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Carlos Gracie (September 14, 1902 – October 7, 1994) was a Brazilian martial artist who is credited with being one of the primary developers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Along with his younger brother Hélio Gracie and fellow students Luis Franca and Oswaldo Fadda, he helped develop Brazilian jiu-jitsu based on knowledge from Mitsuyo Maeda, and is widely considered to be the martial-arts patriarch of the Gracie family.
He acquired his knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu by studying in Belem under Maeda and his students.
As he taught the techniques to his brothers, he created a martial arts family with Hélio and with other members of the Gracie family who provided key contributions to the style.
Carlos was born in Belém in 1902, the first of eight children. He was a mischievous, aggressive child, prone to getting involved in brawls and getting expelled from schools. When Carlos was 15 years old, hoping to find a way for him to vent his aggression, his father Gastão took him to a professional wrestling challenge hosted in the circus he owned, where Carlos witnessed how the judoka Mitsuyo Maeda defeated a much bigger man. Impressed by the feat, he allegedly started taking classes under Maeda and his assistant Jacyntho Ferro, albeit for a short time, as his family moved to Rio de Janeiro for economic reasons.
There, Gracie started working as a bouncer in his father's casino until a falling out between them, and after some other jobs he became a pupil of Donato Pires dos Reis, a police hand-to-hand instructor and apprentice to Maeda. Under him, Carlos had his first formal training, learning especially self-defense-oriented techniques.
He started his career on the rings by challenging judoka Geo Omori in São Paulo in 1929, although he was initially rejected due to Carlos's lack of training and experience. They eventually faced off in two exhibitions (non-competitive matches) of "jiu-jitsu" (judo and jiu-jitsu were terms used interchangeably at the time in Brazil) staged as a favor to Carlos's father for the Municipal Guard in January 1930.
Afterwards, Carlos and his brother George founded a small school in the city's Perdizes neighborhood, where they brought in Omori to teach them further jiu-jitsu. Gracie claimed to have faced several "no holds barred" challenges in his school by this time. However, after Carlos was arrested and jailed for assault on three men who had supposedly insulted his girlfriend, the two brothers had to move back to Rio de Janeiro. There they joined Donato Pires's school, opened in Marquez de Abrantes in September 1930. The date of their return to Rio is both popularly and officially given as 1925, but sources of the time place it in the mentioned year.
During this time, aside from both teaching and learning jiu-jitsu under Pires, Gracie dedicated himself to participate in unsanctioned prizefights in small bars, promote rooster fighting, and experiment on nutrition and dietary habits. He would claim in 1981 to have competed in amateur boxing with a 20-0 record during this time, while his daughter Reila Gracie cited him as a national middleweight champion, but there's no record for those claims. In June 1931, Pires moved to Santa Catarina due to his job in the Ministry of the Economy, leaving his academy in Gracie's hands.
Aside from martial arts, Gracie was also interested in alternative medicine and occultism due to the early death of his first girlfriend because of illness. He started working as a spiritual consultant to Bank of Brazil executive Oscar Santa Maria, a member of the Brazilian Rosacrucian Society, in which Carlos was deemed as having "strong mediumnic powers." In exchange for funding his academy and other ventures, Carlos would put Santa Maria in contact with a supposedly Peruvian spirit named Egidio Lasjovino. Gracie was also a follower of Helena Blavatsky's theosophy.
On July 3, 1931, Gracie and Jayme Ferreira celebrated a challenge event between three jiu-jitsu fighters from his academy and three capoeira fighters trained by Ferreira, echoing a street fight Carlos supposedly had years before with a capoeirista named Samuel. The challenge forced the fighters to wear judogis and forbade strikes on the ground, which caused one of the capoeiristas, Coronel, to be disqualified upon hitting George Gracie. In the other two matches, Oswaldo Gracie and Benedicto Peres defeated their opponents. The event was negatively received, however, not only due to a ruleset perceived as too favorable to the jiu-jitsu side, but also to accusations that Ferreira (a Greco-Roman wrestling teacher associated to Gracie) was not a capoeira master and therefore his side could not represent the art.
Famous professional wrestler and sportsman Manoel Rufino dos Santos criticized further the Gracie family, so a fight was stipulated for August 22, 1931 between him and Carlos Gracie himself to settle it down. In response to the announcement, Carlos's teacher Donato Pires said through the press that Gracie's claims to be a direct apprentice to Mitsuyo Maeda were false and thus was equally unfit to represent jiu-jitsu. This almost caused the fight to be delayed when Carlos and his brothers assaulted Donato in front of the America Hotel in Catete one day before the event. By this incident, ties to Pires were severed and the Marquez de Abrantes academy became fully a property of Gracie.
The match, which was the only professional bout in Carlos's life, finally took place on the promised day. During the first two five-minute rounds, Rufino dominated the bout, forcing Carlos to defend from his guard and at one point even hit illegal strikes that were admonished by the referee. At the third, Rufino passed his guard and locked a submission hold, which Gracie avoided by diving out of the ring through the ropes. The referee ordered the match to be restarted on the center of the ring, but Gracie locked a guillotine choke in the process, causing turmoil. Carlos claimed Rufino had tapped out while his opponent denied it, so the judges deliberated for some time and decided to solve the argument by restarting the match. However, Gracie refused to fight, insisting he had already won, and thus Rufino was declared winner.
The conflict then moved to the newspapers, where Rufino criticized Carlos's skill and dismissed his jiu-jitsu credentials, leading Carlos, George and Hélio to assault him in front of his teaching place at the Tijuca Tênis Clube on October 18. They hit him repeatedly with a steel box and immobilized him for Carlos to apply an armlock, dislocating Rufino's shoulder so badly that it needed surgery. This time the brothers were arrested and were convicted to two years and a half in prison for assault, as well as for trying to run away during the arrest, but their connections to President of Brazil Getúlio Vargas granted them a pardon.
The same year, Carlos retired from competition and focused on teaching and managing his brothers. After moving to Fortaleza, he started teaching jiu-jitsu in the national police while he researched in the Gracie Diet. He also became a real estate investor.
In 1948, he published his book Introdução ao Jiu-jitsu, which was mostly a nutrition and philosophy manual despite its title.
Gracie fathered 21 children, 13 of whom earned the rank of black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. At the time of his death, Gracie had twenty-one children, one hundred and six grandchildren, and one hundred and twenty-eight great-grandchildren.
In 2009, Carlos's daughter Reila Gracie (mother of Roger Gracie) published a biography, Carlos Gracie – O Criador De Uma Dinastia; its English translation is titled Carlos Gracie: The Creator of a Dynasty.