The day José met Helio

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On this day, June 18, 2010, at 87 years of age, Portuguese author José Saramago, one of the greatest geniuses of the Portuguese language, passed away.

A translator, journalist, editor, atheist, ardent critic of the Catholic church and Nobel Prize for literature winner in 1998, Saramago had nothing to do with Jiu-Jitsu.

Or did he?

Not directly, it’s true.

But if we look a little deeper, a connection can be found.

The most obvious, of course, is the choice of Saramago’s native Portugal as the host nation for the third most important championship on the gentle art calendar, the European Championship.

The pain of losing its greatest modern-day writer today overwhelmingPortugal has brought the Jiu-Jitsu community to remember the painful loss of another genius.

It was on January 29, 2009, that the gentle art family was gathered in Portugal and news of the passing of Grandmaster Helio Gracie broke.

And there are certainly parallels between these two great men of the 20th century.

Saramago revolutionized Portuguese prose with drawn-out phrases, abolition of the paragraph and the use of commas to separate phrases, to the detriment of periods.

Helio revolutionized Jiu-Jitsu through the way he used his body, leverage and use of opponents’ own force against them.

Both the Lusitanian intellectual and the Brazilian teacher were masters of phrase construction. Two examples:

“Death? Why fear death? I need nothing, have nothing, want nothing. I feel it’s stupid someone fear dying. They should be afraid of being born. Hell is right here where we are.” – Helio Gracie

“Everyone knows that each day born is the first for some and the last for others and, to most, it’s just another day” – José Saramago

The two of them, after changing their worlds, retreated. Helio went to live in Itaipava, where he would receive visitors and from where, now and again, he would send messages or, furthermore, would go out to tell people how things should be done.

Saramago isolated himself on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, from where, where asked to, he would release his definitive sentences.

Helio, who came close to 100 years of age, and José, bordering on 90, won their battle with the meaning of death. To the two of them, the end was just another moment in eternal existence.

The Portuguese writer lives on – and is ever more present – every time a book of his is cracked open.

While Grandmaster Helio lives on in Jiu-Jitsu academies the world over.

Long live the masters!

Find out more about José Saramago.

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