The roots of jiu-jitsu tree were said to have originated in the mountains of india 2500 years ago. They supposedly stretched throughout China, and about 400 years ago settled in Japan where they found the soil to grow strong.
In 1801, George Gracie arrived in Brazil from Scotland. He came to the new land looking for adventure and opportunity. He had no idea that his descendants would one day form the largest fighting dynasty of all time. One of Georges’s grandchildren, Gastao Gracie, was groomed to be a diplomat, He studied in Germany and some seven languages fluently, Eventually, however, he decided not to pursue a diplomatic career and became a businessman instead.
It wasn’t until the early 1900s that a seed from the strong Japanese jiu-jitsu tree found its way to South America, more specifically, the Amazon region. Mistuyo Maeda was a jiu-jitsu teacher who was aiding a Japanese immigration colony in northern Brazil. Maeda was known to have participated in no-rules challenge matches where he demonstrated the effectiveness of jiu-jitsu.
At that time, Gastao was living in the city of Belem, in the state of Para, by the delta of the Amazon River. Fate would bring the two men together when Gastao helped Maeda get established in his new land. To express his gratitude, Maeda introduced Gastao’s oldest son Carlos, who was in his early teens, fell in love with jiu-jitsu and dedicated all his energy to his newly-discovered passion.
He continued practicing for the next few years until the family moved to south to Rio de Janeiro. Carlos was the oldest of eight children, five of whom were boys. When the family settled in Rio, they faced some financial difficulties, which led young Carlos to look for additional sources of income. He took this opportunity to make money doing what he enjoyed – teaching jiu-jitsu. In order to establish credibility for his teachings, Carlos led his brothers in a series of challenges against all comers.
The youngest of the five Gracie brothers, Helio, was a physically frail child. He would run up a flight of stairs and have fainting spells. Nobody could figure out why. When he was about eight years old, after completing second grade, he convinced his mother, Cesalina, that he shouldn’t go to school anymore. After a few years, when he was fourteen, Helio moved in with his older brothers who lived and taught jiu-jitsu in a house in Botafogo, a borough of Rio de Janeiro. He spent the next few years watching his brothers teach, since doctors had recmmended they keep Helio away from any physical activity, including jiu-jitsu training.
One day, when Helio was sixteen years old, a student showed up for his class with Carlos, who was not there. Helio, who memorised all the moves of his older brother, offered to start the class, and the student accepted. When the class was over, Carlos showed up and was very apologetic for his delay. The student answered, “No problem. I enjoyed the class the class with Helio very much. If you don’t mind, I’d like to continue having classes with him from now on.” Carlos agreed. Ironically, Helio Gracie had just been promoted to instructor level by a student!
Heiio soon realised that some of the techniques he had memorised from watching Carlos teach were not very easy for him to execute. In a relentless quest to find answers that would guarantee effectiveness for jiu-jitsu techniques, Helio dared to break away from the traditional jiu-jitsu his brothers had learned and taught. He started to adapt the moves so that he could execute them despite his weak body. He did so through trial and error and by incorporating leverage, which reduced the amount of strength necessary for the execution of the technique.
Text credited to the world famous Gracie jiu-jitsu book.
Helio Gracie vs Waldemar Santana (The world’s longest fight, over 3 hours long)
Helio Gracie & Masahiko Kimura