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The Gracies - First Family of Jiu Jitsu

The Gracie Dynasty has had a huge influence on BJJ . Although some dispute the claims made by the family, nobody can deny their contribution.
The Gracies - First Family of Jiu Jitsu

by JJB Admin

6 years ago

The Gracie Dynasty has had a huge influence on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Although some dispute the claims made by the family, nobody can deny that their contribution to the martial arts has been both huge and far-reaching. We have compiled short biographies on 13 of the family members who we consider to be some of the most interesting and influential. In order of birth date, they are:

Carlos Gracie (1902-1994)

Carlos Gracie is widely credited with being the martial arts patriarch of the famous Gracie family. Born on September 14, 1902, in Belem do Para, Brasil, Carlos and his family moved to Rio de Janeiro while he was still young. There, he began to train in Judo under Mitsuyo Maeda. After several years he was promoted to instructor. According to the family story, his youngest brother Helio once stepped in to teach a class and began modifying techniques to fit his frail body. Seeing how the techniques compensated for the lack of strength by using leverage, Carlos and Helio began to use these modifications to create Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Carlos founded the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy and refined his technique by issuing an open challenge to anyone willing to test their skills against him in combat. These open challenge bouts went on for many years, and Carlos fared well. He is reputed to have been undefeated and became known throughout Brazil. Once his fighting career ended, Carlos turned his attention to building the Gracie name internationally. He trained his sons and nephews in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and expanded his Academy to include several schools. His offspring have gone on to become ambassadors of his original vision and have carried the Gracie name across the world.

Interesting Facts: Carlos Gracie fathered 21 children. 13 have achieved the rank of black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 10th Degree Red Belt

MMA Record: N/A

Helio Gracie (1913-2009)

Born October 1, 1913, in Belem do Para, Brasil Helio was the youngest of seven children. From his early days, he was frail, often unable to complete physical tasks without fainting. His brother Carlos began training Jiu-Jitsu while Helio watched from the sidelines. Carlos became a Jiu-Jitsu instructor in Rio de Janeiro. Once, he was late to a class. Helio stepped in and began learning first hand how his lack of physical prowess limited his ability to perform the drills he had memorized. He was forced to modify the techniques to account for his lack of strength. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was born. Helio had his first fight at the age of 18. He was on a mission to prove his brand of Jiu-Jitsu was superior to all other forms of martial arts. He competed against wrestlers, boxers, and other submission artists for several decades, firmly establishing the Gracie name in the world of combat arts. Helio spent his later years coaching his numerous offspring in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. He was in his son Royce’s corner in 1993 when he shocked the world by winning UFC 1. Helio passed away in 2009, but not before the Gracie name was world-famous for his particular brand of Jiu-Jitsu.

Interesting Fact: Helio once jumped into shark-infested waters to save a man from drowning. For his heroism, he was awarded a medal of honour.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 10th Degree Red Belt

MMA Record: 10-3-8 (Vale Tudo)

Carlson Gracie (1932-2006)

Son of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu co-founder Carlos Gracie, Carlson Gracie was born August 13, 1932, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Born into the family business, he competed in his first BJJ match at the age of 6. When Carlos and Helio began to search for the next great family champion to defend the reputation of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and spread their teaching to the rest of the world, Carlson was the logical choice. For several decades Carlson reigned supreme in the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, claiming numerous world titles and establishing himself as one of the greatest grapplers of all time. Carlson’s greatest legacy was his devotion to teaching his family’s art. After founding his own school, he went on to develop and coach some of the greatest MMA fighters of the time. Vitor Belfort, Ricardo Liborio, and Murilo Bustamante were just a few of the legends who learned from Carlson. Later, his students would go on to run some of the most famous MMA teams in the world including American Top Team, Brazilian Top Team, and Nova Uniao. Carlson died at the age of 74 in Chicago, Illinois, still coaching at his son’s school and traveling the world conducting seminars.

Interesting Fact: When Carlson left the family academy it was due to a dispute with his uncle Helio over coaching methods. Carlson believed BJJ should be open to everyone and students should receive all of a coach’s knowledge. He instituted group sessions, an open-door policy, and even trained students for free so long as they were committed to improvement.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 9th Degree Red Belt, Multiple BJJ World Champion

MMA Record: 18-1

Rolls Gracie (1951-1982)

Widely regarded as the father of modern BJJ, Rolls Gracie was born March 28, 1951. He was the son of Carlos Gracie but was raised by his uncle, Helio. Rolls took up Jiu-Jitsu while still a toddler and rapidly became an expert. His natural athleticism and dogged perseverance made him a star, even among his highly regarded brothers and cousins. A naturally gifted athlete, Rolls showed an insatiable appetite for learning new skills. At an early age, he began training with judokas and wrestlers to broaden his knowledge. In a departure from Helio’s teaching, Rolls began incorporating new techniques learned from these excursions into other combat arts into his style of Jiu-Jitsu. For this, he was often called “The Guru.” He held great influence over the development of family superstars Rickson, Royler, and Carlos Jr. In 1982, Rolls died in a tragic hang gliding accident. All of the Gracies mourned his passing as did the countless students whose lives he touched. In the short time he operated his school, Rolls changed the face of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and paved the way for the success of MMA decades later.

Interesting Fact: Only six men had the honour of being awarded black belts from Rolls Gracie due to his untimely death.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 9th Degree Red Belt, Campeonato de Jiu-Jitsu da Guanabara Champion (1973, 1974), Brazilian National Wrestling Champion (1975), Pan American Wrestling Champion (1979), Pan American SamboChampion (1979), Pan American Sambo Bronze Medallist (1980)

MMA Record: N/A

Rorion Gracie (b. 1952)

Although Carlos, Helio, Rickson, and Royce are better known, Rorion Gracie may have contributed the most to his family’s ascension as a dynasty in modern martial arts. Rorion, the oldest son of Helio Gracie, was born January 10, 1952, in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. He learned Gracie Jiu-Jitsu at an early age and began participating in demonstrations to promote the family business throughout his childhood. After attending college and earning a law degree in 1978, Rorion moved to California to spread the word about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He found work in the film industry and worked as an extra for several years. To continue to train, he put mats in his garage and invited anyone interested in learning his family's martial art. Through his contacts in Hollywood, Rorion met a promoter named Bob Davie who fell in love with the idea of a televised Gracie Challenge. In 1993, Rorion and Davie created the Ultimate Fighting Challenge, today’s UFC, which was won convincingly by Rorion’s younger brother Royce. After Royce’s victory, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu exploded, and Rorion was poised to capitalize on the newfound popularity. He opened the first Gracie Academy in Torrance, California and never looked back. Today, Rorion is responsible for a multimillion-dollar business through his academies, training outlets, and merchandising.

Interesting Fact: Rorion choreographed the fight scenes in Lethal Weapon 1 and 3 for Mel Gibson.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 9th Degree Red Belt

MMA Record: N/A

Carlos Gracie Jr. (b. 1956)

Carlos Gracie Jr. had the unique opportunity to be heavily influenced in his jiu-jitsu development by three of the most revered men in BJJ, Carlos, Helio, and Rolles Gracie. Born January 17, 1956, in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, Carlos Jr. immediately began training BJJ, but under the tutelage of his uncle, Helio, by whom he was raised for much of his childhood. Carlos Jr. and his brother Rolls were extremely close. When his brother died in a hang gliding accident, Carlos Jr. assumed responsibility for opening a new school his brother had planned. This became the first Gracie Barra Academy. Under Carlos Jr.’s guidance, Gracie Barra has grown to become one of the most successful BJJ schools across the world, with more than 300 academies in 10 countries. In 2002, Carlos Gracie Jr. founded the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, or IBJJF, in an attempt to standardize competition and unify rules. The IBJJF is recognized as a leading authority on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and hosts some of the world’s largest BJJ competitions. Carlos Jr remains active in the organization today.

Interesting Fact: In 1994, Carlos Gracie Jr. launched a magazine he called The Gracie Journal to help promote BJJ to a wider audience. The magazine became successful, and a few years later he changed the name to Graciemag, now recognized as one of BJJ’s foremost publications.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 8th Degree Red and White Belt

MMA Record: N/A

Rickson Gracie (b. 1958)

Helio Gracie’s third son, Rickson, was born November 21, 1958, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. By the age of five, he had already begun to show the grappling prowess he would become famous for later in life. By fifteen he was instructing students in the martial art his father and uncle had created to showcase technique and leverage over brawn. No one was surprised when Helio awarded his most promising pupil a black belt soon after Rickson’s 18th birthday. Rickson spent almost a decade fighting in Brazil with his biggest win coming over a 230-pound undefeated No Holds Barred fighter, Rei Zulu, in front of 20,000 fans. He left for America soon after to help his brothers open the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California. After leaving his home country, all of Rickson’s fights took place in Japan. Every match ended with the same result, a win by submission for the Gracie fighter. He soon established himself as one of the greatest fighters of all time. After retiring from fighting, he remains active teaching and promoting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu around the world.

Interesting Fact: Rickson was one side of the greatest MMA fight that never happened. He was scheduled to fight Kazushi Sakuraba, known as the “Gracie Killer” for his wins against Royler, Renzo, Ryan, and Royce. Tragically, Rickson’s son Rockson died unexpectedly months before the bout was scheduled to take place. Devastated, Rickson withdrew and subsequently retired from competition.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 8th Degree Coral Belt, Multiple BJJ World Champion, Samba World Gold Medalist, Brazilian Freestyle Wrestling Champion.

MMA Record: 11-0 (11 Submission Victories)

Royler Gracie (b. 1965)

Born December 6, 1965, Royler Gracie began training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with his brothers and cousins as soon as he could walk. His father Helio oversaw their practices and was proud when Royler would often stay late to watch the adults train so he could absorb more advanced techniques. Royler was greatly encouraged by his cousin Rolls and to this day bases his style on this early influence. After Rolls’ untimely death, Royler began to train with his older brother Rickson. Royler is widely known as the greatest featherweight grappler of all time. For almost a decade he was stayed on top of the division and was unbeaten for several of those years. Later he turned to MMA where he was far less successful and retired with a .500 record. As with many Gracies, Royler turned to coaching and founded a successful BJJ Academy and MMA gym in San Diego, California where he still resides.

Interesting Fact: In 1997 Royler competed as a featherweight in the World Judo Championship Open Weight Division. He placed third.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 7th Degree Coral Belt, World Champion (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999), Pan American Champion (1997, 1999), ADCC Champion (1999, 2000, 2001)

MMA Record: 5-5-1

Royce Gracie (b. 1966)

Royce may not have been the most talented fighter in the Gracie family, but he is arguably the most famous. Born December 12, 1966, in Rio de Janeiro, he began training BJJ at the age of five and received his black belt at 18. Soon after, he left for California to help his brothers open the famed Gracie Academy in Torrance. Royce burst onto the world stage in 1993 when he was chosen to represent Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in a no holds barred event to determine the greatest martial art in the world, UFC 1. The physically unimposing Royce was the perfect candidate to prove his father’s claim that BJJ was the great equalizer in combat, relying on technique and leverage to overcome strength. Royce went on to defeat three opponents and claim the first of three titles in the promotion. Royce’s impressive showing introduced the world to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and started a martial arts empire still alive today. Royce left the UFC and continued his fighting career in Japan where he became a fan favourite and cemented his place as a legend of MMA. Now retired, he continues to promote Gracie Jiu-Jitsu through teaching and seminars.

Interesting Fact: Helio Gracie claimed he chose Royce to compete at UFC 1 over Rickson because Royce was not as physically intimidating and would prove definitively that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu worked against larger opponents. Others, including promoter Bob Davies, have claimed Rickson was the first choice but he demanded too much money to appear, so Royce was given the opportunity by default.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 7th Degree Black Belt

MMA Record: 15-5

Renzo Gracie (b. 1967) The grandson of Carlos Gracie, Renzo was born March 11, 1967, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As is common in the Gracie family, Renzo began training BJJ as soon as he was able to walk. He quickly showed aptitude on the mat, receiving his training primarily from Rolles Gracie and Carlos Gracie Jr. By the age of 20, Renzo had become a multiple-time champion of BJJ in Brasil. When his cousin Royce introduced the world to Gracie Jiu-Jits at UFC 1, Renzo seized the opportunity and moved to New York to open his own Academy. He is credited with training many of the best fighters in North America, including UFC Champions George St. Pierre, Chris Weidman, and Matt Serra. Despite his toughness and grappling pedigree, Renzo’s MMA record is a lacklustre 13-8-1. However, he did beat some of the greatest fighters of his era including Carlos Newton, Pat Miletich, and Oleg Taktarov during his career with Pride FC and the UFC. Today, Renzo has retired from fighting and continues to operate his school in Manhattan which has become known for its high-quality instruction and successful students.

Interesting Fact: In addition to a long list of famous students, Renzo has been the personal BJJ instructor to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, since 1993. Many credit this relationship for the explosion of popularity BJJ and MMA have enjoyed in the region ultimately leading to heavy investment in the UFC.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 6th Degree Black Belt, ADCC champion (1998 and 2000), Copa Atlantico Sul Champion (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994)

MMA Record: 13-8-1

Roger Gracie (b.1981)

Carlos Gracie’s grandson, Roger Gracie, was born September 26, 1981, in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. His father, Mauricio Motta Gomes, was a decorated grappler and he, along with the Gracie side of the family exposed Roger to BJJ at an early age. But, it wasn’t until his teenage years that the future legend took the sport seriously. In fact, he did not earn his black belt until the age of 23, which is late by Gracie standards. Roger spent much of his youth in London with his father, travelling back to Brazil to train with Carlos Gracie Jr. This didn’t seem to slow him down as he was already enjoying international success in BJJ competitions in his teens. Then, in 2000 at the age of 19, he went on a run of medals unlike any seen before or since. By 2010, Roger had become a 10-time world champion and legend of the sport. Roger has since turned his attention to MMA, and so far the results have been good. He has compiled a record of 8-2 with Strikeforce, the UFC, and One FC and is the Light Heavyweight Champion in his current promotion. He also has founded one of the largest BJJ Schools in England with the help of his father.

Interesting Fact: At the 2005 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship Roger entered the field and won all eight of his matches at both super heavyweight and absolute by submission to take gold.

Highest Grappling Achievement: World Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, ADCC (2005), European Open Champion (2005), Pan American Champion, Brazilian national Champion

MMA Record: 8-2

Kyra Gracie (b. 1985)

It makes perfect sense that the greatest female BJJ athlete of all time is a Gracie. Kyra Gracie, the great-granddaughter of Carlos Gracie, was born May 29, 1985, in Rio de Janeiro. She grew up in a home with her uncles, Ralph, Ryan, and Renzo Gracie, all accomplished black belts at the time. Of course, young Kyra was surrounded by BJJ and began formally training at the age of 11. She received her black belt from Carlos Gracie Jr at the age of 21 after several years of competing internationally. Kyra is one of the most decorated grapplers in the Gracie family with three ADCC championships, four world championships, and a host of other gold medals to her name. She also is following in the family business of raising awareness about BJJ to new students across the globe. Due to her attractive looks, charming personality, and obvious expertise in the sport, Kyra is fast becoming a television personality with the ability to reach new audiences while acting as a commentator or through her show on the UFC network.

Interesting Fact: Kyra Gracie is one of only two Gracie women to earn a black belt in BJJ and the only one to compete internationally.

Highest Grappling Achievement: 3d Degree Black Belt, ADCC Champion (2005, 2007, 2011), World Champion (2004 2006, 2008, 2010), Pan American Champion (2001, 2002,2003, 2005, 2007), Brazilian National Champion (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2008)

MMA Record: N/A

Kron Gracie (b. 1988)

Kron Gracie was born July 11, 1988, in Rio de Janeiro, although he spent most of his childhood in Los Angeles, California. As the son of Rickson Gracie and grandson of Helio Gracie much was expected of Kron when he began competing in BJJ tournaments and he didn’t disappoint. Although facing world-class competition in the sport’s biggest tournaments, he once reeled off fifty-one straight submission victories on his way to multiple world titles. Having established himself as an all-time BJJ great, Kron has now moved on to MMA where he has experienced early success. So far in his career, he is undefeated, with all four wins coming by submission. Kron is currently signed to the Rizin promotion.

Interesting Fact: Kron’s MMA debut was so highly anticipated he was included as a fighter in the 2010 EA Sports MMA video game before ever stepping into a ring or octagon.

Highest Grappling Achievement: ADCC Champion (2013), IBJJF European Champion (2009), IBJJF World Champion (2006 purple, 2007 brown), CBJJO World Cup Champion (2006 purple), Pro Sub League: X-Mission Champion (2006), IBJJF Pan American Champion (2005 purple, 2007/2008 brown weight & absolute), World Jiu-Jitsu Expo Superfight Champion (2012), IBJJF World Championship Runner-up (2011)

MMA Record: 4-0


  • Hi Ahmed – you can see the locations of all the clubs in our network here:

    The Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood on

  • I’m interested in learning brazilian Jiu jitsu from the Gracie family. What is your location?

    Ahmed on

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