Tuesday, 1 October 2013

5 Lessons from Helio Gracie

Today, one of the most inspiring men to walk this planet would have turned 100 years old. To most people who are unfamiliar with the martial arts world, the Gracie name doesn’t mean much, but to millions more around the world, this name is synonymous with a giant amongst men. Helio Gracie is noted as the founder of modern day Gracie/ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu  AKA “the Gentle art”, named as such due to the focus on using technique and intellect to overcome brute strength. Numerous documentaries have been made about this prolific man who was a major celebrity back in Brazil in the 1950’s so I won’t reel off a chronology of his life, as interesting as it might be. Instead, we at The GradStop look to commemorate this great man by laying out 5 lessons which can be learnt from his life.

   Never say never
From a young age, Helio Gracie was a feeble child and had severe asthma. The doctors had declared that Helio would never be able to do any sort of physical activity. In Helio’s mind this was nothing more than a challenge which he would soon overcome. Whilst his brothers were learning Judo and Japanese Jiu Jitsu, Helio was forced to sit on the sidelines for years. During this time however, Helio was studying, seeing how he could adapt these traditional techniques which relied heavily on strength and power, to accommodate people of a smaller and more feeble stature. He had tweaked the original moves and made them so innovative and different that no one knew how to react when it came down to the fight; Most people still don’t. From weak child to awesome fighter, who said it couldn’t be done?

   Look for the opportunity
It was all well  and good him sitting and thinking on the sidelines, it wasn’t until one day when his oldest brother was late for a class with one of his private students that Helio spotted the opportunity to step up and offer to teach the class. Bear in mind all he had done up to this point was watch. He could have simply said, “oh my brother will be along shortly, just wait around for him”, but he finally had a chance to exercise these moves he had been thinking about and he wasn’t about to let that go. Sure it wasn’t the ideal time or he might not have tested them out with his brothers’ first, but sometimes life hands you an opportunity and you just have to roll with it!

   Dream big
Helio knew the only way to spread this new martial art was to make sure everyone heard about it. He wasn’t scared to sacrifice himself for it either as he knew that so many millions more would benefit from knowing about Gracie Jiu Jitsu. He issued challenges first to the local clubs and then nationally and internationally aswell. He was notorious for never backing down from any fight. Although he lost less fights than you can count on one hand, and won over 500 in his career, the most prolific was when he issued a challenge to Masahiko Kimura. Kimura was a living legend around the world during the 1950’s and was often noted as the best Jiu Jitsu/ Judo fighter in the world. Helio wanted to prove his new Gracie Jiu Jitsu against this man. Kimura intially refused, saying it would be unfair as he was too good for Helio. Nonetheless, after Helio ran through multiple other Japanese opponents, Kimura had no choice. Kimura stated that if Helio could even survive 3 minutes, he would consider himself as the loser. Helio ended up surviving about 13 minutes but ultimately lost the match. Either way, he had just shown how a small man with miniscule strength could subdue a much larger opponent. We are all going to face giants sometime in our lives, if we know how to survive, there’s always a way to win. Funnily enough, Helio said after he knew he would never win, but he was going to go down trying and this spectacle would show the world there was a lot to learn from the art. Gracie had also challenged Joe Louis the professional boxer but  Joe Louis’s management declined the offer.

   Be Persistent
Even after losing to Kimura, Helio was not stopping. He continued to improve the art and teach more and more. This didn’t come easily however. One of his disgruntled students offered him a challenge in 1955 and despite having retired from competition and being 20 years senior to the challenger, Waldemar Santana, Helio accepted. They fought for 3 hours and 40 minutes non stop. The mental strength and endurance in this situation was something special. Whether you’re a business owner or a student, you’re going to be dragged into long drawn out battles and you’re going to have to survive.

   Live with principle

Helio Gracie had one guiding principle; He wanted Jiu Jitsu to be accessible to every man woman and child who needed it. True, nowadays the toughest of fighters utilise Jiu Jitsu, but it hasn’t stopped there. Many ordinary people have benefitted from the “gentle art” when they’ve found themselves in difficult situations. In that sense, it’s important to have a greater purpose to your work. It’s not just about your own fame and glory, but more about the people who benefit from your work. Do it for a reason and you’ll be able to go a lot further with it than just to the Ferrari showroom. 

Happy birthday Helio Gracie! 

By Viren Samani (@VirenSamani1)  


  1. Nice write up!! Johnny Memes

  2. Superbly written article, if only all bloggers offered the same content as you, the internet would be a far better place.. Danaher Death Squad


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