One of the founding fathers of Jiu-Jitsu would be celebrating his 102nd birthday if he was still with us.
Born on October 1st, 1903, Helio Gracie passed away in 2009, after a full life that left a invaluable legacy.
We celebrate Helio’s influence within the Jiu-Jitsu community by selecting 10 of his most important lessons alongside 10 of the greatest images of the Grandmaster.
Helio Gracie was a fighter, a professor, a coach, a philosopher and a healthy lifestyle promoter.
Here’s some of the lessons he left us all.
1 – Be prepared for everything: “When I started my career as a fighter, I faced a human jungle. In order to beat up animals, you have to be more of an animal than they are and that was exactly my case.”
2 – Don’t be unfair and don’t fight without a reason: “One day a friend of mine came and said that a guy named Benigno was going to beat him up. To defend my friend I went up to the guy and asked if he was the one who wanted to beat up my friend, just before punching him in the face. He hit me 20 times after that and my face was real mess. In the end, I realized that I had gotten a well deserved beating. First lesson: be fair and don’t fight without a reason.”
3 – Never stop improving yourself: “I am 92 years old and it is hard to find a mind that works as fast as mine. I have never had so much good sense in my life.”
4 – No tough guy can resist a choke: “My favorite move always was the the “sleep”. No tough guy can resist a choke. He either goes to sleep or taps.”
5 – Express your feelings: “With old age, you get to see the difference between right and wrong. With me, there’s no middle ground, it’s yes or no. Try to do that from now on. Don’t answer any quastion with ‘maybe’, ‘I’ll see’ or ‘more or less’. You will see how hard it is.”
6 – Be active and you won’t feel alone: “Loneliness is when the person does not like himself. Loneliness is not having a mental activity. There’s no reason to be lonely. Lonelines is not having what to do, what to think about.”
7 – Correct yourself first before correcting others: “I always had the intention of teaching good classes, be an example, correct the defects on others, Then I started to see that I had more flaws than the people I was trying to correct. So I started to look deep into myself and correct me to correct the other. I found out that I am the worst man that I ever met. I am a crook, a thief… Not that I have ever committed any crime, but I thought about doing it and that’s enough for me, If I think about it, I am.”
8 – Don’t fear death: “Why fear death? I need nothing, I have nothing, I want nothing. I find it silly to fear death. We should be afraid of being born. My brother Carlos Gracie Sr. used to say that man would only comeback to another life if he is not evolved. As long as you have bad thoughts, you will return to evolve. Hell is right here.”
9 – The guy who picks fights on the street does not believe in himself: “When I was young, once I called out a guy on a bus, trying to pick a fight with him. He looked at me and just said: ‘Go away boy’. He treated me with such despise that I never picked a fight on the street again. The guy who picks fights on the street does not believe in himself. After you learn Jiu-Jitsu, you strengthen yourself in such a manner that you look at street brawls with the same despise that guy on the bus looked at me.”
10 – Nature has a way to balance things: “I like to say that no one gets what they don’t deserve, be it a punishment or a gift. Did a brick fall on your head? Thank God because you owed something that was paid with the hit to your head. It’s not easy to think like that, but if you try hard you get there.”
Photos by Luca Atalla, Ricardo Azoury, Susumu Nagao, personal archives. Cartoon by Ique.