From Brasil, Thailand, Japan, and
Gracie: O Criador de uma Dinastia
Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2008
by Roberto Pedreira
June 7, 2013
Livres para Lutar
the middle of the 1930's, fighting [lutas] were considered to be sports.
Jiu-jitsu, in the form in which fighters wore gis and refrained from
administering traumatic techniques, was receiving a more positive reception from
the press. Other sports, such as basketball, swimming, track & field, and
most of all, football, were competing for space in the sports pages. More and
more associations were arising, each looking for autonomy and power. It seems (Reila
speculates) that Brazil realized that sports could be not only good for health,
but could be a path to prestige and money, at least for the directors of the
was linked to the Brazilian Federation of Pugilism, but jiu-jitsu had not yet
become a "regular sport," with rules and points. This brought Carlos
into conflict with the Federation and other commissions, associations, and
agencies. Because he lacked the know-how to successfully promote large-scale
sporting events, he had to work with professionals who in fact did know what
they were doing, but, obviously, were more concerned with their bottom-lines
than with Carlos' personal needs and desires. Carlos did not have much to offer,
in reality. He represented Helio, and that is about all [George was on his own,
Oswaldo didn't fight much and when he did, he handled his own affairs, and Gastão
Jr., did not fight at all, and of course, neither did Carlos.] Carlos was
understandably concerned about Helio's market value. For a fighter, winning is
important, or not losing, if that is an option. Also important are not getting
seriously hurt, and providing an interesting fight (win or lose).
was a problem in several ways. The Gracie's style of jiu-jitsu fighting, while
probably effective for street survival, in some limited types of scenarios,
tended to be boring in a professional entertainment oriented ring performance,
especially if the opponent adopted the similar tactic of avoiding defeat by what
would now be called excessive defensiveness. Extreme defensiveness can be
the wise choice at times, but it doesn't make exciting fights, which is what
promoters wanted, because that is what people wanted to see. George's style
tended to be aggressive. Helio's was more defensive and he was more successful
in not losing [although he also fought much less].
Helio needed to work and Carlos needed the money and fame. They signed a
contract with EPB (Empresa Pugilistica Brasileira). Like an actor under contract to a Hollywood studio, the
fighter would be guaranteed a certain number of fights within a certain period.
In turn, he would have to get in the ring and get the job done. It was not
always easy finding opponents or making matches that would bring spectators into
the theaters. Sometimes it was necessary to bend the rules a bit, or engage in a
little give and take. Carlos always did what a good agent should do, which was
to look for the best terms possible for his client. He refused to accept the juiz
[referee] chosen by the commission for the Myaki fight. He wanted to choose
his own referee. He was suspended for 30 days as a result. Carlos would, at
the last minute, insist that Japanese jiu-jitsu fighters wear kimonos with shorter
sleeves than they normally wore and trained in, saying that since they were in
Brazil, they should wear Brazilian kimonos [although they were in fact Carlos
Gracie kimonos, designed to make it slightly more difficult to get thrown--not that it ever stopped the
Japanese fighters from throwing the Gracies virtually any time they felt like
it.] The EPB wanted more time to find a suitable opponent for Helio, but Carlos
was intransigent. He insisted that they stick to the exact terms of the
contract. There was a surfeit of pro wrestlers in Rio at the time, many under
contract to EPB. Wladeck Zbyzsko was one of them and he was selected. Carlos
complained. Wladeck was too big [exactly how much must be speculation, but
he was definitely bigger]. Carlos complained about the size difference.
Zbyzsko agreed to wear a gi.
commission had previously restricted the weight difference that could be allowed
between opponents. But they allowed it in this case, turning Carlos' own
marketing refrain [he wasn't the first to use if, course] against him, saying
that since jiu-jitsu permitted a small person to defeat a large person, size
shouldn't matter. [Obviously, Zbyzsko was not the ordinary large person
that jiu-jitsu marketers had originally envisaged, but Carlos opened up this
possibility with his jiu-jitsu versus other styles matches.]
fight went on. Helio survived. It was a snooze-fest, according to reporters.
Zbyzsko could not get past Helio's "guard," and Helio could not
strangle Zbyzsko. That was the fight. Pretty much what anyone would expect, if
it had not been for the marketing. Helio remained "invicto"
[undefeated]. Another victory for jiu-jitsu.
was made of less defensive stuff and wasn't under the strangling influence of
Carlos and his theories. George demanded a match with Zbyzsko. The match was
made. George did not play it safe, but went looking for victory. Zbyzsko beat
him. George liked to fight. He preferred to win, but he knew that sometimes you
don't win. Helio retired [the first time] due to lack of quality opponents,
according to Reila, but if so, it must be the only time that has happened.
Generally fighters quit when no one will pay them enough to make it worth the
effort and pain and physical damage. George continued fighting for 20 more years
[a lot of his fights were of questionable legitimacy, needless to say.]. He
fought whoever got in the ring with him. He won some and lost some. He did not
see eye to eye with Carlos in his grand strategy. In fact, as Reila points out
(p . 137 and elsewhere), George did not think highly of Carlos fighting ability
or jiu-jitsu knowledge either. His opinion about Carlos' dietary theories was
similar to what most people would think about them today.
narrowly escaped going to prison (he wouldn't be so lucky later), and had given
up trying to be a fighter. He brothers were doing ok without his guidance, and
only Helio remained amenable to his "orientation." Carlos didn't
want Helio to fight unless the money was what he felt they deserved. But the
promoters and fans didn't share their sense of what they were worth, so he ended
up not fighting much. Reila therefore devotes most of the chapter to describing
George and Helio's fights (it was a relatively active period for Helio, when he
was briefly under contract with the EPB.) This is all old news, and since Reila
is very skimpy with sources, it is impossible to evaluate [although it seems
accurate in general.]
Reila ends the chapter with an interesting [but no
source cited] story. One day Carlos received a visit from Japanese person named
Hiraichi Tada. Hiraichi weighed 45 kilos. Carlos decided to test him against one
of his students, who weighed 80 kilos. With a mosquito-like agility, Hiraichi
threw the 80 kilo Gracie representative innumerable times. Carlos wouldn't have
believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own two eyes. Concerned with the ease
with which Helio was getting thrown by all of his Japanese opponents in the
ring, and knowing that the Federation wanted to adopt rules that would award
points for throws (to reduce the number of empates, or "no winner,
no loser" outcomes), Carlos asked Hiraichi to accept a position in the
academy, teaching. Hiraichi told O Globo that he had reached an accord
with the Gracies. Reila says no more about Hiraichi. Helio's throwing skills did
not seem to improve much, relative to the more Kodokan trained jiu-jitsu
fighters, so apparently Hiraichi found other things to do. Or maybe he was
written out of the story. Helio knew enough about "judo" throws to
teach them in his 151 Rio Branco academy.1
Chapter 16. 1936.
more about Helio and judo during the Rio Branco era, see Choque
(c) 2013, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Slightly revised July 9, 2015.