Lost In translation

by Sensei Mike Pepe


Shortly after I settled into my hotel room, I made my way by taxi to the health club where I would meet Helio Gracie and take my group lessons. In Brazil, the “H” in Helio is silent. This would affect and alter my training later. Unable to make contact with Helio Gracie I made my way back to my room and waited for a phone call which came a couple of hours later in the voice of a pleasant woman who in her best English said “Mr. Helio Gracie and his son will meet you in the lobby at 6pm. Repeat please. You understand this?” As the time approached and I gathered my gear, I wondered out loud – “Helio will pick me (?) Up! And which son is still in Brazil? Royce? Rolyer? I made it to the lobby with little time to spare…as if the hour leeway I allotted wasn’t enough time.

When the car arrived, Helio was not there but I met one Rilion Gracie. Heilo’s nephew. Rilion is the son of Helio’s brother Carlson. I made a wonderful friendship with this 40 year old and he would become my teacher for private and group lessons.


  Now here’s the twist. The language of Brazil is Portuguese and the letter “R” is pronounced as an “H”. An American wanting to speak with Helio pronounces the”H” whereas a Brazilian will pronounce the name as “–elio”. Furthermore, the name Rilion is pronounced “Hilion”. Follow? Therefore, an American incorrectly asking to train with Helio will make the same sound as asking for Hilion, which is correct for a Brazilian!! It’s easy to see how the communication can be misunderstood…

*(As it turned out, my failed meeting with Helio may have been more “planned” than I knew…)


…Class was going good as my teacher Rilion demonstrated how to attack and defend from the side. “Pusha my knee” he would say in his broken English. Pusha! And I push his knee away. No. Pusha like this. Pusha. But he would make me pull the knee toward me. In Portuguese, the word for pull is “pusha” and the word for push is “pull.”

Sometimes things get lost in translation...






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