Helio Gracie’s picture, which adorns jiu-jitsu academies worldwide.
It was one year ago today that Helio Gracie passed away. Helio was 95 years old and remains in many eyes the person most responsible for what we today call Brazilian jiu-jitsu. In addition to two daughters, Helio Gracie fathered seven sons who made their father’s jiu-jitsu their own careers. Rorion, Relson, Rickson, Rolker, Royler, Royce, and Robin, were among the first to export what would become known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the world.
Helio Gracie participated in well over a dozen no holds barred or vale tudo fights in his life. Confident in his father’s form of ground fighting, Rorion Gracie formed the UFC in 1993 as a platform to showcase jiu-jitsu in North America. The victories of a skinny Royce Gracie in the early UFCs remain the reason most BJJ practitioners participate in jiu-jitsu. Even modern day Brazilian jiu-jitsu dynamos like Gracie Barra’s Otavio Souza claim that they became interested in jiu-jitsu because of seeing what Royce did in the UFC.
At all the major BJJ competitions in the months following Helio Gracie’s death, it was customary for there to be moment of silence in his memory. At the 2009 BJJ Pan-Ams, the competition action on all eight mats was paused for a moment and Helio Gracie’s son Rickson spoke these words in front of normally rambunctious crowd that became silent as he spoke:
Rickson Gracie, son of Helio Gracie.
I’d like to welcome you all, and respect our great, great Master. There is nothing to be sorry about. The way he wants to be remembered, he always said to us, was a party and a celebration. I think this is a moment, with all of us here, to celebrate his legacy, to spread the seeds of the jiu-jitsu he created and brought. And I think, what more can we expect from life than to live to be 95 years old and pretty healthy and his sons doing what he loved to do? So thankfully, there is nothing to be sorry about. My dad now is eternal. Let’s live on his legacy and the passion for jiu-jitsu for all of us and for the future generations. Thank you very much.