Friday, January 30, 2009


PETROPOLIS, Brazil -- There was no tribute, no tears and no speech.

Helio Gracie’s last will was respected by his sons and wife, who buried him on Thursday in his homeland, less than 10 hours after the Brazilian jiu-jitsu founder died at the age of 95 at Beficência Portuguesa Hospital.

“He was sick for a while, and he got caught by a pneumonia the last 10 days,” son Royler said by phone. “Even being so healthy, he was 95 years old and ended up not resisting.”

Four of the Gracie patriarch’s children -- Royler, Rorion, Rickson and Robin -- were unable to reach Brazil in time to participate in the funeral. Like thousands of jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts fans, they planned to pay a final tribute to Gracie on Friday, had the decision been made to bury him then. Instead, his last wishes were granted.

A simple ceremony was witnessed by some 70 relatives, close friends and students. Sons Royce and Rolker led the procession, a kilometer in length, from the chapel to the tomb where Gracie was buried. At the tomb, Royce asked for a round of applause for his father and placed a black belt over his coffin. Afterward, the UFC 1 and UFC 2 tournament champion revealed that his mother called Monday to tell him his father was weak and in the hospital.

“She thought he wouldn’t last long and told me to come to Rio,” Royce said. “I immediately bought the ticket and came. He was just expecting me to arrive. This morning, he passed away.”

Following the funeral, Royce, Rolker and Gracie’s wife, Vera, made the 20-minute trip to Itaipava to receive family and friends. Among them was Mario Aielo, who spoke on Rickson’s behalf.

“Thanks to this man, there are thousands of teachers around the world making a living from jiu-jitsu and thousands of fighters making a living from MMA,” Aielo said. “Without Helio Gracie, Rorion could not have brought Vale Tudo to the US and MMA would not exist, giving jobs to many fighters, promoters and managers and fun to millions of fans around the world.”

Rorion’s daughter, Rose, reflected on her grandfather’s life.

“My grandfather was an amazing man,” she said via phone in the U.S. “He was like a father to us. He never got out of the Gracie diet, never got out of the lifestyle he told others to live. Nowadays kids don’t have the same respect for their parents and grandparents. My grandfather not only had our respect, but he earned it. He would drive far away to come pick us up, and he would honk his horn like a crazy man. We would get in the car, and it was full of fruit and other goods from the Gracie diet. He made breakfast every morning for us and told stories at night.”

One story, in particular, stood out for Rose.

“One time, he said, ‘One day I was swimming in shark-infested water. I had to get through them somehow, so I grabbed one shark and put him in an arm lock. I grabbed another and put him in a Mata Leon,” she said. “I was young, but I believed him.”

Pedro Valente, one of Gracie’s best known disciples, was a third-generation student. He now runs the 600-student Valente’s Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academy in Miami, Fla.

“My grandfather was his student, my father was a student and I took lessons since I was 2 years old,” Valente said. “He was a father figure to me. He taught us a way of life, a life of perfection and efficiency -- and not just in jiu-jitsu but everyday life.

“He practiced what he preached,” he continued. “His diet was perfect. That’s why he never got old and never got sick. He was amazing. He was here [at the academy] last year, and he did a pull up.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009
by Marcelo Alonso (

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