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Robson Gracie learned martial arts from his father, Carlos Gracie, and his uncle Helio Gracie. In the 1950s, Robson competed in Vale Tudo competitions. His début mixed martial arts fight was against Artur Emidio in April 1957. During the fight Gracie submitted his opponent, but refused to release him until the referee pulled them apart. Despite his small stature, incidents like this were to characterise Gracie's professional life as a tenacious fighter. In the 1960s, Gracie served as a bodyguard to Leonel Brizola, the brother-in-law of the then President of Brazil, João Goulart. His political affiliations placed him under the scrutiny of the military regime, following the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état. His assistance to the Marxist guerrilla organisation Ação Libertadora Nacional led to his arrest, and the arrest of several members of his family, by the Brazilian Secret Service. Gracie's wife, Vera Lucia, made representations to the Brazilian military government to release her husband which resulted in her own arrest; however, she was quickly released. Robson Gracie was imprisoned, tortured and interrogated for 60 days before being released. One of his captors knew him as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teacher, and for this reason successfully protested his execution, saving his life. All of his fellow prisoners were executed.Gracie currently lives and teaches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where he is the president of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Rio de Janeiro.On 25 October 2018, shortly before the second round of the 2018 Brazilian general election, Robson Gracie handed an honorary black belt to the future President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who has never actually trained in jiu-jitsu.
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