BJJ in Rio: The Gracie Connection

148694_4326152513060_1313041521_nEverybody who practices BJJ in Rio and beyond owes the Gracie family thanks, as without them we’d probably still be practising kung-fu! The Gracie Connection to Rio de Janeiro is strong, as it was here the famous fighting family established what would become an international empire of martial arts.

Carlos Gracie, co-founder of Gracie jiu-jitsu along with his brothers originated in the North East of Brazil. It was there in a city called Belem do Para that Carlos met Conde Koma and learned jiu-jitsu. He and his brothers, Gastao Jr, Oswaldo, George and Helio, moved around the country in search of opportunities but Carlos and Helio eventually settled in Rio de Janeiro, making it their base of operations for many years.

The Gracies in Rio

Ryan, Renzo and Ralph Gracie

Ryan, Renzo and Ralph Gracie

From the 1940s through to modern times, the Gracies have maintained a strong presence in Rio de Janeiro, with various branches of the family having established BJJ gyms and teams across the city.

One such team was the mighty Gracie Barra, formed in the 1980s but Carlos Gracie Jr along with his brother Crolin and a number of other figures. It was here in this powerful BJJ gym that famous figures such as Renzo Gracie learned their craft. Renzo would become one of the team’s best known products and along with his brothers Ryan and Ralph, they represented their style of Gracie jiu-jitsu in both grappling tournament and vale tudo matches.

The Growth of the Renzo Gracie Association

Kyra watching cousin Gregor at the Renzo Gracie Academy in NYC

Kyra watching cousin Gregor at the Renzo Gracie Academy in NYC

In the 1990s, Renzo Gracie moved to the USA where he established what would go on to become a huge network of schools – the Renzo Gracie Association. From his headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, Renzo and his assistant instructors produced black belt with reputations for being tough and technical. Ralph set up his school in San Francisco, while Ryan established a BJJ gym in Sao Paulo.

The network quickly grew with members of the Gracie family close to Renzo and teammates from his Gracie Barra days coming in and teaching at the main gym and various other locations, including Ricardo “Cachorrao” Almeida in Hamilton, New Jersey, Daniel Gracie in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His black belts Matt Serra, Shawn Williams and many more also operate RGA schools across the USA.

Gordo Jiu-Jitsu and the Link to RGA

Gordo and Gordinho

Gordo and Gordinho

Roberto Gordo and Rafael Gordinho were childhood friends of Renzo and his brothers. Gordo and Ralph were best friends of the same age, and Renzo noticed that if Gordo trained, so would Ralph. Together the sets of brothers rose through the ranks of Gracie Barra as competitors and later teachers, all going on to form many champions and high level athletes.

The Gordo Jiu-Jitsu BJJ gym in Rio is a focal point for many members of this generation, as well as associated cousins and other relatives. Gordo’s gym receives many visitors linked to the Renzo Gracie network – from world champion Kyra to Renzo’s youngest brother Robson Gracie Jr, to the brothers Igor and Gregor Gracie (both teachers at RGA NYC) to Daniel Gracie, who operates the RGA school in Philadelphia.

Many of Renzo’s black belt students, such as Amal Easton (who operates the Easton BJJ gyms in Colorado), will also make a point of training at Gordo’s when they’re in Rio. And of course, so does Renzo himself!

Renzo Gracie Association fighters at tournaments in Brazil

In May of 2014 Igor and Gregor Gracie will both fight on the upcoming Copa Podio event. Igor will face off with the tough Jordanian fighter Haider Rasheed in a special super fight, while Gregor will look to work his way through the Lightweight Grand Prix.

Members of the Renzo Gracie Association of all levels and belt colors often want to experience a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, and there are always plenty of competitions on the calendar giving you plenty of opportunity to mix it up with the Brazilians at their own game.

Article written by Hywel Teague

From training and accommodation to academy visits and special tours, and even small group classes with the best teachers Rio has to offer, Connection Rio offers everything you need for the perfect jiu-jitsu holiday!