Helio Gracie is a Brazilian martial artist who founded Gracie Jiu-Jitsu with his brother, Carlos Gracie. Born on October 1st, 1913, Helio established himself as a prominent grappler within the BJJ community. When people think about the founding fathers of Jiu-Jitsu, they often picture Helio Gracie. Born in Belem Do Para, Brazil, Helio started teaching Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 16.
One day, when Carlos Gracie wasn’t able to arrive to class on time to teach a training session, Helio took over. When Carlos Gracie returned, he wasn’t angry, but instead thrilled by the experience and allowed Helio to become an instructor as well. Helio Gracie created Jiu-Jitsu in such a way that anyone could defend themselves against larger, stronger opponents.
Gracie vs. Kimura
One day, Helio issued a challenge to a man named Kimura. An agreement was made that throws or pins would not help acquire a victory- only loss of consciousness or submission. Kimura was an excellent thrower. In fact, he threw Helio relentlessly. Helio had a difficult time defending at all. But eventually, the fight had to go to the ground (Kimura couldn’t keep throwing Helio forever). And this was Helio’s strength. Unfortunately, Kimura was able to defeat Helio on the ground as well, and it is for this reason that the famous “Kimura Lock” still remains used today- it’s the same shoulder lock that was used to beat Helio long ago
Helio Gracie died on the morning of January 29th, 2009. He died in his sleep due to natural cases. He spoke meaningful final words, which were “I create a flag from a sport’s dignity. I oversee the name of my family with affection, steady nerves, and blood”. He was 95 years old when he died. This long lifespan can be attributed largely to both his healthy diet as well as his continuous training regimens. It was about 10 days before his death that he became very ill. But what most people are going to find surprising was that he was still training on the mat until that time! This goes to show that you don’t need to be young, fit, or exceptionally strong to succeed in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Helio was married to his wife for 50 years, during which time he became the father of three sons and two daughters. His name will be memorialized in BJJ for as long as the sport shall exist