Major Historical Rivalries in Jiu-Jitsu

Geo Omori vs. Gracie Brothers

Geo Omori vs. Gracie Brothers
Geo Omori vs. Gracie Brothers

Geo Omori was a Japanese Judoka who had immigrated to Brazil.  He was the King of Mixed Martial Arts during the early craze of Vale Tudo in Brazil (during the 1920’s).   Geo would bring forth the claim that Carlos Gracie was not instructed in Jiu-jitsu under Maeda and if he was (instructed in Jiu-Jitsu) it wasn’t for that long.  Geo Omori had been teaching Judo/Jujitsu since 1909 in Brazil.  Geo Omori was one of the main instructors of Luiz França who would go on to teach Oswaldo Fadda (the man who is a primary founder (not popularized) of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu).   Known as the original Gracie Hunter, Geo made no qualms about fighting members of the Gracie family. Geo Omori would draw against Carlos Gracie.  He would also force a draw against Helio.  Geo Omori would draw against George Gracie and later lose to George when Geo wouldn’t answer the bell in a 10 round fight.  Geo Omori would die in 1938 as a result of food poisoning.

George “Jorge” Gracie vs. Carlos Gracie

Unbeknownst to many practitioners of BJJ, George Gracie was the first individual to master what we now know as Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. George was highly adept at learning and applying the techniques of BJJ.  He also had the most fights out of the original Gracie brothers.  George Gracie was not opposed to learning other styles of fighting such as Luta Livre (a mix of catch wrestling with judo done without a GI) and fighting under their rule set. George ignored Carlos Gracie’s “Gracie diet”, choosing to eat and drink what he pleased.  This upset Carlos Gracie who felt George should focus purely on Jiu-Jitsu.  After much squabbling, George replaced Carlos as his manager (claiming Carlos was taking a large cut of money as his manager), while Carlos claimed George was no longer a representative of the Gracie tradition.   George would continue fighting and teaching throughout Brazil.  They would both mend ways and reignite angers throughout their lifetime.  George would be one of the few 10th degree black belts in BJJ.       

George Gracie vs. Helio Gracie   

George Gracie was the most prolific fighter of the original Gracie brothers.  Helio Gracie on the other hand was most loyal to Carlos Gracie (having even raised some of Carlos’ 20+ kids), and is claimed to have refined the techniques of Carlos Gracie.  When George Gracie left the family fold, Helio went on to carry the tradition created by Carlos Gracie.  When a promoter offered money for the brothers to fight, George accepted but Helio declined.  Helio would take on other fights but refused to fight George.  George would go on to open up a Jiu-jitsu academy in many areas including in Rio de Janeiro using the Gracie name.  This upset Helio and Carlos as it used the Gracie name but also because it was cheaper.  George’s lineage in BJJ has been limited in that his students primarily taught for self defense (rather than sport) he only had daughters to carry on his name, but because of the bitter rivalry with his brothers.

Helio Gracie vs. Oswaldo Fadda


  Oswaldo Fadda was a student of Luiz Franca, who was a student of Maeda as well as Geo Omori.   Oswaldo made it a point to spread teach Jiu-jitsu to the poor of the favelas and the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. To be noted is that the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro are the poorer areas while the center tends to be a richer area (which is where Helio’s (and Carlos’) students tended to be from).  Due to the lack of respect, Oswaldo Fadda issued a challenge to Helio Gracie’s school.  Helio accepted the challenge and the matches were set in Helio’s academy.  Helio’s students would yell “sapato olho roxo” (which means shoe shiner – a poor man’s occupation.)  Osvaldo’s students proceeded to win 19 of 20 matches often via the use of leg locks.  Depending on whom you ask, Helio was also defeated by Oswaldo.  Each school would go on to teach their respective styles of BJJ.  Helio would state publicly in the 1950’s that “All you need is one Fadda to show that Jiu-Jitsu is not the Gracie’s privilege.”  It is because of Oswaldo’s students being able to effectively defeat the Gracie’s using attacks such as the knee reap that many of them were later deemed to be illegal in BJJ competition.

Helio Gracie vs. Yukio Kato

Helio Gracie vs. Yukio Kato
Helio Gracie vs. Yukio Kato

Helio Gracie issued a challenge to a contingent of Japanese Judoka which included Yamaguchi, Kato, and Kimura in the 1950’s.  The first being, 5th degree Judo black belt Yukio Kato.  The Gracie claim was that Helio was considerably smaller than Kato, but a look at any film shows that Helio was almost a head taller than Kato.  With the first fight ending in a three round draw on Sept 6, 1951.  Helio Gracie demanded a rematch which would occur about three weeks later on September 29, 1951.  This match went on for several minutes when a key element occurred.  In the book, “The Toughest Man Who Ever Lived,” Kato had done several throws and attempted to choke Helio.  Both fighters had gone through the ropes, which caused the referee to call for a stop to the action so that he could drag both of the fighters back into the center of the ring.   During this time, Helio sunk in his own choke and Kato proceeded to pass out. The infraction wasn’t called and Gracie was declared the winner.  The lesson, protect yourself at all times.

Helio Gracie vs. Masahiko Kimura

Helio Gracie vs. Masahiko Kimura
Helio Gracie vs. Masahiko Kimura

Kimura was a retired All Japan Judo Champion who went to Brazil as part of a good will contingent to continue to spread Judo throughout the world.  The Gracie’s issued a challenge in an effort to showcase their talents as well as to make money.   After gaining a draw, Helio was able to defeat of Yukio Kato and went on to challenge Kimura.  The Gracie’s were excellent showman and promoters (from their circus show background).   Gracie attempted to bait Kimura by bringing in a coffin to the ring.   It has been argued that the Gracie’s knew that an even retired Kimura was far too dangerous for Helio who hadn’t faced such high level competition.   Consequently, they had placed in soft mats in order to soften the slams of Kimura (The Pyjama Game: A Journey into Judo).  Additionally it has been said that Kimura agreed to carry Helio for at least 10 minutes so that the fans would not get upset.  In the end, Kimura beat Helio by the now famous “kimura” submission.  The moral and monetary victory went to the Gracie’s as they marketed this loss as a moral victory and made millions as a result of that fight throughout the years.

Helio Gracie vs. Waldemar Santana

Helio Gracie vs. Waldemar Santana
Helio Gracie vs. Waldemar Santana

Waldemar Santana was a capoeira fighter, who worked as a janitor at the Gracie academy.  He would eventually become a student and later an instructor at the academy.  One day, Helio embarrassed Waldemar Santana by publically berating him because Waldemar mistakenly left a sink on in the Gracie Academy.  Alternate theories suggest it was a result of racial bias as Helio was light skinned Brazilian and Santana a dark skinned Brazilian.   Waldemar Santana trained at another school and later put out a challenge to Helio Gracie.  At the time of the match, Helio was 41 while Waldemar was 26.   Helio agreed and a no rules Vale Tudo match was agreed to.  The match lasted for 3 hours and ended when Waldemar landed a kick to Helio’s head, which serve to knock Helio out.    

Carlson Gracie vs. Waldemar Santana   

Carlson Gracie vs. Waldemar Santana
Carlson Gracie vs. Waldemar Santana

The story goes that Carlson put out the challenge to fight Waldemar after he had defeated Helio.  Carlos Gracie offered a huge sum of money if Carlson didn’t finish Waldemar Santana.  Carlson was unable to finish Waldemar and the fight was declared a draw. Consequently, Carlos lost a huge sum of money.  The second fight in 1956, Waldemar’s corner threw in the towel.  Sometime later, a third fight occurred and this resulted in a draw.  Strangely enough Carlson Gracie never avenged the embarrassment that Helio Gracie suffered under Kimura (even though Waldemar Santana was able to fight Kimura).   

Carlos Gracie’s children vs. Helio Gracie’s children

The bad blood between the children of Carlos Gracie and Helio Gracie came out as a result of Helio’s children not giving the proper respect to Carlos. It was Carlson (who fought Waldemar) while none of Helio’s children sought  to avenge Helio’s loss to Waldemar Santana  Helio’s children claim that Helio improved and perfected the BJJ that Carlos had taught to him.  Carlson would claim that his style (and lineage) of BJJ (utilizing speed, power, and athleticism) was superior to that of Helio’s (utilizing a slow attrition based method).

Carlson Gracie (the son of Carlos Gracie) has publically stated that Royce Gracie didn’t give his father the proper respect.  Carlos stated in an interview that Royce was not the amazing fighter in Brazil that he is in America.  He stated that Royce lost continuously in BJJ matches against competition like De La Riva and Paschoal.   This would culminate with Wallid Ismail, a student of Carlson Gracie and Georges Mehdi, issuing a challenge and defeating Royce via choke.

BJJ vs. Luta Livre

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became battle tested due in large part to its fierce rivalry with grapplers from the Brazilian style known as Luta Livre.  Luta Livre was a no-GI grappling style which also incorporated striking. Luta Livre was popular amongst the poorer areas of Rio de Janeiro.  Some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters would say Luta Livre was for people who were too poor to afford a GI.  Luta Livre, which translates into free fight, was developed in Rio de Janeiro by Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem.  Hatem mixed catch wrestling with Judo to create Luta Livre.  He used his unique style to defeat George Gracie in 1940, and helped push the popularity of Luta Livre.  George Gracie was so impressed by Luta Livre that to the dismay of Carlos and Helio Gracie, he trained in it.  Waldemar Santana was trained in boxing, Luta Livre, Capoeira, and Jiu-jitsu, which he used to defeat Helio Gracie.  Carlson Gracie, using BJJ, would fight to two draws, and one win against Luta Livre and BJJ fighter, Waldemar Santana.  Carlson would later lose to Luta Livre fighter Euclides Pereira.   Rickson Gracie would attack and beat Hugo Duarte on a beach; later he would use a video of the fight as a marketing tool to sell Gracie Jiu-Jitsu tapes via mail order.  Luta Livre would have the most victories in Vale Tudo while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu would have the most losses.     The last great clash between the styles occurred in 1997’s Pentagon Combat, during a Vale Tudo match involving BJJ practitioners and Luta Livre fighters, a riot ensued.  In the end BJJ earned won the popularity contest due to the marketing skills of the Gracie’s.

Rorian Gracie vs. Carley Gracie (trademark)

Rorian Gracie (son of Helio Gracie) who had a Bachelor in Law in Brazil visited the United States in the 1960’s and permanently settled there in 1978.  Rorian would obtain a trademark and service mark for various Gracie related items included the name Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in 1988 and 1989.   He would later co-found the UFC and pushed forth his father Helio as the main innovator of BJJ.  He would additionally bar other Gracie’s from using the name Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.  Carley Gracie (son of Carlos Gracie and regarded as the Lion of the Gracie family) had arrived in the United States in 1972 and would teach classes since that time.  In 1994-2000 Carley Gracie sued Rorian Gracie over the trademark.   The court ruled in favor of Carley Gracie in terms of the name Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the Gracie Triangle (designed by Carley’s brother Rolls Gracie) in favor of Rorian Gracie.  In 2011, Rorian was able to obtain a court ruling in his favor against Black Silver Enterprises over the term Gracie as well as Gracie Gear.  This though is likely not the end of the Gracie vs. Gracie feud.

Royce Gracie vs. Rener Gracie and Ryron Gracie

Royce Gracie was engaged in a dispute with his nephews, Rener Gracie and Ryron Gracie over their creation and use of Gracie University.  Gracie University was developed by Rener Gracie and Ryron Gracie to teach Brazilian Jiu-jitsu online, earn rank, and promotions.  Royce, more of a traditionalist believed that should not be the case.

Rener posted

“Some people do not understand that online study is even more effective than learning in the traditional school. In a live class, there are students of all stripes, and the teacher gives the same lesson for everyone….”

Royce stated

“….It’s a shame when your own family changes the concepts of everything you stood for then uses your name and then is actually trying to convince the world that it’s better to learn from a screen then a person specially the art as complex and technical as jiu-jitsu….”

Ryron responded with

“Criticism without comprehension leads to meaningless conversation. Those who do not comprehend and the Keepitplayful movement should look to understand and then comment/criticize.”   

This story goes in the tradition of the Gracie vs. Gracie family rivalry.   Who knows, maybe a match will come of it.   


  1. UFC cofounder, Art Davie, claims in his tell-all book, “Is This Legal”, that Rickson Gracie was very resentful that despite being the best technical fighter out of Helio’s clan that he was passed over in favor of Royce to represent and promote Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

    He also claims that the family is not as tight-knit as they have attempted to portray by walking in a human train into the ring in the early UFC. That there were squabbles over money between UFC cofounder, Rorion, and brother Rickson which ultimately led to Royce being the representative and Rickson relegated to being Royce’s trainer.


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