Gracie family patriarch and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pioneer Helio Gracie died in early 2009 in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 95. Its impossible to overestimate his influence on martial arts, and particularly his pathbreaking role in what is now the sport of mixed martial arts. The Gracie family name will forever be synonymous with Brazilian sports, jiu-jitsu, MMA and the UFC"not only due to Helios own accomplishments but the legacy he created both by training others and through his family.
Helio Gracie began studying martial arts early in life, and by the age of 16 had already begun to teach judo in his native Brazil. While Helio had no problem mastering the theoretical aspects of judo, he found that many of its techniques required a great deal of brute strength which made them less effective for a smaller fighter such as himself. Along with his brother Carlos, he began to adapt many of judos techniques to make them more reliant on leverage rather than strength. This experimentation led to the creation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) which is often referred to as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in his honor.
Gracie also had a professional fighting career of his own, taking on champions from other fighting disciplines in an early version of modern MMA. These bouts were arduous, unregulated affairs with arbitrary rules and no time limits. By his own recollection, Gracie fought 15 times against the top opponents of his time. He began his career in'32 by submitting professional boxer Antonio Portugal in just 32 seconds. Later that year, he fought American catch wrestler Frank Ebert to a draw after the ringside doctor ordered the bout stopped after an ungodly fourteen ten minute rounds.
His most famous battle was against Japanese judo legend Masahiko Kimura, resulting in a rare loss for Gracie. Despite the setback, he fought bravely and may have actually enhanced his legend after refusing to submit to a reverse arm bar (the same modern MMA submission that now bears Kimuras name). Only after his arm was broken did his brother Carlos throw in the towel.
Helio Gracie's impact on fight sports and mixed martial arts would continue through his offspring. Married twice, he had seven sons (Rickson, Royler, Rolker, Royce, Relson, Robin and Rorion) and two daughters (Rerika and Ricci), many of whom went on to make their own mark on the fight sport world. Royce Gracie is well known as the first UFC superstar, while sons Rickson Royler, Renzo have also achieved considerable fame in professional MMA.
Gracie died at age 95, after suffering stomach problems though the cause of his death was officially listed as 'natural causes'. His last words are classic and highly fitting for a man who gave so much to martial arts and fighting sports:
"I created a flag from the sports dignity. I oversee the name of my family with affection and nerves of blood.
Ross Everett is a freelance sports writer and noted authority on sports betting odds comparison. He writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sports news and sportsbook directory sites. He lives in Las Vegas with three Jack Russell Terriers and a kangaroo. He is currently working on an autobiography of former energy secretary Donald Hodell.