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True happiness, according to Grandmaster Helio Gracie

After leaving this plane at 95 years old, in January 2009, Grandmaster Helio Gracie had a lighthearted and happy farewell party weeks later. Everything was done as the teacher wanted, and dozens of students, family members, and admirers showed up at the nautical headquarters of the club Vasco da Gama, in the Lagoa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, for the last tribute to the red-belt. A party with "no drinking, no messing around," as the teacher had requested.

Children ran around happy, while black-, red- and red-and-black-belts exchanged kisses on the cheeks and affectionate pats. In the speeches, funny and instructive, Helio received adjectives such as genius, hero, educator. Someone classified him as "the greatest Brazilian philosopher of the 20th century."

On the big screen, an artwork brought by his firstborn Rorion, from California, showed Helio reaching the sky, surrounded by Bruce Lee, JFK and Elvis Presley, with the rocker applying a rear naked choke to Albert Einstein.

In this light-hearted mood, someone circulated around the room asking, "And after all, what was the happiest day of Helio Gracie's long and productive life?"

"Helio didn't have a happy day; he had a happy life," said his friend and student Pedro Valente, Sr. "Each day he discovered a greater happiness, a greater joy to be there. He was a guy who was on good terms with life every day."

His son Rickson said, "It's hard to point to one day in a linearly happy life. Dude was a winner, with a successful life where he accomplished everything he wanted."

One of his most victorious students in the 1950s, João Alberto Barreto thought awhile and said, "It is very hard to be a person who is well with himself, and Helio Gracie was. That is happiness. With so many happy days in life, it is hard to highlight one, but I remember two occasions when Helio was overflowing with joy. One was on the day of the birth of his first son, Rorion. And I saw him cry once: the day Rorion honored him during UFC 1. The consecration, on that stage, brought tears to the professor. I remember the day he got angriest: the day Rolls died in 1982. He was very angry about the tragedy, because he had warned his nephew-son about the risks of hang-gliding."

But what would Grandmaster Helio say?

For many family members and close admirers, happiness for Helio Gracie meant a day at the farm with his horses, watching nature, fixing a loose tile, or finding a misbehaving snake—and throwing it back into the pond in Itaipava, in the mountain region of Rio de Janeiro state.

Except, of course, the professor himself had already been asked the question during his prolific life full of victories. The answer given went back to his time as a fighter, on a special day: when Brazilian jiujitsu overcame the technique of a Japanese champion of undeniable fame and titles.

"My greatest joy in jiujitsu came in that fight in which I finished the Japanese Jukio Kato," Helio once said. "That was when I could finally verify that my jiujitsu was superior to his."

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Wahib Salha Avatar
Wahib Salha commented:

Temos orgulho de termos um Brasileiro, tao importante e unico no mundo das artes marciais. VIVA HELIO GRACIE!!!

April 28, 2023 04:02 PM
Jason LaMarche-Hunderup Avatar
Jason LaMarche-Hunderup commented:

What a great message. So timely to receive it as I turn 49 on the day it was released. Thank you.

April 25, 2023 10:15 AM
danbrown Avatar
danbrown commented:

I hope I have that kind of peace when my day comes.

April 24, 2023 05:43 PM