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Roberto Pedreira 

Quebra Silêncio!

Posted May 9, 2016


In 1997, GTR founder and CEO Roberto Pedreira went to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to learn jiu-jitsu. He had already trained at Rickson's academy on Pico Street, in Los Angeles, since the fall of 1994. He wasn't much, if at all, interested in martial arts history. He lived by Gene Lebell's philosophy (here and here): It doesn't matter what you call it or where it came from. What matters is whether it works and you can do it. And, it should probably be added, whether you can learn it from the person who is offering to teach you.

But Roberto was mildly intrigued as to why so little was known and so many vague, implausible, and conflicting stories were told. After all, if Helio Gracie really was a living legend in Brazil, wouldn't someone outside of a Gracie affiliated jiu-jitsu academy have heard of him? 

The mystery was partially solved in two steps, both in 1999 and both at the Corpo Quatro academy, then under the supervision of Alvaro Barreto and Sylvio Behring. Alvaro had been a Gracie student back in the day. He learned of my curiosity and lent me a copy of a thesis written by three of his students at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, where he was a professor. The thesis described the history of jiu-jitsu in Brazil, all in 45 pages. The students listed their sources as interviews with Alvaro Barreto, Royler Gracie, and Carlson Gracie. The references went back to 1994 (with a few exceptions) and consisted of recent martial arts magazine articles and jiu-jitsu academy websites. They also relied on marketing materials, in particular, Gracies in Action.  

The references suggested that the field of enquiry did not go back far. It fact, with the exception of three newspaper articles on the Kimura vs. Gracie match in 1951, a 1990 article by a Gracie affiliated academy owner named Helcio Leal Binda and two general histories of judo and wrestling, the earliest of the source materials dated from the year after  the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (and of course, Gracies in Action.)

Apparently, no one in Brazil outside of a few academies was paying much attention to jiu-jitsu until the UFC.

The second significant event also occurred in 1999. Sylvio Behring mentioned that he had studied judo with George Mehdi in Ipanema. He suggested that I meet Mehdi. "Mehdi has been here forever, he knows everything," Sylvio told me, or something to that effect. I found out that that was true. And everyone knew Mehdi too.  Carlson Gracie's son and many of his top students learned judo from Mehdi-sensei, who had been one of Brazil's best competitive judokas during the 1960's. He had a perspective on jiu-jitsu history that was considerably at variance with the one put forward by Rorion Gracie. Mehdi certainly knew more about the subject than Rorion did. Mehdi was training, teaching, fighting, and being exploited at two Gracie academies before Rorion put on his first kimono. 

Oh, and one other thing. Mehdi despised the Gracies. Or to be more precise, he hated Carlos and Helio, and possibly Robson. He liked Carlson, obviously. He didn't seem to have any issues with the Gracie kids. He had no beef against Gracie Academy people in general. It was Helio more than anyone that he couldn't stand. The feelings were mutual, by the way. Mehdi didn't name names, but since what he hated was "lying and brawling," it was easy to figure out who he was talking about. Mehdi didn't even mention that fateful day in April 1968 when Helio Gracie "invaded" Mehdi's dojo in Ipanema (read Choque 3, chp. 8, for the details.)

Rorion's jiu-jitsu narrative was basically bullshit. Mehdi said. The Gracies (by which he primarily meant Carlos and Helio) were liars. (He didn't like them for other reasons as well, and he had good cause to dislike them, but that is a different story.) To put it more diplomatically, Carlos, Helio, Rorion were businessmen, not historians. Perhaps taking a cue from psychologist/pragmaticist philosopher William James, they seemed to feel that "the truth is whatever works."[2]

Roberto's article about George Kastriot Mehdi appeared on The Global Training Report in 2000. Immediately, GTR and Roberto were attacked for being "anti-Gracie." What had Roberto done to merit this accusation? He had dared to present a view that deviated from Gracies in Action.  The offending view was Mehdi's own lived personal experience.  Roberto had no way of knowing if it was true and did not say that it was (although it later turned out to be true; for details about Mehdi and his relationship with the Gracies, look here.)

The lesson was clear. Anyone who questions the historical accuracy of Gracies in Action is a heretic. He must be "anti-Gracie." He might even be "pro-judo."

Choque 1 appeared in 1914, the second and revised second editions in 2015. Choque 2 and Choque 3 also appeared in 2015 (March and September, respectively.) All three Choque volumes were intended as academic works of history, based on primary sources. Every statement in Choque 1-3 is backed up with fully cited sources that any researcher can verify, if he/she wants to make the effort. Some of the verifiable facts are not necessarily consistent with Gracie marketing, nor are they always flattering to BJJ heroes and legends. The purpose of Choque was not to glorify the Gracie family and promote its various business enterprises. Nor was it to debunk myths. It was solely to ascertain what the historical record said and to present the evidence to readers for their own consideration and evaluation. (Incidentally, Reila Gracie pointed out some of the same facts in 2008, as you can see by clicking here and here.)

What is the truth? Is Roberto anti-Gracie and pro-judo? Is Choque anti-Gracie?

Roberto is pro-judo. That is a fact. He is also pro-BJJ. He is not anti-Gracie. Whatever Roberto thinks about individual members of the enormous and genetically diverse Gracie family and their long histories of activities is irrelevant to Choque, which is based on verifiable sources, with a bare minimum of "interpretation" (occasional examples of speculation are clearly noted as such.) Roberto respects various members of the Gracie family for their contribution, along with people like Geo Omori, Takeo Yano, Yassuiti Ono, Masahiko Kimura, Oswaldo Fada, Oswaldo Alves, George Mehdi, the Behring family, and many others, to the awesome form of Kodokan judo now known as BJJ. Choque however is not a valentine to the Gracie family, but rather an academic work on a subject that they happen, not by accident, to be highly identified with. Choque is about everyone who contributed to BJJ, not just Carlos and Helio Gracie. Choque also strove to give proper credit to George Gracie, who had more fights in his career than all four of his brothers combined, and to Carlson Gracie for his major role in the development of the sport beginning with his September 6, 1951 match with Ono Academy representative Tsunechik Sakai.

Contrary to what some people think, Choque is not about the Gracie family. Choque went to the extreme to include anything of potential relevance, regardless of whether it was positive or negative concerning the Gracie family, or anyone else, as long as the sources were verifiable and reliable, i.e., were not filtered through the narratives of Carlos Gracie, Helio Gracie, Rorion Gracie and the latest in the lineage of family spokesmen, Rener Gracie.

To put it concretely, if we want to know about Helio Gracie's fight with Antonio Portugal we can rely on Helio Gracie's memory or Rorion Gracie's veracity. Or we can read contemporary reports from 1932 when the fight occurred (January 16, 1932), which is what Roberto did, and anyone else can do if they are willing to make the effort. Individual readers can decide for themselves who they want to trust. Or they can suspend judgment. If anything, Choque downplayed negative evidence in order to avoid the appearance of bias. It was hard to avoid negative reports because there were so many of them. But as we know, newspapers print what sells and they know from experience that scandals and arrests sell newspapers.  But it wasn't all negative. Positive stories were reported. None were ignored or suppressed.  

Choque was not intended to be light reading, full of entertaining stories about super-human martial arts masters, jealousy guarded secret techniques, and adolescent street fights (although there are plenty of drunken street fights, assaults, muggings, rapes and attempted rapes, murders, and suicides in Choque 2 and Choque 3, all factual, regrettably.) Nor was it designed to be a roadmap to black belt or any such similar inspirational how-to-do it manual. Choque 1 was primarily intended for academic researchers. Choque 2 and Choque 3 are a little lighter, made possible by greater availability of more recent source materials. Readers who prefer cool stories may find Choque "dry." Readers who appreciate facts and truth tend to find engagement with Choque rewarding, despite the effort it may take effort to keep track of the details (which is why Choque has multiple appendices.)

Having said all of this, Roberto understands why some people are disconcerted. It's not fun to have your heroes revealed to be ordinary mortal men with plenty of faults and flaws, and who actually lost fights or never won a fight. If your academy depends on a lineage to Mitsuyo Maeda (Conde Koma) via either Carlos or Helio Gracie for its viability, then your marketing strategy needs to be updated.

As a wise man once said, "Truth is the quality that moves us forward, expands our horizons, and ultimately sets us free. We should never fear it. Those who do, do so perhaps, because they have something to hide. Perhaps they worry that the relentless light of truth may expose the inadequacies or worse, the deliberate deceptions, in their own words."--Rorion Gracie (Gracies in Action 2, 1992)



For more Myths and Misconceptions, see:

Four Questions & Answers about BJJ History

The Backstory

Myths and Misconceptions in Gracies in Action 1

Myths and Misconceptions about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Pat Jordan's 1989 Playboy Article

Myths and Misconceptions in Gracies in Action 2

Myths and Misconceptions about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Japan

Myths about Mitsuyo Maeda (Conda Koma)

Myths and Misconceptions about Jiu-Jitsu and BJJ 




1. Quebra silêncio = breaks the silence, i.e., speaks after a period of reticence.

2. William James didn't express it in quite these terms. This was Bertrand Russell's mocking characterization. James insisted that what he meant was "useful in understanding the world and reality." James was less interested in what "truth" was than in what was "true."


(c) 2016, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.







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