30 January 2009


The martial arts community is a separate universe on its own, and Helio Gracie--the creator of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu--could be one of its biggest and oldest stars.

But even real, literal stars will one day run out of fuel and die. And in the case of the man who gave us one of the world's greatest fighting styles, this martial arts star is now gone.

Gracie passed away at
the age of 95, on 29 January 2009 at his ranch in Itaipava, a mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was buried in the afternoon of the same day.
Sources say he died of pneumonia.
A sixth-degree black belt in Judo and a tenth-degree red belt in BJJ, Helio Gracie revolutionized martial arts along with his older brother Carlos (who died in 1994 at the age of 92) by introducing ground-fighting techniques based from Judo and Japanese Jujitsu, which he learned from Japanese Judo expert Mitsuyo Maeda. These "new" techniques emphasized leverage and position as a way to compensate for size differences among opponents. 

During his lifetime, Gracie was involved in two legendary fights. The first was against legendary Japanese Judo champion Masahiko Kimura--who outweighed him by some 40 pounds--in 1951 when Carlos threw in the towel after Kimura broke Gracie’s arm with a reverse ude-garami technique, a shoulder lock in Judo which is known today among BJJ practitioners as the "Kimura lock," as a tribute to the Japanese fighter's victory over the BJJ founder. His second major fight, which happened four years later, was against his former student Valdemar Santana, who was also a practitioner of Capoeira, Judo, and Boxing. After nearly four hours of combat, Gracie succumbed to exhaustion against his much younger opponent.
Gracie had seven sons (Rickson, Royler, Rolker, Royce, Relson, Robin, and Rorion) and two daughters (Rerika and Ricci).

Rorion was one of the founders of the
Ultimate Fighting Championship, while Royce was proclaimed hall of famer in the UFC by winning three times between 1993 and 1994.
The fighting style that Gracie created came to international prominence in the martial arts community in the 1990s, through son Royce's impressive and decisive victories over larger and stronger opponents from other martial arts styles, such as Karate, Judo, Greco-Roman Wrestling, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, and Boxing, among others.

BJJ has since become a staple art for many
MMA fighters today and is largely credited for bringing widespread attention to the importance of ground fighting.  
With this legacy and string of accomplishments that will surely outlive him, it can be said that Helio--whose name, I surmise, was chosen by his parents in reference to the sun, the star of our solar system--indeed shone during his lifetime. And brightly he did.
Thanks and goodbye, Grand Master.

It was a fruitful, well-spent life.

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