From the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Archives: the Washing Machine from the Gracie Compound

The washing machine from the compound built by Helio and Carlos Gracie. Image courtesy Pedro Sauer.

We recently saw jiu-jitsu red and black belt Pedro Sauer‘s photos on Facebook where Pedro and a crew of very strong guys moved an important piece of machinery: the enormous washing machine from the historic Gracie compound! Looking like a metal hulk built for World War II combat, the washing machine and its relocation intrigued us so we sent Pedro some questions:

  1. Tell us about the giant washing machine!
  2. How many men did it take to remove it from the Gracie property in Teresopolis?
  3. Does it still work? It looks like it would use a lot of electricity to run!
  4. What do you plan on doing with it now? Will it be used for washing jiu-jitsu gis again?
  5. Do you have any special memories of the Gracie property in Teresopolis from when you visited in your youth?

Here’s what the coral belt kindly responded:

The machine is really old and not functional. It is huge, and can wash 60lbs per cycle. It took 8 strong people and me with a leverage bar. It was US$ 3,000 for transport. It’s not working at the moment. It is 220 volts, not practical, it is a electricity hog. The machine is going to be completely restored, at the cost of US $4,000, the price of 8 machines, and will be installed at the Pousada Mata Atlantica and will be washing gis from all the students who travel to Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for our camp.

I have many memories [of the Gracie compound in Teresopolis]. It was a fun place with lots of people, like a hotel. I have a lot of memories from the house in Itaipava where Helio had the machine, train every week end, Grand Master Helio used to call his mat the “Tira Teima”.

We reached out to Rorion Gracie, regarded as today’s stalwart flag bearer of his father Helio’s original jiu-jitsu, and asked about the washing machine and memories of those days when the family would leave the city of Rio and escape to the peace and quiet of their family compound. Rorion responded:

We would wash [the gis] in the machine, and then they’d be hanging to dry on lines because the weather was beautiful and always very sunny. So the kimonos would be lined up, you know, in lines, on those wires. Interestingly enough, sometimes people would drive by and they’d see the kimonos hanging. They look like straight jackets, you know! You have 35 kids rolling on the mats trying to choke each other – it looked like an insane asylum! A nut house, really. But it was really a wonderful experience for all of us.

We sat down for a few moments with red and black belt Fabio Santos*, who visited the compound with the Gracie family on occasion as a kid.

Fabio Santos: We used to cram fifty gis in there to wash, I remember. We used to go up to Teresopolis to train at Helio Gracie’s house and they used to stuff this washing machine, which was gigantic. It was like a car it was so big. I think it was imported, from [the United States], I’m not sure. But it was… a monstrosity. I heard they had a couple of floods because they would cram too much stuff in there and it would overflow, and put too much soap and it would foam up and get everywhere. It was huge. If you went to the house you would definitely notice.

The FightWorks Podcast: Was this an electrical washing machine?

Fabio Santos: It was an electrical washing machine. It was built I think in the fifties. It was built not to break because it lasted forever. It was the early seventies when we used to go up there and I remember that thing.

The FightWorks Podcast: For those who don’t remember this time in jiu-jitsu history, there was the central academy in Rio and the family house out in Teresopolis.

Fabio Santos: Yes, with the training mats. Sometimes they would stretch the canvas on the grass because they had acres of grass so they would stretch out the canvas and train outside, and then go in the waterfall and wash off. That was nice. I remember that. It was up in the mountains. You could drink that water.

The FightWorks Podcast: It sounds like something out of a movie.

Fabio Santos: It was interesting. We’d drive an hour and a half just to go up there.

The FightWorks Podcast: The names around the house [in this time] would be Rorion, Rolls, Relson, and…

Fabio Santos: Crolin. I remember Crolin used to live in Teresopolis for a while. So did Rilion, he’d live up there. They would go up there pretty much every weekend.

The FightWorks Podcast: That was because of the close relationship between Carlos Gracie Senior, and Helio?

Fabio Santos: Yeah. They both lived in that house. They had other houses down in the city in Rio, but they’d spend a lot of their time up in the mountains. [They had] horses, they had dogs up there. It was really nice for them. Sometimes the whole family would be up there, like fifty members of the family! Eating time was a problem! Everybody would take turns!

According to Rorion the house was co-owned by Carlos Sr. and his brother Helio. Carlos had twenty-one children and Helio had nine. When it was time to eat, there were three shifts at every meal: first the servants who took care of the house would eat, followed by the children, and then the adults from the Gracie family. The house was built to accomodate so many that it had more than twenty bedrooms, and its own water tower was built!

The FightWorks Podcast: So you spent a lot of your childhood there with eight siblings. You must have some good memories (jiu-jitsu related, not jiu-jitsu related)… What are your favorite memories of that time?

Rorion Gracie: I didn’t spend time there with my eight siblings. I spent time there like I said with usually at least a couple dozen kids, like my uncle Carlos’ children, some grand children. It was just a continuous mix of all kinds of people spending time there. So yes, we did every weekend and every summer vacation we were there. We did as much time as we could there. It was better than going to Disneyland. We had all kinds of stuff: horseback riding all the time, playing cops and robbers, Indians and cowboys, all kinds of stuff that kids like to do. Riding the little carts and stuff. It was a fun place to have… Being there, you’d wake up in the morning, usually with a whole bunch of people, in fact, breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the compound were served three times each. Once for the employees who would eat first. You’d ring a little bell, and then the employees would go in to eat. When the first bell rang, the kids would know it was time to wash up and get ready for their meals. When the second bell rang the kids would eat and that would serve as a sign for the adults to wash up and get ready to eat. So it was a very organized process. So the employees would eat first, then the children, and then the adults. That was for breakfast and then for lunch, and then for dinner. It was very planned, like you were running a little army of individuals. It worked great. All the meals were preapared according to the Gracie diet, which was developed by my uncle Carlos of course. It’s an amazing way to combine foods for better health. During those days, many times he would come up with a certain food and say “we’re going to try this for a while. Let’s see how this feels” and experiment with certain foods and have every body eating the same thing, and then analyze and study the various reactions from a very practical point of view, and see how everybody reacted to that food. The meals were long, and having friends and family there, was just party time all the time… It was just a fun time. There’s not one specific thing I remember [that stands out], just hundreds of stories, hundreds of things that happened all the time. Having that bunch of family and friends growing up along with us was incredible.

The FightWorks Podcast: Sounds like a real luxury. What is the status of the Gracie compound now?

Rorion Gracie: We sold it. We sold it about twenty-some years ago. As the kids of that generation grew up and started changing their life plans, not everybody would go there every weekend. It became not a reasonable expense to keep, because it was so expensive to run a house like that. It was very expensive, of course. To keep that going without the amount of people participating and benefitting from that did not make sense. So about fifteen or twenty years ago we sold the place. By that time my father had moved to another place with the ranch in the valley in Petropolis – a suburb of Petropolis, a place called Itaipava. That’s where he had his ranch, and that’s where he spent the last twenty, thirty years of his life.

If you’re curious, here’s a map of Itaipava in relation to the city of Rio de Janeiro.


*Full disclosure: Fabio is my instructor!

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