Four Questions and Answers about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
By Roberto Pedreira
June 18, 2016
A Reader comments that some people on the internet
may be confused about what they have learned from the Choque trilogy and the
Myths & Misconceptions series. (And no wonder, if their only previous
sources of information were the exact texts in which the myths were originally
propagated). He provides some illustrations:
"According to Choque, we are entitled to think that the
early Gracies like Carlos and Helio learnt and knew just a bunch of
basic Judo moves and were not grappling experts at all (Choque
reports that Geo Omori basically said Carlos knew nothing about jiu
However, Helio avoided being submitted by stronger and seasoned
submissions grapplers like Ebert and Zbyzsko, and draw with Kodokan
black belts and even choked Kato.
It is hard to believe that someone with just basic Judo skills could
do something like that. These Helio's achievements, although modest,
are largely inexplicable if all he knew was basic Judo newaza.
Even Carlos avoid being submitted by a more seasoned fighter like
Rufino... which again is surprising if Carlos was just the Brazilian
version of Matsuda."
Pedreira Responds: Not only Geo Omori
but also Donato Pires dos Reis and George Gracie stated for the
record that Carlos
knew nothing or almost nothing about jiu-jitsu. Even Helio agreed (here).
Indeed, Carlos Gracie's lack of jiu-jitsu knowledge and skills was a
necessary foundation for the Rorion-Helio alternative narrative (or
Gracie Myth, if you prefer). It was Carlos' (alleged) lack of
jiu-jitsu ability and knowledge that both allowed and forced Helio
to create his (alleged) innovations and improvements.
That Helio avoided tapping
is not proof that he created a new and more refined form of judo.
Rather it was a testimony to the efficiency of Kodokan judo. Helio
didn't need to improve it to use it efficiently. It was already
efficient, as Geo Omori, George Gracie, Takeo Yano, Yassuiti Ono and his little
brother Naoiti demonstrated many times (many more times than Helio
Gracie did, in fact).
able to avoid losing to Ebert and Zbyszko because he focused his efforts
on not losing rather than winning, and because he had a good defense, as the
press grudgingly acknowledged. The press also pointed out that Ebert and Zbyszko
were obese old men. (Zbyszko did however manage to tap out another
member of the Gracie family; for that story see Choque 1,
avoided losing to Kodokan judokas Takeshi Namiki, Takeo Yano, Yassuiti Ono (twice)
because he had a defensive strategy that they couldn't comprehend or
cope with. The objective of a judo match is to throw, pin, or submit
the opponent, not merely to survive. The objective of a no-points match is to submit the
opponent. Undeniably, Helio Gracie had an effective defense.
However, based on his performance (which is the
only way we have to evaluate a fighter's skills), Helio Gracie's
offense was adequate to submit unskilled grapplers and non-grapplers
but inadequate to beat legitimate judokas. Obviously, as
everyone who had seen Gracies in Action knows, there was one
major exception. Helio beat
Yukio Kato in one of their two matches. How he did it and how he did
not do it (in the first match) are equally instructive.
The reason Helio did
not beat Kato in the first match was because Kato did not choose to stay on the ground with
Helio after throwing him there, as was his
right according to the rules. If Helio wanted Kato to stay on the
ground, it was his job to put him there and keep him there. Helio
was unable to do that.
In the second Kato fight, Helio was able to choke Kato
not because he put Kato on the ground and kept him there, but
because Kato made the
bone-headed mistake of voluntarily staying on the mat with Helio and
trying to choke Helio while Helio was choking him, instead of doing
the logical thing and standing up (or at least, defending the
choke). Not to take anything away from Helio, but he
could hardly expect that judokas would always make that same
mistake, proof being that, except for Kato, they never did; even
Kato didn't do it the first time around. Some
opponents, whose qualifications are still unclear, made other
mistakes, and Helio took advantage of them. So, as A Reader
suggested, Helio did have achievements but simply recognizing that he knew basic judo explains his ring results.
ring record tells us that Helio was better at defense than attack,
particularly in jiu-jitsu matches under the rules that made stand-up
effectiveness superfluous. In other words, if points were scored for
throws, Helio would have lost to
Takashi Namiki, Yassuiti Ono (both times), and Takeo Yano (and the
first match with Yukio Kato as well). Helio
Gracie drew with Kodokan judokas only because he was not penalized
for being dominated on stand-up. All respect to Helio Gracie. A win is a win. But that
doesn't put him in the same category with Alexander Karelin and Sugar Ray Robinson.
As for Rufino Santos, the
few knowledgeable observers who commented on the fight said that
neither Rufino nor Carlos showed any evidence of grappling skills.
Rufino Santos was a wrestling (luta livre) instructor but he had no
record in Brazil and his supposed record in the USA was nothing more
than the statement of one of his students.
giving Helio credit for his accomplishment in not being submitted by
legit Kodokan judokas Namiki, Yano, and Ono (twice), we should also
avoid over-interpreting it. The matches were contested according to
rules that made it unnecessary for Helio to do anything other than
remain defensive (he had the option to attack, of course, if he
chose to use it). Matches were theoretically decided by "give
up or KO" (submitting or being choked out). If neither man
submitted or was choked out, the result was an "empate".
We translate empate as "draw", which readers today
assume means that the fight was equal. But that isn't what it meant
in Brazil. It meant only that neither man was submitted or was
choked out. So the only conclusion we can draw from Helio Gracie's
contest results against Namiki, Yano, and Ono is that his defense on
the ground was sufficient to avoid being tapped or choked out by
three Kodokan judokas (actually four, since Kato also failed to
submit Helio two times). He was utterly unable to avoid being thrown
to the ground or to take the judokas there on his own initiative.
What that says about his merits as a grappler and innovator are questions for other people to decide.
"You often mention "The Gracies" in cases in which
you're referring exclusively to Carlos and Helio (and their other
Example: In Myth 7 (of the 30 myths article) you say that Maeda only
known martial training was in Kodokan judo and then you say
"But the Gracies did nothing to modify it in any way".
Many readers (specially BJJ enthusiasts) will tend to believe that
you are talking of the Gracies in general (all the Gracies until the
present) and not of the early Gracie brothers. And then they will
charge you with a pro-Judo, anti-Gracie bias.
Perhaps it would be useful to refer to the "early Gracie
brothers" or the "first Gracie JJ generation" or some
equivalent to refer to Carlos and Helio and their brothers."
During the period that the Myths & Misconceptions series is
primarily addressing, when the Brazilian press referred to Os Irmãos
Gracie [The Gracie Brothers] what they meant could be all five of
them or any subset of the five. It was always (or usually) clear
from the context which brothers were meant. But as time wore on, by
the 1950's for sure, in Rio, the Gracie Brothers usually meant
Carlos and Helio (as their academy was known as the Gracie Academy).
George came and went and a lot of the time he wasn't in Rio. When
the press talked about George, they said "George Gracie"
(occasionally Jorge Gracie). Oswaldo died in 1943, and
Gastão Jr. went about his business mostly out of sight of the
press (but was included as a Gracie Brother when the situation
BJJ started out being identical, but when judo became an
international sport (from the early 1950's), they began to diverge. Judokas began concentrating on
stand-up in order to win medals. Jiu-jitsu people maintained the
traditions, without adapting the new stand-up advances.
Consequently, judokas stand-up got better, jiu-jitsukas' stand-up
didn't, while judokas ground skills atrophied and jiu-jitsukas'
ground skills improved (or rather evolved to better exploit the
environment, i.e., the rules, and to out-compete opponents). Members of the
extended Gracie family and their students and various people with no
particular connection to the Gracies made contributions to this evolution,
partly by innovating, but also by rediscovering, and being
amenable to instruction by more experienced people (such as Oswaldo
Alves and George Mehdi, among many other judokas). If necessity is the mother of invention,
jiu-jitsu did not need to change much. What created the need to
change, and at the same time, the desirability of change was internationalization. Or to put it another way,
more technical problems to solve, stronger competitors to beat, more
people to buy magazines, VHS videos, and DVDs. Enter Rorion Gracie and Art Davie.
Things changed dramatically after UFC 2 and Vale
Tudo Japan 94. By that time Brazilians figured out that UFC 1 was
not just a one shot deal (and also the money and competitor slots
increased substantially). The first international gi tournaments
were created. From that point on, innovation became the word of the
day. Everyone had incentives to innovate and get better (medals,
money, fame). When people have
incentives to innovate, they innovate. When there are lots of people
innovating, the result is lots of innovation. Thus, judo and BJJ today are
complementary, two sides of the same coin, the two aspects of the
original Kodokan judo (which has never been static). Some highly qualified people prefer to say
that judo and BJJ are the same (here for
example). Obviously, based on their incentives, different people
concentrate on different things. The marginal utility of an
hour's worth of stand-up training is greater for a judoka than for a
jiu-jitsu guy. Vice-versa for guard passing, and so on. That's the
long and short reason for why they train as they do and therefore
why they are good at what they train and not as good at what they
Misconceptions did not say that judo and BJJ are identical.
Obviously they are not. It did not say that second generation
Gracies (which includes Carlson above all), did not learn, research,
and rediscover old techniques or even innovate.
Obviously they did. So did many non-Gracies. They also deserve
recognition. The most significant contribution of the Gracie family
to the development of jiu-jitsu was successfully introducing (or
rather, reintroducing) it to North America. Specifically, a form of
jiu-jitsu that included two types of competition, one being the
alt-judo form, the other being NHB/MMA/vale tudo/Ultimate Fighting. Rorion masterminded and
spearheaded that work, but many of his brothers and cousins played
indispensable roles. Even Rorion's rivals, competitors, and enemies
made valuable contributions. It wasn't all Helio Gracie.
"One of the insights that I've gained from
reading Choque is that Vale Tudo in Brazil was not identical to
what we saw in the early UFCs. In my view, such early Brazilian
Vale Tudo tournaments were more similar to the early Pancrase
shows (including the "rope escapes" rule).
Essential to the Gracie marketing,
myth-making and eventual overwhelming success was the idea that
old school Vale Tudo fights in Brazil were like street
fights, no-hold-barred events similar to the early UFC and that
Gracie jiu-jitsu was developed, polished (and unbeaten) for 65
years under such tough battle-field conditions against virtually
every single known martial art on Earth. This was Rorion's marketing strategy and a
lot of people bought that in the 90s (including me).
But here is a problem: if Vale Tudo in
Brazil were NOT "everything goes" fights, then why did
Rorion take the risk of allowing Royce to fight under
"everything goes" rules like the early UFCs? Why did the
Gracies choose to fight under a less familiar and more risky
Remember that in UFC 1, every empty hand
technique was allowed except eye gouging, biting and groin shots.
And these were restrictions, not strict prohibitions. And in
UFC 2 and after, groin attacks were allowed (recall Hackney vs Joe
Do you have any insight or explanation of
why Rorion/Davie created a format of combat which was more
adverse, risky and not exactly identical to what the Gracies were
doing in Brazil for decades?"
Pedreira Responds: Choque is about jiu-jitsu in Brazil.
Roberto Pedreira doesn't have any special knowledge or insight
about what Art Davie and Rorion Gracie did or why they did it.
Rorion explained that he wanted to demonstrate the efficiency of
Gracie jiu-jitsu versus various other martial arts and combat
sports in real fights with relatively few rules. Obviously, he had
an economic motivation in doing that, but sometimes the most
obvious answer is the correct one. Basically, they did it because
it could be done, no one else was doing it, and no one stooped
vale tudos were not common in Brazil before 1993 but they were not
non-existent. We have already mentioned a few of them in
previous "Myths and Misconceptions" (see here,
and Choque 1-3 for others and for details).
We can turn
the question around and ask why weren't there more genuine vale
tudos in Brazil? The simple answer is that the authorities and
leading citizens (in Rio) didn't want them to be held, most
promoters, managers, and fighters preferred more rather than fewer
rules, and spectators preferred more dramatic, action-packed (hence
choreographed) fights. In other words, almost everyone converged on
a preference for more safety, more entertainment, and less trauma. A
similar process took place in the USA with the UFC and its
offshoots. Rules, weight classes, time limits, apparel requirements,
etc., were introduced to make the fights safer and more
entertaining, and to circumvent political interference.
Reader asks: "What can you tell me more about Jiu Jitsu
in São Paulo early 20´s? Why despite some
Japanese experts living
in São Paulo the Jiu Jitsu flourishes with the Gracies?"
Pedreira Responds: Most Japanese immigrants to Brazil were
recruited to work on coffee plantations (immigration began in
1908 and peaked between 1928 and 1934). Very few had been
farmers in Japan. Kodokan judo was part of the middle school
curriculum in Japan from about 1911, so a fair number of
immigrants must have had at least basic judo training, and it
didn't then (or now) generally take more than one year to attain
the rank of black belt (at shodan 初段
level), which to the average Brazilian must have seemed like a
level of superhuman mastery. Every Japanese immigrant community
was essentially self-sustaining and included centers where judo,
kendo, and other Japanese practices and customs were maintained.
It is unlikely that any immigrant thought of judo as a way to
make money, at least until interest
in jiu-jitsu was created by "white" people who owned theaters and
it would be an exaggeration to say that jiu-jitsu flourished at
any time prior to the late 1990's. Jiu-jitsu was always a
sub-niche in world of professional wrestling, always
overshadowed by catch. As a form of
training, physical culture, or self-defense, jiu-jitsu was
always struggling to keep up with the old martial arts and the
new arts that were being introduced, excluding international
sports judo, because
that battle was lost almost as soon as it began. There were
always people teaching jiu-jitsu but as a hobbyist recreational
activity, jiu-jitsu lagged far behind ping-pong in popularity.
It wasn't until after
UFC 1 that this situation changed. The
Gracie family is justly associated with jiu-jitsu for four
reasons. First, they stuck with the name "jiu-jitsu"
and stuck with the old style (pre-WW II) judo that they preferred.
Second, there are so many of them, thanks primarily to Carlos
Gracie (although Helio believed that Carlos had too many
children, see # 25 here).
Third, Rorion Gracie had a bright idea to promote his jiu-jitsu
in the USA. Last, but not least, Rorion had the good fortune to
meet Art Davie. Rorion deserves most of the credit for the
result of their partnership. Art Davie is the one who actually
did it, but another shrewd ad exec might have
come along sooner or later and seen the potential. Rorion, on the
other hand, is the one and only Gracie who could have done what
he did. The world is training jiu-jitsu today, above all,
because of Rorion Gracie.
a note of clarification. It is incorrect that jiu-jitsu did not
flourish under the leadership of São Paulo based Japan
immigrants (and their descendents and students). Geo Omori gave
Carlos Gracie his start in 1929. Without Geo Omori there would
never have been Carlos Gracie, because there was no one other
than Omori who could have lent Carlos the limited credibility
that Carlos initially had. Undoubtedly inspired by Omori's
example, Takeo Yano and Yassuiti Ono appeared in 1934. Omori
died in 1938, but Yassuiti Ono and Takeo Yano soldiered on. Yano
taught jiu-jitsu, judo, and self-defense, and competed (or
performed) in jiu-jitsu and pro wrestling until as late as 1958,
and promoted judo, pro wrestling, and vale tudo (he was actively
involved in Kimura's second "expedition" [遠征]
to Brazil in 1959, including his vale tudo fight with Waldemar
Santana). Yassuiti Ono, along with his younger brother Naoiti
and his many students, stayed active as a competitor until at
least 1948, and was deeply involved in Kimura's first
"expedition" to Brazil, in 1951. Jiu-jitsu continued
to flourish with the São Paulo based Japanese, their
descendents and students (which included Oswaldo Alves,
illustrious teacher of Rolls Gracie, other Gracies, and too many
successful competitors to name here; for that see Alves).
Without Geo Omori, Takeo Yano, Yassuiti and Naoiti Ono, the
Gracie brothers would have sorely lacked for "rivals"
without whom there would have been substantially fewer
professional fights, hence fewer cheap ways to publicize
"jiu-jitsu" (of course, the same applied to Omori,
Yano, and Ono). By the middle 1950's the Japanese abandoned the
entertainment fight market to the luta livre and catch people
and began calling jiu-jitsu what it really was, namely judo, and
collectively migrated to international judo, leaving the Gracies
and a handful of others to try to recover the "glory
days" of "jiu-jitsu".
and references can be found in Choque 1-3.
For more Myths and Misconceptions, see:
& Answers about BJJ History
Misconceptions in Gracies in Action 1
Myths and Misconceptions about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Pat Jordan's 1989 Playboy
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. Concerning the "old
style judo", see Masahiko Kimura's comment in 鬼の柔道
(p. 196), to be
discussed in a forthcoming Myths & Misconceptions article.
Romero Cavalcanti expressed it, "Rorion made it happen"
(see Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone, 1997-2008, chp. 1.) Chuck
Norris also played a significant role prior to the UFC (see Choque
3, chp. 28).
Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.