Relson “Campeão” Gracie is well-known around the world as an ex-professional fighter and personality in Jiu Jitsu. Originally from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, he eventually brought the sport to Hawaii where he established the Relson Gracie Academy. He is the second oldest son of the late Grand Master Helio Gracie who, not only created the Gracie method of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but also inspired his son to begin training and fighting professionally at a very young age.
Relson Gracie was born on March 28, 1953, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Given his family environment, he was ushered into martial arts from the tender age of 2. By the age of 10, Relson had entered the first ever Gracie Jiu Jitsu tournament and from there became the Brazilian National Champion in both his own weight and the open division for a historical 22 years.
As a youngster, Relson showed little interest in schoolwork and would often be found spending his time at the beach playing football. Frustrated parents wanted him at school, but he simply did not perform well there. His father hence decided to further guide his son towards Gracie Jiu Jitsu in the hope that Relson could someday make a living as an instructor. To entice his son’s interest, Helio would reward Relson with $100 every time he won a gold medal. It wasn’t long before Relson was winning local tournaments and gaining a reputation for his own way of fighting.
Relson Gracie’s nickname “Campeão”, meaning “champion”, was because of his prowess as a fighter and rising popularity. An analogy he would later tell was of his mother’s frustration over his nickname. On the phone, when callers would ask for “Campeão” she would argue that “in this house, everyone is a champion! Which one do you want?”
There weren’t many opponents who were able to beat Relson, both in and outside of the ring. Relson and his family were constantly showing that the Gracie style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was prime and for years, won street fight after street fight. Interestingly, the worst beating he ever got came from his cousin Rolls Gracie, who was raised alongside Relson in the same family home. One day, the pair had argued so badly that Rolls managed to lock Relson in the bathroom and began beating him until eventually, the door had to be broken down by other family members. Over time, the cousins managed to repair the relationship and became close once more.
Rolls’ influence on Relson was strong and he was the first to introduce his cousin to surfing. Being the first in the family to buy a surfboard, Rolls would often lend the board to his cousin while he was busy working or studying. Relson embraced the surfing lifestyle and practised at every opportunity. His father, however, having more traditional views, was not so supportive of the idea. But, although Relson’s love of surfing was great, it did not seem to deter him from mastering the techniques his father had started. Relson became a fierce, dominant competitor, and finally received his black belt at the age of 18.
By 1975, his reputation was a commodity and Relson was approached by Rio’s Secretary of Sports, Jose Morais and Manaus Senator Artur Vigilio. They encouraged him to open his own academy. Relson took the advice on board and launched his first academy at Ilha Clube Jardim Guanabara (ICJG). After years of work there, Relson decided to move to America and in 1985 and began teaching at the Eseline Therapy Institute in Monterey, California. However, his time here was short, and after only 18 months, Relson received an offer to teach in Hawaii.
The Hawaiian isles appealed to Renson’s love of surfing and with the help of Carlos Valente, Relson took up the offer and moved to Honolulu in June 1988. Although the sport was yet unknown in Hawaii, Relson’s fighting attitude and skilful manoeuvres became popular there causing the word to spread and his classes to grow. To meet demand, he expanded his classes and ended up teaching them at the Athletic Complex at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. By 1992, Relson had organised the first official Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament to be held outside of Brazil. He was also one of the first instructors to bring a foreign team to the most prestigious Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament, the World Jiu Jitsu Championship commonly known as the “Mundials”.
After 8 years in Hawaii, Relson opened the official Relson Gracie Academy. As changes to the rules of competitive fighting unfolded (paving the way for today’s Mixed Martial Arts), his teaching style embodied a more realistic, street-like form of self-defense where rules don’t apply, rather than being so focused on competing. In 2004, he handed over management of the academy to one of his instructors to free himself up for regular travel to his other schools around America.
Currently, Relson holds the highest possible belt awarded to a living individual in Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – the 9th degree Red Belt. He became a Grand Master of the sport on 6 April 2013. He now offers seminars at his academies and continues to grow his contributions to the field of Martial Arts.