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.
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.
MAM: You mentioned earlier that you were Brazilian professional national champion from 1969 to 1972. When you say "national champion", how was that determined...by 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.
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