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Roberto Pedreira













 Top 3 Myths and Misconceptions about 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in

 Gracies in Action 2  


  By Roberto Pedreira

Special to GTR

June 1, 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)



Gracies in Action 2 did not expand much on Gracies in Action 1. Rorion reiterated that fights sometimes go to the ground, that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a good ground system, and that Helio Gracie created Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, was a national hero and living legend, invented a unique and supremely effective teaching methodology,  and was the greatest fighter in Brazil. 

GIA 2 was mostly an excuse to show video of challenge matches in Torrance and ring fights in Brazil. 

One gets the impression from GIA 2 that such fights were everyday events. In fact they were extremely rare. The fights on GIA 2 took place in 1991 (August 31) and 1992 (January 1) which is probably why GIA 2 was produced at all. There were no other vale tudo fights involving Gracie representatives between November 30, 1984 (shown on GIA 1), with one known exception. That was March 17, 1989, in Belém. The jiu-jitsu representative was named Sucuri. His opponent was the fearsome street fighter Zulu (see Choque 3, pp. 398, 477). Zulu had almost no ring skills to speak of but he was a strong, big, energetic, and in-shape tough guy. He would give any martial arts stylist a realistic street test. (Regrettably, Zulu continued fighting long after he should have stopped, tarnishing the luster of his reputation as a monster, and thereby diminishing the mythical nature of Rickson's victories in 1980 and 1983 (Choque 3, chp. 23).  That was not a trivial thing because Rickson's vale tudo legend was built on those two fights. He had no others before or after Zulu, until Vale Tudo Japan 94.

As everyone knows, vale tudo means "everything permitted." But that is a dictionary definition. What it really meant in Brazil depended on the context, the negotiations, and the authorities. "Vale tudo" was used in pro wrestling as well, where it meant fake punches were permitted in addition to fake grappling. When it was used in legitimate or quasi-legitimate fights, it usually meant open hand strikes and limited striking were allowed. It never meant "everything." Fans have made the mistake of thinking that what they saw in the early UFCs was what had historically been going on in Brazil. In general, it wasn't, with a few exceptions.  This was a misconception that Rorion apparently wanted to foster. 

Rorion did add one new piece of content, the philosophical discourse on truth (above). It seems he didn't mean historical truth. What he meant was experiential truth, or Bruce Lee's truth, if you prefer.  Bruce Lee taught martial artists what combat athletes (boxers, wrestlers, judokas, nak-Muay Thai), have always known, which is that you really don't know if your techniques will work (in general), or whether you can personally execute them successfully, until you pit yourself against a prepared, resisting opponent. 


Myth 1: "He devoted his life to developing and testing his techniques against all kinds of fighters, under the most adverse conditions, both in the ring, and on the street."

Fact: Most of Helio Gracie's long life was devoted to things other than fighting. In fact, he didn't do a lot of fighting, compared to his brother George, Geo Omori, Yassuiti Ono, and especially Takeo Yano, among others. Helio's ring record against various styles can be summarized as follows:

Boxers = 1 (Antonio Portugal)

Pro-Wrestlers = 3 (Fred Ebert, Wladek Zybszko, Dudú)

Judoka = 5 (Takashi Namiki, Yassuiti Ono (x 2), Takeo Yano, Yukio Kato (x 2), Masahiko Kimura)

Sumo = 1 (Massagoichi)

Questionable = 2 (Miyaki, Landulfo Caribé)

Luta Livre with jiu-jitsu and judo experience = 1 (Waldemar Santana)

Fact: Helio had 15 (possibly 16) ring contests. Two were vale tudo, and one was mixed styles. The other 13 were grappling matches. The conditions were no more adverse than any other wrestlers experienced. The one time he fought on the street under adverse circumstances he went to the hospital and then filed a claim against his attackers (see Choque 3, chp. 14).

The possible 16th contest could have been with Erwin Klausner, a boxer. However, the match (if it happened) was a jiu-jitsu match. 

Myth 2: "He actually fought men double his own weight."

Fact: Helio's other opponents varied in weight, relative to Helio. Sometimes Helio was lighter than his opponent. Sometimes he was heavier. Often they were about the same weight.  

Antonio Portugal was a lightweight boxer so his weight in 1932 was probably about 61 kg., which would have been several kg. lighter than Helio Gracie's weight, judging by what Helio weighed later that year. (Choque 1 chp. 12).

Helio weighed 65 kg. for the Takeshi Namiki fight. Namiki weighed 72 kg.  (Choque 1, chp. 12).

Fred Ebert weighed 85 kg., Helio weighed 65 kg. (Choque 1 chp. 12).

Wladek Zbyszko weighed 106. Helio weighed 65.3 kg.(Choque 1, chp. 14 ).  

Miyaki weighed 64.2 kg. Helio weighed 65.2 kg. (Choque 1, chp. 14).

Dudú weighed 85 kg. Helio weighed 66 kg kg. (Choque 1, chp. 15). 

Yassuiti Ono (first match) probably weighed about the same in 1935 as he did in 1936 (see below) and so did Helio.

Takeo Yano weighed 69.3 kg. Helio weighed 65.7 kg.  (Choque 1, chp. 16).

Massagoichi weighed 86 kg. Helio weighed 66 kg. (Choque 1, chp. 16).

Yassuiti Ono (second match) weighed 64.6 kg. Helio weighed 68.3 kg.  (Choque 1, chp. 16).

Weights for Landulfo Caribé, Yukio Kato (1 and 2), and Kimura can only be estimated. Pictures of Caribé in action against Helio indicate that they were evenly matched in weight. Expert opinion at the time of the matches and after, including those who knew Kato personally, suggest that Kato and Helio weighed about the same, more or less 70 kg., and that Kimura had a 15 to 20 kg. edge over Helio Gracie. There was no weigh-in for the match with Waldemar Santana in May of 1955, but Santana weighed 76.8 kg. on October 8 (Choque 2, p. 152). It is common for middle-aged men to put on pounds, so Helio probably didn't weigh much less than he did in 1951.

In addition to the above matches, Helio also measured forces with Naoiti Ono in 1937 (in a "Sufficiency Test"). Naoiti weighed 55 kg. for his match with George Gracie a few days later. Helio never weighed less than 65 kg. for any  fight so he probably weighed at least that much  (Helio said in 2011 that he never weighed more than 63 kg. but he was wrong. See question # 2, here).

Helio had personal issues with one of his brother's students, named Azevedo Maia. Helio challenged Maia in 1942. Maia wasn't interested in fighting for free. Their personal problems resurfaced in 1950. This time Maia, reluctantly, suited up (the details are complicated, see Choque 2, chp. 1). It was an impromptu match, so there wasn't a weigh-in but pictures of Maia indicate that he was smaller than Helio. 

Helio also had a friendly sparring match in 1957 with a capoeira (capoeirista) named Artur Emidio, who weighed 60 kg. (Emido fought Robson Gracie later that year).

Helio was not unique in that he sometimes had matches against larger opponents. Every (legitimate) jiu-jitsu man did the same. Helio never fought an opponent who was double his own weight. 

Myth 3: "The only true test of an art's worthiness should be its effectiveness in combat. Using this as a measuring stick, no style stands taller than Helio Gracie's devastating jiu-jitsu."

Fact: Martial arts may be worthy for reasons other than combat effectiveness. Style versus style fights are not the best way to measuring combat effectiveness if the intended application for the art is street self-defense or for that matter, anything other than a styles versus styles ring contest. 

But, assuming that combat in a ring is the "true" test of Helio Gracie's jiu-jitsu, how "tall" does Helio Gracie's jiu-jitsu stand? (using Helio himself as the measuring stick, as he himself declared himself to be the greatest jiu-jitsu fighter in the occidental world).

Helio's record against boxing: 1-0 (Antonio Portugal)

Helio's record against wrestling: 1-0-2 (defeated Dudú, drew with Fred Ebert and Wladek Zbyszko)

Helio's record against legitimate judokas: 1-1-5 (defeated Yukio Kato (second match), lost to Masahiko Kimura, drew with Takashi Namiki, Takeo Yano, Yassuiti Ono (2x), and Kato (first match).

Helio's record against sumo: 1-0 (Massagoichi)

Helio's record against dubious judokas and jiu-jitsumen: 2-0 (Miyaki, Landulfo Caribé)

Helio's record against mixed martial arts: 0-1 (Waldemar Santana)

Helio's career record was 6-2-7, or possibly 7-2-7 if the 1937 jiu-jitsu match with boxer Erwin Klausner was reported accurately, about which there is room to doubt.  The strongest conclusion we can draw is that Helio Gracie was unable to defeat 56% of his opponents (seven no-decisions and two losses). That is, assuming that the objective of his professional, public matches was to win. If however, his goal was to avoid losing, his success rate improves to 87.5%. If Rorion had clarified that by "combat effective" he meant "not losing a sports match" then he might have been on firmer logical ground. But as sports writers said about Helio's matches, the public didn't pay their money to see demonstrations of Helio's "defense." If Royce Gracie entered the Octagon with Helio's mind-set, trying only to avoid losing, it is doubtful that the Gracie Revolution would have gotten very far. Royce made an impact not because he avoiding losing, but because he submitted his opponents. In fairness to Helio, if we include his known unofficial matches with Naoiti Ono, Azevedo Maia, and Artur Emidio, his performance looks better statistically, but the percentage of opponents who out-weighed him falls. 

On the other hand, Helio pulled guard and got his ass handed to him in at least one real street fight, "real" as in multiple opponents, with weapons, no ring, no referee, no allies. 

That's the truth. We should never fear it.


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 

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



Both Gracies in Action DVDs are still well-worth watching as long as we remember that they are marketing infomercials, not historical dissertations. Buy GIA 2 below or here.






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