Although the complete Gracie Family history far exceeds what is included herein, the timeline below briefly describes 12 of the most significant occurrences that took place over the three generations the Gracies have been teaching jiu-jitsu.
1925- The Gracie Academy is Born
Carlos Gracie establishes the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Carlos and his brothers taught Japanese Jiu-Jitsu techniques that Carlos learned from Esai Maeda, a Japanese immigrant. Hélio Gracie, the youngest of Carlos’ brothers, was restricted from practicing due to his small size and weak body. As a result, Hélio spent most of his time observing the lessons taught by his older brothers.
1928- The Transformation Begins
Carlos Gracie is late for a private lesson, so Hélio offers to teach the class in his brother’s absence. Although he had never practiced the techniques, he had memorized them after years of patient observation. Hélio quickly realized that he was not strong enough to successfully apply the Japanese techniques against a larger opponent. Never one to quit, Hélio sought ways to make the techniques work using leverage, timing, and natural body movements instead of strength, speed, and coordination.
1931- The First Test
Helio defeats António Portugal, a much heavier boxer. Hélio submits the boxer in minutes, proving that his improvements would enable a smaller person to defeat a larger, more athletic opponent. His victory inspired him to continue modifying the Japanese techniques until he produced an art that would enable anyone, regardless of their physical attributes, to defend themselves against a larger assailant.
1947- Hélio Gracie vs. Joe Louis
On June 6, Hélio Gracie publicly challenges world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, to a no-holds-barred fight to refute an article published in Reader’s Digest arguing for the superiority of boxing over jiu-jitsu. Joe Louis’ manager declines the invitation. Even though the fight never took place, Hélio’s challenge confirmed that he was willing to fight anyone, anytime, anywhere, in order to prove his system’s effectiveness.
1951- The Ultimate Confirmation
On October 23, Hélio Gracie fights Masahiko Kimura, the best Japanese Jiu-Jitsu fighter of his day. After more than 20 years of modifying and adapting the techniques, Hélio was very curious to see how his adaptations would fare against the world jiu-jitsu champion. Kimura, who was eighty pounds heavier than Hélio, was so confident of victory that he declared if Hélio lasted more than three minutes he should be considered the winner. Hélio frustrated Kimura for thirteen minutes before Carlos ended the fight to protect his brother from serious injury due to the shoulder lock that today bears Kimura’s name. Many consider this “defeat” to be one of Hélio’s greatest accomplishments, as Kimura was so impressed with Hélio’s technical skill that he invited him to share his improvements with his Japanese peers.
1955- The Longest Fight
On May 24, Hélio Gracie, 41, fights Waldemar Santana in the longest uninterrupted no-holds-barred fight in history. Even though retired from competition, Hélio accepted Santana’s challenge, despite being 16 years older and almost 40 pounds lighter than the former Gracie Academy student. After fighting nonstop for three hours and forty minutes, Hélio became disoriented and Carlos again ended the match to protect him. Although Santana was the victor, Hélio’s ability to fend off the attack of a younger, stronger, more athletic, highly skilled grappler for nearly four hours earned him great respect and recognition. In fact, this dramatic demonstration of his art’s effectiveness resulted in the greatest influx of students in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy’s history.
1978- The Garage Days
In the summer of 1978, Hélio’s eldest son, Rorion, leaves Brazil for the United States determined to share his father’s revolutionary system of self-defense with the rest of the world. Rorion knew that the popularization of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in the United States would open the door to worldwide exposure. He arrived in Southern California with nothing but his passion for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and his faith that he would succeed. Short on money and turned away by every martial arts school, he resorted to teaching classes in his garage. He offered a free lesson to every person he met and, within months, had a dedicated following.
1980- The Gracie Challenge
Rorion invites anyone of any size or discipline to fight him to prove his superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu over all other martial arts. Rorion derived the Gracie Challenge from his frustration with America’s misplaced belief in the effectiveness of flashy martial arts that used high-flying kicks and brick breaking to prove their worth. Following the first generation’s example, Rorion issued the Gracie Challenge as the supreme statement of his confidence in his family’s system of fighting. Martial artists of all disciplines flocked to the challenge, and were shocked as the gentle, efficient techniques of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu defeated all-comers.
1989- The Grand Opening
Rorion, with brothers Rickson, Royce, and Royler, opens the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance, California, to meet the overwhelming demand for instruction in this unique Brazilian self-defense system. Local martial artists quickly grasped this significance of the stunning Gracie Jiu-Jitsu victories over heavy-hitting opponents. With 130 students training in the garage, and 80 more on a waiting list, Rorion established what would eventually become the world headquarters for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
1993- The Global Awakening
On November 12, Rorion Gracie changes the martial arts world forever with the airing of the Ultimate Fighting Championship® (UFC®). In the 1970s and 80s, the popularity of Hollywood martial arts hatched hundreds of fighting styles, with each claiming to be superior to all others. Rorion sought to end the debate over which art was superior once and for all by pitting masters against each other in a true no-holds-barred setting. The results of Rorion’s eight-man, single elimination tournament shocked the world, as Royce Gracie-the smallest and most unassuming fighter in the competition-emerged victorious. Royce’s victory, as had Hélio’s victories before him, proved that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was not only the most reliable system of self-defense, but also the only system that gives the average person a realistic chance against a larger, more athletic opponent.
1994- The U.S. Army Goes Gracie
The U.S. Army, the world’s most powerful army, chooses Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as the basis for its military combatives program. Members of U.S. Army Special Operations units charged with finding the most effective combatives systems selected Gracie Jiu-Jitsu based on its demonstrated effectiveness. They asked Rorion to develop an intensive training course that would prepare soldiers for hand-to-hand combat in the least amount of time. After thoroughly analyzing hundreds of fights, Rorion identified 36 techniques that were used more often and with more success than all others. He crafted a short course based on these techniques, and presented it to the Army. These techniques now serve as the foundation for the U.S. Army’s Modern Army Combatives Program, and have been adopted by hundreds of military and law enforcement organizations around the world. Today, through the Gracie Combatives program, they are available to private citizens seeking maximum self-defense skills in the shortest amount of time.
2008- The Global Training Program
Rorion’s sons, Ryron and Rener, launch the Global Training Program to preserve the effectiveness of the art as a self-defense system. The demand for Gracie or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instruction continues to grow, mostly as a result of its popularity as a sport. The unchecked growth and emphasis on competition, however, has resulted in the modification of many techniques without regard for the foundational principles of street applicability, energy efficiency, and natural body movements. Students are learning moves that rely more on sheer athleticism than on leverage and technique, and unknowingly develop reflexes that could lead to their demise in a real fight. To counter this disturbing trend, the brothers developed the Global Training Program aimed at preserving and perpetuating the complete Gracie Jiu-Jitsu curriculum, in its purest form.
2018- Origin Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is Born
Josh & Meg co-found Origin Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Set to bring Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to UK, as the only Level 4 CTC in the whole of the UK. Josh receives his Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt.