In keeping with the Bloody Elbow tradition of belated birthday wishes, a day after Rorion Gracie's 60th Birthday is the ideal time to wish a true martial arts pioneer a happy birthday. Previous installments have included Helio Gracie (sadly on the occasion of his final birthday), Billy Robinson and Gene Lebell.
Rorion Gracie is the oldest son of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu co-founder Helio Gracie, and in his 60 years on this planet Rorion has had a huge impact on the martial arts world. Rorion was the man who brought Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to North America. His first trip to America was a classic road trip adventure that included having his airline tickets stolen from a YMCA safe, flipping burgers at a White Castle in California, and panhandling in Hawaii before he returned home to Brazil.
videos after the jump...
Rorion was determined to return to the United States to spread Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So in 1978, armed with a black belt and law degree, Rorion moved to Southern California. He gained new students but he was constantly faced with martial arts instructors certain their martial art was superior. Rorion and his brothers were more than willing to accept challengers, and these challenge matches drew a crowd. Instructors from a wide variety of martial arts challenged the Gracies, and Rorion took part in many of these matches. If the the fights were video tapped, the winners retained rights to the video and the Gracies almost always won these challenge matches.
(Rorion Gracie spars a Hapkido instructor via subfightercom)
(Rorion and his brothers in matches against a Karate school in Brazil via RobbieH02879)
Rorion made extra money in between lessons cleaning houses in Hollywood and made friends in the movie industry. As a result, Rorion was an extra in several movies and TV shows and was a special consultant for Lethal Weapon. Rorion helped create the final fight sequence, and students of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will recognize the sequence as being taken from the basic self-defense classes; including a headlock escape into an armbar and the triangle choke from the guard.
Jiu Jitsu was making an impact in Southern California but Rorion wanted to reach more of the United States.Rorion went to a friend and student John Milius, a filmmaker, about how he could best reach the largest number of Americans possible. Rorion wanted to use the concept of the challenge match and show the use of ground fighting in a no rules fight.
Milius put Rorion in touch with Art Davie, a promoter, and together the three of them came up with the the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Rorion insisted that there could no rules, no gloves, and no time limits, while Milius came up with the idea of an Octagon shaped cage. The UFC was born, and not only was it widely successful in spreading Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but also the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
So from everyone here at Bloody Elbow, we'd like to wish Rorion a Happy Belated Birthday!
For more on Rorion's establishing the first American Gracie Academy and the UFC: