Helio was just a kid when the first Gracie school opened its doors in 1925. At 12 years old, he was too young to help with the classes or in the running of the school. Carlos was really busy teaching and managing the family business, so Helio’s first lessons in BJJ were delegated to his other brothers, Gastao and Oswaldo. It was not until later that Carlos started to notice Helio’s talent, and dedicated more time to teach and train him. Helio’s small size and relatively weak physical condition made it difficult to execute some of the positions properly. In order to progress and earn the attention and admiration of his older brothers, especially Carlos, Helio had to research alternate jiu-jitsu methods, which worked for him. His discoveries emphasized leverage and timing over strength and speed.
The adaptations of techniques Helio learned from his brothers were mastered through trial and error with the end result being the further development and refinement of the Jiu-Jitsu Gracie.
Under the tutelage of his brother, instructor, and mentor Carlos, Helio participated in countless fights, including a 3 hour 43 minute fight against a former student, Valdemar Santana. Helio’s courage, tenacity, and discipline turned him into a national hero.As Carlos grew older and became more dedicated to his research in nutrition and exercise, and more committed to his quest for spiritual enlightenment, Helio took over the family business and became really involved in running the Gracie School. At this point, it was a much bigger facility located in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
Carlos, Gastao, Oswaldo, and Helio built the first generation of Gracie fighters. Although Carlos and Helio ended up being really close and spending decades working and living together, all four brothers had an enormous contribution to the growth of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil in the first half of the 20th century.