The Legacy of the Great Helio Gracie.


DJ Johnny Juice Rosado of Public Enemy fameRakaa from Dilated PeoplesHerb Dean, Ultimate Fighting Championship referee The global martial arts community suffered a great loss in recent days. Grand Master Helio Gracie, passed away January 29th 2009. Helio was founder of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu martial arts system. His system was developed in the 1930’s. It innovated new approaches on traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu. He understood that if a smaller person took a bigger guy down to the ground, he had a much easier chance of winning a fight. Building an intricate system of pins, joint locks and choke holds, Helio would change combat forever. He put his own life on the line fighting all comers, irrespective of size or weight or style. Even boxing legend Joe Louis declined a chance to tangle with the Gracies. Once asked exactly what his art was about, he replied “What the samurai’s did with their swords, we do with our hands.”

Be crystal clear on this fact: There is no UFC, without the Helio Gracie. There is no Georges St. Pierre vs. BJ Penn, no Rashad Evans, no movies like “Never Back Down” or “Red Belt,” no TapOut clothing. With many people, their greatness cannot be measured. But the influence of Helio Gracie can be traced with great accuracy from Brazil, to Los Angeles, to the Bay to New York to Hawaii and the rest of the world.

It can even be traced to Hip-Hop. Its hard to think about Hip-Hop’s love of the battle – think the influence of Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do – on b-boys and DJ’s and MC’s and not see what fertile ground this was for Helio’s teachings.

On the track “Kublai Khan,” Vinnie Paz from Jedi Mind Tricks spits “My mother raised me alone, you can’t break me/My hearts pumpin the blood of Royce Gracie.” In the track 7 Pounds GZA says “They still cage matching MC’s thats scrapping/Not the UFC, but my opponent is tapping.” Alcoholics, Dilated Peoples, Heltah Skeltah and many others have mentioned the Gracies in their music. Even Notorious B.I.G spoke of the art in “Hope You N***s Sleep” saying he’d use “Jujitsu, when I hit you then I split you.”

Today OTM is going to talk to DJ Johnny Juice Rosado, DJ for Public Enemy (known worldwide for his Night of the Living Baseheads remix) and life long martial artist, Rakaa from Dilated Peoples (he holds a purple belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu and trains with Helios grandsons) and Ultimate Fighting Championship referee and old school Pasadena rapper Herb Dean. Here they discuss the impact of Helio’s work in martial arts and the world around them.

OTM: How did you learn about Gracie Jiu Jitsu?

Johnny Juice: In the late 80’s I went through a certain type of training in the military. This was late 1988 and ’89. There was an emphasis on ground fighting, because he had to have the ability to fight in the sand. Its very hard to fight on sand fighting upright. We did Japanese Jiu Jitsu, but it was not the same obviously as the Gracies. We had some Brazilians come in and teach us. The first thing I thought of when I saw it was the end of the first “Lethal Weapon,” where Mel Gibson chokes out Gary Busey with a triangle choke.

When I saw the movie I was like, “That don’t look like it’ll work.” I later learned that one of the Gracies choreographed that fight scene. I was like “This is kinda weird”. Then I got choked by one of my fellow service members [laughs]. I was like “Oh s**t”! It worked!”

OTM: When did you first learn about Gracie Jiu Jitsu?

Rakaa: Like almost everyone else by watching Royce Gracie in the first UFC. A friend of mine began training not too long after that.

I was impressed enough to accept an invitation to an introductory class. I’ve been training ever since, though, touring makes it hard to train as much as I’d like.

OTM: Do you remember the first and last time you spoke with Helio?

Rakaa: The first time would was a total surprise. It was years ago at the old Academy location and I was still a white belt, and we somehow ended up walking towards each other down the hallway. I felt like a little kid. I was very happy when Rorion stepped in and introduced us! The last time was at the opening reception of the new Torrance Academy location on Artesia, CA. I believe that was in June 2007. In those years, I was blessed to be in his presence numerous times, including two seminars and many pleasant surprises at the Gracie Academy. I am also proud to say that he was aware of my music, and he liked that I put his picture in my album cover and featured his grandsons in other

OTM: What are your thoughts on the impact of Helio on American martial arts?

Johnny Juice: I think Helio did what Bruce Lee was trying to do. Bruce was trying to get everybody to open their minds and look outside of their conventional martial arts box. Discard what isn’t useful. Add what is useful. If that was their style, thats what they did. Initially, the UFC was created to prove that Gracie Jiu Jitsu was superior to everything else. As we see, its not just superior, its the perfect complement to all the other arts that exist. Bruce was really trying to get people to see that, and we were not ready for it.

But its greatest achievement was the opening of the mind. It was the philosophical approach. People tend now to be a lot more open. They are more accepting of things that are different. We have a Black President now. I’m not saying Helio was responsible for that. But I think in a small way he was. Just the fact that someone could change their idea about something as serious as their martial art. The way they train. They will start thinking about everything they do. It started with a martial art, but it wasn’t just a martial art. It was an opening of the mind. People think to themselves. “If I was wrong about my art being the best, maybe I’m wrong about other view points.” Martial arts always serves as a microcosm of the world in general.

OTM: How has Gracie Jiu Jitsu been affected your life beyond the physical application?

Rakaa: I guess the only way to answer that is to say that Gracie Jiu Jitsu (which many people refer to as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) has benefited me on the mat, in the same way that learning to swim has benefited me in the water. I do love and appreciate all of the new styles and flavors of Jiu Jitsu. But I feel honored to train at the source with the best.I’m blessed to have been welcomed into their family, and I can definitely feel the support. On a practical level, studying the art is an educational experience. It’s a battle-tested martial art and science, a great workout, and a necessary stress reliever. I trained yesterday and all I can think about is training tomorrow. This weekend we will celebrate Grand Master Helio Gracie’s life, and I feel more focused and excited than ever to train. This is my passion and my discipline, and I’m a person that needs both. I’ll rep Gracie JiuJitsu forever.

OTM: Herb, where were you when you learned about the passing of Helio?

Herb Dean: I gotta text message sent to my phone. My first thought was- I was sad. Helio means a lot to all of us [in the MMA and martial arts communities]. This all [this modern age of martial arts] comes from Helio.

OTM: If you had to try and explain to someone who does not know anything about Helio Gracie explain what he contributed to martial arts?

Herb Dean: Helio changed not just the world of martial arts. He changed the world. How to live life, everything. Martial arts was in kind of a sad state before Helio came. Theres a lot of people taking the arts further and further into a land of fantasy. Helio brought it back. That started this whole movement of mixed martial arts. It changed what everybody thought about martial arts. It got people who were teaching fantasy world stuff to stop doing it. Besides that he gave us an example to live as a martial artist with honor. Family first. He surrounded himself with his family. He lived all his life doing the things he loved. He was a shining example of a man.

Adisa Banjoko is CEO of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. For more information visit

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