Relson Gracie is the second oldest son of Grandmaster Helio Gracie, the man who is credited as innovating the Jiu-Jitsu taught by Mitsuyo “Count Koma” Maeda into what is now known as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, also referred to as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Relson was born into a legendary fighting family. His fighting spirit was evident since his birth and he began to learn the techniques of Gracie Jiu Jitsu at the tender age of 2.
In 1952, the Gracie’s opened Academia Gracie at Avenida Rio Branco, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This original academy operated for 30 years. The following year, on March 28, Relson was born into the most influential martial arts family of the modern era. Ten years after the commissioning of Academia Gracie, Grandmaster Helio Gracie held the world’s first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Gurilandia Clube, Botafogo. Relson competed in this historical event at the age of 10 and was the Brazilian National Champion in both his own weight class and the open division for an unprecedented 22 years! His record and domination of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu earned him the name “Campeao,” Portuguese for Champion. Relson’s accomplishments did not go unnoticed.
His knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu soon became a commodity within the Brazilian martial arts community. In 1975, at the age of 22, Relson was approached by Rio’s Secretary of Sport Jose Morais and Manaus Senator Artur Vigilio, a Reyson Gracie Black Belt. They proposed that Relson open his own academy. This was the beginning of the academy at Ilha Clube Jardim Guanabara (ICJG), Relson’s first Jiu-Jitsu academy. In addition to teaching Tuesday and Thursday evening classes at the already well established Academia Gracie Humaita, Relson taught at ICJG on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. The following year brought another joyous event in Relson’s life, the birth of his first child, Karina Gracie.
In the years to come, the notoriety of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu grew, and in 1978 Academia Gracie relocated from its original location to Flamengo in Rio. The academy would develop students here until 1985. 1982 capped off the birth of his second child, Rishna Gracie and Relson’s and Rickson dominance in the black belt division in tournaments. Relson continued to dominate the 83kg weight division while younger brother Rickson did the same in the 77kg division. Their Jiu-Jitsu superiority showed as they repeatedly closed out the open weight division as well, sharing 1st and 2nd place.
In addition to their supremacy in Jiu-Jitsu competition, the Gracie’s have demonstrated their martial arts mastery in Vale Tudo, Portuguese for “Anything Goes.” Decades before Mixed Martial Arts events were held, these no holds barred wars were being waged in the stadiums of Brazil. Grandmaster Helio Gracie was one of the first in a long line of family members who proved their mettle in the ring. He is regarded as one of the first sports heroes of Brazil. Carlson Gracie was next to uphold the family honor in the Vale Tudo events. He retired from Vale Tudo after his last fight with Valdemar Santana in 1970. Due to the Gracie’s domination in Vale Tudo, for over the next ten years there were no challenges to the Gracie family in the professional Vale Tudo arena.
However the challenges did not slow down on the street. Relson, along with his brothers and cousins defended the Gracie name in the ultimate arena, the mean streets of Brazil. Even in true “no holds barred” matches, where it was often a matter of survival, Relson and the Gracie family maintained its dominance and proved that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is the most effective style.
On April 25, 1980, the torch was officially passed to Rickson Gracie when he defeated Casemiro “Rei Zulu” Nascimento Martins by rear naked choke. Rei Zulu suffered a similar fate at the hands of Rickson again in January of 1984 during their second encounter. Relson trained Rickson for both events in anticipation of fighting Zulu himself, but later acquiesced to Grandmaster Helio’s wishes for Rickson to make his debut as the Gracie family champion.
In 1985, Relson moved from Rio de Janeiro to Monterey, California at the request of Pedro Sauer’s older brother Carlos. There Relson taught at the Eseline Therapy Institute for a year and a half. During this time Relson’s third child and first son Rhalan Gracie was born in 1987.
Shortly after Rhalan was born, this time at the request of Carlos Valente, Relson set his sights on spreading his family’s art to Hawaii. In June of 1988 he moved to Honolulu where he was destined to build a Jiu-Jitsu empire in a place where the sport was relatively unknown. Two years after his arrival in Hawaii, Relson was blessed with his fourth child, Kailani Gracie, while he laid the ground work and foundation for his own competition team.
In the pre-UFC years, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was relatively unknown outside of Brazil. Relson taught out of his garage in the evenings after a hard day’s work in the construction industry. However, the effectiveness and benefits of Jiu-Jitsu soon spread throughout the island of Oahu, and in the same year he expanded his classes to Studio 4, in the Athletic Complex of the University of Hawaii at Manoa to meet the demand. He would instruct at this location until 1996, all the while continuing to teach out of his garage.
Just as his father held the world’s first Jiu-Jitsu tournament, Relson organized the first tournament outside of Brazil in Honolulu in 1992.
The following year, older brother Rorion Gracie launched his brainchild of bringing Brazilian “Vale Tudo” (literally “anything goes” matches), the precursor to modern Mixed Martial Arts, to the United States and the rest of the world. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was created and launched the career of the now legendary, Royce Gracie. However prior to UFC 1, Royce was just Rorion and Relson’s little brother. Relson along with his brothers were tasked with training and making sure that Royce was prepared for one of the most momentous events in martial arts. Relson’s style was and is still ideally suited to this limited rules type of combat. Royce displayed their father’s Jiu-Jitsu to perfection as he took on three masters of different martial arts styles to win the first official mixed martial arts event in the United States. As we all know, Royce went on to win three of the first four events and is now a martial arts legend. However, with the advent of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, many of Relson’s lethal techniques are no longer legal under the current rules.
In Brazil, a historical event in Jiu-Jitsu occurred in 1996: the first official World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships (Campeanato Mundial de Jiu-Jitsu), held at the Tijuca Tenis Clube in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The following year, Relson Gracie brought a team from Hawaii and became the first team outside of Brazil to close out a division at the Worlds. Two of Relson’s students, Kendall Goo and Kelly Matsukawa, took first and second place in the Adult Blue Belt Pessidissimo division. Through Relson’s hard work, Hawaii had captured the most medals in the World Championships outside of Brazil. After the changes in the rules, Relson felt tournaments started to steer Jiu-Jitsu away from the principles that his father had created it for. Relson decided to place less emphasis on pushing his team to compete and refocused on the true essence of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
After being in the islands for 8 years, the official Relson Gracie Main Academy was opened on Waialae Avenue in Honolulu, Hawaii. It remained in Waialae until 2000 when the Academy moved to its current location at 844 Queen Street. That same year, the Relson Gracie Team joined forces with Gracie Humaita and placed in every division at the Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Florida: 1st in the Female and Master/Seniors divisions, 2nd in the Juvenile, and 3rd in the Adult.
Relson continued to host tournaments as well. The Relson Gracie National Jiu-Jitsu Tournament has been held annually in Columbus, Ohio since 1997. Due to the success of his inaugural National tournament, Arnold Schwarzenegger approached Relson to start the Arnold-Gracie World Submission Championships, also held in Columbus, has grown rapidly since its inaugural event in 2000. Between 2005 and 2008, participation increased from 1200 to 1800 competitors.
In 2004 Relson turned over the daily operations of his Main Academy to one of his black belts in order to free up time to travel to the academies within his growing association that has spread throughout the country. The following year, Relson was blessed with his fifth child, Kaena Gracie.
Check out Relson's Career Highlights
The Gracie’s are confident that they have created the best form of self defense in the world, and as a result they have been constantly tested by countless individuals ranging from martial arts masters to street fighters in the mean streets of Brazil. Relson was more than happy to not only defend the family name, but also prove the effectiveness of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Relson’s ferocious fighting style quickly garnered him the reputation that, of all the Gracie’s, he was the last one you wanted to test yourself against. The only Vale Tudo matches of Relson’s caught on film is featured on the video documentary Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action 1. This fight against a Karate master can be seen below.
Relson Gracie vs Karateka from Brazil in 1975:
Although Relson’s techniques are deeply rooted in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, as taught to him by his father, Grandmaster Helio Gracie, his personal style has focused on “street effective” techniques. As such, he has developed a Jiu-Jitsu designed for defending yourself in a survival situation where there are no rules.
Today, Relson Gracie has over 40 associations that he regularly visits across the US and internationally and is growing rapidly. Because of this, he has traveled the world and taught his style of Jiu-Jitsu to a wide range of students, including local law enforcement, the U.S. Military, Secret Service, D.E.A., and F.B.I., in addition to individuals who simply sought mental and physical improvement.
Published in Biography