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Gracie Jiu Jitsu History in Print

Updated on November 7, 2014

Getting started

The Gracie family history is certainly not without its controversies. There are debates over whether one side was truly as all-influential as it claims, but there's a lot of merit in studying the history through the lens of someone who knows that there are controversies. Knowing what to look at and through which lens it is presented can be incredibly useful.

The Gracie Way

I first read Kid Peligro's "Gracie Way" book after checking out his earlier "Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: Theory and Technique" (which was the best book of its kind for quite a few years). This book covers this history of the art and sport of BJJ, with chapters with the following family members:

  • Carlos Gracie (the family patriarch, most famous for introducing judo and BJJ to the family and for creating a ludicrous family diet)
  • Helio Gracie (most know Helio's story really well, but he did many early challenge matches in Brazil in front of crowds, eventually losing a few, but popularizing the art, and developing it considerably for smaller people)
  • Carlson Gracie (incredibly prolific fighter who not only avenged his uncle Helio's vale tudo loss to Valdemar Santana, but who also became the family champion and ultimate representative of the art for many years; Carlson considerably opened up the amount of techniques shown to outsiders- non-family members- and added in wrestling and boxing techniques, along with kickboxing, and anything else that worked. Carlson's black belts have formed Brazilian Top Team, Nova Uniao, American Top Team, and dozens of other top organizations)
  • Rolls Gracie (whom many called the most technical Gracie family member ever, who mentored Rickson, and who competed in freestyle wrestling, sombo, and BJJ events; ultimately, Rolls died tragically in a hang-gliding accident as a young man)
  • Rorion Gracie (who famously brought BJJ to the American mainstream audience by doing widely publicized demos in the martial arts community, started the UFC, and owns Gracie Torrance in CA)
  • Carlos Jr (who started the IBJJF)
  • Rickson (who is the idolized legend of the family, with 11 wins and 0 losses in MMA, and an apocryphal 400-0 record; Rickson is nevertheless highly respected and sought after today by black belt world champions)
  • Royler (the first Gracie family member to win the IBJJF world championships, and certainly among the most successful sport BJJ practitioners of all time)
  • Royce (UFC 1, 2, and 4 champ)
  • Renzo (Pride and Vale Tudo Brazil fighting legend and all around smiley guy)

All in all, the book is a bit of an advertisement for the Gracie family, with little of the shadowy business or ethical practices highlighted, but it's nonetheless a very fun, approachable read for the novice who seeks to learn more about this family's intriguing history.

Gracie Jiu Jitsu in action

Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Action

"Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Action", or "Gracie in Action" for short, is a film documenting some of the "Gracie Challenge" matches, narrated by Rorion Gracie. Warning: please take this film with a grain of salt, as it is obvious Gracie family propaganda. Having said that, it's super entertaining, and "must see" footage for anyone serious about training in BJJ.

The film begins with the story of George Gracie arriving in Brazil from Scotland, and his descendants, Carlos and Helio, learning the art of jiu jitsu from "Count Koma" (Maeda). From there, Helio takes center stage, naturally (being Rorion's father). There's some cool old footage of Helio vs Kato and Helio vs Kimura (creatively edited, of course). From there, the next generation takes over, as Carlson is conveniently skipped. Rolls, Rickson, and Renzo are among the Gracies showcased in "vale tudo" and sport matches, along with in-house challenge matches.

Again, this is total propaganda, and an advertisement for the family's style, but it's nonetheless fun to watch, and highly recommended viewing if you've never seen it before.

A much newer version, and a very different point of view

"Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949" tells a very different story than "The Gracie Way" or the side of the family that eventually settled in Torrance tells. Knowing this is crucial, as nothing is without a particular bias- but Choque rounds out the long-told Gracie family bias, one sided tales of invincible family members with 400-0 records, never defeated in the ring or on the streets in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary. Choque is long awaited, and much needed.

Choque (actually pronounced like the English word “shock”) takes a hard look at the organizations that formed in the early days in Brazil, and a guy named Paschoal Segreto, who is largely credited in the book with bringing jiu jitsu to Brazil. Judo guys in Brazil before Maeda arrived are covered thoroughly, along with the rise of luta livre and catch in South America.


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