Gracie Philosophy & History

History Overview

Although the complete Gracie Family history far exceeds what is included herein, the timeline below briefly describes 12 of the most significant occurrences that took place over the three generations the Gracies have been teaching jiu-jitsu. If you have any questions regarding Gracie Family history, beyond what is covered in the content below, please submit your question to the Forum section so we can help you find the answer.

1925- The Gracie Academy is Born
Carlos Gracie establishes the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® Academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  Carlos and his brothers taught Japanese Jiu-Jitsu techniques that Carlos learned from Esai Maeda, a Japanese immigrant.  Helio Gracie, the youngest of Carlos’ brothers, was restricted from practicing due to his small size and weak body.  As a result, Helio spent most of his time observing the lessons taught by his older brothers. 

1928- The Transformation Begins
Carlos Gracie is late for a private lesson, so Helio offers to teach the class in his brother’s absence.  Although he had never practiced the techniques, he had memorized them after years of patient observation.  Helio quickly realized that he was not strong enough to successfully apply the Japanese techniques against a larger opponent.  Never one to quit, Helio sought ways to make the techniques work using leverage, timing, and natural body movements instead of strength, speed, and coordination.

1931- The First Test
Helio defeats Antonio Portugal, a much heavier boxer.  Helio submits the boxer in minutes, proving that his improvements would enable a smaller person to defeat a larger, more athletic opponent.  His victory inspired him to continue modifying the Japanese techniques until he produced an art that would enable anyone, regardless of their physical attributes, to defend themselves against a larger assailant.

1947- Helio Gracie vs. Joe Louis
On June 6, Helio Gracie publicly challenges world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, to a no-holds-barred fight to refute an article published in Reader’s Digest arguing for the superiority of boxing over jiu-jitsu.  Joe Louis’ manager declines the invitation.  Even though the fight never took place, Helio’s challenge confirmed that he was willing to fight anyone, anytime, anywhere, in order to prove his system’s effectiveness.

1951- The Ultimate Confirmation
On October 23, Helio Gracie fights Masahiko Kimura, the best Japanese Jiu-Jitsu fighter of his day.  After more than 20 years of modifying and adapting the techniques, Helio was very curious to see how his adaptations would fare against the world jiu-jitsu champion.  Kimura, who was eighty pounds heavier than Helio, was so confident of victory that he declared if Helio lasted more than three minutes he should be considered the winner.  Helio frustrated Kimura for thirteen minutes before Carlos ended the fight to protect his brother from serious injury due to the shoulder lock that today bears Kimura’s name.  Many consider this “defeat” to be one of Helio’s greatest accomplishments, as Kimura was so impressed with Helio’s technical skill that he invited him to share his improvements with his Japanese peers.

1955- The Longest Fight
On May 24, Helio Gracie, 41, fights Waldemar Santana in the longest uninterrupted no-holds-barred fight in history.
  Even though retired from competition, Helio accepted Santana’s challenge, despite being 16 years older and almost 40 pounds lighter than the former Gracie Academy student.  After fighting nonstop for three hours and forty minutes, Helio became disoriented and Carlos again ended the match to protect him.  Although Santana was the victor, Helio’s ability to fend off the attack of a younger, stronger, more athletic, highly skilled grappler for nearly four hours earned him great respect and recognition.  In fact, this dramatic demonstration of his art’s effectiveness resulted in the greatest influx of students in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® Academy’s history.

1978- The Garage Days 
In the summer of 1978, Helio’s eldest son, Rorion, leaves Brazil for the United States determined to share his father’s revolutionary system of self-defense with the rest of the world.
  Rorion knew that the popularization of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® in the United States would open the door to worldwide exposure.  He arrived in Southern California with nothing but his passion for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® and his faith that he would succeed.  Short on money and turned away by every martial arts school, he resorted to teaching classes in his garage.  He offered a free lesson to every person he met and, within months, had a dedicated following. 

1980- The Gracie Challenge
Rorion invites anyone of any size or discipline to fight him to prove his superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu over all other martial arts.
  Rorion derived the Gracie Challenge from his frustration with America’s misplaced belief in the effectiveness of flashy martial arts that used high-flying kicks and brick breaking to prove their worth.  Following the first generation’s example, Rorion issued the Gracie Challenge as the supreme statement of his confidence in his family’s system of fighting.  Martial artists of all disciplines flocked to the challenge, and were shocked as the gentle, efficient techniques of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® defeated all-comers.

1989- The Grand Opening
Rorion, with brothers Rickson, Royce, and Royler, opens the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® Academy in Torrance, California, to meet the overwhelming demand for instruction in this unique Brazilian self-defense system.  
Local martial artists quickly grasped this significance of the stunning Gracie Jiu-Jitsu victories over heavy-hitting opponents.  With 130 students training in the garage, and 80 more on a waiting list, Rorion established what would eventually become the world headquarters for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu®.

1993- The Global Awakening
On November 12, Rorion Gracie changes the martial arts world forever with the airing of the Ultimate Fighting Championship®.
  In the 1970s and 80s, the popularity of Hollywood martial arts hatched hundreds of fighting styles, with each claiming to be superior to all others.  Rorion sought to end the debate over which art was superior once and for all by pitting masters against each other in a true no-holds-barred setting.  The results of Rorion’s eight-man, single elimination tournament shocked the world, as Royce Gracie-the smallest and most unassuming fighter in the competition-emerged victorious.  Royce’s victory, as had Helio’s victories before him, proved that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® was not only the most reliable system of self-defense, but also the only system that gives the average person a realistic chance against a larger, more athletic opponent.

1994- The U.S. Army Goes Gracie
The U.S. Army, the world’s most powerful army, chooses Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® as the basis for its military combative program.
  Members of U.S. Army Special Operations units charged with finding the most effective combative systems selected Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® based on its demonstrated effectiveness.  They asked Rorion to develop an intensive training course that would prepare soldiers for hand-to-hand combat in the least amount of time.  After thoroughly analyzing hundreds of fights, Rorion identified 36 techniques that were used more often and with more success than all others.  He crafted a short course based on these techniques, and presented it to the Army.  These techniques now serve as the foundation for the U.S. Army’s Modern Army Combatives Program, and have been adopted by hundreds of military and law enforcement organizations around the world.  Today, through the Gracie Combatives® program, they are available to private citizens seeking maximum self-defense skills in the shortest amount of time.2008- The Global Training Program
Rorion’s sons, Ryron and Rener, launch the Global Training Program to preserve the effectiveness of the art as a self-defense system.
  The demand for Gracie or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu® instruction continues to grow, mostly as a result of its popularity as a sport.  The unchecked growth and emphasis on competition, however, has resulted in the modification of many techniques without regard for the foundational principles of street applicability, energy efficiency, and natural body movements. Students are learning moves that rely more on sheer athleticism than on leverage and technique, and unknowingly develop reflexes that could lead to their demise in a real fight.  To counter this disturbing trend, the brothers developed the Global Training Program aimed at preserving and perpetuating the complete Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® curriculum, in its purest form.

The Founding Principle of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu®

Grand Master Helio Gracie was introduced to the Japanese art of jiu-jitsu by his brother, Carlos, at such a young age that, as time passed, he no longer remembered many of the techniques in their original form. However, he vividly recalls experiencing great difficulty when he attempted to use the techniques on a larger opponent and, as a result, had to modify nearly everything he had learned to accommodate his frail physique.  He points out that, despite the overall effectiveness and value of the Japanese techniques, nearly all of them had one or more limitations that prevented them from being fully useful to him.  In most cases, he attributed the limitations to: 1) inapplicability against a striking opponent in a real fight, 2) over-reliance on strength or speed, and/or 3) dependence on body movements that were awkward or uncomfortable for him.  Accordingly, he began modifying the art to ensure that every technique was fully street applicable, energy efficient, and based on natural body movements. Using these principles as a guide, he spent several years developing a complete system of self-defense consisting only of techniques that he could successfully apply against larger opponents.  Confident in his adaptations, he spent the next thirty years of his life proving his system’s effectiveness by using it to defeat numerous challengers, including several opponents who outweighed him by as much as 100 pounds.

The Gracie Guidelines
After nearly a century of testing in a wide variety of settings, Grand Master Helio Gracie’s system of self-defense remains fundamentally sound and intact.  To be sure, three generations of Gracie family members and other equally committed practitioners of the art have evolved the original techniques and added to the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® arsenal.  All of these changes, however, strictly adhere to the Grand Master’s requirements for street applicability, energy efficiency, and natural body movement.  Today, we call these requirements the “Gracie Guidelines.”
On your path towards Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® mastery, your knowledge of the Gracie Guidelines will serve you in two important ways.  First, it will enable you to solve problems on your own by modifying techniques in accordance with the guidelines, and second, it will enable you to recognize the multitude of impure techniques that are being developed by instructors who do not know, or choose not to adhere to the founding principles of the art.

  • Gracie Guideline #1: Street Applicability 
    Focus only on practicing techniques that are fully street applicable.  Practicing techniques that are not “punch proof” will cause you to develop a false sense of security.  By practicing techniques that keep you safe from strikes, you will develop the most important reflexes and avoid habits that could lead to injury in a real fight. If you modify a technique, you must verify that the new variation keeps you safe from all potentially dangerous strikes.
  • Gracie Guideline #2: Energy Efficiency
    Any technique that relies on speed and power rather than leverage and timing is not energy efficient.  In a real fight there is no time limit, so you must learn to save your energy.  The only reliable way for you to defeat a larger, more athletic opponent is to utilize techniques that cause your opponent to exhaust energy while simultaneously preserving your own.  Before adding any technique to your arsenal, you must verify that it is more reliant on leverage and proper timing than on your athletic capabilities.  Do not trust techniques based on strength or speed as they are unlikely to work against a larger, stronger attacker. 
  • Gracie Guideline #3: Natural Body Movements
    Any technique that requires you to move your body unnaturally is likely to fail in the heat of battle. Natural body movement is the best foundation on which to build the instinctive reflexes needed in a real fight. 

Violations of Guideline # 1 
With the demand for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instruction at an all-time high, thousands of self-proclaimed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors have opened schools around the world and are creating or modifying techniques at an unprecedented rate.  The problem is that most of these techniques violate the first guideline of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® – they are not street applicable.  The main reason for the divergence from this foundational principle is that these instructors are creating techniques for sport competition rather than real street fights.  Any technique that is designed to work exclusively in a controlled competition with all of their associated rules, weight classes, time limits, safety considerations, and point systems, will give the practitioner a false sense of security since these circumstances are totally non-existent in a real fight.

The Five Questions

With more than ninety years of experience instructing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® to a wide variety of students, the Gracie family has addressed nearly every question and situation that may arise in conjunction with the practice of this martial art, and what they have found is that five questions have been asked more than all the others.  Furthermore, they found that the five most common questions can usually be answered by applying a set of established problem-solving principles. 

If you have a question about a technique, first review the entire lesson to ensure you did not miss something as there are many details in each segment.  Next, determine if your problem falls under one of the five most frequently asked questions, and apply the problem-solving principles to find your answer.  If you’re still having trouble, submit your question to the Technique Forumso we can help you find the answer.

Question #1: Why isn’t this move working for me?

Problem Solving Principle: Apply the four reasons that account for most students’ inability to execute a technique.

Reason #1: Missing Details
The most common reason for difficulty with a technique is that you simply overlooked an essential detail.  Watch the lesson one or two more times to ensure that you have learned every detail.

Reason #2: Bad “Bad Guy” Behavior
We designed the Gracie Combatives® techniques to neutralize or counter the most likely attacks that would occur in a real fight.  For this reason, it is very important that the “bad guy” realistically simulates the attacker behavior or else the technique may not work.  Review the “Bad Guy Reminders” that are discussed in the presentation.

Reason #3: Bad Timing
Timing is everything.  If you feel that you are performing all the steps correctly but the technique is still not working, there is a good chance that your timing is off. Review the lesson for hints on how you can use better timing to increase your effectiveness.

Reason #4: Physical Limitations
Although the techniques have been proven effective for people of all demographics, it is possible that an extreme physical limitation prevents you from successfully applying a technique.  However, it is very important that you verify that the problem is not due to reasons 1-3, before concluding that you cannot physically execute the technique. If a physical limitation is the problem, we recommend you use your understanding of the Gracie Guidelines (see ‘Founding Principles’) to modify the technique to accommodate your body or consider using another technique from the curriculum to solve the problem.  

Question #2: What if the bad guy does something different?

Problem Solving Principle: The objective of the Gracie Combatives® course is to prepare you to defend against the most common attacks that a larger, unskilled opponent would use in a real fight.  If during the practice of a technique your partner varies the attack behavior from that covered in the instruction, then consider the following:

Consideration #1: Street Realness
Remember that the Gracie Combatives® techniques address the most natural and, therefore, most common bad guy behaviors.  Your training partner’s role is to consistently simulate the most common behavior so that you can perfect the techniques as you are most likely to apply them in a street fight.  A poor training partner will constantly change behavior in order to defeat the techniques.  This will prevent you from learning the techniques properly and may even promote development of bad habits.  We will address all the “what if” scenarios later in your training, during the Master Cycle.

Consideration #2: Training Speed, Street Speed, and the Surprise Element
When practicing, always execute the techniques so slowly that it is impossible to make a mistake.  The slow pace and predictability of proper training will provide your partner with many opportunities to counter the technique. Again, your training partner’s role is to consistently simulate the most common behavior so that you can perfect the techniques – not to fight with you.  Eventually, your diligent and exacting practice will produce precise, efficient, and quick reflexes that will leave your attacker with no opportunity to counter your techniques. In a real fight, you will also have the advantage of surprise since your attacker will have no advanced knowledge of how you react to his actions.

Consideration #3: The Complete Curriculum Will Address Nearly Every Scenario
If the modified bad guy behavior is legitimate, you can either wait to learn the solution to the problem in a future lesson, or you can use the Gracie Guidelines to develop your own temporary solution.  Above all, remember that you must perfect the 36 Gracie Combatives® techniques as we present them in the course.  Any time you spend on modifications based on less likely bad guy behaviors will slow your progress toward blue belt and delay your access to the remaining 600+ techniques of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu®.

Question #3: Can’t the bad guy punch you from there?

Problem Solving Principle:  Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® is a grappling art that puts you within very close range of your opponent.  As a result, you must be constantly aware of your opponent’s ability to punch you.  Here are some facts you must consider regarding punches:

Fact #1: You Will Get Punched
In a fight, the question is not whether you will get punched, but whether or not the punch will hurt you. We score a punch’s effectiveness from1-10 on the hypothetical “Punch Power Scale” with “1” being a weak punch and “10” representing a potential knockout blow.   The objective of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® techniques is to completely avoid all punches that score 5 or above and minimize the rest. 

Fact #2: Distance is Everything
In order for a punch to land effectively, your opponent must establish the proper distance and angle.  Accordingly, your ability to neutralize punches is almost entirely based on how effectively you control the distance and angles between your face and your opponent’s fists.    Any time you are within two arms reach of your opponent, you are liable to get hit.  The key is to remain calm and understand that you can neutralize any punch by positioning yourself either inside or outside the optimal punching range.   When you are inside optimal punching range, your opponent will be able to touch your head but will not be able to hit hard enough to hurt you.

Fact #3: Punching is Exhausting
It takes a lot of energy to punch.  Whenever your opponent is throwing punches that score 4 or below, you may take solace in knowing that the punches are probably more exhausting to them than they are damaging to you and that you will soon have the opportunity to take advantage of your opponent’s weakened state.

Question #4: What if the bad guy attacks my eyes or my groin in this situation?

Problem Solving Principle: Although street fights have no rules, we have found that larger and stronger opponents prefer to punch the face rather than attack the eyes and/or groin. However, in order to defend against dirty fighting techniques you must adopt the following priorities:

Priority #1: Respect the Punch
Since punches are the most common form of attack and the most immediate threat at any given time, stopping them must be your first priority.  Shift your priority to defend against other types of attacks only if your opponent clearly resorts to a dirty fighting technique (eye gouge, groin shot, biting, etc.).  Even when defending against other attacks, never forget to block the punches. 

Priority #2: Master the Techniques 
You will have truly mastered the techniques when you can apply them without conscious thought.  Once you reach this level you will remain calm and easily read your opponent’s behavior in the midst of a fight leading to quick neutralization of any type of attacks before they happen.  Your controlling techniques and calm mind are your most reliable defense mechanisms.

Question #5: What if the bad guy is too big?

Problem Solving Principle: We have proven the effectiveness of every technique against larger opponents.  Here are some facts regarding the use of the techniques against much larger adversaries:  

Fact #1: True Mastery Takes Time
Learning a technique is a relatively simple process that can be accomplished in one lesson. However, perfecting the technique takes months if not years.   We have found that your ability to handle larger opponents increases as you improve your mastery of the technique.  As your proficiency increases, practice against progressively larger partners until you find your limit – if you have one.

Fact #2: Reach Maximum Potential with Perfect Technique
Most Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® techniques will work against an opponent of any size when executed with perfect timing and accuracy.  While you can’t control the size of your attacker, you can control the amount of time and energy you dedicate to perfecting the techniques. Your ability to successfully apply your techniques against a giant is directly related your mastery of the skills.

The Four Levels of Certification

There are four levels of certification at which a school or training center can be recognized by Gracie University®. Level 1 constitutes a school that is authorized to teach the Gracie Combative®s course while Levels 2-4 constitute a school that is authorized to teach the various segments of the Master Cycle® program.  The four levels also correspond with the traditional belt system: blue, purple, brown and black.

  • Level 1: Gracie Combatives®
    By focusing entirely on the 36 Gracie Combatives® techniques, a Level 1 certified training center is capable of taking any new student from no knowledge to “street ready” in the least amount of time possible. Once the 36 techniques have been perfected individually, the student will qualify to participate in the weekly Reflex Development Classes where they will learn how to execute all the techniques in combination. After the techniques have been mastered individually and in every possible combination, the student will be tested for promotion to Blue Belt. The potency of the 36 techniques and the unparalleled structure of the Gracie Combatives® course make it the best program for any new student of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu®.
  • Level 2: Purple Belt
    A Level 2 Certified Training Center can instruct the Master Cycle® techniques required for promotion to Purple Belt.
  • Level 3: Brown Belt 
    A Level 3 Certified Training Center can instruct the Master Cycle® techniques required for promotion to Brown Belt.
  • Level 4: Black Belt 
    A Level 4 Certified Training Center can instruct the Master Cycle® techniques required for promotion to Black Belt. This is the highest level of certification.

Probationary Period 
Each time a school moves from one certification level to the next, the school will remain on probation until the instructor has proven that he/she can effectively transfer all the knowledge they acquired to their students. Only after Gracie University® verifies that the instructor can effectively teach all the newly learned techniques, will the school’s certification status be deemed official.

Belt Promotions 
In order to uphold the integrity of the belt system and to ensure the quality of instruction remains high at all Certified Training Centers, all students will be evaluated for promotion by the head instructors of Gracie University®. All students advance through the curriculum at their own pace, and when the instructor believes the student is ready to test for a particular belt promotion he/she digitally records their belt testing performance.  Then, the video is uploaded to where it is evaluated by a head instructor of Gracie University®, and if the student’s performance meets Gracie University® standards, the promotion will be authorized.  Upon approval, the name of the qualified individual will be added to the list of certified belt holders and an official Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® belt, along with a certificate of authenticity, will be mailed to the training center to be awarded to the student.

The Path to Black Belt 
If you are a new student to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® do not be concerned if the Certified Training Center in your community has not reached Level 4 certification. Understand that what matters most is that your instructor is committed to getting the information directly from the source. Focus entirely on taking it day by day and dedicate yourself to mastering each technique and strategy as it is taught to you. Trust that by the time you master a segment of the curriculum your instructor will have the next segment ready for you to learn. It will take time and discipline, but if you follow these guidelines and trust your instructor, they will take you to black belt.

Quality Control 
The primary objective of the Global Training Program is to make Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® available around the world in its purest form. We realize that not all instructors will be equally committed to upholding the integrity of the art. For this reason, we rely heavily on the students to report any potential incidences of instructor malpractice so that we may take immediate corrective measures. On the brighter side, we also encourage all students to send us their positive feedback regarding their experiences at the Certified Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® Training Center they frequent. All student feedback should be sent to

The Gracie Triangle
As the demand for effective Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® instruction increases, more and more schools are claiming to teach Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® without authorization. For this reason, we have authorized all official certified training centers to display the registered Gracie Triangle® trademark on their storefronts. Any school claiming to teach Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® without displaying the Gracie Triangle® is not recognized by Gracie University® and therefore should not be trusted as a source of pure Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® instruction. Any school that displays the Gracie Triangle® without authorization from Gracie University® is in violation of the law and will be prosecuted.