In the early 1900s, a Japanese jiu-jitsu instructor by the name of Esai Maeda went to the state of Para in Northern Brazil. There, he befriended Gastao Gracie, an influential businessman, who helped the Japanese get established. To show his gratitude, Maeda, also known as "Count Koma," offered to teach the traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu to Gastao's oldest son, Carlos.
The youngest son of Gastao and Cesalina Gracie's eight children, Helio was always a very physically frail child. He would run up a flight of stairs and have fainting spells. Nobody could figure out why. So, after completing second grade, he convinced his mother that he shouldn't go to school any more.
When the family experienced some financial hardships following their move to Rio, some of the children were scattered to live with other relatives. Helio was sent to live with some aunts and through these family contacts, he found work as a coxman for a popular local rowing team, eventually moving into the team dorms. His indomitable spirit, great sense of humor and tireless aptitude to drive people nuts, earned him the nickname of "Caxinguele," which means "squirrel." He raised hell!
After a couple of years, when he was about 14, he moved in with his older brothers who lived and taught jiu-jitsu in a house in Botafogo, a borough of Rio de Janeiro. He would spend the next few years limited to only watching his brothers teach, especially Carlos, since doctors had recommended that they keep Helio away from any physical activity.
One day when he was 16 years old, a student showed up for class and Carlos was not around. Helio, who had memorized all the moves and words of his older brother, offered to start the class. When the class was over, Carlos showed up very apologetic for his delay. The student answered, "No problem. I enjoyed the class with Helio very much and, if you don't mind, I'd like to continue with him." Carlos agreed and Helio became an instructor.
He soon realized that some of the techniques he had memorized from watching Carlos teach were not very easy for him to execute. He then started to adapt those moves to his frail body's abilities, improving the leverage in the execution of some of those techniques. He dared to break away from the traditional jiu-jitsu his brothers had learned and were teaching, and through trial and error, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was born.
Helio eventually fought 17 fights including matches against the world wrestling champion, Wladek Zbyszko. and a qualifying fight against the #2 jiu-jitsu fighter in the world, Kato, who Helio choked unconscious in 6 minutes. This victory enabled him to enter the ring with the world champion, Masahiko Kimura, who outweighed Helio by over 80 pounds. Helio Gracie holds the record for the longest match in history for a battle against his former student, Waldemar Santana, which lasted an amazing 3 hours and 40 minutes!
Helio, the first sports hero in Brazilian history, also challenged boxing icons Primo Carnera, Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles. They all declined.
Outside of the ring, always looking for a challenge, he enjoyed breaking wild horses and bulls. In an event worthy of a Hollywood movie, he once jumped into shark infested waters in the Atlantic Ocean to save a man's life, which earned him a medal of honor.
Helio's relentless contribution to the perfection of jiu-jitsu techniques, his philosophy on life and his unique teaching methodology have been an example for his children and his students worldwide. These are the pillars on which the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy was built. Helio lived to be 95 years old and although he is no longer with us his legacy lives on in the Gracie Family.
Royce Gracie was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and is one of nine children, seven of whom are boys. His training in Jiu-Jitsu began at a very early age as a game with his father Helio. He never pushed any of the children to take formal classes until they wanted to do so. However, they often went to the Academy in Rio after school and on weekends.
Royce began competing in tournaments at age eight. He received his blue belt at age 16 and was promoted to black belt in less than two years. Royce moved to the United States at age 18 to live with his brother, Rorion. They began teaching private classes out of their garage, sometimes for more than ten hours a day. Together they opened the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy twenty years ago in Torrance, California. Although Royce no longer teaches there, it remains one of the largest martial arts schools in the country.
Royce’s reputable career as a fighter began in 1993 after defeating three opponents in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in Denver, Colorado. His brother Rorion came up with this innovative challenge as a way to show Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the world. Discipline after discipline was defeated by the slight 6’1”, 180 pound Royce Gracie. The viewers were in awe.
His opponents consistently outweighed him by more than 50 pounds. He went on to win 3 UFC titles and today is the only man in the history of no holds barred matches to successfully defeat four opponents in one night. After leaving the UFC Royce went on to compete in MMA events in Japan and is a huge icon in this country.
Royce is still active in the fight world and holds the record for the longest MMA match in history: 90 minutes against Japanese superstar Kazushi Sakuraba in PRIDE Grand PRIX 2000. He also showed total domination of the Olympic Judo Gold Medalist Hidehiko Yoshida. His largest opponent was Sumo Grand Champion Akebono, 6' 8" 486lbs. Royce vs. Akebono was the main event of K-1 Premium Dynamite New Years Eve show on New Year's Eve in 2004. Royce defeated the giant in just 2min and 13sec with a shoulder lock. Royce’s continued success has opened the eyes of many disbelievers to the importance of leverage and technique in grappling.
In November of 2003, Royce Gracie was the first fighter to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame along with fellow UFC veteran Ken Shamrock. Since then Royce's face has been seen on countless martial arts magazines such as Black Belt, Inside MMA and Tapout. He has also been featured in Men's Health and Fitness and GQ. His recognition spans the globe to include fans on most every continent.
Today Royce is privileged to spread the techniques perfected by his father all over the world. Throughout his busy fighting career Royce has maintained a rigorous travel schedule of seminars and classes. He currently oversees more than 55 US and international Royce Gracie Jiu-jitsu Networks. The techniques of Gracie Jiiu-jitsu have become mainstream in most martial arts dojos. Fighters everywhere are racing to learn and implement this jiu-jitsu in their training regimen.
His list of students is enormous. Royce has taught many of the big screen greats like Chuck Norris, Ed O’Neal, Guy Ritchie, Jim Carrey, Josh Duhamel and Nicholas Cage. He has also been very active with the CIA, FBI, DEA, Secret Service, Army Rangers, Army Special Forces, Navy Seals and many sheriff and police departments. His G.R.A.C.I.E. course for law enforcement has gained international recognition. Aside from teaching at his Networks across the United States, he regularly visits Canada, England, Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Israel, Australia, UAE and South America.
Royce makes his home in Southern California with his wife, Marianne, three sons, Khonry, Khor and Kheydon and daughter, Kharianna. He maintains an impressive training regimen, which includes running, weight training, cross training, meditation and countless hours of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. He is always prepared, a full time professional athlete who eagerly awaits his next challenge. Most recently he completed a 40 mile run with his long time trainer, James Strom. In Royce's own words, "Go ahead, tell me what I can't do!"