Rickson Gra­cie Says Brazil­ian Jiu-Jitsu Is Sick, and He’s Got the Cure!

Black Belt - - SCREEN SHOTS - In­ter­view by Robert W. Young Pho­tog­ra­phy by Dar­ren Chesnut

Ji u-j itsu for com­pe­ti­tion doesn’ t trans­late toji u-j itsu as a mar­tial art be­cause of all the rules. And it’ s not as re­lated to life as it used to be .”

The last time Black Belt scored a sit-down with Rickson Gra­cie was for the cover of our March 2001 is­sue. Yes, he’s that busy. So when we got a chance to spend some time with the mar­tial artist who’s widely re­garded as the best fighter Brazil­ian jiu-jitsu has ever pro­duced, of course we ac­cepted. What re­ally got our blood pump­ing, how­ever, was the prom­ise of a big re­veal — that Rickson is ded­i­cat­ing his life to get­ting BJJ back on track as a self-de­fense art. Need­less to say, we’re very ex­cited about where his ini­tia­tive will lead. — Ed­i­tors

What oc­cu­pies your time th­ese days?

In ad­di­tion to teach­ing and be­ing en­gaged in the jiu-jitsu com­mu­nity, I’ve been in­volved for the last five years with the Jiu Jitsu Global Fed­er­a­tion. It’s be­cause jiu-jitsu is sick. The growth of the sport has been out­stand­ing, but I feel there’s a need to re­store our jiu-jitsu cul­ture and re­gain the tra­di­tional as­pects of the mar­tial art. Jiu-jitsu for com­pe­ti­tion doesn’t trans­late to jiu-jitsu as a mar­tial art be­cause of all the rules. And it’s not as re­lated to life as it used to be.

To re­store our cul­ture, to bring the back­bone back to jiu-jitsu, we have to deal more with self-de­fense. We have to prac­tice it as a mar­tial art rather than a sport. The jiu-jitsu cul­ture that was de­vel­oped by my fam­ily is sup­posed to be about in­spir­ing peo­ple and in­creas­ing their qual­ity of life. That doesn’t al­ways make you a good tour­na­ment fighter. It’s more im­por­tant to be­come com­fort­able with jiu-jitsu as a mar­tial art so you can bet­ter un­der­stand how to re­spond to un­pre­dictable things in life.

The ca­pac­ity to be strate­gic when fac­ing un­pre­dictabil­ity and to be emo­tion­ally in con­trol — in ad­di­tion to be­ing able to use lever­age and tech­niques in a cre­ative way — is what em­pow­ers you. It helps you live your life and make

bet­ter de­ci­sions. It teaches you life con­cepts that can help you con­quer what­ever you en­counter.

You men­tioned jiu-jitsu’s growth. It seems to be the cool thing to prac­tice th­ese days.

There’s no doubt jiu-jitsu is fash­ion­able be­cause of the UFC. Peo­ple en­joy train­ing in some­thing that’s been proved ef­fec­tive. That be­ing said, many of the ath­letes, com­peti­tors and teach­ers are get­ting more dis­tant from the core of jiu-jitsu, the fun­da­men­tals that are needed for a com­pre­hen­sive cur­ricu­lum. The peo­ple who need ji­u­jitsu the most are not the ones prac­tic­ing and com­pet­ing. It’s a great sport for peo­ple who like com­pe­ti­tion, but the moth­ers and fa­thers who are not com­pet­i­tive, as well as the kids who are too shy to com­pete, are miss­ing out on the em­pow­er­ment jiu-jitsu of­fers.

It has to be pre­sented in a more com­pre­hen­sive man­ner, giv­ing peo­ple things they can prac­tice with­out be­ing com­pet­i­tive. That way, they can learn im­por­tant con­cepts like weight dis­tri­bu­tion, lever­age, tim­ing, strat­egy, emo­tional con­trol and breath­ing, all of which are use­ful in life. If you ex­pect stu­dents to learn all this through com­pe­ti­tion only, you’re fol­low­ing a de­fec­tive for­mat.

Doesn’t ev­ery­one want to be a cham­pion?

Many peo­ple don’t have the skills needed to com­pete or even the de­sire. Be­cause of that, they think they don’t have what it takes to learn jiu-jitsu, and that’s com­pletely wrong. They end up miss­ing out on the ser­vice jiu-jitsu can do for the com­mu­nity. That’s why my fo­cus is on cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive rev­o­lu­tion that re­in­forces the fact that ev­ery jiu-jitsu school on the planet should start an in­tro­duc­tory class for th­ese stu­dents and not di­rect them to com­pete right away.

How many stu­dents do you think this will ap­peal to?

Maybe eight out of 10 new stu­dents leave jiu-jitsu in the first six months — that’s the av­er­age we all agree on. And it’s why we have to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment in which all new stu­dents can stay for at least a year with­out wor­ry­ing that they’ll be forced to face an op­po­nent. They should come to the school to work with a train­ing part­ner and de­velop skills for life. Af­ter that ini­tial year or year and a half, they should have the op­tion to keep train­ing like that or to in­crease their prac­tice so they can be­come a com­peti­tor. But even then, they need to have a big­ger foun­da­tion that helps them han­dle life in the pro­found sense of be­ing a mar­tial artist.

My goal is to bring back the con­cepts of self-de­fense that were for­got­ten by some and never known by oth­ers.

To you, what makes a mar­tial artist dif­fer­ent from a mar­tial ath­lete?

The de­vel­op­ment of the mar­tial artist within you is the de­vel­op­ment of your un­der­stand­ing of your own pos­si­bil­i­ties. Be­cause as you un­der­stand lever­age, tech­nique, weight dis­tri­bu­tion, tim­ing, strat­egy, emo­tional con­trol and so on, you get com­fort­able with those con­cepts, and that knowl­edge doesn’t leave you when you step off the mat. You bring it with you, whether you’re a po­lice of­fi­cer, a par­ent or a boss.

For ex­am­ple, a mar­tial artist can in­ter­pret lever­age in dif­fer­ent ways. It’s not only hand and arm po­si­tion­ing de­signed to trans­fer phys­i­cal power. You can use lever­age when you need a bet­ter an­gle to deal with some­body else’s strength — whether it’s a punch or an ar­gu­ment. If you un­der­stand the con­cept, you can trans­late it.

Another ex­am­ple is breath­ing. In jiu-jitsu, you learn how to breathe un­der stress in a way that lets you think and strate­gize. You be­come ac­cept­ing of the weight dis­tri­bu­tion that you have or don’t have. Those things can help you suc­ceed in life.

So can the con­cept of con­quer­ing. From birth, our un­der­stand­ing of hap­pi­ness de­pends on our abil­ity to con­quer some­thing, whether it’s an op­po­nent or an ob­jec­tive. When you’re young, you want to walk. Once you’ve done that, you want to climb onto the couch. Later, you want a girl­friend or a boyfriend or a di­ploma. What­ever you de­sire, you have to plan strate­gi­cally. Achiev­ing your goal is easier when you have emo­tional con­trol and pa­tience. In jiu-jitsu, you learn to plan prop­erly for suc-

cess on the mat, and you take that ar­se­nal with you into the world.

Are th­ese lessons your fa­ther He­lio Gra­cie taught you? Was he more about this ap­proach than he was about sport?

My fa­ther was a great mar­tial artist be­cause de­spite his lack of phys­i­cal­ity, he had spir­i­tual strength, men­tal strength and all the tech­niques he could learn. He was only 135 pounds and couldn’t do two pull-ups. That’s why he de­vel­oped ways to use lever­age to over­come the lack of power, as well as tech­niques that can sup­press the speed and co­or­di­na­tion of oth­ers. We have to teach those el­e­ments to the next gen­er­a­tion to make sure jiu-jitsu sticks to its pur­pose, which is to in­crease the chances of the weaker per­son in a con­fronta­tion.

My fa­ther was a true war­rior but in a very in­tel­li­gent way. He taught me some­thing very im­por­tant: If you want to be good, you train some moves, but if you want to be ex­cel­lent, you be­come in­vin­ci­ble by learn­ing how to pro­tect your­self above all else. I’ve been seek­ing in­vin­ci­bil­ity all my life. When you prac­tice the right way all your life, your mind be­comes al­most un­break­able.

How did jiu-jitsu get away from th­ese teach­ings?

The UFC hap­pened. Ev­ery­body was amazed by the re­sults of Royce’s matches, and they started think­ing of jiu-jitsu as bet­ter than wrestling or kick­box­ing. But they were talk­ing about a fight­ing art against sports that are de­fined by rules. Kick­box­ing, for ex­am­ple, has great ath­letes and tough guys, but they just know how to fight stand­ing up. And wrestling has some great ath­letes, great fight­ers with a great base, but they don’t know sub­mis­sions or strik­ing.

So when the UFC showed up, it was like a round­table where ev­ery­body used what they had and we got to see what hap­pened. Jiu-jitsu wound up on top. From that point, peo­ple started train­ing in jiu-jitsu, and the wave of in­struc­tors who came here had a com­pe­ti­tion back­ground. At the same time, jiu-jitsu started cre­at­ing its own com­pe­ti­tions.

In your opin­ion, is jiu-jitsu com­pe­ti­tion in­her­ently bad?

No. The prob­lem is, the tour­na­ments were never fo­cused on keep­ing the cul­ture alive. They were fo­cused on the busi­ness, on the brands, on mak­ing money. Peo­ple al­lowed the rules to di­min­ish the ef­fec­tive­ness of the art. Th­ese days, if I see a jiu-jitsu tour­na­ment, for ev­ery 10 black belts who are fight­ing, at least eight do things I can­not rec­og­nize. I can’t even think what they must be think­ing — maybe about the clock, ad­van­tages, points, the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ref­eree. They don’t think about win­ning the fight by just be­ing the best per­son out there.

To save en­ergy and min­i­mize risk, they de­vel­oped what I call an “anti-jiu-jitsu game” based on the knowl­edge they have of what their op­po­nent needs to win. They hold sleeves, and they stall so they can con­trol the pace and the po­si­tions. By do­ing that, they di­min­ish jiu-jitsu as a mar­tial art and make com­pe­ti­tion into a game. They’re wor­ried about time, they’re wor­ried about points, they look at the ref­eree and their coach — it’s like they’re not in a fight. They’re in a game.

Has this af­fected the schools, too?

I feel like jiu-jitsu academies don’t teach self-de­fense. The ser­vice jiu-jitsu could do for stu­dents has de­creased by 90 per­cent. Now it just reaches guys who like to have their ears bulge. The thing is, they will com­pete in jiu-jitsu, box­ing, kick­box­ing or any­thing be­cause they are com­peti­tors. The peo­ple who need jiu-jitsu the most can­not fit into the for­mat that 95 per­cent of jiu-jitsu schools use. Very few are still self-de­fense ori­ented. Be­cause of that, we lose out on the op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide ser­vice, and we lose our tra­di­tion.

Is this just an Amer­i­can prob­lem?

It’s world­wide.

When stu­dents fo­cus too much on com­pe­ti­tion, are they also learn­ing the wrong tech­niques — moves that might not work for self-de­fense?

That’s my big­gest con­cern. About 50 per­cent of the tech­niques used in tour­na­ments de­velop ter­ri­ble re­flexes and po­si­tions for use in a real fight. If they com­pete in MMA, they of­ten leave them­selves ex­posed. They’re afraid to go to the ground be­cause they don’t think they have a chance there. What they need to do is train in a way that’s good for com­pe­ti­tion, for MMA and for self-de­fense.

Could you give some ex­am­ples of what peo­ple are do­ing wrong?

The half-guard game is not work­ing in MMA — with few ex­cep­tions. It’s a dead end. All the hooks in the guard are not work­ing for MMA, and many of them are no good for self-de­fense, ei­ther.

Some move­ments are not even worth teach­ing. Guys come to me and say, “What about this tech­nique for self­de­fense?” I say, “Don’t even prac­tice it. It’s not worth it for you to de­velop re­flexes that, when you need them, you won’t be able to use.”

That’s the mis­sion of the Jiu Jitsu Global Fed­er­a­tion: to de­velop the self-de­fense as­pects of jiu-jitsu and to change the rules of com­pe­ti­tion so it has more dy­namic ac­tion and less stalling. Just by cut­ting stalling and ad­van­tages, you can bring the fights back to re­al­ity. A lot of ad­van­tages are sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Some guys, when they know they have an ad­van­tage, don’t even want to make

About 50 per­cent of the tech­niques used in tour­na­ments de­velop ter­ri­ble re­flex es and po­si­tions for use in a real fight.”

the full point. They just want to wait for the clock. That may de­ter­mine the smartest guy out there, but he won’t nec­es­sar­ily be the guy who’s go­ing to win in another com­pe­ti­tion or get in the cage and do a good job — or win a street fight.

For me, fight­ing was al­ways “You pick the place and the time — ev­ery­thing else is al­lowed.” It was never about weight di­vi­sions, time lim­its and rules. That’s the way we all should feel. If you don’t have that frame­work in mind, you’re on the wrong track as a mar­tial artist.

To make jiu-jitsu more self-de­fense ori­ented, should stu­dents fo­cus on breaks and chokes rather than sub­mis­sions?

Def­i­nitely. I al­ways fa­vored chokes — and strikes. I was never in fa­vor of arm locks, leg locks or foot locks be­cause it makes me feel bad when I’m try­ing to go to sleep and I keep hear­ing the sound of a break­ing bone in my head. Chokes are gen­tle in a way be­cause you don’t dam­age the guy too much.

Head butts, el­bows, knees and side kicks are also ef­fec­tive for self-de­fense. Some­times you use them to win the fight, and some­times you use them to cre­ate the dis­tance you need to get away.

And the Jiu Jitsu Global Fed­er­a­tion is the or­ga­ni­za­tion you cre­ated to take this mes­sage to the masses?

Yes. The self-de­fense pro­gram will be five blocks of in­for­ma­tion. Af­ter that, we will have a fun­da­men­tal cur­ricu­lum for classes. To­day, there are 47 teams around the world: Gra­cie Hu­maita, Al­liance, Gra­cie Barra and so on. The fed­er­a­tion al­ready has 31 of those teams, al­most 300 schools. We al­ready have started giv­ing out in­for­ma­tion on in­te­grat­ing self-de­fense into the rou­tines of schools. There will be an em­pow­er­ment pro­gram for women and for kids. There will be a pro­gram for law en­force­ment — it’s dif­fer­ent be­cause they have to be ex­perts at gun re­ten­tion, ar­rest and con­trol, and so on. Af­ter that will come a pro­gram for MMA.

How does your or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­dress com­pe­ti­tion?

We just did the first Rickson Gra­cie Cup in Al­bany, New York, and it was a great seed for the fu­ture. For it, we cre­ated a new set of rules — dou­ble elim­i­na­tion, no stalling, no ad­van­tages — and we got great re­sults with many more sub­mis­sions. Peo­ple loved the dy­namic na­ture of the fights.

In the fu­ture, we plan to show­case self-de­fense, too. The self-de­fense cham­pi­onship will be for a dif­fer­ent crowd, peo­ple who don’t want to en­gage in a tough grap­pling match. They will dis­play their skills at fend­ing off at­tacks for 30 sec­onds. They will be judged by the num­ber of moves they ex­e­cute, by their over­all grace. That will give peo­ple who are not fight­ers a chance to be­come more vi­tal, to show their tech­niques, to ful­fill their need to learn some­thing in a more friendly en­vi­ron­ment.

You’ve men­tioned the po­ten­tially neg­a­tive side of com­pe­ti­tion. What are the good points?

Com­pe­ti­tion puts you un­der stress. As you be­come fa­mil­iar with stress, you be­come com­fort­able han­dling pres­sure. As you be­come com­fort­able han­dling pres­sure, you be­come stronger and per­form bet­ter in life, where you have to be fo­cused and in con­trol if you want to take ad­van­tage of the mo­ment. All those things you can learn in com­pe­ti­tion.

To get the most ben­e­fit from com­pe­ti­tion, it should put you on the edge of fail­ure. That forces you to de­velop your ca­pac­ity to over­come the sit­u­a­tion. Even if you oc­ca­sion­ally fail, you can grow from it. It’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence for a hu­man be­ing.

Should par­ents en­cour­age their kids to com­pete?

Par­ents are sup­posed to sup­port their kids in com­pe­ti­tion but not push them to com­pete. There’s a big dif­fer­ence. If kids want to en­ter a tour­na­ment, you, as a par­ent, should en­cour­age them. Maybe they’re suc­cess­ful and want to con­tinue train­ing — that’s fine. But if you push them, with the first neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence they have in a tour­na­ment, they’ll think, “I’m done. I’ve had enough!”

When my kid started to com­pete at 7, it was be­cause he wanted to. I said, “You want to com­pete? Great. If you win, I’ll give you a gift. If you lose, I’ll give you two gifts.” Maybe he was a lit­tle con­fused, but one thing he knew for sure was that I wouldn’t be up­set if he lost. That has to be the bot­tom line. If kids feel that their par­ents will be dis­ap­pointed if they lose, they won’t want to train any­more be­cause of the chance they’ll dis­ap­point them.

Some­times you see par­ents who are crazy about ji­u­jitsu and their kids have the abil­ity to do it. But then the par­ents push too much, blam­ing the kids if they don’t meet their ex­pec­ta­tions. The kids say, “My fa­ther is dis­ap­pointed with me be­cause I could not ac­com­plish that, so I want to quit.” Then the sport ends up los­ing kids who have the ta­lent to be great ath­letes.

Only 10 per­cent of hu­man­ity likes com­pe­ti­tion. Ninety per­cent can­not re­late and don’t see the ben­e­fits of it. Some peo­ple never com­pete and never fight on the street, but be­cause of jiu-jitsu they feel like, “To­day, my pos­si­bil­i­ties in life are much greater.” That’s the mis­sion of ji­u­jitsu at the end of the day.

In what ways do peo­ple di­rectly ben­e­fit from that mis­sion?

Self-knowl­edge gives you a sense of de­fense, a sense of of­fense, a sense of peace. Self-knowl­edge gives you the tools to live and maybe the tools to at­tack or de­fend. Self­knowl­edge is the way you de­velop in the art of war, the art of peace, the art of love, what­ever.

Do most peo­ple who start train­ing in the mar­tial arts, whether for com­pe­ti­tion or self-de­fense, even­tu­ally mi­grate to­ward self­knowl­edge as they be­come more ex­pe­ri­enced and more ma­ture?

That’s the way it’s sup­posed to be. Even in soc­cer, surf­ing and base­ball, you get to that point. You get the in­for­ma­tion in your heart by com­pet­ing, teach­ing, win­ning and los­ing, and you need all those emo­tions to be­come a bet­ter per­son, to know how to for­give, how to ac­cept, how to love, how to re­spect. As you fo­cus on self-knowl­edge, you get uni­ver­sal knowl­edge. A good mar­tial arts school is there to help you along that path. You’re there to pu­rify your­self, to em­power your­self, to be­come more gen­tle, to be­come more kind. And to love more peo­ple. For more in­for­ma­tion about Rickson Gra­cie’s Jiu Jitsu Global Fed­er­a­tion, visit

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.