What is Gracie Jiu Jitsu?

Gracie Jiu Jitsu is a street applicable self defense system. A fundamental principal of Gracie Jiu Jitsu is energy efficiency. Gracie Jiu Jitsu uses natural body movements in combination with leverage to defend, control, escape, and submit an opponent. Read on below for a history of Gracie Jiu Jitsu and for further detail on what makes Gracie Jiu Jitsu different from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu Founding Principles

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.

Prof. Tony Debelak demonstrates an arm bar from the mount.

what is the triple threat position in gracie jiu-jitsu

Gracie Jiu Jitsu Aurora students drill the back mount triple threat position.

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
  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

Knowing the 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.

#1 Street Applicability
street sparring at Gracie Jiu Jitsu

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.

#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.

#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 Gracie Family History


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
Gracie Jiu-jitsu was started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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
Royce Gracie wins UFC 1

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 combatives program. Members of U.S. Army Special Operations units charged with finding the most effective combatives 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.

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