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Global Training Report

From Brasil, Thailand, Japan, and Korea

Est. 2000




Book Review

Carlos Gracie: O Criador de uma Dinastia

Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2008

By Reila Gracie

Reviewed by Roberto Pedreira  

Posted  June 7, 2013


Chapter 15

 Livres para Lutar


By 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 associations. 

Jiu-jitsu 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).  

That 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]. 

But 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. 

The 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.] 

The 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. 

George 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. 

Carlos 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.






For more about Helio and judo during the Rio Branco era, see Choque Volume 2.

A5Choque2print.jpg (92670 bytes)

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

Slightly revised July 9, 2015.











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