Helio Gracie is the founder the art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ), also known internationally as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Until his death, Helio was the only living 10th degree master of the discipline and is widely considered as one of the first sports heroes in Brazilian history; he was named Black Belt Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1997. Helio was the father of the world-renowned fighters Rickson Gracie, Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Relson Gracie and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) founder Rorion Gracie.
In 1914, Jiu-jitsu master Esai Maeda, also known as Count Coma, began teaching Helio’s older brother, Carlos Gracie. After practicing for a few years, Carlos passed his knowledge to his brothers.
Helio soon realized that due to his frail physique, most of the techniques he had learned from watching Carlos teach were particularly difficult for him to execute. Eager to make the techniques work for him, he began modifying them to accommodate his weak body. Emphasizing the use of leverage and timing over strength and speed, Helio modified virtually all of the techniques and, through trial and error, created Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
In order to prove the effectiveness of his new system, Helio openly challenged all the reputable martial artists in Brazil. He fought 18 times, including matches against onetime world heavyweight wrestling champion, Wladek Zbyszko and the #2-ranked Judoka in the world at the time, Kato, whom Helio choked unconscious in six minutes. His victory against Kato qualified him to enter the ring with the world champion, Masahiko Kimura, who outweighed Helio by almost 80 pounds.
A modern-day legend, Helio Gracie gained international acclaim for his dedication to the dissemination of the art and philosophy of Gracie Jiu-jitsu. A dedicated family man who exemplified a healthy life-style, he was the epitome of courage, discipline, determination, and an inspiration to all those who knew him.