Vale Tudo Relics: The Life and Times of Helio Gracie

Words to Live By

By Marcelo Alonso Oct 10, 2015

15 Questions for Helio Gracie

In April 2000, Helio Gracie sat down for an exclusive interview with correspondent Marcelo Alonso at his ranch in Itaipava, a city that sits roughly 90 minutes away from Rio de Janeiro. Before the Q&A sessions, Helio showed Alonso his animals, his lake, the vegetable garden from which he reaped the food for his diet, his eight-room home and his personal dojo, where he trained until the last moments of his life:

Alonso: How did you get started in jiu-jitsu?
Helio: I had never been very healthy as a child. I was always fainting at school. When I was 20, my brother started teaching jiu-jitsu and my diversion was to stay and watch the classes. I remember that after a year and a half I knew all the theories just by watching. One day, my brother was late to a class with Banco do Brasil President Mario Brant, and I dared to ask, “Mario, do you want me to start the training until Carlos arrives?” He agreed, loved my class and made me his teacher. My brother, who was very busy, loved it, too. After some time, I started teaching the whole gym and my brother, Carlos, stopped teaching classes.

Alonso: How did your teaching technique develop?
Helio: I never had the intelligence to create anything. What moved me was the necessity to adapt. It was pure physics. I wasn’t a genius to do it. I just put a jack in every movement, like a lever, to do what I do with no effort. I’d wait for you to get tired to win.

Alonso: Did you become more violent after you learned jiu-jitsu?
Helio: No. Any man who learns jiu-jitsu becomes more tolerant because he knows that he can’t be beaten. When you’re in the moment where a man screams at you, if you’re not absolutely sure he doesn’t represent anything, you can become nervous and start a fight. However, if a kid calls you ugly, you can laugh. To me, a normal man is like a child. Physically, he’s nothing. This thought makes me calm when I’m dealing with others.

Alonso: Do you still believe that your lightest son, Royler Gracie at 64 kilograms, could win a vale tudo fight against a giant wrestler like Mark Kerr at 113 kilograms?
Helio: It would only take longer, but the result would be the same; but if I have Royce and Rickson at 80 kilograms to fight Kerr, why would I put Royler in at 60 kilograms?

Alonso: What do you think about the fighters like Kerr and Vitor Belfort who train more than just your style?
Helio: I don’t see it as an inconvenience, but the problem is that you’re doing two styles and you’re not going to be good at either one. As an example, if Vitor fights Mike Tyson, he takes a punch and goes to sleep at the same time; the same thing would happen if he fights jiu-jitsu with Rickson.

Alonso: How do you feel about jiu-jitsu for competition?
Helio: The jiu-jitsu I created isn’t for competition. It’s for personal use to improve your confidence, whether you’re an executive, a woman or a child.

Alonso: What is the secret to being in such good health at 86 years old?
Helio: I never was a partier, never drank, smoked or ate at the wrong time. Everything I could do at 50 I can do better today. I’m only gluttonous with things that make me healthy. I’ve even forgotten how chocolate and meat taste. I only eat fish -- sometimes. My brother, Carlos, who created the Gracie Diet, always said that whoever followed the diet would have 20 more years of life, and I believe it. I’ve never had a headache or a stomachache, and I think it’s because of the diet.

Alonso: What do you think about Viagra, the revolutionary pill for impotent men?
Helio: I never needed it, but it must be great for those who do need it. Thank God, strength is something I always had. My health has never been so good. I haven’t gotten sick in years.

Alonso: Speaking of sex, how many women have you loved?
Helio: I never loved any woman because love is a weakness, and I don’t have weaknesses. Love is sex, and sex is used to procreate. I’ve always asked my girlfriends if they wanted to have children. If they said no, we had no sex.

Alonso: What do you remember about your fight with Waldemar Santana?
Helio: It was in 1955. I was 42, and Waldemar, who used to be my student, was 23. I went into that fight with a serious ear infection but never thought about being sick or not; it never bothered me. I want into the ring to fight, and it took three hours and 45 minutes. It was the longest fight ever. He weighed 50 pounds more than me. After the fight, the Gracie Academy received 125 new students. They were impressed by the fact that a skinny guy with my physical features fought for so long.

Alonso: What would you say to those who do not like vale tudo?
Helio: Vale tudo is the art I teach. The fight doesn’t have to be bloody, and we’ve proven it’s possible to win with technique. The truth is that boxing, with gloves and everything, kills 10 fighters a year. No one has died yet in vale tudo. A punch with uncovered hands hurts you much less than one with gloves, so being against vale tudo is a big mistake.

Alonso: What did you thing about the last jiu-jitsu world championships?
Helio: The worlds had everything but jiu-jitsu. To me, jiu-jitsu is what I’ve been doing and teaching in Brazil for 70 years. The moment you change it and put in rules, time and points and make it easier for the strongest and heaviest fighters, it’s not my jiu-jitsu.

Alonso: How would you do a championship without a time limit on the fights?
Helio: That’s the excuse they give. The truth is that these rules only help the strongest and don’t show the need to be efficient in a fight. The rules lead to guys holding each other and not letting them fight. My jiu-jitsu, which is made to win and not get beaten, uses the technique.

Alonso: Do you believe that the Gracie Diet, which was created by your brother, Carlos, is the secret behind your longevity?
Helio: Yes, because the bad things come from your mouth, and I simply don’t eat anything that’s bad for my health. I keep in shape training jiu-jitsu all day. Jiu-jitsu is a technical art. You don’t need strength, so you can practice it your whole life.

Alonso: How do you feel, at 86, watching jiu-jitsu being heralded across the world?
Helio: It’s a big satisfaction. Jiu-jitsu is the best martial art in the world, and everybody wants to try it. It’s easy to learn, and today, jiu-jitsu is recognized everywhere.


Fight History

* Jan. 16, 1932: Win (0:40) | Antonio Portugal (Armlock) | Vale Tudo
* 1932: Draw | Takashi Namiki | Jiu-Jitsu
* Nov. 6, 1932: Draw (1:40:00) | Fred Ebert | Vale Tudo
* 1932: Win | Myaki (Choke) | Jiu-Jitsu
* July 28, 1934: Draw | Wladeck Zybisco | Jiu-Jitsu
* February 1935: Win (19:00) | Orlando “Dudu” (TKO) | Vale Tudo
* November 1935: Draw | Yassuti Ono | Jiu-Jitsu
* 1936: Draw | Takeo Yano | Jiu-Jitsu
* 1936: Win | Massgouchi (Armlock) | Jiu-Jitsu
* 1937: Win | Erwin Klausner (Submission) | Vale Tudo
* 1937: Win | Espingarda (Submission) | Vale Tudo
* July 1950: Win | Caribe (Submission) | Vale Tudo
* October 1950: Win | Azevedo Maia (Submission) | Vale Tudo
* September 1951: Draw | Kato | Jiu-Jitsu
* October 1951: Win | Kato (Submission) | Jiu-Jitsu
* October 23, 1951: Loss | Kimura (Kimura) | Jiu-Jitsu
* May 24, 1955: Loss | Waldemar Santana (KO) | Vale Tudo


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