Grand Master Carlson Gracie
Carlson Gracie was born on the 13th of August, 1932 in Rio
de Janeiro, Brazil. He was the son of Gracie Jiu Jitsu Founder
Carlos Gracie and he became a top competitor in No Holds
Barred/Vale Tudo matches during the 1950’s and 1960’s era.
He was also one of the finest Jiu Jitsu coaches to have ever
lived. His life was filled of turmoil with family feuds as well
as scuffles with his own students, though he will always be
remembered as a warm hearted person who made history
in the sport and as one of the greatest masters to have ever
Carlson started competing at the tender age of 5 at the Campeonato Aberto de Jiu Jitsu e Luta Livre, an open tournament between Jiu Jitsu and Submission Wrestling. At the age of 17 he won the Campeonato Carioca de Jiu Jitsu Rio de Janeiro’s first ever State Championship. The legendary Gracie was never a avid student, though most of his academic failure came due to the long trips he and his uncles would make to different parts of the country looking for ways to display their family’s legacy of Jiu Jitsu. At the age of 15 he left school to dedicate himself fully to fighting.
His first professional fight came when he was 18 against the Judo wiz Sakai who weighed 92kg against Carlson’s 67. That fight was in grappling rules where no strikes were allowed and it ended in a draw as none of the two managed to submit each other during the predetermined time limit. After this fight, Carlson Gracie released a press note challenging anyone in the country to come and fight him. This fight’s revenue would go to a charity fund towards the victims of the drought that was devastating the country’s Northwest region (with which the family had strong ties). Cirandinha, a 100kg Capoeira fighter took the challenge. Carlson defeated Cirandinha by verbal tapout due to strikes from the mount.
Carlson continued to compete always trying to improve his skill-set, at the age of 23 he faced one of Brazil’s most renowned fighters, Waldemar Santana was his name, and he had already on his resume a Knockout win over one of Carlson Gracie’s mentors, his uncle Helio Gracie. Carlson’s father Carlos Gracie went on record stating that he would give 300,000 real (a fortune in those days) if Waldemar managed to survive his son’s superior technique. Unfortunately for Carlos, Waldemar (according to the records) played a defensive fight and managed to keep at bay of Carlson’s attacks, the fight was labelled a draw and the money given to the happy Santana. Another fight was arranged soon after, and this time Carlson managed to get the fight win he so anxiously looked for in order to save the family honor. The fight took place at a sold out 40,000 seats at Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro, Carlson beat Santana with strikes from the mount. Both fighters met again a couple of years later, although hype and expectation of the 1st two fights had passed away and the 3rd fight was a lackluster draw once again.
Carlson was always a creative fighter and teacher, he used to go to the beach in Rio and ask for people to fight him, the challengers could use any methods at their disposal (punches, kicks, head butts, the works) while Carlson would only use his grappling although never submitting. He would wear them out until they gave up.
Carlson reigned supreme during almost 30 years. He broke up with Gracie Academy and had a bit of rivalry with his own uncle Helio, sometimes disregarding Helio’s coaching methods. Carlson believed the only way to move forward was to test yourself, and to do so you needed open your knowledge to the public. He opened the famous Carlson Gracie Academy where he started the first group classes in Jiu Jitsu (previously only taught in a one-on-one basis), he also opened the doors of his gym to the lower classes, and allowed students to train without paying, asking in return full commitment and to step up in competitions. In the process Carlson assembled one of the greatest teams that ever competed, with fighters like Ricarido Liborio, André Pederneiras founder of the Nova Uniao Academy,Murilo Bustamante world champion and UFC middleweight champion as well as founder of BTT (Brazilian Top Team), former UFC Light-heavyweight Champion Vitor Belfort “the Phenom”, Walid Ismail (another BJJ legend) among many, many others. This team would break up in the early 2000’s as Carlson was spending most of his time in the United States leaving the Rio de Janeiro team relegated to a secondary stage. Most of the students from Brazil decided to open their own academy though some remained faithful to their master.
Always opinionated and charismatic, his loss on the 1st of February 2006 in Chicago, came as a shock to the Jiu Jitsu community. His achievements will be remembered forever.