GTR Archives 2000-2021


Jiu-Jitsu Books by Roberto Pedreira

















From Brasil, Thailand, Japan, and Korea

Est. 2000





Posted March 1, 2013*

Book Review

Carlos Gracie: O Criador de uma Dinastia

Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2008

By Reila Gracie

Reviewed by Roberto Pedreira  

 In 2001, Dalila Magarian1 asked Helio Gracie if he planned to read the biography of his brother Carlos being written by Reyla (or Reila) Gracie, daughter of Carlos and Lair de Aguiar Silva. He answered, "Pretendo, para ler as besteiras que ela vai botar nele" [I intend to read it to see what nonsense she puts in it.] Helio felt that Reyla was dishonest to dare to tell the story of a person she didn't know [A Reyla esta contado a historia de um homem que não conhece. Para mim, isso não parece muito honesto]. Carlos was 65 when Reyla was born and unlike Helio, Reyla hadn't been around to see most of her father's life or  to understand what it was like to live through depressions and wars and other hard times and have to  support a large  family. Or two families.

Reyla's aim in Carlos Gracie: Dinastia2 was to rectify  the record  The Gracie story that people know is excessively Helio-centric, she believes, due to the fact that her cousin, Helio's oldest son Rorion, spun the story for his own self-serving purposes. According to Helio's version of the story (or more likely, Rorion's), he created Gracie jiu-jitsu without any input from Carlos. He did, he admitted, watch Carlos giving lessons, but Carlos's technique was limited and crude (see this interview for details). It  lacked "leverage" apparently, because that is what Helio added that made jiu-jitsu more efficient. 

Reyla thought that Helio and Rorion's version was twisted. According to her interviews and research, it was Carlos who improved and Brazilianized jiu-jitsu, not Helio. Helio did not teach himself. Carlos taught him.

The book was published in Brazil in 2008, with an English translation promised. It hasn't materialized. Rumor has it that Rorion  made Reyla or someone an offer they can't refuse, in order to keep it out of the USA. That may be attributing too much of a "Dr. Evil" type ambition to control the universe to Rorion. There is plenty of dirt on Carlos himself. Possibly someone on his side of the family put the kibosh on the deal. Or it may be that translating an almost 600 page book is too expensive given the market for such books. As fascinating as the story may be to people who love jiu-jitsu, most North Americans  have never heard of the Gracies and don't care. 

Parenthetically, there is an ironic twist to this: In Japan, no one has heard of Kimura Masahiko, apart from some older hard-core judokas. Even most younger recreational judo players don't recognize his name or picture (Kano would have liked this, since for him judo was not about obsequiously worshipping heroes and authorities, but rather self and social betterment). But everyone knows the Gracies.  The average Japanese person who has heard of Kimura has heard of him as the man who beat Helio Gracie.

The original Portuguese edition was avidly discussed in Brazilian internet forums. There are people who were actually around in the 1950's and 1960's when the Gracies were at their peak and when they began their decline into obscurity (until Rorion came along). There are also Brazilians who know of the Gracies and their jiu-jitsu primarily as something that Brazilians are good at that gringos respect. The old timers vary in point of view from admirers to haters. A common theme is that while the Gracies were liars and criminals (covardes is another word that often appears), they were responsible for marketing a product that put Brazil on the map for something other than soccer. It should be noted that when people talk about "The Gracies", they generally mean Carlos and Helio. George did his own thing, Gastão Jr. maintained a low profile and kept out of trouble, and Oswaldo died in 1943. Carlos and Helio had admirers but people tended to either love them or loathe them.

Carlson was a different matter. It is almost impossible to find anyone who didn't like, respect, admire, or even love Carlson. 

Carlos on the other hand, despite Reyla's understandable desire to restore him to what she feels is his proper place at the center of the family story, comes across as a misfit and sociopath, a Don King meets L. Ron Hubbard  (inventor of Dianetics and Scientology, for those who haven't heard of him).  Like Don King, Carlos was able to impress intelligent, educated people with his spiritual and philosophical gibberish word-salad (mostly plagiarized, it appears). Poets, novelists, and otherwise sophisticated people were routinely taken in by Don King's charades of erudition. He had plenty of time (three years and eleven months) in the Marion Correctional Institution, in Ohio, to memorize some Shakespearean soliloquies. His prison associates were probably less impressed, recognizing his act as the con it was. Carlos might have done the same (although Reyla is silent on the possibility; curious readers will want to see Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil3).

Actually, Carlos's inspiration, according to Reyla, was Tex Rickard, the American promoter of the first million dollar boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier on July 2, 1921.

Carlos was skilled at discerning what gullible people wanted to hear and then telling it to them, while helping himself to their wallets and girlfriends (one of them was Reyla's mother), and occasionally going after their daughters (a violation of Brazil's penal code). He would have made a successful internet marketer or new-age guru (which in fact, is what he tried to be).

One of the people who was initially impressed by Carlos was psychology professor and former Gracie representative João Alberto Barreto. João Alberto did not take sides in the family conflict, which in fact did not pick up steam until big American money entered the picture. Before that, there was rivalry, but the domestic market was small. There wasn't that much to squabble over, and there were fewer clan members. João Alberto hoped that Reyla's book would help to promote a rapprochement between the two divisions of the family.4

So far, it hasn't seemed to. And it probably won't. Jiu-jitsu can go bust as suddenly as it boomed. A few accusations, a few convictions,  a beef with the IRS, can put a definite dent in revenues and recruitment of the most valuable market segments (newbys, wannabes, and kids). And so it is all the more important to control the brand, to avoid being contaminated by the crimes and reputational toxicity of  out-of control individuals who happen to be genetically or legally related. In other words, Rorion will (and should) exercise even tighter control over his brand and make entry into the inner circle even more restrictive. Rorion foresightedly monopolized the family name in America (where it is most valuable) and was successful at establishing a mythology that he can manipulate (simply by updating his web site and then making sure one of his many pages caps the results of the major search engines).  As Rorion probably thinks, and with justification, he was the one who made Gracie Jiu-Jitsu valuable, why should he share the finite and perishable bounty with a unlimited number of people who can for one reason or another use the Gracie name and who he can't control. If some clan member screws up really bad, it will negatively impact Rorion's business. Is that fair? Other clan members are free to do what he did, Rorion might say (although undoubtedly he would prefer that they do it with a completely different name). He wasn't the first Gracie to arrive in America (far from it; see below). Carley could have done what Rorion did. Any Gracie or any Brazilian could have. They didn't. Rorion did. 

At least, that's what he probably thinks, and it is hard to find a flaw in his logic. Carlos Jr. seems to be having success franchising Barra Gracie, one might say taekwondoizing5 jiu-jitsu,  and other Gracies  are doing quite well in America. It is almost enough just to be from Brazil (or pretend to be) to recruit students and start banking dollars. That is entirely the result of Rorion Gracie's marketing.

But Rorion didn't invent "Brazilian Jiu-jitsu" and neither did his dad. (Even Helio said that he didn't invent anything, he just perfected it). Gracie Magazine [Revista Gracie] tries to maintain some balance: Carlos was "o primeiro brasileiro a aprender jiu-jitsu" [the first Brazilian to learn jiu-jitsu] while Helio was "o homem que aperfeiçou o Jiu-Jitsu" [the man who perfected Jiu-Jitsu].

Either Conde Koma's jiu-jitsu was strength-based, or Carlos didn't learn some of the details. (We might find out in chapter 3).

But Rorion's version is the one everyone knows. He reprises the myth in "A Historia do Gracie Jiu-jitsu."6. Helio was too weak and sickly to participate in any form of physical activity. He was so fragile and frail that he couldn't even go to school like other kids his age. Instead, he spent his free time watching his brother earn extra money giving jiu-jitsu lessons in the family home.  One day Carlos was late, and Helio offered to teach the lesson to a waiting student, who accepted. He preferred Helio's lesson to Carlos' and requested that Helio teach him in the future.

Evidently it wasn't necessary for Helio to actually receive instruction or train. It was sufficient just to watch. Might one learn jiu-jitsu and become a great champion merely by watching Gracie DVDs? Hmmmm.

Carlos's technique was strength based, so Helio, being weak and frail, had difficulties applying them. In order to guarantee the efficiency of the techniques that he was trying to teach, Helio "dared to break" [ousou quebrar] with the Japanese traditions that his brothers were still stuck in. He began to improve the movements so that they could be executed even by a person with a a fragile constitution like his own. After many trials and errors, he decided that it would be advantageous to incorporate "leverage" [alavanca] which would reduce the necessity to use force during the execution of the movements. 

Reyla doesn't buy this story. 

Reyla's book recounts stories (facts actually) that do not depict the family in the most positive light, particularly if the brand's founder is being held up as a philosopher-saint, with a large portrait of him always visible in the main training area as a constant reminder and example. Reyla doesn't refrain from discussing her uncle's character and behavioral flaws. She is reasonably upfront about her father as well. Reasonably, but not completely. Possibly she did not have access to the information during her research that is available today. But what she does reveal is illuminating, keeping in mind that it is the tip of an iceberg and represents an understandable family bias; her feelings about her father are not so clear, but it is obvious that she wants him to be recognized. Her feelings about Helio and Rorion are considerably clearer.

What kind of book is Carlos Gracie: O Criador de uma Dinastia? More Gracie myth-making? Or a serious attempt at historiography? A good place to look for indications is in the references, index, notes7, and methodological appendices, if any. Reyla interviewed 139 individuals for her book, all family members,  friends, former students and "representatives".  Even Helio Gracie, who in 2011 said that he expected the book to be filled with "nonsense" was interviewed (although it isn't certain that he knew he was being interviewed when he presumably talked with Reyla). Very reasonably, Reyla apparently got most of her information by talking with people who were "there" at the time. That is ok if we are looking at the recent past, or at least the times when her informants were old enough to be paying attention to what was going on. 

But when the topic is early Jiu-Jitsu history, the question of sources becomes more critical. The only interviewee who had direct experience with the crucial issues was Helio Gracie, and he, to put it mildly, was not a neutral observer. So, like any other historian, Reyla would need reliable sources. The book does not have a references section so we don't know where Reyla got her information. In some cases, she cites newspaper or magazine articles or books as sources. In other cases, she doesn't. If Conde Koma told Carlos that he was going to be a great champion some day, as Reyla claims, how do we know that? For that matter, how does Reyla know? Who among her interviewees could have heard or overheard such a conversation?  Helio (born in 1913) and Helena (born in 1909) were too young, and Gastão Jr. (born in 1906) probably also. That leaves Carlos himself. Maybe Carlos had a perfect memory and always told the truth. But as we will see, Carlos had a very active imagination, and was known to stretch the truth from time to  time. So, while what he testified or said in a magazine interview or casual conversation might be historically accurate, it is wise to confirm it with independent sources, if available (and if none are available, it is wise to suspend judgment). They will be considered on a case by case basis when it is necessary to consider them.

The book contains 42 chapters, an epilogue, a fragment of Carlos Gracie's last interview in 1994, a 7 page afterword  "Desdobramentos do Clá" [break-up of the clan], and two unpaginated sections of photographs. 

To get things rolling, let's start with Chapter 1.

Chapter 1. Da Escocia Para O Brasil [From Scotland to Brazil]

Chapter 1 is short and to the point. It simply traces Carlos Gracie's line of descent back to the first Gracie to step foot in Brazil,  namely George Gracie,  He wasn't the first Gracie to seek greener pastures in the Americas. George headed south, but considerably before him, Archibald Gracie immigrated to New York,  made a hefty fortune, and initiated his own line of distinguished descendants (none of them involved in jiu-jitsu). Archibald's house, built in 1799, at East End Avenue and Eighty-Eighth Street, serves as the residençia ofical do prefeito de Nova York [official residence of the major of New York].8

To make a long story short, George Gracie disembarked in Brazil in 1826. He and his wife (Mariana Antonia Malheiros) had four daughters and three sons, among whom was Pedro (the only son to produce descendents). One of Pedro's 15 children was Gastão, who, with the former Cesalina Vasconelos Pessoa, had four daughters (one died soon after birth, as was the norm in the days before antibiotics) and five sons. One of them, born September 14, 1902, became the subject of Reyla's book.


Chapter 2 "Belém Do Pará" review will appear March 8 (Japan time), 2013, below (the Chapter link will be activated), followed by Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and so on, approximately one week apart, but maybe less (some chapters are long, some are short).

2. Belém Do Pará

3. Do Japão Para O Brasil

4. Rio de Janeiro, Capital do Brasil

5. O Primeiro Amor

6. O Jiu-Jitsu Como Profissão

7. 1925-Academia Gracie, O Sonho Vira Realidade

8. Helio Gracie, O Caçula

9. Oscar Santa Maria

Etc. Etc.






2. You can order the book here (below). If the price is too high, you can buy it from, but you will need a CPF, which you can get outside of Brazil, but it is complicated. Inside Brazil it isn't, but then if you are in Brazil you don't need the CPF, just pay cash. Or you could borrow copies from the Harvard or UCLA libraries, if you are a student or professor at either one, or know someone who is. That's what I did.





3. Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, Vol I, 1856-1949 is now available in both e-book (for various Kindle devices, iPad, iPhone, etc) and in traditional old-school print versions (i.e., paper and ink books).  Also Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone (right), by Roberto Pedreira,  includes  relevant information about the Gracie story (most of which is not covered by Reila).

4. Barreto, João Alberto. Diario do Senado Federal, November 18, 2009, page 59543.

5. I mean that in a non-judgmental way. The Koreans were the pioneers and remain the masters at monetizing martial arts. Anyone who wants to make money teaching martial arts needs to pay close attention to their example. You might not like what it does to the art, but no one can argue that it isn't the way to make money.

6. It isn't clear who the author of A Historia do Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is. A variety of individuals are credited as editors, revisers, and translators. Apparently, the original was written in English in 2006 and copyrighted jointly by Helio and Rorion Gracie, while a Portuguese version was published in 2010 (and available on the Gracie academy web site in 2012). It is probably safe to say that the contents reflect Rorion's vision.

7. The book has a 10-page index, which is always useful. If you want to know about Rolls Gracie, for example, you can efficiently turn to pages 268, 452, 463, 469, 470, without having to read through the previous chapters.  

8. Cox, D. (1985). Gracie Mansion. Historic Preservation, 37(2), 20-25. For more about Archibald's descendents, see Tymn, M. E. (2012). Our Fascination with the Titanic Story. Journal Of Spirituality & Paranormal Studies, 35(2), 61-62, and  Alabama Review, 59(4), 293-294.  


(c), 2013, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Minor edits, April 9, 2014; November 11, 2017, September 1, 2019, July 19, 2021.



Brought to you by:



GTR Archives 2000-2021