] 80 pounds heavier than Helio."

Reality: Helio and Kimura's weights for their match are unknown but the best estimates gave Kimura a 15 kg. edge. 

Myth 21: "The fight lasted 13 minutes."

Reality: The match was set for three 10-minute rounds. Kimura, as he explained, wanted to use Helio as a dummy/victim for a display of judo throwing for the benefit his fans who were upset by Kato's loss. One comment Kimura made after the fight indicates that he did engage in some ground grappling with Helio Gracie, in the first round, in order to "see what Helio had to offer on the ground" (see here and Choque 2 , chp. 2 for details). Helio Gracie did not "pull guard" on Kimura. For that matter, Helio was unable to get Kato to the ground in either of their two matches. The matches ended up on the ground either because Kato threw Helio, or they tripped.  When the second round began Kimura put Helio on the ground and never let him up again. Helio did nothing in the way of counter-attack. He did postpone the inevitable for almost three minutes. That was enough to earn him a "moral victory." The press (one paper at east) also gave Helio a moral victor for drawing with Wladeck Zybszko in 1934. Helio did it by what by today's standards would be called "stalling." (But according to the Gracie Academy, not losing is winning so in that sense it really was a victory" or at least it might have been if it had been a street or battlefield fight to the death instead of a submission grappling match with a time limit, referee, and padded surface). 

Myth 22: Kimura...grabbed Helio's head and began to crush it like an overripe melon. Carlos threw in the towel."

Reality: Kimura did apply a kesa gatame on Helio Gracie, which to someone like Pat Jordan, might have seemed like crushing an overripe melon. Kesa gatame is not designed to crush the opponent's head. But that is not why Carlos threw in the towel. That happened after Kimura locked onto Helio Gracie's arm. Otherwise this description is accurate. Carlos threw in the towel, as Helio agreed that he should do, and Helio agreed with the decision. (Nevertheless, he didn't think he really lost (see here.) Contrary to Helio, everyone else who saw the match thought Helio lost.

Myth 23: "The next day, Kimura appeared at the Gracie Academy to invite Helio to teach at the Imperial Academy of Japan."

Reality: There was no such thing as an imperial university. The Empire vanished in 1945. Kimura had no authority to invite anyone anywhere to do anything. He was not in favor with the Kodokan leadership due to his pro-judo and pro-wrestling career (but the Kodokan wasn't paying his bills, Kimura said. Pro-wrestling paid his bills). The origin of this myth, if it wasn't a deliberate misunderstanding, is clarified in Choque 3, chp. 5). Note that Kimura was not impressed with Helio's skills. He did not like defensive opponents, and Helio's defensiveness, Kimura felt, was excessive. He did say that Helio had a good defense but it is highly improbable that Kimura thought Helio's style of defense would be useful for a Japanese judoka (where surviving under a pin for 3 minutes or enduring broken bones is not the point of a match). What he did say was that if Helio learned stand-up skills he might be as good as judokas in Japan.

Myth 24: "None of the current Japanese masters have dared to venture to Rickson's home turf of Rio."

Reality: Kimura went back to Rio (and Salvador) in 1959 on another pro-wrestling tour. He was willing to fight anyone under any rules, as long as he got paid, and in fact, he fought Waldemar Santana in Rio under jiu-jitsu rules, and a short time later in Salvador, under vale tudo rules. (See Choque 2 chp. 10 for details). Carlos Gracie tried to negotiate a fight for Carlson but demanded such an unreasonable amount of money that either he was not serious, or he greatly overestimated Carlson's drawing power. The public wanted to see Kimura, not Carlson. Santana's backers made reasonable demands and Kimura accepted. (The two Kimura vs. Santana fights are described in detail in Choque 2, chp. 10).

Moreover, by 1989, Japanese jujutsu masters were not in the habit of traveling anywhere to challenge people to professional grappling matches. However, if by "masters", Pat Jordan meant judokas, then they certainly went wherever international competitions were held, which included Rio de Janeiro (Choque 3, chp. 10). 


For more Myths and Misconceptions, see:

Four Questions & Answers about BJJ History

The Backstory

Myths and Misconceptions in Gracies in Action 1

Myths and Misconceptions about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Pat Jordan's 1989 Playboy Article

Myths and Misconceptions in Gracies in Action 2

Myths and Misconceptions about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Japan

Myths about Mitsuyo Maeda (Conda Koma)

Myths and Misconceptions about Jiu-Jitsu and BJJ 





1. The 2nd edition of Choque 1, (2nd updated revision, August 3, 2015) includes information that was not in the 1st edition, as does the 3rd updated revision). many other myth are discussed and clarified in Craze 1 and Craze 2




(c) 2016, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.







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