The Gracies face opposition
The Gracie’s were not the only ones doing Jiu-Jitsu in the world during the 1900’s, and certainly not the only one’s doing Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, they were just the most popular. Early members of the Gracie family in Brazil were political figures and very involved in the community where they lived. Among Helio’s first students were Governor of Rio, Carlos Lacerda, and President, Joao Figueiredo. Campeonato Brasileiro Série A There were many Japanese immigrants practicing Judo and Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil and a new form of “free fighting” was also developing in Brazil at this time. The Brazilians developed a system of fighting called Luta Livre (Free Fight), and if you ask a Gracie, they might tell you that Luta Livre is from Jiu-Jitsu, if you ask a Luta Livre practitioner, he might tell you something different. There is a large rivalry between the two styles, but the truth of the matter is that the styles are very similar. I heard from a few sources that Luta Livre was developed from Wrestling and Judo in Brazil. Luta Livre is practiced without the gi or kimono. While I was in Brazil, I passed down a street in Bahia (which is where Capoeira also comes from) named after one of the great Vale Tudo (meaning “anything goes”) fighters of the mid 1900’s named Valdimar Santana, who was responsible for one of Helio Gracie’s only defeats. I’ve heard some Brazilians call him a Luta Livre fighter, others say he was a Judoka, and the Gracies say he was a Jiu-Jitsu player. During Valdimar’s fight with Helio Gracie, after over an hour, Helio’s corner was forced to throw in the towel. I’ve read that Valdimar Santana was one of Helio’s students, but have heard different as well. Carlson Gracie would later avenge Helio’s defeat by defeating Valdimar Santana in a No Rules fight. The other famous victory over the Gracie family in the early part of the art’s development occurred in 1951. After defeating a famous Judo player named Kato, Helio issued a challenge to another Japanese fighter named Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was concerned about taking the fight because he felt Helio would be hard to submit. A friend of Yamaguchi named Masahiko Kimura (5’6″ 185 Lbs.) stepped up to face Helio in his place. The fight between Helio and Kimura resulted in a win for Kimura by TKO after Helio’s side threw in the towel. Kimura applied udegarami (a shoulder lock now called the Kimura), an arm lock to Helio’s left arm, breaking it. Helio was commended for not giving up, but still suffered a defeat, nonetheless.
An interesting event occurred later in the 1950’s when Kimura ended up facing Valdimar Santana in a No Holds Barred Match. He describes the name of the fighter as Adema, but I assume that this is a spelling mistake made in the translation due to the description being identical to Valdimar right down to the place he resided. Kimura describes the match in this excerpt taken from his biography “My Judo”. I debated for a while about whether to include this, but it was so interesting, hard to find in print, and so historically significant that I had to share it with you. This excerpt really gives a lot of insight as to what was happening in Brazil during this time period, and gives an idea about how far ahead of the U.S. and Japan that Brazil was in Mixed Martial Arts fighting. The next two and three-quarter pages are taken directly from Kimura’s book, My Judo.
“My opponent Adema (Valdimar) Santana was a 25 year old black man, and was a boxing heavy weight champion. He was 4th dan in judo, and a capoeira champion as well. He was 183cm had a well proportioned impressive physique. His weight was close to 100kg. Bahia, where the match took place, is a port city where black slaves were unloaded. The slaves were forbidden to carry a weapon. As a result, many martial arts were developed by them, I heard. Vale Tudo is one of such martial arts. In the south of Sao Paulo, pro wrestling is popular. But the farther one goes to the north, the more popular Vale Tudo becomes. Helio Gracie, whom I had previously fought, was the champion in Vale Tudo. But Adema Santana challenged him the previous year (Note: 1957), and after 2 hours and 10 minutes, Helio got kicked in the abdomen, could not get up, and got knocked out. Thus, Adema had become the new champion. In Vale Tudo, no foul is allowed. 1 foul results in an immediate disqualification. No shoes are allowed. When the fighters are separated, they are not allowed to strike with a fist, and they have to use open hand strikes. But once they get in contact with each other, every type of strike is allowed but groin strikes. All types of throws and joint locks are legal. The winner is decided when one of the fighters is KO’d or surrenders. Biting and hair pulling were illegal. Since bare-knuckle punches are traded, taking direct 2 or 3 hits in the eye means the end of the fight. I was told there have been many cases in which a fighter got hit in the eye with an elbow, and the eyeball popped out from the socket by half, and got carried to the hospital by an ambulance. Therefore, there were always 2 ambulances at the entrance of the arena.
“I have no choice. I will fight.” I said. Then, the promoter grinned, took out a form and told me to sign it. Yano translated the content, which said, “Even if I die in this match, it is what I intended, and will not make anyone accountable for my death.” I nodded, and signed the form. On my way to the ring, someone raised his arm and waved at me. It was Helio Gracie, whom I had not seen for several years. Helio was at the radio broadcast seat. He was the commentator of the match. The gong rang. Adema and I circled the ring first. I lightly extended my fingers in a half-body posture, and prepared for his kicks. Adema, also in a half-body posture, had tucked his chin, tightened his underarms, as he would do in a boxing match. Once in a while, he delivered high kicks to my face.
“I blocked the kicks with my hands, and returned a kick with my right leg. Adema started to deliver right and left roundhouse kicks. I stepped back and dodged them, but suddenly, I received a fire-like impact on my face. It was an open hand strike. I had overlooked his hand motion, paying too much attention to his kicks. When I got hit in the temple, and the core of my head became a blur, left and right roundhouse kicks came. When I blocked his right kick with my left hand, a tremendous pain ran through from the tip of the little finger to the back of the hand. I had jammed the finger. I traded kicks with him. The entire audiences were standing with excitement. Even in this situation, I was able to think clearly. While I was thinking ‘Adema is one level higher than I both in kicks and open hand strikes. In order to win, I must take the fight to the ground,’ another fast kick flew at my abdomen.