Helio Gracie Vs. Tsunetane Oda EPIC “What-If” Martial Arts Battle #1

There is a good chance that I will make this a series of articles on fantasy martial arts battles. If anyone has suggestions for possible battles or just fighters (from any era) to feature let me know.  Enjoy.

Helio Gracie


Tsunetane Oda

EPIC What If Martial Arts Battle #1

Facts About Helio Gracie:

His brothers were taught by Mitsuyo Maeda (born in 1878),a Judoka from the Kodokan who was considered a ground-work expert. Helio Gracie could not practice the moves themselves because he was frail and thus relied on his ability to analyze moves. Helio found that he could know the moves in his head but doing them against a live and resisting opponent proved to be difficult. Helio knew that he had to adapt the moves he was taught or even come up with new ones in order to be successful (this is according to Gracie family lore) to his small body type.

Helio Gracie proved his abilities in grappling and Vale Tudo matches having a combined record of 10-2-7 (according to his Wikipedia page). Helio Gracie eventually co-founded the martial art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Helio’s most famous match was against Masahiko Kimura in 1951 in which he lost by a technical submission due to an armlock (reverse ude garami or Kimura lock named in his honor) Interestingly enough Kodokan records show that Helio held a 3rd dan in Judo while personal accounts by Kimura say he held a 6th dan as it was common for the Kodokan to show lower ranks for those who are foreigners.

Facts about Tsunetane Oda:

Often cited as the little known innovator of Judo ne-waza, it should be noted that at this time Judo did indeed recognize the ground aspect of Judo. However people like Judo’s founder Jigoro Kano viewed it as less important. Judo had a handful of ground proponents like Mitsuyo Maeda, but it was Oda that had the greatest impact on Judo ne-waza specifically. Oda was much like Helio a man of small stature and found that ground work was very much his strength. Although he tried to promote it as much as he could through things like the University system, Kosen Judo as it was called never quite took off in the same way that Kodokan Judo did. Oda was famous for being one of the first people to use the triangle choke or sankaku jime often. Surprisingly enough the triangle did not become a regular move used in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu until many years later. One of Oda’s key philosophies at the time was that Judo should be 50 % stand-up throws or tachi-waza and another 50 % dedicated to ground work or ne-waza.

The question is who wins in this fantasy EPIC “What-If” martial arts battle? Gracie Jiu-Jitsu vs. Kosen Judo, well known martial arts badass genius vs. little known martial arts badass genius. Let’s get started with who holds the advantage in various aspects of the fight. Cue cheesy Deadliest Warrior knock-off advantages animation.


Here is an example where trying to figure out who holds the advantage is tricky. Helio Gracie proved time and time again that he could defeat men from Judo backgrounds and those who are much larger than himself. This proves that he has excellent technical ability, especially on the ground which is where he always won (with a submission usually a choke or armlock). Helio was able to devise strategies that would work for the smaller man. However I believe that Oda from watching his ne-waza videos is an equal in technical ability or possibly even superior. Still Oda was not known to showcase his technical ability in matches for there does not exist any competitive footage of him. Nonetheless it is obvious that Oda was a technical genius to come up with these moves especially for the time. It is eerie to see moves that look applicable to today used so many years ago. It’s almost like someone went back into a time machine to show them to Oda. Either way neither man seems to hold a definitive advantage in this department. Both simply have their own styles where Helio tends to favor ground work where as Oda likes to fight on the ground but spends almost an equal amount of time training his throws as well. Helio appears to be more “proven” in combat where as Oda has advantages in things like the throwing department.



Helio Gracie was a master when it came to bringing the fight where he wanted to. Helio was also not afraid to fight off of his back for extended periods of time. For a Judoka like Oda this is certainly not his modus operandi. Sure he may have excellent technique but surely his preference would be to get on top of Helio and pass his guard. Helio’s best option is to try and slow the pace of the match to a crawl so that he can eventually wear Oda down and hopefully lock in a fight ending submission. Oda I suspect though will want to employ the opposite strategy and look to push the pace early with aggressive grappling techniques. Oda’s hip movement on top looks especially impressive and it would be interesting to see if Helio could actually neutralize it.

Oda will have an advantage in the throwing department from his training with the best in Japan (including Judo’s founder Kano), though don’t under-estimate Helio either. Still chances are Oda will want to emulate what Masahiko Kimura did and repeatedly throw Helio down. Interesting to note is that Helio took on Maeda’s philosophy of combat, including the idea of distinct phases in fighting.  In fighting strategy I am going to have to give the advantage to Helio.



This I have to admit is kind of boring to break down and with both men being technicians I suspect it won’t be a factor. Although I am leaning towards Oda from the rigors of Judo training it is inconclusive. One however must not forget that Helio engaged in several very physical encounters despite his frail appearance.



Cardiovascular conditioning is such an important aspect of any fight. It can sway a battle where one person is superior technically but just can’t keep it up for long enough. Helio Gracie was renowned for his cardio, though I think this stems more from his ability to fight slow and methodically. Judging from his videos Oda relies heavily on ground movement compared to Helio who uses very little until getting the submission. This in the short term could be successful for Oda but on the other hand it could prove costly, as Oda struggles to pass Helio’s guard. Ironically guard passing could simultaneously be his silver bullet and Achilles’ heel. Helio undoubtedly will have the cardio advantage.


Although this appears to show Helio will win there are several other X-factors that must be taken into account.


Will the fact that Helio who is used to fighting much larger men than himself work in his favor (going against an opponent closer to his own size)?

TECH FACTOR (play on technology factor but actually refers to technique)

It may be a stalemate when it comes to overall technical ability but who actually has the better techniques themselves? Even though 20 years separates when these two men were born, because Japan was developing great techniques Oda chances are is the more innovative and versatile fighter (especially for his time). Helio’s techniques are incredibly fundamental in comparison. Will someone as technical as Oda fall for these techniques that he himself is well-versed in? This is the X-factor that might actually play the biggest role in the entire match.


Helio Gracie was all about ground work where as Oda trained a significant amount of time in throwing; not that Helio was a slouch standing up either. Still whose philosophy reigns supreme? It’s quite possible that Oda’s is better considering years later we see that dictating where a fight takes place is very important for any martial artist. Still that idea is almost irrelevant because this fight is guaranteed to hit the ground one way or another.

With all things considered who takes this battle? I am a little concerned that the founder of the Kosen style of Judo might not be proven enough though with reluctance I am taking him in this razor-close match. I believe that Helio will eventually crumble under Oda’s relentless top pressure. The only question remaining is who do you think would win?