The Gracie Connection 2.0

EN flag50 Almost exactly 25 years ago, in February 1995, one of my first articles in German language about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu appeared, which was published by the martial arts magazine KICK. When I think back today, a lot has changed, but the love and passion for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is the same, even if I have a crisis now and then.

In my opinion, Gracie or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as opposed to back then, has changed not only for the better! For me, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was and is not just self-defense, but like other martial arts I have learned in my life, it gives me strength, confidence, and peace. Thanks to the martial arts, I am very much in balance today.

This morning I held the above-mentioned KICK article entitled “The Gracie Connection" in front of me and had just scanned it as I was about to post it to our Gracie Concepts Facebook page. Yes, I am also looking for new (useful) activities during the time of the coronavirus, so that my sofa can rest from time to time! As I leave the article again, I asked myself: would I write it today the same way I wrote it over 25 years ago? At what points would the information I gave then be written differently? I love this game of "then and today", because after so many years each of us collects so many new things.

So, what you have in your hands right now is exactly such a revision. You can find the old text here in cursive, so that you can read the new and the old version yourself:

Pure family style
In 1914, Gastão Gracie became friends with Esai Maeda, the head of what was then the Japanese emigration colony. Maeda was a well-known Ju-Jutsu champion. During this friendship, Maeda decided to teach Ju-Jutsu to Gastão Gracie's son, Carlos Gracie. Maeda was very enthusiastic about Carlos' perseverance and enthusiasm. Maeda had to teach his student in hiding because the Gracies were not Japanese but emigrated from Scotland to Brazil in 1801. Carlos Gracie had to promise to pass on Ju-Jutsu only to family members. When Maeda died, Carlos Gracie and his brothers opened the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Rio de Janeiro in 1925. Hélio Gracie, who was the weakest member of the family due to a childhood illness, developed new techniques with the idea of making them more efficient through less strength but more coordination and speed.

In my upcoming new Gracie Jiu-Jitsu book, which will soon be published by this same publisher (Budo International) in the middle of this year, I describe in the chapter "Beyond Jiu-Jitsu: A Brief Japanese Jiu-Jitsu History" the history of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil through the various Japanese masters that I know of today.

When I started Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Los Angeles in 1990-91, I was told several stories about the Gracie’s and their alleged master named Mitsuyo Maeda, who was also called "Conte Coma". The American martial arts magazines of that time, like Inside Karate, Black Belt etc., I'm talking about the time between 1988 and 1995, copied each other's Gracie stories, which had been told and commented on so often, and so there was hardly any new useful information.

As important as it is to me to speak of "the Maedas" in the plural, I must of course also report on the one Mitsuyo Maeda - there is no doubt about his outstanding role in the introduction of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil. The almost 164 cm tall and 60 kg light Maeda was born on November 18, 1878 in the city of Hirosaki in the north of the main island.
After Maeda had tried sumo wrestling for a short time, he switched to Jiu-Jitsu and sword fighting because of his small stature. By the way, we know today that he came from a samurai family and that his father also ran a fencing school in the village. At the age of seventeen he was sent to Tokyo to study at Waseda University, where he began training at the Kodokan Institute.

In 1907 four masters at the Kodokan were awarded a 4th Dan. These were Shutaro Ono, Soshihiro Satake, Tokugoro Ito and Mitsuyo Maeda. This group travelled to the USA about one year later, led by Master Ito. Ito stayed mainly in the USA and later travelled only briefly to South America to visit his friends. The Masters Satake, Ono and Maeda, however, soon continued their journey, first to Europe and then to South America.

The first document known to me today that proves Maeda's presence in Brazil is dated November 14, 1914 and is an announcement of a Jiu-Jitsu performance. Master Maeda is so fascinated by Brazil that he soon decides to stay there forever. Jiu-Jitsu was already well established in Brazil at that time, so Maeda and Satake soon founded their Jiu-Jitsu school. Maeda was not the first Japanese to teach this martial art in Brazil, as is partly to be believed.

For various reasons that I tell in my book, Maeda traveled to Europe, but in the spring of 1921, after returning from Europe, Maeda finally founded his own dojo. It was first located behind his house in a barn, later in the clubhouse of the rowers of Belém. Almost at the same time his friend Satake decided to close his Jiu-Jitsu school and move away from Brazil. Many of his students changed over to Maeda, including the first three black belts of Master Satake. One of them was the young and talented Donato Pires dos Reis, son of a famous doctor who later became a respected politician. Master Pires founded his own Jiu-Jitsu school in Rio de Janeiro in 1935, which was soon taken over by his assistants, Carlos, George, and Hélio Gracie.

From observer to teacher
Hélio Gracie spent most of his time observing his brother Carlos' lessons. But one day, Hélio had to fill in for his brother Carlos because he was late for his lesson. From that day on, the students only wanted to train with Hélio. Hélio Gracie thus became the new head instructor of the family and the inventor of this new way of teaching.

In 1930, Donato Pires dos Reis made an offer to the Gracie brothers (Carlos, George and Hélio). He had been offered a new instructor position in Rio de Janeiro and at the same time planned to establish his own Jiu-Jitsu Academy. This gave the Gracie’s the opportunity to become Pires' assistants and perhaps later take over his school. At that time Master Pires Academy was the second official Jiu-Jitsu school in Rio de Janeiro.

The first school in Rio de Janeiro had already been opened in 1925 by Master Angenor Moreira Sempaio from São Paolo, a master student of Sada Miyake. Master Sempaio had become quite famous with his Jiu-Jitsu school at that time and successfully led the Jiu-Jitsu instructor group of the "Guarda Civil" in Rio de Janeiro.

Master Pires' reputation as a Jiu-Jitsu teacher and his connections with the local police forces in Rio were excellent, so that the regional medias reported enthusiastically on the opening of his Jiu-Jitsu Academy. But just one year later, on 27 June 1931, Master Pires received another offer and immediately travelled to Santa Caterina, where he settled down for good. This was the chance for the Gracie brothers to run their school of Jiu-Jitsu.

As my teacher Pedro Hemetério told me, Grandmaster Hélio Gracie was incredibly talented; Hélio had simplified and improved a lot as the new head of the school. But even within the Gracie family, even today, there is a dispute about who really was the "Inventor" of the Gracie System. Some say it was Carlos Gracie, others say it was Hélio Gracie. Master Hemetério believed that both made important contributions. The fact is, however, that from a point in time (around the end of the 1950s) Master Hélio took over the leadership of the family as his brother Carlos retired more and more to devote himself more to the study of the Gracie Diet and spiritualism.

Hélio Gracie, the fighter
One of the longest fights of Hélio, was against the famous Japanese (Judo) fighter Masahiko Kimura. The fight, which took place in Brazil, lasted three hours and forty-five minutes, non-stop. Hélio Gracie not only won this fight against a famous champion ...and among his conquests are said to be such famous names as professional boxers...

Stop, stop, stop! Well Hélio Gracie really had a lot of challenging fights, but he did not win the fight against Kimura. The agreement for the duel against Kimura was as follows: if the Gracie passed the first round, Kimura would award the victory to the Gracie’s. One of the reasons for this was that Hélio was about twenty years older and weighed about one-third of Kimura's weight.

In total, Master Hélio fought 19 fights known to me until he lost his last fight in 1955 against a former student named Waldemar Santana and retired from the competition scene.

His older brother George Gracie, who is hardly known today, entered the ring a full 40 times. He began his career in 1930 with the fight against the boxer Tohannes, until he finally lost in 1950 in São Paolo against Hélio Gracie's best student and at the same time my teacher, Pedro Hemetério, in a “submission-only” Jiu-Jitsu fight.

The fine differences
Between the traditional Ju-Jutsu taught by Esai Maeda at that time and the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu of the Gracie family, there are differences in the shortening of the distance (clinch) and in the floor techniques. These are the most important training focus of the Gracie’s. In the well-known Ju-Jutsu schools, on the other hand, one only tries to control the attacker from a standing position.

Only one goal: bring your opponent down
For the Gracie’s there is only one goal, to bring the opponent directly to the ground and finish him there. This kind of Jiu-Jitsu is not even found in Japan today (like this), but as it was recently published in many Japanese newspapers, it has found many followers again.

When I wrote these two paragraphs at that time, I also trained and taught JKD Concepts, Filipino Martial Arts and Thai boxing with my brother Demetrio. Thai boxing was very much part of our teaching program and so, even though I had trained Gracie Jiu-Jitsu for several years at that time, our motto was: solve the problem quickly while standing! I did not necessarily think that I would go down or that my opponent could bring me down. In 1991, when Sifu Paul Vunak took me to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, a whole new world and dynamic opened for us.

Someone who was close to the martial philosophy of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and who was also teaching in Los Angeles was the Japanese professional shooter Yorinaga Nakamura, with whom I attended the IMB Academy of Richard Bustillo and the Dan Inosanto Academy in Santa Monica for shoot wrestling as much as I had time. Nakanmura Sensei was a tiger gym top student of the inventor of shoot wrestling, Satoru Sayama, and an exceptionally talented martial artist and an incredibly good and tuff fighter.

Even though the training was trained by Nakamura-san throwing techniques and floor techniques, the stand was practically Thai boxing again. In Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, on the other hand, emphasis was placed on a direct clinch, quick closing of the distance (bridging), and control of the opponent in order to bring the opponent down to the ground as quickly as possible. At the Vacirca Academy, we passed on both variations, because Thai boxing was (and is) an important aspect of our training, that why it is still taught in our Gracie Concepts program today. But also, more about it in my new book!

Old and new
The Gracie family has many techniques that come from the traditional style, but these have been simplified and perfected over time, with many other schools standing by the old techniques. The Gracie family has been in business for over seventy years. Most of the family members are world-renowned fighters with an excellent reputation.

Due to the numerous Vale-Tudo (Bras. for everything is goes), which were in the 50s, 60s and 70s today's Mix-Martial-Arts events that took place all over Brazil, not only were the fighters and styles tested, but as Grandmaster Reyson Gracie once said to me: "...Vale-Tudo was like a laboratory for us, where we tested our techniques for effectiveness and efficiency!”

I am not saying that Hélio or Carlos Gracie didn't care about tradition, but that they had defined new approaches in terms of application. They wondered whether one technique or another was better. Of course, this also changed in Brazil over the years. I assume it started when Hélio Gracie, Pedro Hemetério, and Hélio Vigio founded the first Jiu-Jitsu Federation in Rio de Janeiro. In the early days, Jiu-Jitsu was practically taught in private classes, but with the steady growth of interest in the country, a sport-organization was needed to properly promote both Vale-Tudo and sport Jiu-Jitsu.

In order to be able to implement this, Master Hemetério told me, they looked at Judo, Sambo and Wrestling and tried to determine the best possible competition rules and a professional development program. But this was not easy, because the "Brazilian" Jiu-Jitsu, developed rapidly and the schools were stomping out of all holes, Mestre Pedro told to me.

Intensive training
If you can attend a training session at the Gracie Academy in Torrance, USA, you will immediately notice that there is a difference in the way they teach. The techniques are taught in such a way that they will be the focus of the next training session. By repeating the individual sequences, the techniques become reflexes and the reaction time is constantly improved. You do not have to be strong or tall, because all techniques are based on (the application of) leverage.

Hélio Gracie laid down three important basic principles (patience/control, timing and precision), which I explain in detail in my new book. Nevertheless, there is one thing that is important to me to explain here:
Patience and control are two of the most important principles of our Self-Defense concept, because no matter in which situation it is applied, a rash and unprepared counterattack has little effect and can even have a devastating effect in the end.

Practicing timing does not only refer to concrete timing but must be seen in the context of what is called "Kuzushi" in Japanese, which is to bring the opponent off balance.
How to achieve precision in a natural way? Probably by participating regularly and consistently in training, which can quickly become a problem for many people. Most Jiu-Jitsu beginners are euphoric in the beginning and appear almost every evening for every training. After a while they realize that not the quantity, but the quality is decisive.

[Read more on Part II here...]
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