Part 1


Undefeated Champion Carley Gracie On His
Father, His Family Art and the Challenge.

by Jose Paman

Carley Gracie, a member of the famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu family, knows something about the realities of unrestrained physical combat. Carley (pronounced Cahr-LAY) is the eleventh child of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Carlos Gracie, and was born and reared in the family tradition of dedicated Jiu-Jitsu training and challenge matches.

Carley was the first professional national champion in Brazil after the Jiu-Jitsu Federation was organized in Rio de Janeiro, reigning for four years (1969 through 1972) before coming to the United States to teach the unique Gracie style of Jiu-Jitsu to U.S. Marines. He was the last Gracie fighter who actually learned from and was personally coached by his legendary father Carlos. His technique is so superior that at age 45 he has still never been defeated in any fight, under any conditions, not even within the Gracie family.

Martial Arts Masters secured an exclusive interview with this Jiu-Jitsu pioneer and asked him about his renowned father, his early Jiu-Jitsu training, traveling to America, and the controversial "Gracie Challenge."

MARTIAL ARTS MASTERS: Carley, there have been somewhat varying accounts on the origins of the Gracie family art of Jiu-Jitsu. Could you give us your insight on how it all began?

CARLEY GRACIE: Everyone admits that our system started with my father, Carlos Gracie, in Brazil. My father originally learned Jiu-Jitsu from Conte Maeda Koma, a former Japanese and world champion who was visiting Brazil to help settle Japanese immigrants in the north. My father was only 17 years old when he first began studying under Conte Koma, and he opened his first Academy in Belèm (Northern Brazil) approximately four years later. The stories about my uncle Helio Gracie being the founder of our style are simply not correct; my uncle Helio was only about nine years old when my father started teaching Jiu-Jitsu.

My grandfather Gastão Gracie had nine children: five sons and four daughters. My father Carlos was the oldest. After my father opened his first Academy, he began teaching Jiu-Jitsu to his brothers Jorge, Osvaldo, and Gastão. Later he also taught my uncle Helio, who was the youngest brother and last to learn.

During this same time period, my father Carlos also established an open challenge. He used these fights to refine traditional Jiu-Jitsu techniques and develop the Gracie style. My father quickly became famous because of his small physical stature and the fact that he could overpower opponents of much greater size. My father and his brothers spread this powerful martial art all over Brazil and it's been proven since that time. Today our Gracie style is still undefeated against other martial arts.

My father Carlos was the first great fighter of the Gracie family. In addition to Jiu-Jitsu, he enjoyed boxing and was the Brazilian boxing champion. In the 1920's and 1930's he fought both Brazilians and foreigners. One of the most famous fights was against the Japanese Jiu-Jitsu champion, Giomori. The fact that my father was able to tie with Giomori, even though Giomori was much larger and heavier than my father, brought tremendous recognition to the Gracie style of fighting.

After my father retired from the ring, he continued the family tradition in his role as patriarch, brain and leader of the Gracie family. My father arranged all the fights and decided which of his brothers would fight against which challenger. Nobody fought without my father's permission. My father also acted as trainer and coach for his four brothers, constantly developing refinements and new techniques to make the system better and guiding each of his brothers as to which techniques would be most effective against each opponent. My father Carlos was constantly concerned with maintaining the good reputation of the family and the Gracie system of fighting in Brazil.

MAM: Can you describe your own background and training in the arts?

CG: I was born into a family of fighters. My father had 21 children and every one of them (even the girls) was trained in the Gracie style of Jiu-Jitsu. Even before any formal training started, the boys started to fight and practice with one another at home. The atmosphere was friendly but very competitive; if you didn't want to get beaten constantly, you had to learn how to fight well and defend yourself. It was the family way.

In formal Jiu-Jitsu training, my background is different than my brothers and cousins. My father began saying I would be a champion when I was very young, but because of my love for horses, I chose to stay at our country home (in the mountains above Rio) as long as possible and did not begin my formal Jiu-Jitsu training until much later than the rest of the family.

By the time I came to Rio for my formal Jiu-Jitsu training, my father was coaching only my brother Carlson, who was at that time the champion of Brazil; teaching at the Academy was done by students that my father had trained over the years. However, unlike my cousins and the other brothers of my age-group, I never studied under my Uncle Helio; I received my training directly from my father, Carlos Gracie, and my oldest brother, Carlson, who was also Brazilian champion for many years. Carlson's school has always been known for producing the toughest fighters in Brazil.

I am known to be the most technical fighter in the family. This is partly because of my personality and dedication to Jiu-Jitsu, and partly because of the many hours I spent with my father and Carlson when they worked on fight techniques while Carlson was national champion. I currently have an eighth degree black belt in Jiu-Jitsu from the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Rio, and my technique was so extraordinary that I was awarded the rank of seventh degree black belt when I was only 20 years old.

MAM: You mentioned earlier that you were Brazilian professional national champion from 1969 to 1972. When you say "national champion", how was that consensus, everybody acknowledging it, tournaments?

CG: When I began my fighting career, the champion was determined by consensus and acknowledgment, based on matches that were conducted by the martial arts schools. There were championship fights that received coverage in the newspapers, magazines and TV throughout the country. During my time, these championship matches were held approximately every three months. There was never any doubt about who was the champion when I was competing because no one could defeat me. I was still the reigning champion in 1972 when I came to the United States. To this day I have still not been defeated, not even within the Gracie family.

MAM: How did they go about selecting fighters for the championships?

CG: The Gracies were always leaders in the martial arts, but every school sent their best representative to these matches. Originally, the Gracies got together with other schools to organize the matches and select the names of the fighters who wanted to compete. Later, after the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Rio was formed in 1967, the Federation took an active role in organizing these matches.

MAM: What rules were these championships fought under?

CG: We fought two ways: with the Kimono (Gi top) on and with theKimono off. When we wore the Gi, we were not allowed to punch and kick. In some of the championship matches, we took off the Gi tops, and then we were allowed to punch and kick in full-contact fighting. I fought and was champion under both conditions.

MAM: How did you win most of your fights?

CG: Usually on the ground, but it depends on the style of the opponent and the type of fight (with or without the Kimono). For example, there are chokes you can use at the same time someone is trying to throw you; with judo practitioners, I could often finish the fight standing up by completing my choke before my opponent could throw me. But most of the time we went to the ground and I finished the fight there, especially if my opponent was a tough fighter.

MAM: Are there any fighters you can remember who particularly gave you trouble?

CG: Actually, the fighters who challenged me the most were two of my own brothers. Outside of my family, the toughest fighter I encountered was named Sergio Ines. He was originally trained by Barradas (who had been one of my father's top students). Barradas sent Sergio to fight me because he was the best in his area at that time. Later, Sergio continued to train and fight under my brother Carlson.

Of course, there were many other fighters who trained hoping to overpower me, but none ever succeeded. When a person holds the title of national champion, all the schools send someone to try and defeat him. It's just like in the old West; when a man is fast with the gun, all the young men want to challenge him.

There were also matches with other family members. Fights within the family were private, and were usually held on Sundays, when the Academy was closed. I remember one of my relatives who was constantly training in the hopes of beating me. Each time he lost, he would go back and train for another six or eight months and then try again. This went on for years, but he never even came close.

MAM: The names you mentioned are from your own system. Were there fighters from other arts who actually gave you any competition?

CG: Not really. I have sparred and fought matches with men who were very tough fighters or champions in their own styles, but their options are limited when they come up against the Gracie style. Once I close the distance and get them in a clinch, I simply put them on the ground and finish the fight.

In the next issue of Martial Arts Masters, Carley Gracie talks about the Gracie Challenge and his personal training philosophy, and demonstrates more Jiu-Jitsu techniques.

Text reprinted from Martial Arts Masters, September 1994 issue

©1994, CFW Enterprises, Inc., Burbank, California, and Carley Gracie, San Francisco, California.

Note: The article as published contains numerous photographs, including sequences of Carley demonstrating Gracie Jiu-Jitsu techniques with captions containing detailed explanations of the moves. The complete issue (including the photo sequences) can be ordered from the publisher, CFW Enterprises, Inc., 4201 Vanowen Place, Burbank, CA 91505. Tel.: (818) 845-2656.

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