What was the greatest gift, physical or psychological, that you gained when you got into jiujitsu?
For Professor Helio Gracie, no benefit was more valuable than losing the fear of looking someone in the eye, doing what is right, speaking one's mind, walking forward without wobbling legs.
As Rickson's father once taught a student who only walked backwards in the ring: "My son, are you a crab? He who walks backwards is a crab. Jiujitsu fighters only walk forward—go there, grab the guy, and take him down."
Grandmaster Helio proved his thesis in practice throughout his life. But one episode was the most representative of his philosophy: in the last fight of his career, in 1967, against a beast named Valdomiro Ferreira.
The outcome was not very unusual, as Helio Gracie put Valdomiro down, took his back, and caught his neck in a rear-naked choke. More curious, however, was the context of the duel. Retired from competition for more than ten years at that point, the jiujitsu red-belt was 53 years old, and arrived at the studios in São Paulo as the guest of honor of a TV program.
The script suggested a debate about the effectiveness of martial arts, and perhaps the host was the legendary Goulart de Andrade, then at Excelsior TV, who loved to shock viewers and live audiences with a script full of controversy, with segments of reality TV and bizarre situations.
It was in this climate that the discussion between Gracie and Valdomiro heated up. The younger guest was incautious, and Master Helio felt offended, turning words into action. The fight was about to take place right there, live, but for the sake of the audience, the production set the match for the next day's program. Even with his many years of age, Master Helio was not intimidated, made no excuses, and went ahead.
The duel was brief but left a mark. "I remember a photo that became famous, Professor Helio with his hand in a cast after the show. He broke one of his fingers when he grabbed the guy's back and punched him," related Pedrinho Valente, a student of his.
The fearless 53-year-old Helio Gracie took the challenger to the ground, dominated him from behind, unleashed a strike and went for the choke. The audience went wild. And Master Helio was able to prove, for the last time, that his jiujitsu was synonymous with effectiveness, even against a much younger and stronger rival—all before thousands of raving viewers.