On February 13, 2009, O Globo, the most prominent newspaper in Brazil, published the following article by brothers Pedro and Gui Valente in its prestigious opinion section. The Op-Ed by the Valente brothers was a homage to Grand Master Helio Gracie. The article titled, “Defesa Imbativel” or “Unbeatable Defense” describes the philosophy used by Helio Gracie to create Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Many jiu-jitsu practitioners, fighters and even instructors, while devoting great respect and admiration to Grandmaster Helio Gracie, currently believe that his technique was becoming obsolete. This occurred due to the adaptation of his jiu-jitsu for tournaments with specific rules that limit the time of the match, prohibit the utilization of certain risky moves, institute weight divisions, and confer points for positional dominance. Consequently, the art of defense, which is essential in a street confrontation against a heavier and stronger opponent, lost great part of its purpose. A tournament match, through the scoring of points, primarily values offense and aggressiveness and as Grandmaster Helio always emphasized defense above all, his jiu-jitsu was being considered outdated.
Sun Tzu, however, taught thousands of years ago, in his book “The Art of War”, that when there is insufficient strength, defense should be prioritized and that offensive tactics should only be used in a situation of physical advantage. Grandmaster Helio, without ever having studied Chinese philosophy, applied principles of Taoism and Sun Tzu with great wisdom and precision. After extensive research on old jiu-jitsu and judo books, we have concluded that Helio Gracie was the first martial arts’ master in history to materialize these millenary Chinese philosophies and apply them to hand to hand combat through his brilliant method of self defense. He understood very early, by fighting against much heavier and stronger opponents, that attacking, when at a physical disadvantage, represents a useless and risky effort. Offensive strategy should only be employed with the element of surprise or in a situation of superiority. In light of the fact that Helio Gracie developed his Jiu-Jitsu to empower the weak, his teachings prioritize defensive tactics, which depend on patience (through technical knowledge) and endurance (through rational nutrition and a healthy life style), waiting for the opponent to make a mistake or fatigue and only then seeking victory.
The pin rule, which is utilized both in judo and in wrestling, of Greco-roman origin, is based on the idea that when a fighter is held down by an opponent with his back on the ground, he shall either escape immediately or is finished. Helio dared to disagree with this traditional sportive concept and created an invulnerable defensive system that allows a small fighter to stay in an unfavorable position while avoiding being beaten, submitted or knocked out. He always stated that by developing the reflexes of his defense, one would only loose when making a mistake, since the defensive technique itself is invincible.
As he got older in the last fifteen years and naturally lost a good portion of the little physical strength that he possessed, he was forced to develop his jiu-jitsu (with which a few privileged students had contact with) even more, and make it more efficient so that he could continue his habit of facing challenges and putting his teachings to the test. Up to when he was 94 years old, Helio would lie down on the mat and tell any fighter or jiu-jitsu practitioner who visited him, independent of size or weight, to pick any position they preferred, mounted or side mounted, and try to defeat him, without him attempting to escape, only defending. No one succeeded. All this was done in order to prove to his students and everybody else that his defensive method would enable any person, even the weak, to become unbeatable.
An excerpt extracted from the classic “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, demonstrates the philosophy that explains the new Jiu-Jitsu that he created. “The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity to defeat the enemy. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity to defeat the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without having the opportunity to do it. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; the ability to defeat the enemy means understanding when and how to take the offensive. We must stand on defense when there is insufficient strength and only attack when the enemy is weakened or makes a mistake. A warrior wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory.”
Pedro and Gui Valente are professors at Valente Brothers Jiu-Jitsu in North Miami Beach, FL.