Building knowledge and understanding of historical events enables us to develop a much greater appreciation of our past while teaching us to move forward. The pictures on the wall of Cheyenne Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy tells the story of Jiu-Jitsu from the early 20th century to today. First in line, Jigoro Kano the founder of Judo. Next, Mitsuyo Maeda, the Japanese with unparalleled skill who brought the gentle art to Brazil. Next, Carlos Gracie Sr., Maeda’s first student and the first Gracie to ever learn Jiu-Jitsu.
Next, Hélio Gracie, Carlos’ brother and the best Gracie fighter of his time. Next, Carlos Gracie, Jr., the founder of Gracie Barra, and the visionary of the Jiu-Jitsu for everyone project. Recollecting the lives of great Masters and practitioners, is our mark of gratitude and appreciation, and as a source of inspiration from which we may still learn.
Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), member of the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Martial Artist, played an important role in rescuing Jiu-Jitsu’s reputation in times of peace.
Kano understood how Jiu-Jitsu could serve not only as a combat tool, but also as an effective way to educate the individual and allow men and women to embrace a more balanced lifestyle by developing their potential. In other words, Kano realized Jiu-Jitsu could be used as a powerful educational tool that could support the development of any human being and envisioned it supporting the Japanese goals for social and economic development.
Complementing his updated training philosophy, Kano made an effort to adopt new training methods and remove dangerous techniques. These changes allowed practitioners to engage in safe, but intense training drills with full resistance – what we know as sparring or live training today.
This new philosophical and methodological approach to the practice of Jiu-Jitsu created a very positive impact on the Japanese society. It helped Jiu-Jitsu regain its social status that had been declining since the Meiji Restoration. The new approach became famous back then as Kano Jiu-Jitsu and later on as Judo.
In conjunction with Kano’s deep training philosophy and innovative training methods, many rules were introduced in order to redefine the focus of practice. The ground fighting – the backbone of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – was minimized and restricted to a few moves.
That created an interesting paradox: while Kano’s reforms contributed tremendously to the survival of a millenary martial art tradition, the focus on take downs created a fragmented fighting style that lost the connection with the essence of Jiu-Jitsu and the reality of real combat. In parallel to the regained reputation of Jiu-Jitsu in Japanese society, came a decline of ground fighting, the most powerful set of skills Jiu-Jitsu had to offer.
Among Kano’s remarkable students, though was Mitsuyu Maeda, a fighter who benefited from Kano’s innovations, but who had his roots in other Jiu-Jitsu schools that emphasized ground fighting and self-defense skills under real combat situations.
Maeda, who later became famous as Count Koma, had above average skills and was sent overseas to help spread Jiu-Jitsu to different cultures in the world. After traveling to many countries including the US, Central America, and Europe, Maeda landed in Brazil in 1914. There he would meet a young boy named Carlos Gracie and plant the seed that would keep alive the essence of Jiu-Jitsu.
1914- Maeda meets Gracie
A champion in his own right and student of Jigoro Kano, Maeda began his travels abroad with a group of men who participated in challenge matches across the globe. In 1914 he landed in the northern state of Para, Brazil, to help establish the Japanese colony in that region.
Settling down in Belem do Para, it was natural for Maeda to make use of his outstanding fighting skills in demonstrations, shows, and even circuses as a way to make a living and spread the Japanese Culture.
The first time Carlos Gracie met Count Koma, was at one of these demonstrations. Carlos was amazed by Koma’s ability to defeat other opponents who were much bigger and stronger than him.
Carlos Gracie was a wild kid who was slipping out of control and away from his father, Gastao and mother, Cesalina. Energetic and rebellious, Carlos was giving them a lot of trouble. Knowing that Maeda just started a Jiu-Jitsu program in town, Gastao decided to take Carlos there to learn from the Japanese as a way to calm down and discipline his son.
1916- Carlos Gracie Sr.
Mitsuyu Maeda introduced Carlos to Jiu-Jitsu, at the age of 14. He became an avid student for a few years. The studies under Maeda had a profound impact on his mind. He never before sensed the level of self-control and self-confidence Jiu- Jitsu practice allowed him to experience.
The connection he felt with his body in each training session allowed Carlos to gain a deeper understanding about his nature, limitations, and strengths, and brought him a sense of peace that he never felt before in his life. The times with Maeda did not last for long, though. Less than 5 years from the day he started, Carlos had to move to Rio de Janeiro with his parents and siblings.
Arriving at the then capital of Brazil at the age of 20, Carlos Gracie had difficulties adapting to a normal life and working at a regular job. Even though he worked in governmental institutions, Carlos’ wild spirit would not allow him to settle down. His desire to teach the art he learned from Maeda was already burning and he decided to go after it.
The profession of Martial Arts instructor at the beginning of the 20th century in Brazil was not exactly the most promising. People’s awareness about it was practically nonexistent, making it really hard to find students who would be willing to pay a tuition in exchange for instruction.
The only people to see value in what Carlos Gracie had to teach were Law Enforcement officials. An opportunity finally arose for Carlos to teach outside of Rio de Janeiro, in the state of Minas Gerais.
The passion for Jiu-Jitsu and Koma’s dedication to make him a Champion, allowed Carlos to discover a new meaning in his life. From then on, Carlos started to use and see Jiu-Jitsu as a tool to help him find his way through the world. More than that, with time, he elected Jiu-Jitsu as an ideal worth fighting for and embraced it with strength and determination.
Reila Gracie had good opportunities to make a living. After a few years in Minas, Carlos decided to move to Sao Paulo and then back to Rio. His free spirit and faith in the great things Jiu-Jitsu could do for common people seemed to have made it hard for him to restrict his teachings to police officers and members of law enforcement agencies.
1925- The Gracie Clan
The first Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu School was founded in 1925 at Rua Marquês de Abrantes 106, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the age of 23 years old, Carlos Gracie understood well the amazing benefits Jiu-Jitsu could bring to one’s life. Founding a school represented a very important milestone in his decision to grow Jiu-Jitsu Gracie as a national sport in Brazil.
The Marquês de Abrantes school was not exactly what one would expect as the pioneer power house of Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. With limited resources and concerned with the well being of his younger brothers, all Carlos could afford was a small house where he turned the living room into a training area.
In that house Carlos united his brothers and engaged them in his life project. He knew it would be impossible to accomplish such a gigantic task alone and started to teach his younger brothers, Oswaldo (1904), Gastao (1906), George (1911), and Helio (1913).
The first generation of Gracie brothers living and working in the same house seems to have forged the family spirit that flowed down through generations and was so important to the extraordinary success the Gracie Family achieved over the years.
1932-Helio Gracie Era
Helio Gracie was just a kid when the Marques de Abrantes school opened its doors in 1925. At 12 years old, he was too young to help with the classes or in the running of the school.
Carlos was really busy teaching and managing the family business, so Helio’s first lessons in Jiu-Jitsu were delegated to his other brothers, Gastao and Oswaldo. It was not until later that Carlos started to notice Helio’s talent, and dedicated more time to teach and train him.
Helio’s small size and relatively weak physical condition made it difficult to execute some of the positions properly. In order to progress and earn the attention and admiration of his older brothers, especially Carlos, Helio had to research alternate Jiu-Jitsu methods, which worked for him. His discoveries emphasized leverage and timing over strength and speed.
The adaptations of techniques Helio learned from his brothers were mastered through trial and error with the end result being the further development and refinement Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Under the tutelage of his brother, instructor, and mentor Carlos, Helio participated in countless fights, including a 3 hour 43 minute fight against a former student, Valdemar Santana. Helio’s courage, tenacity, and discipline turned him into a national hero.
As Carlos grew older and became more dedicated to his research in nutrition and exercise, and more committed to his quest for spiritual enlightenment, Helio took over the family business and became really involved in running the Gracie School. At this point, it was a much bigger facility located in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
Carlos, Gastao, Oswaldo, and Helio built the first generation of Gracie fighters. Although Carlos and Helio ended up being really close and spending decades working and living together, all four brothers had an enormous contribution to the growth of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil in the first half of the 20th century.
1983- Master Carlos Gracie Jr becomes a Head Instructor
Carlos Gracie Jr. was born in January, 1956 and grew up under the strong influence of his family of fighters. Really connected with the life philosophy and teachings of his father Carlos Gracie Sr., Carlinhos – as friends and family called him – grew up observing and learning from some of the most influential characters his family ever created: Carlos, Helio, and Rolls.
The most important years of his childhood and early teenage years were spent at the famous Teresopolis House – a huge ranch with several rooms where most of Carlos’ and Helios’ son lived and trained together for many years. There, Carlos Gracie Jr. learned how to live in a community in which all members needed to get along, share, and learn from each other. This seems to have become an ideal for him. In many ways, Master Carlos is replicating that lifestyle on a larger scale today, through the same environment that nurtured his personal development at the old Teresopolis House.
Carlinhos was always a very technical fighter and inherited the open mind of his brother Rolls. His vision that a fighter should always rely on technique and be well-rounded was clear to note at a young age due to his dedication to mastering take downs from Judo and Wrestling, self-defense techniques, and, of course, the many recent technical Jiu-Jitsu developments introduced by his brother Rolls, among them the open guard.
Carlos Gracie Jr.’s dedication to the sport and lifestyle of Jiu-Jitsu would go side by side. He enjoyed training, teaching, and learning from his brothers and cousins, and also competed extremely well in many Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. But he was also really intrigued by the teachings of his father Carlos and was becoming more and more dedicated to developing the Gracie Diet as a way to support his family’s athletes and to cure diseases. Carlinho’s curiosity led him to pursue a college degree in Nutrition Sciences to deepen his understanding about the influence food could have on one’s body.
Master Carlos Gracie Jr. began to teach at the main Gracie school in Downtown Rio de Janeiro, like many of his cousins and brothers. He worked along side his older brother Rolls and cousin Rorion, from whom he learned a lot. Eventually, Rorion decided to live in the United States, and Rolls established his school in Copacabana, while Carlos Gracie Jr. was called upon to assume the responsibilities of running the Gracie School with his cousin Rickson Gracie.
After two years as one of the main instructors at the main Gracie School, Carlos joined forces with his brother Rolls as his school was closer to the university he was attending for his degree in Nutrition Sciences. After working as Rolls’ assistant instructor for seven years, Carlos was hit by the news of his brother Rolls’ death.
During that situation, all of the students got together and, together with Rolls’ wife, asked him to assume the responsibility of continuing the path that his brother Rolls had began.
Carlinhos stayed in Copacabana for about four years, after which he decided to move to Barra da Tijuca, a promising newer neighborhood in the western part of the city that was growing. From that school originated the expression “Gracies of Barra,” and eventually, as we are called today, “Gracie Barra.”
The school originally had about 20 students, and grew to almost 200 after the first year. Gracie Barra then moved the school to a larger space inside of a gym, where we are still located today.
Gracie Barra was a unique school from the beginning. Carlinhos developed a very special teaching style and philosophy that supported the development of students to their potential. Although his team grew to become the most competitive and accomplished ever, collecting multiple world titles, that was never his main goal.
Many great athletes, doctors, engineers, surfers, and other people from different backgrounds found the Gracie Barra School a friendly and supportive environment where they could not only learn exceptional Jiu-Jitsu, but also be influenced and mentored by Carlinhos with his strong lessons about healthy habits and a balanced lifestyle.
Along with his duty of building Gracie Barra into one of the most competitive and accomplished team of instructors and athletes, Carlos dedicated a lot of his time to establishing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, an entity created to regulate the sport in Brazil, unite the state federations under one set of rules, and organize a national championship. Carlos’ commitment to the growth and organization of the sport has been remarkable and essential in allowing the organized expansion of Jiu-Jitsu worldwide through the establishment of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation.
Master Carlos Gracie Jr. continues to be very active at Gracie Barra. He is fully involved in mentoring and giving direction to the GB Leadership Team – built by some of his closest students – who run the organization on his behalf. One can easily find Carlinhos training daily at our Headquarters. His simplicity allows him to blend in with the rest of the students, and only a trained eye would be able to find him wearing his GB Uniform with a red and white belt around his waist.
1990- Jiu-Jitsu Becomes a National Sport
The roots of the sport of Jiu-Jitsu can be traced back to the first generation of fighters of the Gracie Family. While Carlos and Helio remained mainly in Rio de Janeiro during their prime years as instructors, Oswaldo and George moved to different states within the country and started their own branches of the Gracie School. With time, each one of these branches naturally generated new instructors and the schools continued to pass along their Jiu-Jitsu knowledge.
That process continued and was accelerated when the second generation of fighters from the Gracie Family started their own schools, mainly Rolls and Carlson, in the 70’s. By the last few decades of the 20th century, there were enough schools and competitors to have numerous tournaments, with most of them taking place in Rio de Janeiro under the tutelage of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of that State.
During the 70’s and 80’s, tournaments served the purpose of stimulating students’ commitment to training, learning, and excelling in the art of Jiu-Jitsu. The rivalry among schools over who was going to win the next contest fueled the motivation of young students, which helped the growth of the schools and the sport in general.
In 1994, Carlos Gracie Jr. launched a strong initiative to gather support to start the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, which created uniform rules for tournaments and organized the first Brazilian National Championship.
The work of the Jiu-Jitsu Instructors, the Brazilian Confederation, and the state level federations to organize tournaments, define a common set of rules, and institutionalize Jiu-Jitsu as a national sport in Brazil, were crucial to maintain the identity of the sport and keep Carlos Gracie Sr.’s legacy alive.
1993- BJJ Revolution
While Jiu-Jitsu evolved to never before achieved levels of technical development in ground fighting in Brazil, all the other disciplines like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Judo became really popular due to Hollywood movies and the Olympic games. While those martial art styles have great techniques, they are restricted to just one aspect of real combat and only work under a set of rules that ensure the circumstances in which the techniques are effective. Generations of martial artists spent many years learning one aspect of fighting (i.e. striking, take downs, or pinning), believing that would be sufficient under real combat situations.
In 1993, that assumption faced its most challenging test when Rorion Gracie put together the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as a contest between athletes from different martial art styles. The world was shocked when a lighter and “apparently” weaker Royce Gracie defeated all his opponents by fighting mainly on the ground using choke holds or joint-locks to make his opponents give up the fight.
Suddenly, martial artists from all different backgrounds realized if they did not know Jiu-Jitsu, all they knew about fighting was worthless against a Jiu-Jitsu fighter. That realization triggered what many call the Jiu-Jitsu revolution in martial arts. A big shift of focus and training towards ground fighting followed.