Through OntheMat, I`ve gotten to live the life, do things and meet people that would make me the envy of many inside or outside of the sport. Yet as I prepared to do this particular interview, I actually had trouble sleeping, as I was a bundle of nervous, excited energy. Through OntheMat, I’ve gotten to live the life, do things and meet people that would make me the envy of many inside or outside of the sport. Yet as I prepared to do this particular interview, I actually had trouble sleeping, as I was a bundle of nervous, excited energy. Helio Gracie is a name that should be familiar with anyone that visits the site, as well as anyone who follows the sport, who along with his legendary brothers was one of the original founders and innovators of Brazilian Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Helio Gracie has had a remarkable career that has spanned well over seventy years; we’ve all heard the stories -the adaptation of technique in the early days of the academy, the historic “Gracie Challenge matches including the bout with Kimura, his legacy in his famous sons -all things we have heard and relished countless times. I had figured that I, along with most of us, have heard it all, and thus prepared a series of questions and headed off to the Gracie Academy.
When I got to the Academy I was quick to realize how wrong I had been -there were MANY things I did not know or was even remotely aware of. Rorion greeted me and gave a tour of the Gracie Museum. I highly recommend that anyone who is remotely a fan of the sport and is interested in the history of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu pay the Gracie Museum a visit, as it is a veritable treasure trove of memorabilia and artifacts. Pictures and newspaper clippings documented the rise of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu from it inception at the original academy with all of the brothers, to the famous challenge matches (did you know Helio had his first public match at the age of 18 and wore standard trunks as opposed to gi?) to stories of the Gracie Academy to the spread of Jiu-Jitsu through the Ultimate Fighting Championship and beyond. Things like the gi that Helio wore during his battle with Kimura were also preserved there. Best of all was the tour and descriptions that Rorion gave, you could see in his face and hear in his voice his genuine enthusiasm when talking about the history of the sport and in particular of the tales of his father.
After the tour, Helio went to put on his gi and prepare himself for the interview. I immediately wanted to ask a million more questions than the ones I had prepared. But time was precious and I ran with what I had -about twenty questions that were originally designed for people who were familiar with who Helio Gracie was and were also fans and/or practitioners of Jiu-Jitsu (an additional five questions were reserved for the release of the 1st IGJJF tournament). As I speak little Portuguese and Helio speaks no English, Rorion was to act as the translator for the interview. It is worth noting that neither Helio nor Rorion had any prior knowledge of what I was going to ask, and the interview as you it presented here is as how it went with minimal editing for technical purposes.
The interview was conducted in the large training area upstairs at the Gracie Academy. At one point Rorion had to take a phone call that left Helio and I sitting alone on the mats together. With the aforementioned language barrier I couldn’t really say anything so I simply found myself staring at him in awe, the man who had seen and done so much within the sport I’ve pretty much dedicated my life to. His gi was clean and white; his belt was bright red with eleven stripes on it, including a gold stripe at the bottom. I think he caught me staring because he just looked at me with his piercing eyes, which are remarkable even to this day, then smiled, and we shared a good laugh. That made my week.