The English version of “Carlos Gracie: Creator of a Fighting Dynasty” is available now in Europe via Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine HERE.
By Budo Jake
In this digital age, with so much information online, it’s nice to see a massive 500+ page book come out. Reila Gracie, mother of Roger Gracie, has released an epic biography on her father titled “Carlos Gracie: Creator of a Fighting Dynasty”. Portuguese language readers might already be familiar with the book as it was released in Brazil a few years ago and is now sold out.
This huge undertaking took Reila more than 10 years to research and put together. There are many previously fascinating unpublished photos of Carlos, his siblings, and many of their children as well.
In America, we have received a number of biographies of the early Gracies through documentary films such as “Gracies and the Birth of Vale Tudo” and Kid Peligro’s book “The Gracie Way”. As with any art form, the information in the stories on the Gracies are always presented in a way that favours one side of the family over another.
I think all families are complicated and I can’t even imagine how it must be having a family as large as the Gracies. Note that Carlos Gracie had an astounding 21 children! Needless to say, the Gracie family had an incredible impact on martial arts in America and the world. We’re fortunate to be able to hear more about some of the early stories surrounding the family.
I applaud Reila for not sanitising the stories. Carlos is not made out to be a saint. The early 1900’s were a different time and some of his actions are not understandable from a modern 21st century reader’s perspective.
As I read the book I was filled with many questions for Reila. I wanted to know about her motivations to write the book, the difficulties she encountered during the writing process, some of the surprises she uncovered, and more. She was very forthcoming with her answers so I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!
1) Why did you feel the need to write this book?
The Gracie family has an immeasurable importance in Brazilian sports culture. I am not aware of any other family in the world that has been able to maintain a professional tradition in sports or martial arts for nearly a century, reaching 4 generations. And the creator of this dynasty of fighters is Carlos Gracie, my father.
When the UFC revealed to the world the technical efficiency of jiu-jitsu developed by the Gracies, Carlos was said to be the guru and nutritionist of the family, thus eliminating his importance in the history of jiu-jitsu. Like him, other champions of my family were also virtually excluded: my brothers Rolls and Carlson, for example.
I could not bear this historical manipulation and saw that the only way to fix it would be doing thorough research and writing a book about the life of my father, revealing how it actually happened and the importance that each had in building this dynasty of Gracie fighters.
2) How long did the research take?
Interweaving the research and text work, it took ten years to write this book. All research however has no end and I believe that all biographers have this same opinion. You can always find more information, but there comes a time when the opposite happens, we actually have to remove passages and statements to avoid losing the purpose of the book and the narrative quality.
3) What was the hardest part of the research?
As I am a person who keeps an affective channel, the initial phase of interviews with family was the hardest. Getting to know more deeply the facts and the relationship that my brothers, uncles, cousins and nephews had with my father made me review the relationship I had with each of them in childhood, and I was very touched by the trust placed in me.
Carlos Gracie had died, but his clan is still alive and is continuing its history. Another difficulty was when my son Roger decided to take jiu-jitsu as a profession. Because of him, I returned to attend the championships and interact with the environment more acutely. While I recorded the past, this interfered in my thinking about the future.
Throughout the writing process I still had to deal with a succession of deaths: three uncles, my mother, and my siblings Rose, Carlson and Geisa. It was a very painful process, but… I survived.
4) Of all of the information you found out what surprised you the most?
As I had the story mapped out in my mind, the information found in the research was filling in gaps like a puzzle, but still there were some surprises. The volume of publications found in the papers of the 1930s, about my father and his brothers, was one of them. Mainly they detailed the role he, Carlos Gracie, played in the careers of his brothers and the Brazilianisation process of jiu-jitsu.
And also they revealed the role of Uncle George as a fighter. All newspaper clippings, filed for forty years at the academy of my father, the academy Gracie, stayed with Uncle Helio, who then donated them to Rorion, my cousin. Before my book only Uncle Helio appeared.
Another surprise was to have found correspondence of my mother when she was in Peru. She had already given me the correspondence between my father, his partner Oscar, Uncle Helio and Aunt Margarida, but I could only get the information after her death. These documents helped me better understand the role of my father in the formation of the clan and how it related to life.
5) Did your opinion of your father change after completing your research? If so, how?
I came to admire him more, because I understood better the way the family members think and act and the greatness of their purposes and accomplishments. I never viewed my father as a myth or guru but as a man capable of trial and error.
His greatness is exactly the census of humanity, revealed by a prospective ability to think and act for the collective so comprehensive that only exceptional people possess.
6) Are there any questions about your father left unanswered?
I am sure that readers will find in my book a narrative on the life of Carlos Gracie much more complete than expected. All the facts reported in the book are supported by oral and written documents. But you can find some inaccurate dates, as in any reconstruction process of the past that can occur and is perfectly acceptable.
The purpose of the book is to give the dimension of the importance of Carlos Gracie in the improvement process and Brazilianisation of Japanese jiu-jitsu and the creation and development of the Gracie fighters’ dynasty. This book perfectly fulfils its role and goes far beyond, because the story begins with the arrival of the first Gracie to Brazil in 1826. It also reconstructs the history of Carlos Gracie and redeems many people who, like him, had their importance minimised in the international promotion of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
7) What impression of your father do you hope the readers are left with?
Surely the same as he left me. He’s an example of a human being who, driven by his ideals and admirable willpower, was able to leverage the effects of his actions on behalf of the collective almost imperceptibly. And that to positively transform the lives of countless people has its own much more rich and full meaning.
I only warn the English-speaking readers to consider cultural differences when they read my book, as I narrate the story of a Brazilian, born in the Amazon in 1902, heavily influenced by the cultural diversity arising from the mixing that took place in his country, Brazil.
The English version of “Carlos Gracie: Creator of a Fighting Dynasty” is available now via Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine HERE