Why did Hélio Gracie, the Grandfather of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, wear a blue belt?
In many photos of Hélio Gracie throughout his long life he can be seen wearing a blue belt with his gi when training and teaching. Why is that? Hélio is recognized as a 10th degree red belt, a Grand Master in the martial art of Jiu Jitsu,
and one of the three founding brothers of the art so why is he wearing what looks to be only the first belt you earn when practicing Jiu Jitsu??
A little history is in order:
When the first Gracie Jiu Jitsu school, Gracie Humaitá at #52 Humaitá St. in Rio De Janeiro, was formed in 1925 there were no belt ranks as we know them today. Belts were only awarded to distinguish instructors from students. Instructor’s belts were light blue and only the head professor who had completed a professor’s course under Hélio wore a navy blue belt. Instructors never took the black belt because at the time Humaitá school wished to distinguish itself from other martial arts that were more sport based.
With the popularity and growth of the art, the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation formed in 1967 and widespread Brazilian Jiu Jitsu adopted a belt and sport system similar to the system of widespread Judo. With the desire to always grow and share the art with as many people across the world as possible and feeling that adopting a sport aspect to the martial art practice would not hurt its core values, Hélio adopted this structure of belt ranking as well.
By the 1990’s however, Hélio saw that as a direct result of this widespread sport application the focus of Gracie Jiu Jitsu had been taken away from its original self-defence foundation and places squarely on point scoring in a sport format. Beyond this change in basic values red belts and red and black belts were being awarded to various practitioners without Hélio or his brother’s consent. As a form of protest Grandmaster Hélio Gracie put away his red belt and began to wear his old navy blue belt once again; now a symbol of the first rank one can attained in Jiu Jitsu and also his favourite colour.
Pictured above is Grandmaster Hélio Gracie and Gracie Humaitá Sydney’s Head Professor Bruno Panno in Rio in 2005.