The BJJ legend Rickson Gracie, in his biography titled, “Breathe: A Life in Flow” which was released earlier this year, revealed that there are some things with the Gracie family tree that aren’t exactly what the world knows them to be.
As per Rickson, the world is aware of the fact that Carlos Gracie, the founder of BJJ, had 21 children from 7 different women. Whereas, his brother, Helio Gracie, had 9 kids with his wife Margarida. However, this is where Rickson says the secret lies. Rickson wasn’t Margarida’s child. His birth mother was a nanny, Isabel, who conceived Helio’s child as Margarida couldn’t bear one. Here are the main highlights of the Gracie champion’s statements in the hour-long MMA Fighting interview,
“My uncle and my father had the intention to create a clan of fighters and, in order to do that, they couldn’t be limited to one relationship and two or three kids,” Rickson said. This was the reason why “[Carlos] married six times and my father got married only once, but secretly had two other women who had his kids, and it mixed in a big family.
Rickson said that all the official records (birth certificates, etc.) show him as the legitimate son of Margarida Gracie, “My entire life I was son of Margarida Gracie,” he said, “when, in reality, I was surprised that’s not a fact.”
Rickson also confirmed that UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie, as well as Relson Gracie, are also sons of Isabel and not Margarida. The rest of Helio’s 6 children, i.e. Royce, Royler and others, however, are not born of Isabel.
“When I was 12 years of age, my father asked me, ‘My son, would you like to have more siblings?’ I said, ‘Yes, dad,’ but what a weird question that was. I still thought I was son of [Margarida Gracie],” Rickson said. “We hopped in the car and left the house in Flamengo and when we got to Botafogo, we got to an apartment in the sixth floor and when the door opened, one lady showed up and I started seeing heads popping up behind her. There were four at that time: Rolker, Royler, Royce, and Rerika. Ricci and Robin had yet to be born.”
“I saw those kids, and [Helio Gracie] said, ‘They are all your siblings,’” he continued. “That was a surprise to me, but I can say it was a pleasant one. But, from the point of view of his relationship with my mom [Margarida Gracie], she was surprised by those four kids, who later became six, and it was traumatic because she hadn’t agreed with it, and she probably didn’t know about this story either.”
To protect Helio’s respect as a martial arts master, his wife Margarida used pillows for social gatherings to show she was pregnant for the first 3 children. Rickson, who was delighted at the sight of more brothers was crushed and disappointed in his father and thought less of him as a husband when he witnessed the older children he had with Vera hurt Margarida psychologically.
“She was disappointed when she found out about it, and I started seeing a side of — I wouldn’t call disrespect, but lack of love, lack of partnership, that bothered me at the time,” he said. “I didn’t want a girlfriend that had that type of relationship with me, a weak relationship, of not knowing what I do, not being OK with the things I want, etc. That was not what I wanted for me in a relationship, and was a reference for my future.
“I saw that in my mom [Margarida], even though she did it all for love, it got to a point where her depression, her sadness for not being able to satisfy him through her own powers, she felt like she didn’t succeed in the end. I felt a lack of joy as she got older, and that impacted me a lot. Thinking about it, seeing this relationship, that’s not something I wanted for my life. Even though I admired my father as an example, as a general, as someone with many [qualities], on the relationship side, I felt he lacked a bit.
“When you’re a kid, 12 or 13 years of age, you don’t understand much of life. But when you see your mother crying on a corner for no reason, you say, ‘Mom, are you upset?’ [She says,] ‘No, my son.’ [She] tries to hide it. You begin to understand things that exist between the lines, things that aren’t written or shown, but there is an emotional effect there. Why is my mom upset? You begin to understand something that is under the rug. Then you have to act [as if you] feel comfortable with what’s going on.”
A surprise to almost everyone, and even the Gracie clan members themselves as well, this secret had been kept for over 60 years. When asked how something this big could have been kept hidden from the world, Rickson replied in laughter, saying, “I’m just a victim of the product.” He said that although he always kept in touch with Isabel, she wasn’t comfortable with the secret coming out to the public either.
“After it was uncovered, she kept being company of the family, a partner, going to our house and visiting,” Gracie said. “And we always treated her differently, as a unique nanny that later transformed into mother No. 2, you know? We treated her nicely, but she never opened up about that fact, never opened up about being our mother. We never spoke openly about it.
“The only time I tried to talk to her about it, I was already married, I think it was in 2006 or 2008, and she said no one in her family knew about that yet. She kept it a secret. Since she wanted it that way, I didn’t want to force anything by coming now as a new son. I felt a bit uncomfortable in a sense of opening up and being disappointed with something she might do, so I accepted that that would be a positive distance between us.”