About The Gracies
Mitsuyo “Count Koma” Maeda
Maeda was born in 1878 in a small town called Aomori, located north to the Japanese island of Honshu and known for its freezing winters. As poverty assailed the region at the end of the 19th century, many inhabitants would move to Tokyo or other cities to try and make money and escape the cold. This was not the case for young Maeda, who remained there till 1886, when he finally moved to the capital. While he resided in Aomori, he went to Hirosaki School, of the local elite, where he was known as the “sumo-kid,” because of his fascination for the art his father had taught him. And, of course, for the several fights he would win against school mates.
As he arrived in Tokyo, Maeda started going to one of the country's most traditional schools and, later, entered a high-class university, nowadays called Waseda, and acknowledged as a great teaching center. There he was taught the techniques of classical Jiu-Jitsu. Later on, he would knock on the door of Kodokan, a famous Judo academy that works to this day and at the time was already deemed the best martial arts centre in Japan.
The eventual master and founder of the academy, Jigoro Kano, was a studious man who gathered many styles of ancient Jiu-Jitsu to create Judo, whose apex was reached in 1964, when it began to appear in the Olympic Games, in Tokyo. But that would happen long after Maeda's day. At that time, Kano had just modified the art and left out the elements and techniques and striking inherited from the samurais, who used to learn fighting techniques for when their swords broke in the battlefields. An art, therefore, bereft of the rules which characterize today's Judo – and Jiu-Jitsu.
In that period, fights were held every month at Kodokan. It is suspected that Maeda practiced hard for months before premiering in these competitions, for he didn't want to risk doing badly in them. On December 25, 1898, he finally made his first (and amazing) demonstration at the academy. Wearing a white belt, he easily beat five or six opponents and was immediately promoted to purple-belt. That same day, while the westerns celebrated Christmas, Maeda would go on to defeat more and more adversaries until, after overcoming 15 fighters in a row, he was granted the first degree of the black belt. There began the trajectory of an incredible competitor.
A man of average build, measuring 5'6" and weighing 150lb, Maeda wasn't quite what one would call intimidating. He loved drinking sake, singing, and wouldn't back off whenever challenged to fight on the street. He wouldn't take long to take or knock down the naïve challenger. Constantly evolving, he was promoted to the third degree in 1901 and became a Judo instructor at the Universities of Tokyo, Waseda and Gakushuin.
In 1904, Master Jigoro Kano summoned prodigy-pupil Maeda to travel to the United States in order to propagate Judo. Before the “ambassador” left, he received the fourth degree by the hands of his professor.
Mitsuyo Maeda left the Yokohama port in November, arriving in San Francisco, California, soon before the en of the year. At the time, North-Americans already knew a bit about Japanese martial arts, since president Theodore Roosevelt, was a big fan of the Japanese people and its culture – he even had a Jiu-Jitsu tutor called Yamashita. In order to improve their self-defense, some American military men were already learning the art at their headquarters. But to demonstrate the efficacy of the “new” art created by Kano, Maeda and his mates were appointed to fight the Americans and prove the Japanese superiority. In the famous military school of New York, Maeda faced a football player who also practiced wrestling. After falling inside the guard, his back to the floor, which in wrestling rules would mean he lost, Maeda continued the move and ended it with an arm lock. The Americans didn't accept the submission and proposed a new challenge, this time against Maeda's mate, an experienced student of Kano's called Tomita. The Yankees believed facing Tomita would be a greater honor, because he was a more experienced fighter (actually, Tomita was much more of a professor than a fighter).
Unfortunately, Tomita was embarrassingly defeated, for his opponent managed to transpose his legs and immobilize him. This was too much for Maeda, who decided to separate from Tomita and establish himself in New York, where he maintained himself by taking part in underground challenges. In the first of these, in front of a wrestler a foot taller and who liked to be called “The Butcher,” Maeda knocked the adversary down several times before finishing with an arm lock. Three fights and three wins later, Maeda decided to challenge the world heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, considered by some specialists to be the best boxer of all time. Thus the Japanese began the tradition that would be followed by the Gracie's of challenging the boxing champion of their day (Helio challenged Joe Louis, whereas Rickson aimed at Mike Tyson). The boxers also created a tradition of their own: that of never responding to such challenges.
Three years later, in 1907, Maeda went to the United Kingdom, where he won 13 more fights, then heading to Belgium, where again he won. He went back to America, this time to Cuba. There he reigned undisputed. He achieved no less than 15 victories, plus four when he passed by Mexico. And this is only the fights with official records. If we count street challenges, in Cuba alone we are talking something like 400 bouts.
Since he parted from Tomita, in the USA, Maeda had become independent and, in his travels, he insisted on calling his art Jiu-Jitsu. This choice may have come from the fact that, before entering Kodokan, he was already familiar with classical Jiu-Jitsu, and probably used in his fights many of the moves Jigoro Kano had banned in creating Judo. Naturally, Kodokan's strict principles wouldn't approve of Maeda's challenges, and this may have been another reason for the adoption of the name Jiu-Jitsu.
After traveling the world in 1910, Mitsuyo Maeda went to Santos, Brazil. He stayed for little time there, establishing himself in Belem, after traveling to the UK, New York and Cuba, where he at times used the name Yamoto Maeda (“Yamoto” is an ancient word for “Japan”). But it was only in Spain that he became known as Count Koma, name of the Jiu-Jitsu academy he founded in Belem. In his academy, Maeda would teach Jiu-Jitsu to immigrants, as a form o self-defense technique.
In the early 1920s the already famous count was involved in an attempt from the Japanese government of founding a colony in northern Brazil, where Koma met a man of great political influence called Gastao Gracie, whose forefathers had immigrated from Scotland. Their friendship grew, until one day Gastao asked Maeda to teach Jiu-Jitsu to his son Carlos.
Maeda died November 28th, 1941, aged 63. It is estimated he fought from one to two thousand combats, without losing a single one of them. Many Japanese immigrants and Brazilian friends attended his funeral and thanked the master. Maeda's body was buried at Santa Isabel cemetery, in Belem, Brazil. Jiu-Jitsu, on it's hand, more alive than it has ever been.
The Gracie's first arch-enemy was no Japanese, but one tough native. In the early 1900s, little Carlos, grandson of a Scottish immigrant who had set up his home in Para, Belem's capital, didn't think twice before challenging a wide-eyed, sharp-nailed opponent. One would often see the kid play catch with an alligator that lived in the river nearby. Gracie would always take the edge: Carlos-Gracie curious and owner of a keen sense of observation, Carlos had noticed the reptile couldn't see under water, only swam in a straight line, and had to stick its head out in order to make turns. By simply getting out of the direction of the animal's teeth, Carlos would always win.
Born on September 14th, 1902, Carlos was the first family member to make contact with the martial art that, in all of the blooming century, would be bound to the name Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, thus, was Carlos's life (and vice versa) ever since his father, Gastao, trying to canalize the energy of the boy who seemed limitless, made him learn a new fight style with a Japanese friend of his, Mitsuyo Maeda, a.k.a. Count Koma. At 14, thus, Carlos began a saga that, to the whole world's surprise, would pervade academies and rings across the planet.
Or could anyone guess? “Out of all pupils Koma taught, and they weren't few, as he used to travel the world teaching, only one fully understood the grandeur of that knowledge, adopting Jiu-Jitsu as a profession. Carlos had, since the very beginning, a good idea of the thing he was learning.
No wonder he created a school that's been lasting 80 years. Indeed, when Carlos became acquainted with Count Koma's techniques, in 1916, the young Gracie was still a developing personality, much like Belem, which worked as an entrance to Brazil, with influence of European and Japanese cultures, and on the other hand was nearly wild, with Indians, woods and rivers where the fearless would play.
At age 22, Carlos Gracie started to make a living out of Jiu-Jitsu. It was the time of challenges published on newspapers (“Want a broken rib? Look for Carlos Gracie,” one of them read). Carlos didn't look like a fighter, but like a chess player. He'd go to training in police academies. As they thought nothing of him, he had to demonstrate the efficiency of the art he believed in, that Jiu-Jitsu could do miracles and that he himself was a good fighter. Carlos was always against associating Jiu-Jitsu with violence. Of course, in the beginning Carlos would place the ads and challenge those huge stevedores because, in the 1930s, there was the need of establishing an identity. That was when such comments began: 'The Gracie's are invincible.' 'The Gracie's settle businesses with their bare hands”.
But each historical moment is different. When, in the seventies, Jiu-Jitsu became a sport, there was no more need to prove anything. It's like today, when fighting or not fighting MMA starts being a personal choice; there is no longer the need there was in the times of Carlos and Helio, when they had to prove Jiu-Jitsu's efficiency in the ring.
One of the greatest heritages Carlos left was the power of discipline and will . He was never seen go by a day without exercising and meditating.
Nothing, however, deserved the family's gratitude more than the nutrition method elaborated by Carlos Gracie, for years, based on studies and thousand of experiments. After making his children, nephews and grandchildren listen to their bodies and eat exclusively what is beneficial to the organism, it's no exaggeration today to say that the last half decade meant 50 years of success of the Gracie Diet, whose basic principle is to avoid the excessive acidity in the nutrition, which to its creator was the main cause of the organism's deterioration and consequent malfunction of organs.
Thus the diet endeavors to keep the meals' PH as neutral as possible, balancing substances by using the right combination. Notwithstanding, reducing Carlos' science to this would be disregarding much of his work – He anticipated many of the much-divulged discoveries of today, like carotene's beneficial role, a substance found in the papaya and the carrot, the concept of free radicals and orthomolecular medicine, not mentioning his pioneering role regarding the habit of consuming acai, watermelon juice, coconut water, vitamins. And, when nobody spoke of nutrition, he noticed how useful it was to cut off red meat before Helio's fights, since meat gives you explosion power, but not long term resistance.
The interest for life and nutrition, like everything else in the descendant of Scottish, was not random. Together with growing suspicion toward traditional medicine, the specialist of the blooming art noticed the need to, with the diet, look after the main work tool, the body. Carlos Gracie, indeed, made four or five famous fights, the last of which against Rufino, in 1931, and another one – pure vale tudo (or 'no rules,' if you will) – in Rio de Janeiro, against capoeira practitioner Samuel. At one point Samuel saw himself with no choice but to grab Carlo's testicles. The most famous one, nevertheless, was another Japan vs.. Brazil classic, held in Sao Paulo, in 1924. Against Geo Omori, self-proclaimed Japanese Jiu-Jitsu representative, Carlos made his most memorable fight. Nearing the end of the third three-minute round, Gracie gave the foe's arm an inexorable lock and looked at the referee, who told him to go on. Carlos broke the opponent's arm, but the latter paid no heed and gave an unfocused Carlos a takedown, before the end of the fight, which ended with a draw and mutual respect by the contenders, in a time when fighters only lost bouts by tapping or passing out.
Legend has it, however, that the most unforgettable scene was played by rooters from Sao Paulo, who threw their hats into the ring as soon as the Brazilian broke the foe's limb. For one thing is to apply it when the other guy is unfocused, but Carlos would warn beforehand, 'I'm going to beat you by arm-bar,' and the opponent would shrink their arm. Then he developed a technique of getting to the arm when the adversary knew they were going to be arm-barred. That was the beginning of the perfecting of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, characterized by leading the foe to erring, where the weaker can defeat the stronger.
In the later years of his life, when he paid more and more attention to meditation after living a life of action. He was the guru but not in a restricted sense: he symbolized the values, the philosophy, the thinking and the greatness of the Jiu-Jitsu project.
In fact there's a reason for the connection most people draw between religion and Carlos Gracie. Besides being always a highly valued subject for Master Carlos and being one of the most evident facets of his life in the 90's, spirituality and mysticism was responsible for some delicious anecdotes Carlos lived.
Once he was visiting a dear friend of the family, Luzita, who just had a handicapped baby. They were chatting and Luzita was holding her baby when she noticed that Carlos was carefully looking at the child. She asked what he was thinking about and the Master said: “You can be cool because your son is going to achieve everything he wants in life. This handicap is not going to get in his way at all, much to the contrary.”
Said and done: the baby was Jean Jacques Machado, future Jiu-Jitsu phenomenon and ADCC world champion. Many believed Carlos to be a psychic. The result of that were not only benefits and wise advice for the whole family. There were also warnings that were taken for granted in the name of love.
In personal matters such as his eating habits and the evolution of Jiu-Jitsu, the great Master really seemed to know which way to follow and anticipated a lot of what was to come.
Since then the Gracie family has brought up three generations of fighters and instructors who now help spread the family knowledge to the rest of the world.
“ HE BECAME A NATIONAL HERO FOR MEMORABLE FIGHTS, AGAINST ADVERSARIES WEIGHING OVER 100 KGS, HIMSELF WEIGHING ONLY 60 KG, AS WAS RECORDED. PEOPLE CAME FROM JAPAN. FIGHTS WITHOUT RULES, ASTONISHING. "A TIME WHEN THE NEWSPAPERS DID NOT HAVE MUCH TO WRITE ABOUT," THE CHARACTER HIMSELF JUSTIFIES. THE WRITER DRAWS HIS OWN CONCLUSIONS.”
It was only one round, lasting three hours and forty-five minutes. There has never been and will never again be a fight like that one. Not even animals fight for so long. I had an ear infection, 38 degree (100 degrees Fahrenheit) fever, was 42 years of age and weighed 60kg. He was 23 and weighed 88kg. It was so bad that, in the end, I got dizzy and passed out. Some say he kicked me, others say it was a punch, and my corner threw in the towel".
Over 45 years have gone by since the episode, but its main character talks of the outcome with admirable clarity. It was an historical battle, which marked the end of fighting career of grand master Helio Gracie, the man who dedicated over 70 years of his life to Jiu-Jitsu's development.
Spring of 1951. We are talking about a half-century ago, when a team of Japanese fighters, sponsored by the Jornal São Paulo Shimbum (São Paulo Shimbum Newspaper), that included the Jiu-Jitsu champions Kato and Kimura, went to Brazil. The latter, number one in the Land of the Rising Sun, had gone undefeated for 13 years. The scheduled fight was between Helio Gracie and Kato. “They came to beat me, they were the favorites,” remembers Helio. “They arrived with the reputation of being champions of the world, and in such a way that I could not even intend to beat them. I was from Brazil, and was curious about their Jiu-Jitsu. I wanted to lose to Kimura, not to Kato. But he said: 'You are very light, and what I will do to you, Kato can do.' As I had that conviction that there was no way the guy could get me - I was under the impression my Jiu-Jitsu was invincible -, and my brother Carlos argued: “Helio, fight this Kato, because you will win and get to fight twice rather than once” “and I ended up accepting the fight.”
The fight took place in the brand new Mario Filho stadium, the Maracanã, the biggest stadium in the world, built for the Soccer World Cup of the previous year. It was the 6th of September, and the 'O Globo' newspaper of the day posted Helio's declaration on the first page: “Today I will carry out my greatest endeavor, which is to face an element of such tremendous prestige as Kato, 5th degree black belt of only 22 years of age.” It happened that, one week earlier, Helio had fractured two ribs, during a training session. But he did not want to postpone the fight, “I'll fight any way I can. Nobody will say I'm running away.” Helio declared.
The fight ended in a draw, after three ten minute rounds. Helio insisted on saying he took a beating, by suffering more than 20 take downs. The newspapers at the time interpreted it differently. “So we arrive at the end of the first round, without seeing the Japanese fulfill his promise of winning easily and Helio, cold as ice, is already familiar with his adversary's moves. And Kato was only not beaten by pulling his attacker out of the ring, which provoked boos from the audience." (O Globo September 7th, 1951).
The fact is that Kato himself was not satisfied and proposed a revenge match, which took place in São Paulo on the 29th of the same month. Five days earlier, Helio, accompanied by his brother Carlos and student Pedro Hemeterio, left for the capital of the state by car. But not without first declaring: “I know what I will face.
I duly studied Kato's possibilities, and I can give this warning: victory, this time, is in my plans.” As we will see in greater detail ahead, the result was no different but the Brazilian's performance was impressive, despite Helio having been 17 years older and 15 kilos lighter. Helio was then coming close to ending his career as a fighter, but continued to be the answer to the test of the fundamental enigma of martial arts: “How do you defeat a bigger and stronger opponent?”
The answer started to unfold in Rio de Janeiro during the 20s, when Carlos Gracie opened his first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academy, in Rio de Janeiro. The family doctor had prohibited Helio from frequenting the academy, because of his frequent fainting spells and dizziness. “Nobody knew what it was. If I saw blood, I fainted; if I heard moans, I would pass out; I even fainted in a church, when I went to pray," he tells. "I didn't like Jiu-Jitsu, but I didn't have anything else to do except watch Carlos' classes," relates the master who, as time went by, was promoted by a student, to the status of instructor. "One day, Carlos was late, and a student arrived for his class. I was just a little bugger and ventured an offer to teach him what was on the program for the day. I did what Carlos did and answered as he would have answered. I knew everything by heart, like a parrot. Mario liked my performance and, when Carlos arrived, asked if he could have his classes with me from then on. My brother, who was tired, thought it was great," he recalls.
Helio would gain, all at once, a profession and a problem. “I started out wanting to just repeat everything Carlos did, but I couldn't. So I did it my way. It's like a strong guy that can lift a car with his hand. I would need a tire-jack. And that was how I created the Jiu-Jitsu of today," said the teacher, without knowing exactly how. "I don't know because I didn't do it using intelligence, I did it by instinct. It's like when you are sitting and cross your legs because you are tired of the position. You do it without thinking. In the same manner, I perfected the technique, without deserving any credit, as it was necessary for e. When I discovered the trick, I practiced it," he tells.
So the older brother, to truly test Helio, set up a fight against Antonio Portugal, a boxer. Despite not being able to hide his excitement with making his public debut – “Carlos asked me something and I wanted to respond but couldn't, my voice wouldn't come out,” he recalls – Helio won in seconds, with an arm-bar.
Next came his first Japanese opponent, Takashi Namiki, a black belt from the famous Kodokan school, in Tokyo. The two met in the João Caetano Theater and Helio almost broke Namiki's arm in the 5th round. The time for the fight was up, and even though Helio had mounted, he had to swallow the draw.