Brazilian Jiu-jitsu’s (BJJ) history goes back many years through the Gracie family to Mitsuyo Maeda, the original teacher. He was a Judo practitioner but evolved and bettered it to form Jiu-jitsu. Maeda finally settled in Brazil and opened a Jiu-jitsu academy where one of his students was Carlos Gracie, the elder brother of Helio Gracie. In 1925 Carlos and Helio Gracie opened their own Jiu-jitsu academy.
Helio Gracie was only 14 when his older brother was training students at a house in Rio de Janeiro. Due to the doctor’s recommendation, Helio was not allowed to train with the other students and had to sit and watch while others learned. This did not deter him however as he learned and memorized the moves and techniques.
It was not until he was 16 years old that Helio finally got the chance to put what he had learned to the test. Helio, even with his small size and frail body, was able to accomplish the techniques successfully but also realized that these were difficult for him to execute. He was eager to make these techniques work for him and started making changes in order to adapt them to his weak body. Instead of relying on strength and speed, Helio emphasized on the perfection of timing and leverage. He was able to modify almost all of the techniques and through much practice, trial and error, was able to create what we today call Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
The Rise of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu
Helio gave open challenges to all the top martial artists in Brazil in order to prove himself and the effectiveness of his new martial arts system. Out of the 18 matches that he fought, one was against the world wrestling champion Wladek Zbyszko and also against the number 2 Judoka in the world at that time called Kato. Helio was able to choke Kato unconscious well under 6 minutes into the fight.
Being able to defeat the world’s number 2 Judoka in such an effective way paved way for Helio to fight the Judoka world champion, Masahiko Kimura. Helio was outweighed by almost 80 pounds when he met Kimura in the ring. Even though Kimura won, Helio’s techniques had impressed him greatly. He requested Helio Gracie to come to Japan and teach as none of those techniques existed in Japan. This recognition by the world’s best gave Helio the morale boost to dedicate himself to refining the art of BJJ.
Helio Gracie and his former student Waldemar Santana are the only ones to have fought a no-holds-barred fight for a whopping 3 hours and 40 minutes! This is the world’s longest uninterrupted fight in history. Helio Gracie is regarded in Brazil as the first sports hero of the country.
This is the story of the man who started it all, Helio Gracie! He is the father of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and his legacy continues with his sons and other family members. If you want to learn the ways of BJJ the way it were taught by the man himself then join us at Arashi Do Martial Arts in Edmonton.
We will continue about the history of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the Helio lineage in Part-2 of this article.
Come down to Arashi Do Edmonton and try out one of our great Brazilian programs like Fundamental BJJ, Women’s Only BJJ or Children’s BJJ for ages 4-7 and 8-14.
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