William Vandry BJJ in My Eyes (July 2011): The Gracie Challenge, Lineage, Heirs and Legacy of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu’s Leaders

Gracies and Carlos Machado with Chuck Norris


Masters Carlos and Helio Gracie with School and Machado brothers


In a past interview, Carley Gracie discussed his father, Carlos Gracie, the patriarch and Grandmaster of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and his challenge fights that many define as ‘The Gracie challenge’.


Carley Gracie discussed his father’s creation from this quote:


“The Gracie challenge started with my father Carlos Gracie in the early 1920’s. When my father first started teaching Jiu-Jitsu, people questioned his ability as a fighter because he was small and not very muscular. There were fighters from other styles, such as Greco-Roman wrestlers, who looked much more powerful. My father fought with these other stylists to prove the superiority of his style of Jiu-Jitsu. He was so successful as a fighter that he began to have trouble finding opponents; no one wanted to lose. That’s where the challenge came in. Eventually, my father put an advertisement in a newspaper that went something like this: “If you want to get your face beaten and well-smashed, and if you want broken arms, look for me at this address.” …an open challenge to all fighters and tough guys to test our system of fighting.”


In this day, many people define challenge matches from watching the UFC, or a reference to the older days dating back to 1993 when the Ultimate Fighting Championship started.

Actually it dates way before that.

Wikipedia has a definition of The Gracie challenge.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gracie_challenge

“The Gracie challenge was an open invitation issued by some members of the Brazilian Gracie family, known for their Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) mastery, to martial artists of other styles to fight them in a Vale tudo match. A precursor to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the purpose of these challenges were to prove the effectiveness of the Gracie style of BJJ. Challenges have been issued since Carlos Gracie first made one in the 1920s with some becoming public events while others have remained private. Bets on challenges have reached $100,000 to the
winner of the match.”

Machados and Gracies with Grandmaster Carlos Gracie and Helio Gracie


The great Helio Gracie, who was Carlos’ younger brother learned from him and later after Carlos retired, Helio took the mantle to accept challenge matches.

What was the purpose overall?
The great Grandmaster and founder of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu art Carlos Gracie had proven a style.  I note that in our art of Jiu-jitsu, we should never arrogantly brag, boast, or challenge people simply to establish a bullying mentality or a fueling of arrogance.  I see this too often on the internet, and on events such as the UFC.  Respectful challenges or fight comments when training for a fight is different, but to personally disrespect, insult or attack someone has nothing to do with martial arts.  This too is a subject of concern in my opinion where it seems to have went down the track of aggravating,
angering and developing public negativity from fighter interviews or posts that forever brand into the public eye.

The most prominent fighter of modern times was the great Rickson Gracie.  Master Rickson Gracie had accepted challenges and was the champion of the Gracies and of Jiu-jitsu from the 80’s through the early 2000 era up until he retired.  Rickson retired undefeated, and was first known in the Gracie in Action video tapes, made by his brother Rorion Gracie.  Rorion Gracie is the elder brother of the Gracies, and was a key figure in starting the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  Rorion promoted MMA and the challenge match points when his younger brother Royce Gracie fought and won three UFC’s.  Royce won four matches in one night in UFC 2.  I remember some interesting matches he had, and fighting a great Karate champion his first fight.  The commentator was erroneous when he stated that Royce’s armbar was bent and usually it has to be straightened.  What he didn’t know and what most people did not know was Royce actually had a collar choke, not an armbar.  Back then and even to a point today, many color commentators in MMA still misstate or didn’t understand exactly what the finish really was.

Defining challenges and the sports of MMA

First of all, MMA is not a martial art, it is a sport.  Proof of this is when you have a pure striker against a pure grappler.  Many fighters have a strong point in one area.  There are many cross styles that fighters train in.  For example, Carlson Gracie’s fighters in the 90’s did boxing and Jiu-jitsu.  Nearly every fighter has been exposed to Jiu-jitsu in one way or the other.

Rickson Gracie vs. Jean Jacques Machado


Rickson Timeline


Rickson Gracie was popularized in the 90’s when his brother Royce I believe in a magazine quoted his brother Rickson by stating: “Rickson is ten times better than me.”


Wow. Everyone wanted to know who this Rickson guy was.  Rickson had followed the champion role of Jiu-jitsu, when Grandmaster Carlos Gracie was revered as our founder, that Grandmaster role passed to his younger brother Helio.  Helio is Rickson’s father.  Before Rickson, Rolls Gracie was the champion of the family who mentored Rickson in his younger days.  Rolls tragically died in a hang gliding accident.  When that happened, Rickson took the role of the fighter of Jiu-jitsu.  Rickson set an impact on his talent, ability, and his charm and personality when being interviewed.


Rickson is retired now, but still in good shape.  I personally don’t think he has anything to prove anymore.  Neither does his brother Royce, who made a tremendous impact on many when he fought in the early UFC’s.


In Jiu-jitsu, we do not have a current Grandmaster.  We do not have one sole man who can claim the throne of Carlos Gracie and then Helio Gracie. The founder was Carlos Gracie.  His younger brother Helio Gracie inherited the throne as he took the challenges when Carlos was retired. Grandmaster Carlos Gracie himself does not get mentioned enough in my opinion.  When I wrote my book years ago called Leglocks!  The great equalizer, I posted a thanks to Carlos Gracie Sr. for creating a style I would learn decades later. Carlos taught his nephews, and specifically my chief instructor Master Carlos Machado much of the philosophy, training and ideas of Jiu-jitsu. Carlos Gracie had 21 children.  There is no select leader of Jiu-jitsu today. There are many different artists, and ranking artists.


Carlos had 21 children, 13 of whom earned the rank of black belt in Gracie Jiu-jitsu. These 13 are:

  • Carlson Gracie, 9th degree red belt
  • Robson Gracie, 9th degree red belt
  • Reyson Gracie, 9th degree red belt
  • Reylson Gracie, 8th degree red and black belt
  • Rosley Gracie, 8th degree red and black belt
  • Carley Gracie, 8th degree red and black belt
  • Rolls Gracie, Black belt (Raised by Helio Gracie)
  • Rocian Gracie, 7th degree red and black belt
  • Carlion Gracie, 7th degree red and black belt
  • Carlos “Carlinhos” Gracie, Jr., 7th degree red and black belt
  • Karla Gracie, Black belt (First female Gracie family member to reach the rank of black belt)
  • Crolin Gracie, 6th degree black belt
  • Rillion Gracie, 6th degree black belt


Carlson Gracie was the heir as he avenged Helio Gracie’s loss to his student Waldamar Santana.  Carlson was a mentor and man of knowledge, yet he too passed away, as did Rolls.  So who or what is the heir these days?


When Rolls passed away, the leaders of Jiu-jitsu went their own separate ways.


Relson Gracie was also a great fighter who moved to Hawaii and still teaches BJJ there.  Rickson Gracie along with the original Gracie pack and the Machado brothers moved to California.  Renzo Gracie has his own federation in New York.  Rorion Gracie has his academy and his own federation in California along with his two sons, and Royce Gracie has his own federation.  Carlos Gracie’s sons Carlos Jr. and others operate their own federation of Gracie Barra, which ironically was started in Brazil with Carlos Jr. and Master Rigan Machado.


The Machado brothers, who trained under Grandmaster Carlos Gracie, Rolls, Rickson and everyone at that time developed their own legacy in BJJ.  Although last name not Gracie, the Machados have stamped a large impact in the BJJ history.  The Machados made a large impact in the USA and the general public in BJJ.  Initially training great Martial arts legends such as Chuck Norris, Dan Inosanto and many others, the Machados also have promoted the aspect of Leave your ego at the door.  My mentor Carlos Machado has become one of the pioneers in Texas, and USA.  He also has spread a message of Jiu-jitsu, and namely the gentleman’s art aspect of it.  I note that the Machados are also well known as the cream of the crop of knowledge and talent.


Rigan Machado was revered as the best in BJJ behind Carlos, Helio, Carlson, Rickson and Rolls Gracie.  Rigan was undefeated for 13 years in competition.


In an online interview, Rigan Machado commented on how he taught, who were his mentors and about his moving to open his own academy:


Carlos Gracie and Rigan Machado


Q: In 1988 you were running classes at the Gracie Barra Academy, can you tell me a little about that?


Rigan MachadoGracie Barra was my academy before I came to the United States. I was Carlos Gracie Jr.
first Black Belt and he and I were partners in Gracie Barra before I came to the United States. After coming to the U.S. I incorporated a lot of new aspects into
Brazilian Jiujitsu. For example, the leg locks and foot locks from sambo wrestling; the takedowns and set ups from freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. I
would bring back these ideas and teach them to all the Black Belts from Gracie Barra and other academies. There were a lot of Black Belts down there then, and
 all used these new ideas to bring the jiujitsu up to a new level. It was an exiting time for me.


Q: Who would you say were the biggest influences in your early years?


Rigan Machado
First I would have to say Rolls Gracie. He was one of the most
aggressive fighters around at that time. He taught me that the more aggressive we are, the less defensive we need to be. He emphasized the attacks in jiujitsu.
He was the best instructor I ever had in terms of aggression and attack. Next I would have to say, Carlos Gracie Jr. He was good at coming up with drills to
develop the jiujitsu game. Carlos Gracie Sr. was very influential for me. He taught me that jiujitsu is not only a sport and an art, but also a way of life.
He was a very philosophical person who brought a whole other dimension of jiujitsu to me. Also my brothers, Carlos, John, Jean-Jacques, and Roger. Because
we are and still remain united in our efforts to develop jiujitsu. We have taken it a long way. Between us there is no ego and this allows for more
experimentation and development on the mat. This is the culture we have set amongst ourselves. It is a very special thing…. LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR…



The challenge match has changed to a sport.  The sport is not the same as it was in the early
UFC’s.  I think the no rules promo probably did more damage than good when there were problems initiated by Senator John McCain and other congressman.  I feel
the early UFC’s showed what was already a part of history in Brazil, and in other countries with other martial arts styles.  When pure martial arts styles
fought each other that was a good angle of understanding style from style, and the importance of Jiu-jitsu in the factor of fighting.


We have great fighters such as Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua, and others that epitomize the
meaning the fight game with their talent striking and applying Jiu-jitsu, testing themselves much like Carlos Gracie Sr. and his brother Helio Gracie
did.  The challenge matches are not what they were.  They were at a time when it was important for Grandmaster Carlos Gracie and Helio Gracie wanted to prove
their style, not bully people or to arrogantly show their superiority.  They had to prove the validity of Jiu-jitsu.


Rickson Gracie, Royce Gracie, and Rigan Machado

RicksonGracie-RoyceGracie-RiganMachado (1)

John Machado and Master Carlson Gracie


Absorb, and think.

Professor William Vandry, (3rd degree Black belt BJJ)

Vandry BJJ Academy: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Muay Thai Boxing & Judo – Austin, Texas


Submitted by William Vandry on Mon, 07/11/2011 – 23:28