The History of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu – Pt 3

The History of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu - Pt 3

The Gracies face opposition

The Gracie’s were not the only ones doing Jiu-Jitsu in the world during the 1900’s, and certainly not the only one’s doing Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, they were just the most popular. Early members of the Gracie family in Brazil were political figures and very involved in the community where they lived. Among Helio’s first students were Governor of Rio, Carlos Lacerda, and President, Joao Figueiredo. There were many Japanese immigrants practicing Judo and Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil and a new form of “free fighting” was also developing in Brazil at this time. The Brazilians developed a system of fighting called Luta Livre (Free Fight), and if you ask a Gracie, they might tell you that Luta Livre is from Jiu-Jitsu, if you ask a Luta Livre practitioner, he might tell you something different. There is a large rivalry between the two styles, but the truth of the matter is that the styles are very similar. I heard from a few sources that Luta Livre was developed from Wrestling and Judo in Brazil. Luta Livre is practiced without the gi or kimono. While I was in Brazil, I passed down a street in Bahia (which is where Capoeira also comes from) named after one of the great Vale Tudo (meaning “anything goes”) fighters of the mid 1900’s named Valdimar Santana, who was responsible for one of Helio Gracie’s only defeats. I’ve heard some Brazilians call him a Luta Livre fighter, others say he was a Judoka, and the Gracies say he was a Jiu-Jitsu player. During Valdimar’s fight with Helio Gracie, after over an hour, Helio’s corner was forced to throw in the towel. I’ve read that Valdimar Santana was one of Helio’s students, but have heard different as well. Carlson Gracie would later avenge Helio’s defeat by defeating Valdimar Santana in a No Rules fight. The other famous victory over the Gracie family in the early part of the art’s development occurred in 1951. After defeating a famous Judo player named Kato, Helio issued a challenge to another Japanese fighter named Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was concerned about taking the fight because he felt Helio would be hard to submit. A friend of Yamaguchi named Masahiko Kimura (5’6″ 185 Lbs.) stepped up to face Helio in his place. The fight between Helio and Kimura resulted in a win for Kimura by TKO after Helio’s side threw in the towel. Kimura applied udegarami (a shoulder lock now called the Kimura), an arm lock to Helio’s left arm, breaking it. Helio was commended for not giving up, but still suffered a defeat, nonetheless.

An interesting event occurred later in the 1950’s when Kimura ended up facing Valdimar Santana in a No Holds Barred Match. He describes the name of the fighter as Adema, but I assume that this is a spelling mistake made in the translation due to the description being identical to Valdimar right down to the place he resided. Kimura describes the match in this excerpt taken from his biography “My Judo”. I debated for a while about whether to include this, but it was so interesting, hard to find in print, and so historically significant that I had to share it with you. This excerpt really gives a lot of insight as to what was happening in Brazil during this time period, and gives an idea about how far ahead of the U.S. and Japan that Brazil was in Mixed Martial Arts fighting. The next two and three-quarter pages are taken directly from Kimura’s book, My Judo.


“My opponent Adema (Valdimar) Santana was a 25 year old black man, and was a boxing heavy weight champion. He was 4th dan in judo, and a capoeira champion as well. He was 183cm had a well proportioned impressive physique. His weight was close to 100kg. Bahia, where the match took place, is a port city where black slaves were unloaded. The slaves were forbidden to carry a weapon. As a result, many martial arts were developed by them, I heard. Vale Tudo is one of such martial arts. In the south of Sao Paulo, pro wrestling is popular. But the farther one goes to the north, the more popular Vale Tudo becomes. Helio Gracie, whom I had previously fought, was the champion in Vale Tudo. But Adema Santana challenged him the previous year (Note: 1957), and after 2 hours and 10 minutes, Helio got kicked in the abdomen, could not get up, and got knocked out. Thus, Adema had become the new champion. In Vale Tudo, no foul is allowed. 1 foul results in an immediate disqualification. No shoes are allowed. When the fighters are separated, they are not allowed to strike with a fist, and they have to use open hand strikes. But once they get in contact with each other, every type of strike is allowed but groin strikes. All types of throws and joint locks are legal. The winner is decided when one of the fighters is KO’d or surrenders. Biting and hair pulling were illegal. Since bare-knuckle punches are traded, taking direct 2 or 3 hits in the eye means the end of the fight. I was told there have been many cases in which a fighter got hit in the eye with an elbow, and the eyeball popped out from the socket by half, and got carried to the hospital by an ambulance. Therefore, there were always 2 ambulances at the entrance of the arena.

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“I have no choice. I will fight.” I said. Then, the promoter grinned, took out a form and told me to sign it. Yano translated the content, which said, “Even if I die in this match, it is what I intended, and will not make anyone accountable for my death.” I nodded, and signed the form. On my way to the ring, someone raised his arm and waved at me. It was Helio Gracie, whom I had not seen for several years. Helio was at the radio broadcast seat. He was the commentator of the match. The gong rang. Adema and I circled the ring first. I lightly extended my fingers in a half-body posture, and prepared for his kicks. Adema, also in a half-body posture, had tucked his chin, tightened his underarms, as he would do in a boxing match. Once in a while, he delivered high kicks to my face.

“I blocked the kicks with my hands, and returned a kick with my right leg. Adema started to deliver right and left roundhouse kicks. I stepped back and dodged them, but suddenly, I received a fire-like impact on my face. It was an open hand strike. I had overlooked his hand motion, paying too much attention to his kicks. When I got hit in the temple, and the core of my head became a blur, left and right roundhouse kicks came. When I blocked his right kick with my left hand, a tremendous pain ran through from the tip of the little finger to the back of the hand. I had jammed the finger. I traded kicks with him. The entire audiences were standing with excitement. Even in this situation, I was able to think clearly. While I was thinking ‘Adema is one level higher than I both in kicks and open hand strikes. In order to win, I must take the fight to the ground,’ another fast kick flew at my abdomen.

“I struck the kick down with left knife hand, and jumped in to deliver a head butt on his abdomen with a momentum that could penetrate through his body. This must have had an effect on him. He covered his abdomen, and stepped back while wobbling. I wanted to get close to him, throw him, get on top of him, and use Newaza. If I succeed in this, I could use elbow strikes and head butts. Adema recovered from the damage, and delivered a kick to my face again. I ducked the kick, and jumped in for a clinch. I got in a tight clinch to prevent him from using knee kicks or elbow strikes. We traversed along the rope. All of a sudden, I received a head cracking impact. I experienced a tremendous ear ringing, and got momentarily unconscious. I received a head butt on my left temple. It was a head butt from a side. I had thought that all the head butts would come from front. I never knew a side head butt. ‘I cannot lose here. I must win even if I may die,’ I thought. Driven by this will power, I tried to find a way to fight back. The referee then came in between to separate us. We were already covered with blood. The fight was brought back to the center of the ring again. Adema threw a right open hand strike. I caught the arm and attempted Ippon-seoi. It seemed like I could score a clean throw. However, it was a miscalculation. We were both heavily covered with sweat as if a large amount of water had been poured onto our heads. Moreover, he had no jacket on. There was no way such a technique could have worked under these conditions. His arm slipped through, and my body rotated in the air once forward, and landed on my back. ‘I screwed up!’ I shouted in my mind, but it was too late. Adema immediately jumped at me. If he got on my chest, he could freely strike my eyes, nose, and chest with his elbows.”

I caught him in a body scissors. I squeezed his body with full force hoping to sever his intestine. Adema crumbled momentarily, but did not surrender. Since the body scissors did not finish him, I realized that I was in a disadvantageous position. When I lifted my head, hundreds of stars flew out of my eyes. I took a straight punch between my nose and my eyes. It was an accurate intense punch. The back of my head got slammed onto the mat.

“Moreover, an intense head butt attacked my abdomen. It felt like my organs would be torn into pieces. Once, twice, I hardened my abdominal muscles to withstand the impact, and waited for the 3rd attack. At the moment the 3rd head butt came, my right fist accurately caught Adema’s face by counter. It landed between his nose and eyes. Blood splattered. I had also already been heavily covered with blood. The blood interfered with my vision. ‘Kill him, kill him!’ the devil in my mind screamed. Adema wobbled, and stepped back, and tried to run with the ropes on his back. I chased him throwing kicks and open hand strikes. He returned head butts and elbow strikes. But, neither of us was able to deliver a decisive strike. Maybe we were both exhausted, or maybe the blood in our eyes prevented us from aiming clearly at the target. After all, the 40 minutes ran out, and the match ended in a draw. It was my first Vale Tudo experience. That night, my face was badly swollen. I had a number of cuts on my face. Every time I breathed, an excruciating pain ran through my belly, and I could not sleep. I received an injection from a doctor, and cooled my belly with a cold towel all night. However, I learned a very important lesson in this fight. That is, one must never fear death. If I had not had the iron will to fight despite the possibility of getting killed, his head butts would have torn my intestine into pieces.” – (From My Judo, by Masahiko Kimura , 1985)

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Carlson Gracie Comments on his fights with Valdemar Santana:

“Valdemar was a student of the family for twelve or thirteen years. He fought more than 20 times for our academy. What happened was, he had a disagreement with Helio Gracie, and they decided to fight Vale-Tudo, and Valdemar won. In fact, I was a friend of his, and told him: “look Valdemar, we are friends, but now I can’t let it pass, you beat Helio, now your going to have to fight me. I have nothing against you, but in the ring, I’m going to beat the shit out of you!” And I did. I fought against him six times. I won four times, and two were a draw. He was tough shit. If it were today, he would be one of the best fighters”. (From O’Tatame magazine (Brazil) Translated by Tatiana Andres, 1997)

Besides Helio’s defeats (where it is interesting to note that he did not actually submit to either opponent) the Gracies remained undefeated for the most part in Vale Tudo (no holds bared) matches, until another Japanese fighter would give them some trouble. After the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States, Japan started to host a series of Vale Tudo tournaments, one fighter in particular started grabbing everyone’s attention, and his name was Kazushi Sakuraba. Sakuraba was not the biggest fighter on the scene, but he was creative and experienced. Sakuraba represented the sport of Japanese Wrestling, which is very different from American wrestling in many ways, the biggest difference being that Japanese wrestlers have an outstanding knowledge of submission holds. The Wrestling style that Sakuraba practiced looked almost exactly like Jiu-Jitsu, and during my research for this book, I’ve stumbled across more than one article that states Sakuraba had trained Jiu-Jitsu quite extensively. Sakuraba had been winning no holds barred matches against some formidable opponents in Japan, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Conan Silvera, whom he beat with a Juji Gatame, or in Portuguese, Chave Braco, a standard move in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It wasn’t long before Sakuraba and the Japanese press set their sights on the Gracie family. Sakuraba’s first victory over a Gracie family member was over Royler. Sakuraba outweighed Royler by at least forty pounds. The fight ended in a very controversial referee stoppage, over which Royler appeared to be very upset about. The second was to Royce; this fight lasted about an hour and thirty minutes until Royce’s corner threw in the towel. To Royce’s credit, Sakuraba was not able to submit him and Royce fought very well. The third was to Renzo Gracie. Renzo was fighting very well until Sakuraba applied the same lock he used to defeat Royler; the lock was applied standing and when the two fell to the floor, the fall broke Renzo’s arm. Once again, the Gracie family member did not submit, and the referee stopped the fight. The fourth was to Ryan Gracie who lost the fight after suffering an injury to his shoulder and after time expired by judge’s decision. I have researched a couple of sources that claim a famed BJJ black belt named Sergio Penha was actually training Sakuraba and that this aided him in his victories.

To the Gracie family’s credit, I have not seen members of the Gracie family ‘lose’ very often. There are incidences in sport Jiu-Jitsu where a Gracie family member will lose to another Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player, but that is Jiu-Jitsu losing to Jiu-Jitsu. Dan Henderson’s victory over Renzo Gracie is one of the few I can recall where anyone outside of the sport of Jiu-Jitsu or the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu defeated a Gracie family member.

Jiu-Jitsu has now developed beyond the Gracie family and with all appropriate respect and thanks to them, it moves forward and progresses through the teachings of instructors from all parts of the world. It wasn’t until this happened that people from outside the art of Jiu-Jitsu started claiming victories over Gracie family members. By introducing the Brazilian style of Jiu-Jitsu to North America, the Gracie family opened the door to great financial rewards and the problems that would come with success.

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Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was introduced to the United States in the 1970’s, but was not made popular until 1993, when Royce Gracie defeated opponents from other martial arts in a contest called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This type of fighting was known in Brazil as Vale Tudo (anything goes) and would later become known as NHB (No Holds Barred) here in the United States. The effectiveness of the art form over so many others made Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu known to the martial arts community and the world. This was America’s first look at Mixed Martial Arts fighting. Unlike many other martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gained its reputation and popularity through effective fighting, not Hollywood movies.

In November of 1993, a large number of Americans would get their first look at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu … it wasn’t pretty. For years in the United States, the Martial Arts community had been plagued by the mystique and misconception created by Hollywood. I can remember getting into street fights as a kid and having my opponent say “OK, no Kung fu stuff!” thinking that if the other guy knew Kung fu, something terribly deadly would happen. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, and in 1993 we would all find that out. To make a long and over-told story short, Royce Grace, a thin Brazilian, was pitted against champions of Kung Fu, Karate, Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling and a variety of other Martial arts in a contest called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Unlike the American No Holes Barred contests of today, Royce had to fight up to 4 times in each tournament. There were no weight classes and Royce was usually the lightest, sometimes being outweighed by 80 lbs. or more. There were very few rules: no eye gouging, no biting, and no time limits. Although this would be The United State’s first look at Brazilian Jiu-jitsu vs. other styles of Martial Arts, it was not the first time a ground fighting style would have the opportunity to show the superiority of Grappling vs. Striking alone.

In 1963, Gene Labell (a Judo player) faced a champion Boxer named Milo Savage, gaining a solid victory for Grappling enthusiasts everywhere. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was the catalyst for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the US, but after the initial boom of popularity, there would be a whole new world of problems to face. The same entrepreneurial and capitalist ideals that made America great would be a hindrance to the authenticity and quality of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the United States. Carley Gracie (Carlos’ son, Carlson’s younger brother and Roll’s older brother) was the first to bring their Brazilian style of Jiu-Jitsu to the U.S. The idea was born through his training of American Marines in Rio (in the early 1970’s) and by 1972, he was teaching Jiu-Jitsu in California. Rorion was the next to come, opening his academy in California and trade marking the Gracie name. This action would lead to a huge problem in the family; Rorian was not allowing any other members of the Gracie family to use the name, and was also accused by family members of distorting the truth about the history of the art, since he had claimed his father (Helio) was responsible for the birth of the art.

I have found through the research of this book that everyone has his/her own story, so it was most logical to go with common denominators to find the truth. Carley would later challenge Rorion to fight, as they had done when they were younger (Carley claims to have defeated Rorion previously a total of eight times), but Rorion preferred to battle it out in court. This was the second major split in the Gracie family after the first split between Carlson and Helio, but it would be the first of many to happen in the United States. Rickson came to teach as well, along with the Machado Brothers (who are related to the Gracie family as cousins), both eventually separated from Rorion due to some sort of business differences. Actually, it was Rickson (considered by many to be the champion of the family) who felt he should be the first Ultimate Fighting Champion, but Rorion was in control of the early UFC’s and decided it would be Royce who would make the point to the American public, and the rest is recent history.



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