Relson Gracie at the 2009 BJJ World Championship.
On our most recent episode of The FightWorks Podcast, we had the rare opportunity to sit down with Relson Gracie, the second son of Helio Gracie. I always get a kick out of the conversations we have on our show about the old days of jiu-jitsu in Rio and the early days of the Gracie family, so I spent some time transcribing Relson’s comments below.
If you know Relson, you know that he speaks his own special variant of English and that transcribing this was not easy! So suffice to say, what is below is not word-for-word. But I believe I’ve maintained the meaning of Relson’s words. If you’d like to hear the original interview, I invite you to head over to episode #189 of our humble BJJ internet radio show and download the mp3 file there.
TRANSCRIPTION OF RELSON GRACIE CONVERSATION
Caleb: Relson, a lot has happened this year in jiu-jitsu. I think the biggest event in the very long history of Brazilian jiu-jitsu was that your father passed away in January. You want to talk about that?
Relson: Yes, firstly I am always going to be honored and blessed to be Helio Gracie’s son. Secondly, Helio Gracie changed the world. He was physically small. Carlos Gracie was his mentor in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Carlos taught class until he was 25, 27 or 29 years old. He was the instructor in the academy. But at 30 years old, this changed. Helio Gracie took over. Helio Gracie was the one who most developed and changed Gracie jiu-jitsu and made it effective the way it is. Then Carlos stepped to the side to be the mentor of the family, because Helio Gracie couldn’t get to the point that he was technically speaking without a mentor like Carlos. Both brothers worked together. That’s the way the Gracie clan, the Gracie family was: with the diet from Carlos, and the jiu-jitsu from Helio. Helio’s the one who made all the champions. Carlson, Robson, Reyson… all these guys compete in the family. Rolls, myself, Rorion, all these people grew up under Helio Gracie on the mats. Carlos Gracie Junior moved to my house to learn jiu-jitsu with Helio Gracie. Carlos never gave any classes to Carlos Gracie Junior. I don’t remember Carlos in a gi teaching us. Carlos was the mentor, the doctor. He was the one who told us the day we should fight. He was like a guru of the family. I totally respect him and I think both worked together but in different jobs. Carlos was the mentor and the doctor, and Helio was the instructor and the master in jiu-jitsu. Helio’s the one who built the Gracie clan: Rolls, me, all the tough guys in the family, Rickson… All these guys were undefeated and it was beautiful the way we were raised under Helio. Helio Gracie was the most technical in jiu-jitsu. He’s dead, but everything I do, everything I learned I owe to one instructor: Helio Gracie. Rolls followed Helio’s system and helped me train. Rolls made me train a lot of judo competition and was a good example for me. But Rolls came from Helio Gracie too. Pure Helio Gracie jiu-jitsu. Rolls didn’t take one class with Carlos Gracie. Carlos Gracie never taught jiu-jitsu to us. That is true. Carlos Gracie was the mentor like I said. He always helped in the process of the diet and made Helio Gracie who Helio Gracie was. But jiu-jitsu was built and developed 100% by Helio Gracie. Today it’s still the best jiu-jitsu in the world. I think there is nothing better than growing up with having Helio Gracie as your instructor and master. I never change anything that he taught me. I only try to develop something around what he did. He’s the one who created it. I don’t have to change his jiu-jitsu. I only try to adjust the positions he told us. But I repeat a lot the science that Helio Gracie taught us. I see results of that today. My son is brought up in the same way. He’s still young in competition but he’s going to prove Helio Gracie has the best jiu-jitsu. Nothing’s going to change. Everybody thinks that Helio Gracie passed away, but Helio Gracie is the one who 100% built us and it was Helio Gracie who made my jiu-jitsu strong. There is nothing to change about that. Nobody can disagree with this. Carlos Gracie was the mentor, and Helio Gracie was the instructor of the Gracie family. I hold him in the highest standing. Helio Gracie is never going to die for us. His jiu-jitsu is never going to die. His jiu-jitsu is here, simple and effective.
Caleb: We were talking last night about Roger Gracie. Can you tell the family out there what you said?
Relson: Helio Gracie was Rolls Gracie’s instructor, directly. Rolls was Carlos’ son but was adopted by my daddy. Helio adopted Rolls like when he was one month old. When I was born, Rolls was already in our home. He was my older brother. He was always my older brother. Rolls taught me a lot. During this process when my daddy taught us, we were concerned with his methods. Rolls was an incredible competitor. He was an example as a person and motivated fighters, pushing us to compete – the whole clan: the older brothers like us in the third generation, those in the second generation like Carlson. Rolls was part of the third generation. Rolls always motivated us to compete, and made us follow that path.
Caleb: …and so, Roger?
Relson: Like you guys know Roger is Mauricio [Motta Gomes’] son. Maurcio was Rolls’ best instructor. When Rolls died, Mauricio, as Rolls’ disciple, kept the same ideas that Rolls passed to him. Mauricio passed those to his son. Roger I think is the only one in Gracie Barra that uses Mauricio’s jiu-jitsu. Because I think Mauricio has been Roger’s instructor. That’s what I can see and I can feel. I think I am 100% right about that. Roger grew up with Mauricio’s ways, and that is Rolls’ way. Rolls’ way was closed guard, and that’s what Roger is doing. In all those tournaments he closes the guard. And I don’t see many guys in Gracie Barra doing this style. Roger’s the only one. Roger is the only one that keeps the Gracie style. He closes the guard, attacks the neck, sweeps, gets a good mount, and he submits everybody from the mounted position. You don’t see many Gracie Barra guys doing that. Only Roger. Because he comes from the old generation of Rolls’ students. The closed guard – that’s what Mauricao, his daddy, passed to his son. The guys interviewed me before the Worlds and asked me who was going to win, and who was going to be the open champion. I responded right away that Roger was going to be the champion because he’s the only one who plays closed guard and uses the pure Gracie jiu-jitsu. Helio Gracie never taught us butterfly guard, spider guard, x-guard, any guard that had a name. He never used them.
Caleb: There was just one guard!
Relson: He never opened his guard! Helio Gracie never uncrossed the legs. He told everybody to keep the legs crossed. He trained a lot of chokes from the guard. Armlocks, guillotines, omoplatas, anything that could be done in the guard. The guard is the position where you have the most options for submissions. In the guard, I have 25 or 30 ways to submit people. That’s the position that gives the most chances for submission. People don’t know this. I love playing the guard because I can see how much defense the opponent has. And I have a lot of ways to submit. If he’s not sharp in defense, he’s going to get caught. That’s what Roger is doing. Roger’s the only one I see in Gracie Barra that is following Rolls’ style. I don’t approve of butterfly guard, x guard, all these kinds of guard – I don’t use them. I have ways to neutralize this. So Helio Gracie taught us the way to neutralize these open guards, these butterfly guards. Helio said, “I’m never going to use butterfly guard, spider guard, I don’t hold the sleeves”. That’s not Helio Gracie’s style. That’s not Roger’s style. And so the example is there. Roger is the one that most practices Gracie jiu-jitsu in competition today.
Dan: I think it’s interesting saying that Roger’s original jiu-jitsu came from Mauricio, his dad, and not from Carlos Gracie Junior.
Caleb: It makes sense!
Dan: That’s an interesting point, because style wise, when you compare Roger’s style with a lot of the other famous Gracie Barra competitors like Romulo Barral, Victor and Braulio Estima, they have radically different games and styles versus Roger even though Braulio has the similar physique – long and tall.
Caleb: One of the comparisons that is often made with Roger: many people say, “You know who has a similar, very simplistic game like Roger’s? Kron Gracie.”
Relson: Yes, that’s the same style. You’re seeing the original jiu-jitsu from Helio Gracie. It’s from Rolls. I keep the same style. All my students are doing the same. And the result is incredible.
Dan: You mean you’re not going to help me with upside down guard?
Relson: [laughs] You have ways to neutralize that. I am not impressed with these things. The flying to pass the guard, jumping stuff. That’s not my game. That’s not Helio Gracie jiu-jitsu. I have ways to neutralize this fancy, flying jiu-jitsu. It’s not Helio Gracie jiu-jitsu for sure.
Caleb: One of the things you mentioned Relson is something that I don’t think many people know: you and Rolls have the same birthday.
Relson: Yes, Rolls and I were born on the same day on the 28th of March. I learned a lot with Rolls. Rolls was my brother. Anything I liked (the same color, the same food, the same toy), we fought over it. Rolls and I had the same tastes. Because we were born on the same day, our characteristics were pretty much the same. The same blood. Rolls was a tough man. He’s the one who taught me a lot, helped me a lot. I had a disagreement with Rolls when I was eleven and Rolls gave me a beating. He was thirteen. That’s the only time I remember taking a beating. It was really serious. He punched me because we had a disagrement. I went five years without talking to Rolls. I was so upset about that beating. He thought it was right, but I didn’t think it was right. But anyway I got a beating and I learned from that.
Caleb: How old were you then?
Relson: I was eleven. No I think like twelve, and he was fourteen. He locked me in the bathroom and then I got a good beating. The family broke the bathroom door. I was upset and ran out. Then I did a bad thing. I tried to pull a knife on him. Then I was locked in my room for a month because I pulled a knife on my brother. But I remember this beating and I learned from that. Because I didn’t talk to Rolls for like 5 years of my life. From thirteen to eighteen he was the guy I hated most after this beating because I still had a young mentality. It was hard to swallow. I really got a beating. Then after that I didn’t talk to Rolls for five years. But after 18 years old I forgot about it. I totally forgave him. And then Rolls was my best friend. The most incredible brother. I wish you guys could’ve seen Rolls compete because he was incredible. He was a motivator, and incredible instructor, an incredible fighter. He was strict about his diet. He never took any kind of steroids. He always fought open division like me. If Rolls were alive today, his life would be totally devoted to jiu-jitsu. I miss him a lot. But God knows what to do, and life changes. Rolls was a good man, a good fighter, and a great brother. I had the opportunity to live all my life with Rolls. He was a great man. I recommend anything that comes from him. Look at all the champions Rolls made! All the good instructors he made. Good students, good black belts like Fabio Santos, Roger’s daddy Mauricao, Alvaro Romano from Ginastica Natural, Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti. You guys know all this jiu-jitsu comes from the Gracie family. So everybody has a link with the Gracie family. Alliance, all these guys fight the Gracie family on the mats but all those guys come from us.
Dan: Relson, Rolls was a big motivator for you and your game wasn’t he? Didn’t he have a lot of influence on your game?
Relson: One hundred percent. Rolls was my older brother. He was two years older than me. Rolls was the one who introduced me to judo and started making me throw people on the ground. Rolls called me and asked if I wanted to train together. I would come from my school on Isla do Governador but on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I would go to Rolls’ school in the morning. The results were incredible. Rolls always pushed us to the edge. He made us train and compete hard. I miss him a lot. I had a lot in common with him. We had the same birthday. When you have the same birthday, we liked the same thing. Our tempers were the same. We are very similar. I miss him a lot. His cake was always next to mine when we had birthdays. I miss his cake being there. But I continue, and Rolls watches us from there, like my daddy. I am very happy and proud to have this family and of how much they taught me. So I conserve the pure Gracie jiu-jitsu. Helio Gracie jiu-jitsu. That’s how I am, how Rorion is, and Rickson. We’re the older brothers. The ones who keep the Gracie name at top of the line for years and years and years.
Rolls Gracie disciple Fabio Santos hangs up photos of Rolls at his San Diego academy.