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Global Training Report

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Est. 2000



Book Review

Carlos Gracie: O Criador de uma Dinastia

Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2008

By Reila Gracie

Reviewed by Roberto Pedreira  

Posted Friday  May 10, 2013


Chapter 11. Helio Sobe ao Ringue


Carlos did not share his father's affection for casinos and games of chance. Rooster fighting was his passion. Carlos loved to bet on the outcome of fights. Knowing this, Helio, to gain his brother's recognition, bet him that he could defeat Carlos' assistant jiu-jitsu teachers in less than 15 minutes. Proudly, Helio took the opportunity to demonstrate the evolution of his technical knowledge and thereby conquer his brother's admiration by defeating the four assistants in 12 minutes.  From that time Carlos began to dedicate himself to developing Helio as he had George, and in a short time they established a complicity that would last until almost the end of Carlos' life. 

The spirit of "open challenge" launched by Carlos wasn't arrogance. He didn't claim "we can beat everyone," but more like "we believe in our technique and we are ready to test it against anyone." Carlos' plan, in this epoch, was to transform the Gracie name into a brand and jiu-jitsu into a family business. It was beginning to show results. Who could imagine that the project would last so long and have so many ramifications? To do that he needed the help of his brothers. He was relieved to discover that Helio was ready to participate in challenges, together with George and Oswaldo. With more and more fights being scheduled, Carlos would have to concentrate on coaching and managing the fighters, and taking care of the business side of things. When Helio began his career, Carlos was his coach, psychologist, nutritionist, and business manager.

Carlos conceived of the academy as a family business that would last for generations. George was a good fighter, as good as if not better than Helio, but he was insubordinate and wouldn't submit to Carlos' discipline [in a previous chapter, we noted that George did not respect Carlos's jiu-jitsu knowledge, technical ability, or ring record]. Gastão Jr., and Oswaldo were technically refined but like George didn't choose to unconditionally submit to Carlos' "orientation." Only Helio had the perfect combination of qualities to be Carlos' ideal ally, like a samurai to a feudal lord in old Japan. Carlos came to view Helio as the ideal representative for his life project and strove to turn him into the perfect model of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and his Gracie Natural Diet.

Helio made his ring debut in 1932, against Antonio Portugal. Reila gets most of the facts right, but gets some details wrong, which indicates that she heard the story from Carlos, as told to Jose Geraldo, or possibly even from Helio's interview (here). Helio did defeat Antonio with an arm-lock, but it wasn't in 40 seconds and Antonio wasn't then or at any other time the lightweight boxing champion of Brazil.1 For Helio to beat anyone at all was a respectable achievement for a debut. The fact that the opponent wasn't very good doesn't matter much; it was Helio's first fight and it is reasonable for an inexperienced fighter to try out his wings against another equally inexperienced fighter. But somehow the pro-wrestling context of the Gracie myth demands that every opponent must be a giant or champion or both. 

Helio next met Namiki. People thought that because Namiki was Japanese and Japan was the home of jiu-jitsu, he should  be technically superior to Helio, and therefore "o empate equivaleu a um triunfo dos Gracie" [a draw would be equivalent to a Gracie victory]. The match was in fact a draw, by the rules of most contests at the time--if a man could avoid being choked or was willing to let his arm be broken, he could "morally" win the fight, under certain conditions, such as not being from Japan, or weighing less, or being older, or almost anything a manager could think of. [To his credit, George never did this; When he lost, he admitted it.]

Helio next fought Fred Ebert, the German-American "giant" [he weighed 78 kilos]. But first, Carlos had a score to settle with Manoel Rufino. After beating Carlos in the ring, Rufino kept the pressure on Carlos in the press, where Carlos was most vulnerable. Reila says that Rufino wrote a letter to a newspaper that Carlos considered offensive to the honor of the Gracie family. As Reila has already explained in previous chapters, Carlos had a vivid imagination, and to put it as politically correctly as possible, had a complicated relationship with the truth. So it is possible that somewhere in the recesses of his mind, Carlos genuinely believed that Rufino was insulting the entire family. But the reality was that Rufino addressed his admittedly deliberately provocative (yet factual) comments to "Sr. Carlos Gracie" and him alone.2 

Apparently Carlos didn't believe enough in his own jiu-jitsu skills to challenge Rufino to a rematch in the ring. Instead he gathered three of his brothers, and some supporters, borrowed a car, and waited for Rufino outside of the Tijuca Tenis Clube (where Rufino taught and where until recently the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship was held). They then ambushed him. Bystanders tried to intervene but Carlos kept them back while George and Helio (according to police and eye-witness reports) beat Rufino with a steel "box." Reilas' detailed word-for word account of the conversation between Carlos and Helio indicates that her version must have come from one or the other of the two brothers (and therefore can't really be considered un-biased). Despite his direct line to the higher entity "Egidio Lasjovino"(see chapter 9), Carlos did what any smart criminal suspect facing prison time would do, he hired the best lawyer money could buy--no doubt using Oscar Santa Maria's money. It didn't work. Carlos, Helio, and George were tried and convicted. The judge didn't buy their story that it was a one-on-one fight between Helio and Rufino. Helio tells his version [which is not completely accurate] of the story here (Question # 22).  

German-American wrestler Fred Ebert showed up to challenge the Gracies, he says. that was true. But it wasn't Gracies, it was any local or foreign fighters in Rio. Anyone who was in the public eye and could attract fans to wrestling matches. The Gracies, of course, were among those, thanks to Carlos's tireless routine of writing letters and visiting editorial offices. That is what every fighter and manager did, Carlos Gracie as much as or more than anyone else. That is how fights were organized and marketed. You challenge someone in a newspaper (or at an event where journalists will be present). If enough interest is generated and the business people can come to terms, the "fight" happens. Interest in fights sells papers, and papers pump up interest in the fights as well as letting people know when and where it will be.

Helio and Ebert signed for a fight. Everything was permitted, except punches, kicks, biting, hair-pulling, low blows, and fingers in the eyes. Carlos guaranteed that Helio would win easily and that Ebert would not last two rounds. The dispute was winner-take-all, an unlimited number of 10-minute rounds, until there was a clear winner, who could only be decided by desistência or inconsciência.3 It was the giant Ebert at 78 kilos [171.6 lbs] versus Helio, "um rapazinho magro e inexperiente" [a young boy, thin and inexperienced]. It is very possible that Ebert had no more experience than Helio in fights with striking, but there is little doubt that he thought he could avoid being beaten by the frail Brazilian. And he did. He claimed that he won "morally" because Helio promised to beat him within 2 rounds, but failed to do it. Helio's team claimed that Helio won "morally" because Ebert was 15 kilos heavier.4 

Reila briefly describes George's matches with Tico Soledade,  Manoel Fernandes, and Geo Omori. Tico Soledade was an arm-wrestling "champion." [which in the context of pro-wrestling could mean anything]. He had no ring experience, other than a few luta romana matches [the pro-wrestling version of Greco-Roman wrestling]. As almost always, everything about the fight was exaggerated and highly spun, unfortunately because the truth was good enough. George was pretty small. Tico was pretty big and he was "strong." George convincingly spanked him, using technique. That is a good demonstration of what "jiu-jitsu" was supposed to be. It was never good enough for pro-wrestling however. Opponents had to be champions and giants. 

During this period Helio crashed his motorcycle into a bus, breaking his left leg, and had to rest up, causing Carlos to form a hatred of motorcycles, just as he had developed a hatred for Catholicism after a priest touched (inadvertently, innocently, or ??) his thigh (Carlos said).  Carlos stayed busy giving demonstrations and fighting "academic combats."  The other brothers managed to get by without Carlos' "orientation." 



Chapter 12. 1931/34-Casamento, Paternidade e Misticismo.




1. Antonio did fight an exhibition match against the real Brazilian lightweight boxing champion, in the under-card of the Carlos x Rufino fight six months earlier, so people telling the story might have gotten the details mixed up.






2. The comments were disguised as questions. Unquestionably, Manoel Rufino despised Carlos Gracie and vice-versa. Their rivalry was material for gossip columns. The difference was in what they were willing to do about it.








3. It was assumed that the fighter would not simply "abandon" the ring, but that sometimes happened, as when Carlos did it against Rufino in 1931. If a fighter abandoned the ring, his opponent was declared to be the vencedor [winner].






4. For what it's worth, Manoel Rufino conceded that Ebert lost because Helio was not defeated. At least that is what he said before the fight. No one really cared. It was pro-wrestling.



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












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