MAN OF THE YEAR
ALWAYS IT IS THE I INDIVIDUAL THAT WINSW OR LOSES.” — RICKSON GRACIE
H e hasn’t competed in years, but his name is as revered in the grappling world now as it was when he fought in Brazil, in Japan and in the United States. Born on November 21, 1958, Rickson Gracie earned his black belt at age 18, and his life has been a roller-coaster ride through the multiverse of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, vale tudo, no-holdsbarred �ighting and MMA, a ride that deposited him squarely on top of the heap.
“Rickson is that rare combination of uncommon intellect, exceptional athleticism and an unrelenting work ethic,” said Burton Richardson, a Black Belt Hall of Famer who teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu, silat and jeet kune do. “Add that to the good fortune of being born into the Gracie family, and you have the complete recipe for a champion of the highest caliber.”
That good fortune revolves around the Gracie tradition of raising kids in the dojo. Rickson, now an eighth degree, told Black Belt he started rolling in the family gym before he was even aware of it. “My dad Helio Gracie used to play with me on the mat, so it began before I was conscious of it,” he said.
That fostered the development of a master tactician, one who’s unrivaled on the ground yet still highly skilled at stand-up. “When I was a blue belt, I was chatting with Rickson,” Richardson recalled. “He said, ‘I’m always looking to get to an intersection where no matter how my opponent moves, I will have a submission.’ He was always working toward checkmate. I was trying one move at a time, hoping something would work. I was playing low-level checkers, but Rickson was playing high-level chess.”
“In my generation of jiu-jitsu, Rickson was a superhero in Brazil — a warrior on the mat and a gentleman off the mat,” Jean Jacques Machado said. “He’s a person that brings the real spirit of a samuraiǨ My idol.”
e agree with Machado that racie’s popularity stems from reasons far grander than grappling skill. It’s his unof�icial position as elder statesman of BJJ, a martial artist who spouts philosophy as often as technical tips. The following are a few of the gems he’s told us over the years.
• “I always look for the possibility of employing a submission technique, and I always try to defeat my opponent in the most humane way possible, without any unnecessary violence. In any encounter, it is good to be as gentle as possible.”
• “Whether or not you should play offense or defense depends on whether you’re involved in a street �ight or a competition. On the street, I’m more than happy to be totally defensive, not committing myself to anything. I make sure that mentally, spiritually and technically, I’m prepared to protect myself against whatever might happen. In a competition, however, many times I will try to set up my opponent by committing myself 50 percent to a certain strategy. If he is able to respond to that strategy, then I might cut the action short and do something else.”
Ȉ “Always it is the individual that wins or loses. A �ight is not won because of a technique or speci�ic drill. It is won because of the physical, strategic, emotional and technical qualities of the �ighter.”
• “‘Creating confusion’ is the highest level of any sport where you compete against a human being. When you have to create confusion, you have to �low in harmony. hen you play against an opponent, you have to play all the different levels: mental, technical, concentration, intimidation, emotional and so on.”
In 1995 Burton Richardson interviewed Rickson Gracie before the second Vale Tudo Japan and asked him what his life would be like if he’d never trained in BJJ. “It was the only time I saw the evercon�ident ickson hesitate,” ichardson recalled. “He pondered a few moments before [he said], ‘I can’t imagine it. Jiu-jitsu is my life.’”
For his dedication to the self-defense arts and his devotion to the deeper teachings of those arts, Black Belt has selected Rickson Gracie as its 2017 Man of the ear.