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The Legacy of Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu - Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, From the Past to the Present

By Robert Rousseau,
Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu truly burst into the American consciousness on November 12, 1993, the day that the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) aired. On that day, a 170 pound Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter by the name of Royce Gracie proved to the world that men of smaller stature could defeat men of greater size time and time again simply through superior fighting techniques.

However, to truly understand the legacy of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, one must travel back in time. Way back, in fact, to the tune of 4,000 years ago.

The History of Jiu-Jitsu

The roots of Jiu-Jitsu seem to stretch back over four centuries to northern India. At that time, Buddhist monks were busy roaming the countryside trying to spread the word of 'Buddha'. Unfortunately, preaching religion in a peaceful manner, at that time, could be dangerous work.

In short, they were being attacked, injured, and sometimes even killed while doing their good work.

Thus, it appears that they developed a form of fighting, specifically grappling, that was designed to be non- violent. With these newfound skills they were able to subdue combatants without killing them, thus satifying both their religious beliefs and need to stay alive.

Eventually these early teachings found their way to Japan. There they were refined and named jujutsu or Jiu-Jitsu.

Throughout the 1800's, the Japanese, known for their isolationist ways, attempted to hide Jiu-Jitsu from the western world. Judo, in essence a derivative of Jiu-Jitsu, did make its way into the west much earlier than Jiu-Jitsu, perhaps to help sate western appetities for such knowledge. However, judo, as it was conveyed to and interpreted by westerners, focused on takedowns without much in the line of submissions. In other words, it was incomplete.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

In 1914 Mitsuyo Maeda (1878-1941) traveled to Brazil for business reasons (cashew nut commerce). There he stayed at the household of Gastao Gracie. Mr. Gracie helped Maeda to flourish in business, and as a token of his appreciation, Maeda taught Gastao's eldest son, Carlos, the secret art of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. In turn Carlos taught the other children in the family, including his youngest brother, Helio.

Helio eventually became good enough to teach classes as well. This was a turning point for the art.

Hello Gracie

Helio was rather diminutive. Due to this, he often felt at a disadvantage against bigger men, particularly when they knew Jiu-Jitsu as well. Thus, he began to experiment. Helio used leverage and began to perfect fighting from one's back (where the smaller man often ended up). He did his best to eliminate the portions of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu that relied on power, instead perfecting flowing techniques based on leverage.

In short, it was all an amazing success. Helio's form of Jiu-Jitsu did well by him in several matches, including stoppages of professional boxer, Antonio Portugal, and world- reknowned Japanese judoka, Kato. Soon after his match against Kato, he tested himself against the much larger Japanese judo champion, Masahiko Kimura. Kimura bragged to the Brazilian media that if the smaller Gracie lasted even 3 minutes, he should consider it a victory.

Helio lasted 13 minutes, finally losing when his older brother, Carlos, threw in the towel (he was caught in an arm lock). Helio gained tremendous respect in this loss. In fact, Kimura offered him the greatest form of flattery; he requested that Helio come to his school to teach his methods of fighting there.

Helio had four sons- Rickson, Royler, Royce, and UFC co- founder, Rorion. Though they and other Gracies brought the art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to America in the late 1980's, it was Helio's son, Royce, that truly led the way in conveying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the world.

Three Time UFC Champion Royce Gracie

On November 12, 1993, the first UFC tournament aired live from Colorado. The purpose? To settle the age old argument and find out which of the fighting disciplines was best. Combatants were all pitted against one another in a single elimination, one day tournament with no time limits or decisions (and few rules). The only ways to win: knock out your opponent, force them to give up, and referee stoppage.

In short, Royce Gracie dominated the competition.

Gracie stopped three fighters in succession on his way to the first ever UFC championship. Of particular note was his submission win (choke) over Ken Shamrock, a shootfighter that had already proven his grappling worth against Patrick Smith, winning via submission. In fact, Gracie went on to win three of the first four UFC Championships, and never lost a UFC match during the 1990's in the ring (his lone blemish came when his cornermen threw in the towel before a fight against Harold Howard after a difficult victory over Kimo Leopoldo made it impossible for Royce to continue).

Those first UFC encounters were perhaps the glory days of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Further, even after Royce stopped fighitng in the UFC, other Gracie Jiu-Jitsu fighters also experienced significant MMA success. In fact, Royce's brother, Rickson, never lost a mixed martial arts match (his official MMA record is 11-0, but the family reports hundreds of victorious fights outside the public consciousness). Interestingly, Rickson is widely considered to be the best of all the Gracie fighters. Regardless, for years Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu clearly ruled the roost.

Kazushi Sakuraba "The Gracie Killer"

Though Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was still considered king of the mixed martial arts world in 2000, a challenger had emerged. The person: Kazushi Sakuraba. The fighting art: catch wrestling.

By 2000, Sakuraba had defeated several Jiu-Jitsu fighters including Marcus Silveira, Vitor Belfort, and Royler Gracie (controversially). Eventually, the chatter regarding his exploits became too much. On 5/1/00, Royce came out of retirement to take him on in a Gracie rules style match (in other words, no time limits or decisions), in the first ever PRIDE Grand Prix event in Japan.

And to the shock of many, Royce Gracie lost after a grueling 90 minute match (his brother was forced to throw in the towel after a surplus of devastating leg kicks by Sakuraba).

With that match, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was finally proven beatable. Further, Sakuraba went on to defeat Renzo and Ryan Gracie to reinforce the point.

Still, the contribution of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the mixed martial arts world and fighting in general cannot be overstated. MMA would not be the same without it.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Today

Many feel that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu took another hit when Royce came back to the UFC on May 27, 2006 to face Matt Hughes. In short, many Americans were unaware of what had taken place back in 2000 in Japan and still remembered Royce as a near magical man. Hughes, however, defeated Gracie badly on that night, eventually forcing John McCarthy to stop the fight at 4:39 of the first round (Hughes had taken his back and was pounding on him when the fight was stopped).

And with that match, the chatter started. In short, many have wondered out loud whether the MMA world has finally passed the Gracies by.

A somewhat unfair statement to make.

First, Royce Gracie is not the only Gracie fighting (Renzo, Ryan, and others continue to have a measure of MMA success). Second, Royce lost to a fighter that has stopped four of his last five opponents in the first round.

In other words, losing to Matt Hughes doesn't mean the end of anything. Hughes is simply one of the best ever; there is no getting around it.

Where Is Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Going?

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a part of MMA and always will be. Mixed martial arts now truly deserves the name it was given back in 1993. Why? Simply because all MMA fighters must cross train now in order to be competitive, and Brazililian Jiu-Jitsu is an absolute staple if one wants to be successful in the sport.

In this way, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu lives on and will always live on. It is more ingrained in the mixed martial arts world than any of the other pure fighting disciplines, and it will continue to be.

As for the Gracie family fighters, they are still highly skilled, even if none seems ready for a belt in either of the major organizations at present (PRIDE or UFC). Some believe this is because they refuse to acknowledge the cross training phenomenon; for them, it is Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and that's it.

However, there is evidence that this belief isn't entirely true. Yes, their bread and butter is still the family Jiu-Jitsu game and always will be, but one would be hard pressed to say that Renzo or even Royce haven't improved their striking skills immensely since the early days.

Perhaps the Gracies are just waiting for that next special person in their family to develop. Another Gracie champion.

Regardless, the martial arts world owes them a debt of gratitude.

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