If you were to ask 100 MMA fans to define mixed martial arts in a word, their responses would differ greatly. If you asked the same census group to define the sport in a name, nearly all would give you the same answer: Gracie.
While some would likely say that Rorian and Royce — having respectively founded the Ultimate Fighting Championship and won three of its first four tournaments in decisive fashion — were the impetus behind their answer, most would likely point to Gracie jiu-jitsu originators Helio and Carlos Gracie as the reason for their response.
Carlos and Helio were innovators, who, although they didn’t invent the art of jujitsu, or it’s “successor,” judo, they did arguably revolutionize the hybrid fighting art, making it more effective than both, especially when used by smaller combatants against larger opponents.
To the brothers, their variation of the centuries old Japanese martial art form, now known universally as “Brazilian” or “Gracie” jiu-jitsu, was not just simply efficacious in competition; it was equally as useful in self-defense and street fighting scenarios — a point they have stressed since introducing it to the masses more than 80 years ago.
Decades before Rorian and Royce made history with the UFC, their father Helio represented the Gracie name and defended its honor in scores of challenge matches designed to prove that GJJ — an offshoot of Kodokan judo, which was taught to them by Japanese immigrant and judo master Mitsuyo Maeda, was more effective than any other form of martial art.
If the first MMA fight you ever watched was Stephan Bonnar versus Forrest Griffin, chances are you have no clue who “Judo” Gene LeBell is, but pull up a chair because you’re about to learn about the man in the pink gi.
(Rolker and Royce Gracie pay their last respects to their father. Photos courtesy of Sherdog.)
Less than 10 hours after he passed away at the Beficência Portuguesa Hospital after contracting pneumonia, Helio Gracie was laid to rest in a modest ceremony in Petropolis, Brazil, witnessed by about 70 relatives, close friends and students. As Sherdog writes:
Sons Royce and Rolker led the procession, a kilometer in length, from the chapel to the tomb where Gracie was buried. At the tomb, Royce asked for a round of applause for his father and placed a black belt over his coffin.
Speaking on behalf of Helio’s son Rickson Gracie, who was unable to reach Brazil in time for the funeral, Mario Aielo said:
“Thanks to this man, there are thousands of teachers around the world making a living from jiu-jitsu and thousands of fighters making a living from MMA. Without Helio Gracie, Rorion could not have brought Vale Tudo to the US and MMA would not exist, giving jobs to many fighters, promoters and managers and fun to millions of fans around the world.”
Sad, sad news for students and fans of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. From IntheGuard.tv:
Legendary master Helio Gracie died at age of 95 years old this morning, January 01/29, at his home in the mountain region of Rio de Janeiro. In preliminary information, Master Helio had not been well for the past two days and likely passed with complications from a general infection, as we were informed by an acquaintance close to the family members. The burial of the man responsible for the creation of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is scheduled for 5:00 PM today in the Petropolis cemetery.
According to Tatame, the funeral may be postponed, as Helio’s sons Rickson, Royler, and Rorion were out of the country when he died. In addition to those three, Helio is survived by his wife Vera, his sons Relson, Rolker, Royce, and Robin, his daughters Rherica and Ricci, and an army of grandchildren, nephews, and nieces. According to GracieMag, Helio’s last words were "I created a flag from the sport’s dignity. I oversee the name of my family with affection and nerves of blood." Wow.
Born October 1st, 1913, Helio and his older brother Carlos developed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu circa 1929-1930, refining the techniques of their judo instructor Otávio Mitsuyo Maeda so that smaller fighters would be able to overcome larger ones through leverage. In 1932, Helio began competing in challenge matches, in which the Gracies would take on fighters of all styles to prove that their jiu-jitsu was the most superior method of ending a fight. These "vale tudo" (everything allowed) contests were popularized in the U.S. decades later when Helio’s son Rorion co-founded the Ultimate Fighting Championship, selecting his brother Royce as the representative of their art. Today, knowledge of BJJ is generally thought of as a requirement for competing as a mixed martial artist. A moment of silence for one of the sport’s true godfathers…