HÉLIO GRACIE (October 1, 1913 – January 29, 2009)
The last week of January, 2009 saw the godfather of Gracie / Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was a legend in every right, having wrought his existence of the very fires which true legends are cast from. The Gracie legacy lives on as a celebration of his life in the future generations of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
I was brought into awareness of the art by his oldest son, Rorion, when we met at a kids' event being thrown by my great friend and brother Bill Lucas in Studio City a few years ago. Rorion told me that he needed some graphic work done, and that I would be perfect for the job. I was invited to join classes as part of my understanding of the work, and have enjoyed it ever since. Hélio's philosophy and legacy are preserved in his son, and his sons and their extended family and friends. The one word that comes to mind is, simply, Integrity. The Gracies have a distinct understanding of what they are about and the position they have for educating the world about the thinking man's martial art.
I had the opportunity to attend the memorial celebration at the new academy in Torrance, CA this last weekend. And I must say, it was a very joyous occasion. There were tons of friends and family flowing into the halls of the Gracies' to share their personal stories and anecdotes. They were pretty much funny and we laughed quite a bit during the ceremony. Rorion related that his dad, the old man, as he and the guys always call him, would rather have skipped his own funeral since he thought they were sad and that the living should spend their time celebrating life. So the gathering was just that, very upbeat, from the heart, and I think Hélio was definitely there in spirit and in the presence of the full house, which kept growing throughout the hours-long presentation.
I did have the great privilege of meeting the Grandmaster last year. The new Gracie Academy was newly completed, and he was in town to observe classes and check in for the grand opening of the new state-of-the-art facility. Since I didn't make it for the groundbreaking or construction (I was designing dvd artwork and ads from home), he put in the newly finished edit of the whole process, start to finish, on the flatscreen in the great new Gracie Museum. I made a place on the comfy carpet and R walked me through the process of watching Ryron and Rener and crew getting the construction worked out. And from out of the corner of my left eye I see a white uniform and a ragged red belt standing next to me. It was more of a presence actually. I stood up and said hello and smiled and he smiled back and shook hands. Not to sound cheesy, but the old man had so much energy just coursing through him. It was like I was looking into the eyes of a twenty-something man with ages of history living inside him - unnerving to say the least. I mean, it was the real Hélio, a person I'd hear some amazing stories about from R. He was offered a chair by R and he politely said he'd prefer to stand. Of course I felt silly, enjoying the seat on the floor while the big guy stood and watched on. By then we had a crew of the guys and gals from the class in the room checking out the footage and R waited until he'd watched the whole video, commenting in Portuguese when he saw something of interest. After it ended he was introduced to the people and I slipped out, head kind of spinning.
I really love this picture of Helio and Rickson rolling. It gives us a little glimpse into the old man's (Rorion and fam's loving name for the great man) inner aggro. He was like a totally chill individual with a torrent of instinct on tap somewhere within.
Here's the link to the page with the image as well (click here)
To enjoy the Gracie legacy or to explore the art form in person, please visit: