Gracie/Brazilian Jiu Jitsu History
In 1904, “Judo’s founder Jigoro Kano sent one of his strongest young judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda (1880-1941) with Jojiro Tomita to the White House to assist in a judo demonstration for President Teddy Roosevelt. After a formal demonstration, an American football player in the audience issued an impromptu challenge.” The less adept Tomita took to the floor instead of Maeda. “Tomita failed with a throw and was pinned helplessly beneath the football player’s bulk. Maeda, abashed by Tomita’s poor showing and frantic to reassert the superiority of Kodokan Judo, stayed on. He persuaded some Japanese businessmen to stake him $1,000 in prize money and embarked on a long career of challenging all comers throughout North and South America. The 5’5, 154-pound Maeda was said to have engaged in over 1,000 challenge matches, never once losing a judo-style competition and only once or twice suffering defeat as a professional wrestler. In Brazil, where he eventually settled he was feted as Conte Comte (“Count Combat”) and his savage system of fighting, now called ‘Gracie Jujutsu,’ is employed by certain fighters in present-day ‘no-holds-barred’ professional matches”.
It was Maeda who brought Jiu-Jitsu to Brazil. As a member of the Kodokan, Maeda went to America with his kohai Satake, etc. as Judo ambassadors. He was said to have fought more than 100 fights and in Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, he was respected as Count Koma (Conde Koma).
Maeda was born in Aomori Prefecture in 1878. When he was a boy, he learned Tenshin (Tenshin Shin’yo) Jiu-Jitsu. He moved to Tokyo when he was about 18 and went to Tokyo Senmon School. He began practicing Judo and a record of him entering the Kodokan is dated 1897. He was very persistant and never gave up on anything. He was naturaly talented in judo and rose through the ranks quickly to establish himself as the most promising young judoka in the Kodokan. Maeda was a small man at 164 cm, 70 kilo.
In 1904, he travelled to the U.S. with one of his instructors, Tsunejiro Tomita. The first and only place they demonstrated judo together was at the U.S. Army academy in West Point. Contrary to what has been published, they never went to the White House to meet the President, Teddy Roosevelt. It was the Kodokan great, Yoshitsugu Yamashita who taught Roosevelt judo at the White House and later engaged in a match with a wrestler nearly twice his size at Roosevelt’s request, which took place at the U.S. Naval academy in Annapolis. Yamashita won with an arm bar and was given a teaching position at the academy.
The demonstration at West Point however was a failure. Tomita and Maeda performed kata, but the Americans did not comprehend the techniques they were observing. Maeda was challenged by a student who was a wrestling champion. Maeda accepted the challenge and the wrestler ended up pinning Maeda which the wrestler had felt garnered him victory over Maeda. Maeda, who was not familiar with western wrestling continued to fight until he put his opponent in a joint lock forcing the wrestler to tap out. The students at West Point then wanted to see Tomita fight. In their minds, since Tomita was the instructor, he must have been better than Maeda. Tomita was in his 40′s and was past his prime. He had no choice but to accept a fight or he would of lost face. His larger American opponent rushed and tackled him. Tomita was held helpless under the larger man and forced to give up.
After this incident, Tomita and Maeda separated. Tomita left for the West Coast and Maeda stayed in New York. Maeda began teaching at Princeton University part-time after he had won some challenge matches. He also commuted to teach in New York City, but his American students did not take to the Japanese style of teaching and he often found his students did not stay long. Maeda was approached to engage in a match for prize money by the local japanese. Maeda wasn’t having much success teaching judo so he accepted. This was a violation of Kodokan rules which prohibited members from engaging in matches. He accepted the wrestling/judo match with a Brooklyn, New York wrestler nicknamed “Butcherboy” that took place in the Catskills, New York. Maeda defeated the wrestler. His victory raised the pride of local Japanese in the area. This match was the beginning of his career as a professional fighter.
Eventually Maeda travelled to Spain. It was here that Maeda took on the ring name “Conde Koma” in 1908. Maeda was a person who appeared to be under a black cloud. He described his situation was “komaru” which means to be in trouble. So he settled on calling himself “Maeda Koma” by shortening “Maeda Komaru.” A spanish acquaintance suggested “Conde” which means “Count.” Maeda then referred to himself as “Conde Koma” which also later became part of his legal name.
When Maeda was in London, England, (February 1907 – June 1908) he saw a newspaper article where a Russian wrestling champion was quoted as saying that wrestling was superior to judo. He tracked the large wrestler down and issued a challenge on the spot. The wrestler refused on the grounds that he was misquoted and could not risk losing to a non-wrestler. Maeda was brazen and confident enough to challenge Jack Johnson, the American heavyweight boxing champion. Helio Gracie would also duplicate Maeda’s challenge by formally issuing a challenge to the heavyweight American champion of his own era, Joe Louis aka “The Brown Bomber.” One of Helio’s son, Royce, also repeated this tradition by challenging Mike Tyson, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
Maeda would travel also throughout Latin America to fight. In 1915, he ended up in Brazil in a city called Belem. He considered this place to be ideal and settled in Belem which would become his home. He engaged in challenge matches and became famous throughout the region. He also returned to Cuba, Mexico, and the U.S. when necessarily. Maeda was to continue his role as a judo instructor. He taught San Paulo policemen, army college cadets, as well as ordinary citizens. Of course, one of them was a teenage boy by the name of Carlos Gracie, who would perhaps become his most notable student, Carlos Gracie.
Maeda is rumoured to have fought over 2,000 matches in his career; many unrecorded. He traveled throughout Latin America and Europe, taking on all comers. He became a legend in the fighting world and his name is still well known amongst Japanese settlements in the Americas. He only lost two matches in his fighting career. One in the “catch-as-catch-can” world championships held in London. In this tournament, Maeda entered in both the middleweight and heavyweight divisions. He advanced to the semi-finals in the finals in two weight classes. In matches where judo gis were worn, however, Maeda was undefeated.
In 1925, Maeda began his attempts to assist the Japanese immigrating to Brazil. At the time, there were anti-Japanese sentiments in the US, so Maeda felt Brazil with its more open policy towards immigration was the ideal environment for Japanese settlers. The Amazon appeared to present itself as a lush territory perfect for the Japanese settlers. Maeda worked closely with visiting Japanese officials scouting the territory to assess its suitability for Japanese immigration. In 1928, a Japanese company was created to help the Japanese settle into a town in the Amazon jungle. This town was in a large tract of land set aside by the Brazilian government for the Japanese settlers. Maeda would labor tirelessly to assists his fellow Japanese. Unfortunately, the settlement turned out to be a failure due to malaria and growing unprofitable crops which were not part of the Brazilian diet. The immigrants eventually abandoned the settlement in droves for the port cities.
Maeda became a very prominent member of his community. He was given executive positions in many companies and even received a large tract of land from the government. In 193, Maeda became a Brazilian citizen. He is said to have married the daughter of the French consulate, but there is no record of this in a Japanese register, so they probably only lived together. They had a daughter, but both mother and daughter died when the daughter was 2 years old. He remarried at the age of 44 to a Scottish woman and they had a daughter.
In 1940, the Japanese government offered to pay Maeda’s way for a trip back to Japan in appreciation of the unselfish assistance to Japanese immigrants. He refused the offer, reportedly telling a friend that he wanted to finish building a house for his family. His wife feared that if he went back to Japan he would never return to Brazil. Although, he showed no strong urge to return to Japan, his supposed final words when he died a year later of kidney disease were “I want to drink Japanese water, I want to go back to Japan.”
Maeda thought of judo as the ultimate form of self-defense. To him, western arts such as boxing and wrestling were only sports with set of rules. Maeda’s strategy in an anything goes fight was to set his opponent up with an elbow or low kick. He would then go for a throw and then finish his opponent off on the ground with a choke or joint lock.
Maeda stated in his autobiography that he took Kodokan judo techniques and pared them down to the simplest, most effective methods exploiting what he observed were the weaknesses of wrestling and boxing. He studied the two enough to see what were their strengths. He is quoted as saying that he took elements from taryu shiai judo (judo techniques specifically used for matches against other schools), pared them down, and used techniques that were deemed most effective. For example, he found that boxers were relatively unaware of defenses against judo groundwork, so he concentrated on take-downs and groundwork.
Maeda traveled the world and learned from his experiences and slowly developed his own unique expression of judo. When Kimura encountered Helio Gracie, what he saw reminded him of the earlier judo methods that were rough and tumble. Prewar (prior to WWII) Judo had body locks, leg locks, unusual choking techniques that were discarded because they were not legal in contest judo, which had evolved slowly over the years.
Gracie/Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
The creator of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Carlos Gracie is the third generation descendent of an immigrant from Scotland. Born in 1901 to Gastão Gracie, a Brazilian scholar and politician, Carlos was the smallest and skinniest of five brothers but was never defeated by his younger brothers. His younger brothers were Osvaldo, Gastão, Jorge, and Helio (born 1913). He was raised in a wealthy family, and he became a student of Maeda when he was 19 when Maeda settled in Brazil. Maeda had made a name for himself in Brazil through his fighting exploits, and had opened up a school. Allegedly, it was Carlos’ father who introduced Carlos to Maeda. Eventually, Carlos taught his brothers jiu-jitsu.
At that time in Brazil, there was no technique for fighting besides boxing and Capoeira. Only Jiu-Jitsu had grappling techniques for fighting. From Carlos on to his brothers, Oswaldo, Gastao, Jorge, and Helio, they made a name for the family by fighting in several demonstrations and street fights using Jiu-Jitsu. Carlos only took one year of lessons from Maeda. (Maeda once went back to Japan). Later on he learned from Brazilian instuctor assistants, and then combined all the techniques to create Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as a fighting technique. For information on Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil that derived from Maeda but was independent of the Gracies: FADDA Jiu-Jitsu. The site asserts that their jiu-jitsu descended from Maeda.
Interesting, a japanese martial arts magazine article about Maeda referred to Maeda’s style or school in Brazil as “Parasuits.” (This was the phonetic japanese translation).
Carlos Gracie opened up the first jiu-jitsu academy in Belem in 1925. His most famous fight was against a Japanese named “Giomori.” Carlos tied with his larger opponent according to Carley Gracie. Reylson Gracie, in an interview, said that Carlos and “GeoOmori” fought twice; “once by the rules, the second time no holds barred. Both times they tied.” Carlos Gracie died in 1994 at the age of 92.
As Maeda challenged other schools, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu players also challenged other schools. Carlos spent all of his time establishing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and let his brothers do the fighting with other schools to improve their technique. Notably, Helio defeated all challengers and became the strongest fighter. (Note: Helio only had two losses: one to Kimura and one to Valdemar Santana, Helio’s own student in his later years.)
At the age of 17, Helio first stepped into the ring in Frontao against a boxer named Antonio Portugal. Helio won in 30 seconds. He also defeated a Japanese Judoka, Namiki, in 1932. This was the first jiu-jitsu/Judo match of his career and also the first time he wore a gi during a fight. Helio ended the fight with Namiki in his guard when the bell rang a only seconds before Namiki submitted.
Helio won fights against Japanese Judo players, Miyake and Kato (pronounced “Kado” in Japanese). He fought Kato twice. Their first match, at Maracana Stadium, was called a draw. In the second match, held in Ibirapuera Stadium in Sao Paulo, Helio choked Kato unconscious. This footage in on one of the Gracie In-Action video tapes. He also tied with Yatsuichi Ono. Eventully, a local (Brazilian) Japanese group decided to employ the most powerful judo player in attempt to defeat Helio.
Masahiko Kimura, won the all-Nippon Championship before and after the war. Kimura is considered one of Judo’s great Judokas. He created “pro” judo in 1949, but failed in his activities and went to Hawaii, U.S. and became a prowrestler. He started international prowrestling at his hometown but lost to “Lidosan” at the “fight of the century.” Like Maeda, he went to Europe and the US, and found his way to Central America and went to Brazil.
In 1952, at the gym next to the largest soccer stadium in Rio, the fight began. The rules were based on using judo gi’s (No strikes). Invincible Helio was 45 years old, 63 kilos. Kimura at 93 kilos. Kimura, with his powerful physique, easily threw Helio. Kimura quickly commenced with the ground game (newaza). Kimura and Helio rolled on the ground as Kimura jockeyed for position and a submission. Helio did his best to defend against the onslaught from one of Judo’s greatest fighters. Kimura tried different submissions to force Helio’s submission. Helio refused to submit and fought to escape Kimura’s punishing attacks. Helio struggled valiantly against his larger opponent as Kimura tried different submissions. For the first 2 minutes, it was a tie, but Helio was constantly on the losing end. After 15 minutes, Helio conceded defeat. The first defeat in Helio’s life was handed to him by Kimura. The decisive arm lock technique used by Kimura was named the “Kimura Lock” and even now known to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players, to praise Kimura’s ability. It’s been said that after the fight, Kimura invited Helio to visit the Kodokan in Japan. Helio declined. Even to this day, Helio speaks of great admiration of Kimura and appear proud to have faced one of Japan’s greatest Judokas, Masahiko Kimura.
The Jiu-Jitsu Maeda taught disappeared in Japan completely, but it flourished on the other side of the world in Brazil. The competition (fights) with the other schools Maeda had in Europe, US, and Central and South America was carried on in the name of vale tudo. A japanese martial arts journalist wrote, “Perhaps one day, G r a c i e J i u – J i t s u will come home and compete in the fighting rings in Japan.” This has come to pass as Rickson Gracie, Royler Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Jean Jacques Machado, and other Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters have fought in Japan.
In what is considered the longest jiujitsu match in history, Helio Gracie battled former student Valdemar Santana, a powerfully built stone cutter. Waldemar was a student of the family for twelve or thirteen years. He fought more than 20 times for the Gracie academy. He had a falling out with Helio Gracie, and they decided to settle their differences by fighting each other Vale-Tudo. According to Rorion Gracie, Helio’s son, Santana had betrayed his teacher, Helio and denigrated Helio publicly in a newspaper.
On May 24, 1957 at the Brazilian headquarters of the YMCA in central Rio de Janeiro, the media and the new medium of television were present to capture Helio’s fight with his student Waldemar Santana. Waldemar stayed away from Helio when the match started.
Eventually, Helio took Waldemar to the ground and ended up putting Santana in his guard. Helio took his time and occasionally unleash a barrage of strikes at Waldemar’s head hoping for Waldemar to make a mistake. One photograph shows Helio driving his elbow at Waldemar’s head from the guard. Santana played the waiting game and also threw his own punches.
As Santana sensed Helio was becoming exhausted, Santana then took the fight to Helio. He maneuvered his massive frame on top of Helio forcing Helio to bear Santana’s weight. Santana also started headbutting Helio in the cheek which forced Helio’s eye to swell shut. Helio used heel kicks to Santana’s kidneys to wear Santana down. Two hours had gone by as the two men struggled on the ground.
With Valdemar Santana’s victory over Helio Gracie, Carlson Gracie, the son of Carlos Gracie entered the ring at the young age of 17 to defend the honor of his family and the family name. He took revenge for his family clan and defeated Valdemar, which won him the respect and title of “King.” Carlson was to meet Santana in the ring six times. He won four times, and two matches were draws.
Carlson fought a total of eighteen Vale-Tudo fights. There was one time in Bahia (North Brazil) against Euclides Pereira, and the referees decided to give Pereira the victory. Carlson doesn’t think he had lost. 4 He also fought a Brazilian champion, Passarito, who trained in Judo, Luta Livre, and Boxing. Carlson fought Passarito four times. Carlson won 3 and drew once with Passarito.
Carlson’s hardest acknowledged fight was against Ivan Gomes. He described Gomes as a “monster.” This extremely tough fight had three-ten minute rounds, and would only stop if a fighter fell out of the ring. Gomes weighed in at 98 Kg (215 lbs), and Carlson was 73Kg (160 lbs). But Carlson was in really good shape, if it wasn’t for that, he stated that he would have lost. Afterwards, Gomes became Carlson’s student and became “world champion” in Carlson’s words. 6 Carlson reigned during the 1960s, and he is considered by Fabio Gurgel as one of the four champions of the Gracie clan.
“The great vale tudo jiujitsu taught by Rolls Gracie is still alive today, Rickson and his protege Royler are keeping it alive in the NHB ring. Jacare, Pedro Sauer, Sergio Penha, Crolin Gracie and others have become successful teachers, but like everyone else they seem to be training their students primarily for sport jiujitsu. Only in the last couple of years have young jiujitsu fighters turned their attention to vale tudo. Perhaps if the sport [vale tudo competition] remains popular then Jacare, Crolin Gracie, Sauer, Carlinhos and others will forget about sport jiujitsu and return to the jiujitsu they learned from Rolls in the golden age of vale tudo jiujitsu and a new generation of jiujitsu lutadors will emerge who have devoted their lives to vale tudo and they will dominate the sport just as Rickson, Bhering, Rolls and the other legends did once upon a time.”
Carlos Gracie taught his brothers, and Helio distinguished himself as the champion of the Gracie brothers through his fighting exploits. He is also acknowledged as having a big influence on the development of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. He altered techniques his brother taught him due to his small stature and relative weakness. He made them less reliant on strength and refined the techniques to maximize leverage. He said he couldn’t get out of certain positions he was taught by his brother so he had to invent techniques to allow him to escape those positions.
The male descendents of the Gracie clan are all taught the family fighting art and encouraged to represent the family in the “Gracie Challenge,” an ongoing invitation to accept challenge matches to prove their fighting art’s superiority. Two notable Gracie fighters are Helio’s sons Royce and Rickson. Royce helped to popularize Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (aka Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) in the US, Japan, and around the world through his successful fights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Royce, a slim six foot man, entered the ring like his father before him, to challenge fighters from different fighting styles such as boxing, wrestling, shootfighting, karate, muay thai kickboxing, etc. He often fought larger opponents in a tournament setting where he fought elimination bouts. Rickson has became the acknowledged current champion of the Gracie clan. He is considered the best jiu-jitsu fighter alive, as well as one of the top NHB fighters.
Carlson Gracie has continued his family’s tradition by creating sports jiu-jitsu and a stable of NHB (no-holds barred) fighters. He is considered the father of sports jiu-jitsu. After he retired from the ring, he embarked on promoting sports jiu-jitsu. However, sports jiu-jitsu had its critic in Helio. He was an outspoken critic of sport jiujitsu, and very few of his top blackbelts competed in sport jiujitsu during the early years of the sport. Helio apparently saw his art as a form of self-defense and not sport. Judo’s founder Jigoro Kano had similar sentiments of his creation. However Carlson was able to attract corporate sponsors to support teams of jiu-jitsu fighters so they could train full-time in essence as professional athletes. The corporate sponsorship would be the impetus to persuade many of Helio’s black belts to join the sport.
During the seventies Vale Tudo was still popular in Brazil as fights were televised. During the 1980s, vale tudo waned and jiu-jitsu fighters (lutadors) focused their efforts on sports jiu-jitsu competition. In 1991, the long feud between the Luta Livre style and Jiu-Jitsu style heated up and resulted in a showdown between the two styles. Luta Livre was a style designed for the ring. Some consider it a response to jiu-jitsu. A group of fighters came together to pool their knowledge to improve their technique and to answer jiu-jitsu’s successful ground game.
However, the jiu-jitsu camp lacked the experienced vale tudo fighters to meet the Luta Livre challenge. It seemed that Helio’s criticism was right after all. Carlson Gracie took up the challenge for the jiu-jitsu camp. He quickly assembled and personally trained a team consisting of Murilo Bustamante, Fabio Gurgel (age 21) from Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti, Wallid Ismael, Marcelo Bhering, who still to this day has a reputation as being one of the toughest NHB fighters. Wallid Ismael was matched with Eugenio Tadeau, Gurgel vs. Denilson Maia, Bustamante vs. Marcello Mendes, and Behring vs. Hugo Duarte. The only fight that didnt take place was Behring vs. Duarte. Behring was shot and killed prior to the event. The showdown was shown on Brazilian national TV and it was a clean sweep for Gracie Jiu-jitsu. It is shown on the “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action 2″ video tape.
These triumphant jiu-jitsu fighters are still competing in sports jiu-jitsu and vale tudo with the sudden world-wide interest and popularity of NHB fighting. Fabio Gurgel has his own academy and has competed in sports jiu-jitsu and also NHB. The irrepressible Wallid Ismael is fighting for the Carlson Gracie team of NHB fighters as well as competing in sports jiu-jitsu. Bustamante is also a noted sports jiu-jitsu lutador and has entered and successfully fought in the ring. He defeated Jerry Bohlander, the American shootfighter (Lion’s Den member) by knockout. Bustamante had also drew with the massive world-class American wrestler Tom Erickson in the now defunct MARS fighting championship. Gurgel fought and lost to judges’ decision to perhaps one of the most dangerous NHB fighter alive, Mark Kerr, a huge world-class American wrestler nicknamed the “specimen” for his tremendous physical development and athletic ability. Gurgel had great heart to fight in a tournament where in the finals, he had to meet Kerr who outweighed him by 70 lbs.
Another notable Gracie fighter from Carlos’ side of the family is Renzo Gracie. He truly exemplifies the Gracie ethos and has fought in the rings of the US, Brazil, and Japan. He labels himself as the “Gracie” who can also strike besides just using jiu-jitsu in the ring. He has defeated UFC champion Oleg Taktarov by knockout in the one and only MARS event. Renzo also fought the Luta Livre fighter Eugenio Tadeau.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, due to the success of Jiu-Jitsu fighters in NHB competition, has been exported around the world. Royce and Carlson fighters have fired up the interest of Americans and especially American martial artists in the US. Some of the best jiu-jitsu instructors have now made their home in the US. Helio’s sons such as Reyson, Rickson, Royce, Royler, are all teaching in the US or have an affiliate academy here. Romero Cavalcanti teaches in Atlanta, Georgia. Americans are now even going to Brazil to compete in the Mundial or annual world championship. The Pan-American tournament was created to allow Americans to compete with Brazilians here in the US.
“When I see the support from the martial arts community in the United States and the way it’s growing, I see it as a great thing — a great future for us, the Americans who learn it and the rest of the world. I wish I had 100 sons so I could [spread the art] faster.”