Oftentimes, great martial artists come from humble backgrounds that people least expect. For instance, Ueshiba Morihei (the founder of Aikido) and Kano Jigoro (the founder of Judo) were both somewhat sickly kids. The same can be said of Helio Gracie—a frail child in the streets of Brazil who later became the founder of one of the most adept martial arts styles (the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). Here is an overview of his story:
Helio Gracie was born on 1st October 1913 in Belem do Para, Brazil. At the age of 16, he had an opportunity to teach Jiu Jutsu class (judo was simply referred to as Kano Jiu Jitsu) and through the experience he gained developed Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Due to his health conditions, Hélio could not physically train like his brothers. However, his martial arts prospects changed when Mario Brandt (a Brazilian bank director) arrived late for private classes in the original Gracie Academy as scheduled. Because Hélio’s brother, Tardy Carlos, wasn’t around, he offered to begin classes with the bank director. When Carlos later arrived offering his apologies, the bank director assured him that there wasn’t any problem and requested to continue his classes with Hélio. Carlos consented and that’s how Hélio became an instructor.
Despite the fact that he was acquainted with the theoretical aspects of the techniques, the moves were challenging to execute. Consequently, he began adapting a new brand of Judo for his physical attributes —the Maeda’s brand of Judo. From his many trial and error experiments, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was developed. The new technique gave smaller and considerably weaker practitioners the opportunity to defend themselves and even challenge and defeat bigger opponents.
Hélio’s fighting career began when he submitted renowned boxer, Antonio Portugal in 30 seconds in the year 1932. He fought 20 professional fights in his entire career, won 10, drew 8, and lost 2 fights. His diminutive most famous fight came in 1951 in a loss against one of the greatest Judokas of all time, Masahiko Kimura. Based on the fight’s agreement, Gracie would be considered to have won if he was to last for more than 3 minutes. Although he took a considerable share of lumps in the fight and being thrown on several occasions, he lasted for a whooping thirteen minutes till Kimura sunk in the famous reverse ude garami. Gracie still refused to tap and ended with a broken arm. In honor of the move and the fight, the reverse ude garami became to be known as the Kimura lock (or simply Kimura).
Helio Gracie died on 29th January 2009 in his sleep in Petropolis, Brazil of what his family described as natural causes. Ten days before his demise, he could be found training Jiu Jitsu, making him somehow of an anomaly.
Helio Gracie Documentary Video