If you have never heard the name Gracie, you really aren’t much of an MMA fan. This family’s impact on mixed martial arts has been huge, and the special style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu crafted by the Gracie Family is a vital part of most fighters’ MMA training.
The first Gracie to enter the world of martial arts was Carlos Gracie, the oldest son of circus owner Gastao Gracie. The circus presented a series of Kodokan Judo demonstrations by Master Mitsuyo Maeda, and after Carlos saw Maeda’s performance, he asked to become a student of this form of Judo. Maeda, one of the world’s greatest fighters of all time with more than 2,000 fights in his career, agreed and taught his skill set to his eager young student. Carlos then opened a martial arts school, first teaching his brothers and then enlisting them as instructors. For Carlos, martial arts served as a way of life, as well as a way to protect his brothers from a tyrannical father.
His youngest brother, Helio, was the only one who did not take part in the training, as he was too sickly and Carlos was protective of his youngest brother. However, he spent many hours watching Carlos and his brothers train students and memorized all of their techniques. One day when Carlos was late to meet a student at the gym, Helio took over and the student was so happy with his instruction that he asked to take more classes from Helio.
Because of his limited physical strength, Helio was unable to use many of Carlos’ techniques. So he modified each technique to provide an advantage for a smaller or weaker fighter. Between Carlos influence on the art and Helio’s adaptation, the Gracie method of Jiu-Jitsu was developed.
Fast forward a generation and you come to Rorion Gracie, Helio’s oldest son, and the one who brought the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the United States. Rorion was born for the sport, beginning his training before his second birthday. He came to the United States in 1978 and started offering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons for free out of his garage. Eventually his brother Royce joined him, and in 1989 with more than 100 students, they moved out of the garage and opened the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu studio.
Rorion was a man with vision. Not only did he open the first BJJ school in the United States, he was also responsible for promoting and developing the Ultimate Fighting Championship along with John Milius and Art Davie. The first UFC 1 was a huge success, and mixed martial arts has grown exponentially since that first live broadcast.
Rorion’s brother Royce Gracie had his own part in promoting mixed martial arts. Royce was the first UFC champ, defeating three strong opponents during UFC 1 in 1993. Royce defeated Art Jimmerson, Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau to win the title. Both Shamrock and Gordeau were larger and heavier opponents, but Royce defeated each in 57 seconds and 1:44, respectively.