Sunday, December 27, 2009

MMA Pioneer Helio Gracie Remembered

By Ross Everett

The founding father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and patriarch of the Gracie family, Helio Gracie, died in early 2009 at the age of 95. His influence in martial arts as well as the sport of mixed martial arts is mind boggling. The Gracie family name will forever be synonymous with Brazilian sports, jiu-jitsu, MMA and the UFC"not only due to Helios own accomplishments but the legacy he created both by training others and through his family.

Helio Gracie began his training in mixed martial arts early, and by his teenage years was already teaching judo. While he had no problem mastering the theoretical aspects of judo, he found that many of its techniques were less effective for a practitioner with a smaller build. Along with his brother Carlos, Gracie began to work out his own fighting system by adapting many of judo's techniques and making them more a product of leverage rather than brute strength. This led to the creation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), frequently called Gracie Jiu Jitsu in his honor.

Gracie also had a professional fighting career, taking on champions from other disciplines in a forerunner to modern mixed martial arts. These bouts were grueling, unregulated affairs with rules that were often made up as they went along and time limits that seem barbaric by todays standards. By his own recollection, he had 15 fights against the top fighters of his day. He began his career in'32 by submitting professional boxer Antonio Portugal (whod likely never even heard of a submission at that point, let alone experienced one) in just 32 seconds. Later that year, he fought American catch wrestler Frank Ebert to a draw after the ringside doctor ordered the bout stopped after an ungodly fourteen ten minute rounds.

His most famous battle was against Japanese judo legend Masahiko Kimura, resulting in a rare loss for Gracie. Despite the setback, he fought bravely and may have actually enhanced his legend after refusing to submit to a reverse arm bar (the same move that now bears Kimuras name). Only after his arm was broken did his brother Carlos throw in the towel.

Helio Gracie's impact on fight sports and mixed martial arts would continue through his offspring. Married twice, he had seven sons (Rickson, Royler, Rolker, Royce, Relson, Robin and Rorion) and two daughters (Rerika and Ricci), many of whom went on to make their own mark on the fight sport world. Royce Gracie is well known as the first UFC superstar, while sons Rickson Royler, Renzo have also achieved considerable fame in professional MMA.

Gracie died at age 95, after suffering stomach problems though the cause of his death was officially listed as 'natural causes'. His last words are classic and highly fitting for a man who gave so much to martial arts and fighting sports:

Gracie's last words are as follows:"I created a flag from the sports dignity. I oversee the name of my family with affection and nerves of blood.

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