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The Past, Present, and Future of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Discussed Candidly by

Robert Drysdale and Fernando Di Pierro Soluço

Everyone is a sellout in jiu-jitsu today. It’s been normalized.

Posted June 22, 2024

 

The following is an informal conversation between two old rivals and friends. Fernando Di Pierro, more known as “Soluço,” and Robert Drysdale. The conversation was recorded during breakfast on June 2, 2024. Not too far from where the IBJJF World Championships were being held. Transcription and translation are the sole responsibility of the author, Robert Drysdale.

Drysdale – Soluço, you came from judo, started training jiu-jitsu in São Paulo, won various national and international titles. What motivated you to suddenly go to Ecuador? I consider you to be the father of Ecuadorian jiu-jitsu. I mean, every champion out of Ecuador today is either your student or a student of one of your students. Why Ecuador though?

Soluço – First I had the privilege of watching jiu-jitsu grow in São Paulo (SP) after coming from Rio. The same happened when jiu-jitsu came to the USA and later Europe and then the World. I learned from this experience that jiu-jitsu was a product to be exported. That jiu-jitsu carried with it a certain lifestyle that was appealing to people of all walks of life. I believed that what I had witnessed in SP, could be replicated in Ecuador. And because I had always felt a strong connection to Latin America I saw in Ecuador an opportunity. A market niche. I also feel more at home anywhere in Latin America than I do in the US for example. I believe that in cultural terms I adapt better there and Ecuador fit in with all that. Though it was mostly an accident that took me to Ecuador. I was unhappy in Brazil after my father passed with my family fighting over inheritance so I needed a change of air. I went there to teach for a short period and three months turned into six… And before the end of the six months my girlfriend was pregnant [at this point, Soluço looks over to his teenage daughter, smiles and kisses her on the forehead] and so I decided to stay. First for my girlfriend and daughter but also for my students whom I felt had potential and that took a liking for me and my classes. I also grew angry at some who conspired against my work in Ecuador. You see, the “colonization” of jiu-jitsu in Ecuador was full of conflict… and I decided to stay. Things just sort of happened.

Drysdale – Why do you think jiu-jitsu in Ecuador took off? I mean, Brazil is clearly the biggest power in the region but Ecuador is a small country. Why Ecuador when there are other more populous and prosperous countries in the region?

Soluço – Ecuador doesn’t even have a strong tradition in sports in general. It is a small country with few people in it. Mostly poor. But jiu-jitsu grows wherever it goes and when it is taught with love, it grows faster and Ecuadorian jiu-jitsu inherited the Team Alliance competitiveness through me. To be fair, when I first got to Ecuador there was already another lineage there. Professor Bitar who would bring over Royce [Gracie] so Ecuadorian jiu-jitsu has the privilege of being initially connected to Royce and the UFC and in a second moment with the competitiveness of Team Alliance and the pursuit of tournaments. I instilled in them the desire to compete in the IBJJF events, to travel to compete. I made this commonplace with my students from the beginning. While in other neighboring countries, they never managed to organize themselves or even seem to have a clear goal ahead of them. In Ecuador it was all very different because as soon as I got there I immediately began to organize tournaments and get into everyone’s head that they had to compete if they wanted to be good. I instilled methodology, goal and vision into their heads very soon. There is another important thing to consider. I don’t think I am a gifted person. I think I am a very normal guy in fact. I always tried hard though. So, I think that my students in Ecuador by training with me, following me around and participating in all these events where I was also actively competing, I think they began to believe that if I could do it, so could they, that it wasn’t something out of this world to win, that it could be done. So, I think I managed to pass onto them my passion and training methods to them in this way.  There is another thing. I think Ecuadorian jiu-jitsu has its own intrinsic qualities. It is very common that around the world people begin on their knees, even though they should really begin standing and practice takedowns. But because I came from judo I instilled in them the habit of practicing takedowns regularly. I hope that they can take this from me alongside Alliance’s methodology and the habit of training gi and no-gi. I hope this lasts in my students and their jiu-jitsu.

Drysdale – Coming from judo, what are some of the things you immediately perceive as different from BJJ? I have here primarily to cultural and methodological differences in mind.

Soluço – Lifestyle. I think this is the biggest difference. In judo, the Sensei is a bit distant, without a personal relationship to the student. Perhaps this is better in that the distance maintains respect. In judo everything is very disciplined and the relationship is a hierarchical one. In a way this is good, but on the other hand, I think judo did not manage to make itself into a lifestyle practice like BJJ has. I am talking about the friendship on the mats, the lunch with the team after practice, the idea of a healthy life. Judo, to me, seems to end when the Olympic dream ends and you can no longer practice it as a hobby. While jiu-jitsu has all that. There is also the issue of their differences being akin to software’s with an open and a closed system. This difference is obvious [Soluço here is referring to judo having a defined and central canon of techniques whereas BJJ has never done that and kept the technical possibilities open and only limited by the rules]. There is a difference in terms of methodology as well. BJJ is characterized for not being systematized technically or methodologically.

Drysdale – But don’t you think this is a problem?

Soluço – No, I think it is an advantage. In some ways at least. [Fabio] Gurgel for example in order to build a team with 400 affiliates and 14 world titles, today we celebrate the team’s 14th world title. I think this is his biggest achievement, not even his accomplishments as a fighter or trainer. His biggest achievement is creating a methodology that connects all these schools, because without a common method we cannot be connected in any meaningful way. Besides this, finding a balance between the competitive and the commercial because they are two forces that are generally antagonists.

Drysdale – This is very true. I struggle finding this balance between the commercial and the competitive. If I tighten one, I will loosen the other. They are conflicted and because they are conflicted, neither can ever be fully optimized. I don’t see a way around this conflict. The only possible solution is a separate training session with very different methodologies but then this leaves the team’s character and purpose conflicted. What is the team’s purpose and personality? Is it money or performance? They are in conflict and I don’t see a way around this problem.

Soluço – I recall speaking to Gurgel about this during the pandemic. We are very different people in many ways. Our world views differ dramatically but in terms of jiu-jitsu I happen to agree with him. He was telling me about the competition team and how he is preparing them and the general dynamics of new professional team appearing in the landscape. Teams such as DreamArt, Vision, Fratres, etc. Teams with sponsors and whose goals are to treat the athletes as they would be in any other professional sport. Gurgel argues that despite the professionalization of jiu-jitsu, a competitor will not live from tournaments or super fights, a competitor will ultimately live from coaching. So, he has a vision to train them in not only for tournaments, but to also prepare them to run a gym one day and be a good coach. If we manage to connect these two things, the commercial with the competitive, I think that is a good balance to this conflict.

Drysdale – A competition team requires a great number of athletes I think. You need many competitive and committed people. You need a room with 40 fully committed and fully immersed individuals. But to even get to these 40, you need a pool of student of thousands since most will not have the necessary drive. Plus, jiu-jitsu is so competitive today that genetic gifts are prerequisites for you to shine, commitment alone is no longer enough.

Soluço – Two things here. If you have a chain of gyms with commercial success, you will be able to find the talent in this multitude of students in a commercial program. Also, because of the international demand for teachers you will also be able to steal talent that will want to be part of this project. Because they come from smaller teams with a smaller infra-structure. Alliance has always had this dual ambition of being premium in terms of quality and premium in terms of being elite. This will draw others who want more than just being elite in terms of their practice, but also in business terms.

Drysdale – I began training in 1998. I believe you began around the same time. I notice that these changes are very radical in terms of interpreting jiu-jitsu. For most of its history, jiu-jitsu was not a commercial practice. First, it was a practice for those who had money to train at the original Gracie Academy. Then, it was a practice for the tough-guys of Rio where only the strong survived. But the brand of BJJ that conquered the world was not a commercial one, even though it later became that. What drew people to jiu-jitsu was precisely the tough-guy or “casca-grossa” approach to jiu-jitsu. The commercial practice, in my opinion, is merely feeding of the credibility created by the generations that preceded ours, the tough-guys. Do you think that this was always their project? That they always had their eyes on popularization and, consequently, money, and that the only reason it wasn’t commercialized sooner is because they didn’t have the opportunity to do so. Of course, this all changed after Royce.

Soluço – I was actually talking to Carlson Jr. about this a while ago. He was telling me that his father did not care about money at all. That if he let any money in his father’s hands he would spend it all in a heartbeat. That he had to save his father’s money for him because otherwise he’d give it all away. I think jiu-jitsu still has some of that in it. I even try to follow this example in Ecuador. Even now I am helping my students to come to the US to compete. Helping myself but also trying to help others. There is another side to all this. There is a side of the family that has always been extremely commercially oriented. I don’t even want to use an offensive word here. But there is a side of the family that had always had their eyes on money and political power. I see this a lot even today in some family members. Many financial interests. I think these two factors have been around for a long time and are still making themselves present.

Drysdale – I agree, I think these two sides exist within the Gracie family well before the explosion under Royce and the UFC. I talk about this in my second book. That the division we are witnessing today in terms of interpretation of what jiu-jitsu is, started long ago, in the Gracie family itself. I think the rivalry between Helio and Carlson highlights many things, but this is one of them. Very different worldviews

Soluço – Helio, Carlson and Fadda. Don’t forget [Oswaldo] Fadda who was doing all that work in the suburbs of Rio. Many people in Rio could only train jiu-jitsu because Fadda was so giving. Look, our generation consisted mostly of middle and upper-middle class, especially in SP. This is a continuation of something long ago. Today, however, it’s a bit different. When you see most of the upcoming talent, these are competitors who want to live from jiu-jitsu because they see in it a life changing opportunity. It’s not only the love for the art that motivates them, these kids also see BJJ as a way out of poverty. They begin in these social-projects that are all over the country, they go to these semi-professional teams where they have the opportunity to shine and from there they can change their lives forever. So, of course, they will work a lot harder than the average hobbyist. This is characteristic of jiu-jitsu. That it is an export product of Brazil. The number of Brazilians in the finals today is reflective of all this. Naturally, their motivation to fight hard at the [Walter] Pyramid today is very charged to make their name and open a successful gym somewhere around the world one day.

Drysdale – I have my doubts that a boy who leaves his bed every morning thinking about jiu-jitsu and who trains so hard for years to finally get to the level of being able to fight here today, especially when we consider that he may well fail, must be motivated primarily by money. I think money is factor that adds to his will. But I think that the main drive, above everything else is prestige. Fighters, especially the young ones, are obsessed with it. Money is the side-effect or secondary force, not the primary one.

Soluço – I agree. Anyone who is doing what we are doing is first and foremost in love with jiu-jitsu. From this passion comes the desire for glory. You want to be a champion, you want to be the best blue-belt in the gym, and later the best blue-belt in the world. Until you grow the ambition of wanting to be the best black-belt in the world. So, the love for jiu-jitsu is there but the competitor must have an ego too, he must care he must want to stand out. However, this standing out for passion alone perhaps was something from our generation and the generations that preceded us. It’s different now. Today they want more, the money definitely adds to the incentive to train harder and to walk underneath the Rainbow after becoming a world champion can grant them the opportunity to live life differently.

Drysdale – Don’t you think that this commercialization, however beneficial, has something corrupting about it as well?

Soluço – Definitely. No one today cares about team or teachers. Everyone is a sellout in jiu-jitsu today. It’s been normalized.

Drysdale – I talk a bit about this in my book. The values were different then. You couldn’t blame anyone other than yourself when you lost. The courage to roll with everyone on the mats had to be there too. Betraying your team mates and coach was shameful. Now things are very individualistic, everyone blames the person next to them for losing. People want to choose their training partners and avoid the hard rolls. In general, the cultural environment has shifted from one in which the purpose of jiu-jitsu, to me at least, was always improving on the individual whereas now, it is all about making the student, or better, the client, feel better about themselves. To me telling my students what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear feels like a hustle. I mean, we were the most prominent martial-art in the world and this was possible precisely due to these values that have now been corrupted. And they have been corrupted in the name of a commercial project.

Soluço – That is true. No one is defending the art. No one wants to defend their teacher. No one cares about team or flags. It is all about what is best for them, the individual. Back in the day you fought jiu-jitsu to represent you team and coach. The society we live in has made people very selfish and increasingly focused on their social media and bank accounts.

Drysdale – If you divide, divide and further divide, instead of uniting you will end up with many jiu-jitsu’s, many rules, many federations, many teams but if no one agrees on what we are doing, than we are no longer doing the same thing. We all have drifted away from each other. I recall the event between jiu-jitsu and luta-livre in 1991. Jiu-jitsu came together against a common enemy. Even Gurgel went over to train under Carlson, to train with his rivals in order to represent jiu-jitsu well. I mean, this tells me that they were all flying the same flag that is jiu-jitsu. I can’t imagine that today. But again, maybe that is the problem, jiu-jitsu then, had many common enemies. Now the war is won, so we turn in on ourselves, into infighting. I guess this is the next step in the cycle.

Soluço – Jiu-jitsu then was smaller but also more united. But I still think that the expansion now is so big that there will be room for everyone. Even for people to do things the right way. Perhaps it won’t be the majority, but there is room for people who want to teach jiu-jitsu with their eyes on the right values. I mean, at least in technical terms we can’t deny that it has improved a lot. At least in terms of what the rules allowed.

Drysdale – The evolution has taken the possibilities given by the rules to extreme heights. I am curious to see where it will go. But, as you know, I worry that we have drifted too far from the reality of combat. You have also fought MMA. It’s a whole different world. I don’t think jiu-jitsu practitioners can represent jiu-jitsu in the cage anymore. Those days are over.

Soluço – That is an interesting point. Given the rules and the popularity, where do you think jiu-jitsu will go from here? I have a theory. The rules will favor guard-playing even more. And that these guards will use three to four locking positions or knots that will completely stall your opponent and these knots will lead to a point that will lead to victory. Less and less takedowns and submissions. I think this will be the trend in the future.

Drysdale – I agree, I just think we are already there [both laugh]. It is only a matter of time before people figure out that this is the most expedient way to win. Which is with tactics.

Soluço - Of course, there are exceptions and some athletes are outside of this. And I’m not against the rules per se. I am totally in favor of the unification of the ruleset under the IBJJF, but in some ways I believe that the tactics prevail and that other technical aspects are diminished, such as defending a side-control or mount or back. At the high-level these things aren’t even important anymore because when someone mounts they pretty much have already won the fight… I mean, there’s no time to regain the seven points scored from the “pass and mount.” In my vision, I try to find a balance between ne-waza and tachi-waza, in between judo and jiu-jitsu. And I see that both judo and jiu-jitsu under the IBJJF have had difficulty reconciling these two aspects of grappling.

Drysdale – I see a technical vacuum there that a generation that preceded ours had dealt with by being concerned with the reality of combat. And this has been completely lost, the current generation has no concern whatsoever with this. Which confirms my long-held belief that athletes are motivated, above all, by prestige, not money or the idealism inherit to the practice and instilled by its founders. In the case of jiu-jitsu, this was the reality of combat. When I tell one of my students that “that wouldn’t work in a fight,” they look at me as if I said something strange and completely out of context. To them, if a move isn’t realistic they could not care less. It is entirely irrelevant to them, because in their heads, they will never have to actually fight in the streets or in a MMA event. Whereas in our generation these concerns were crucial. They were in large part the reason why we began training. But we have to admit that the world has changed, we need to acknowledge that fighting in the streets is unusual and unlikely and that there is no pressure whatsoever on a younger generation to represent jiu-jitsu in MMA.

Soluço – Fridays is no-gi day at my gym. Sometimes I put boxing gloves on my students and have them try to clinch and take each other down. Until one of my students protested, “but coach this isn’t jiu-jitsu, why are we training this?” There was an estrangement between the student and this attempt at teaching them something about a real fight. This mentality is everywhere. I know this because I travel a lot for seminars. If I try to teach a combination from striking into clinch into a takedown, I know people will protest and never bring me back. They didn’t pay to learn this. Or even takedowns really. If I teach a combo of a seoi-nague to a maki-komi for example, which is my favorite takedown, people won’t like it. No one pays to go to a jiu-jitsu seminar to learn a takedown.

Drysdale – I am having a very similar experience at the gym. I began this program at the gym where I decided to organize the most common techniques in MMA into a curriculum. I call it combat jiu-jitsu. It is basically MMA organized into a curriculum. And when I show them how to strike from side-control, people’s reaction is exactly like the one you are describing, they may not say anything, but the look on their faces says it all, “but coach, this isn’t jiu-jitsu.” In other words, their interpretation of jiu-jitsu is so distant from the Gracie family’s original interpretation of jiu-jitsu that it has become completely incompatible with it.

Soluço – About a month ago, I was in Brazil and went to Demian’s [Maia] gym to train. The warm-up was clinching and pummeling, the ground positioning was all specific for you to defend yourself from strikes. He is also trying to do what you are talking about. Part of the problem is that people are used to thinking that jiu-jitsu for self-defense are those 10 or 20 moves taught at the original Gracie Academy. The classic choreography of self-defense moves that everyone knows. And sincerely, I think that we can do better. Even our own live-rolling is already better than these lessons for a self-defense situation. I think this is our self-defense, even though, as we have discussed, this live-rolling has been consistently distancing itself from a real fight.

Drysdale – Exactly my thoughts. Though I am convinced that a competitive live-rolling practice can exist with the reality of combat in sight. There is no contradiction there as far as I can see. I also don’t believe that the choreographed approach to self-defense is applicable in a real situation. It is better than nothing, still…

Soluço – It is slightly better than nothing in my opinion.

Drysdale – Yes, slightly better than nothing because in a fight, we both know this, reflex will take charge, not memory. Memory is too slow. Plus, the opponent is always unpredictable, and anyone who wants to learn how to defend themselves effectively must necessarily learn how to think and react quickly to changing circumstances.

Soluço – I agree. I also believe that this discussion is much older.

Drysdale – In general, I am critical of self-defense systems, even the ones in BJJ, because in my understanding, without live competition there is no evolution. The practice is stale and too dependent on the opinions of its founders which is always limited or false. This is true from Kano, to Bruce Lee all the way to BJJ and the Gracie family. No single individual can think that far ahead. A process of natural selection must take place for the art to continue to grow and evolve organically, hopefully towards a unified and specific goal. Even if the individual does not compete in tournaments, he must at least practice competitively inside his gym with his training partners. If this student does not learn how to react and think quickly when someone is actively trying to beat them, I just don’t see how they will be, all of a sudden, ready to react against an assailing stranger. Many people who prefer these choreographic styles of self-defense are people who are timid about training hard daily in the gym and getting beat. Which is odd to me, their reasoning is odd to me. If they are scared of confrontation in a controlled setting such as a tournament or a gym, what makes them think that they will be ready for a real-life threatening situation. If they can’t control their nerves in a safe and familiar environment, how can they believe they will be safe in a random and unpredictable one? This is self-deception at its best.

Soluço – For example, I try to add some elements of these choreographed self-defense moves from the original Gracie curriculum into my warm-ups and general methodology. But I will never be comfortable teaching a self-defense class against a knife or gun attack. Because, simply put, I don’t believe that most of these techniques would work in such a situation and because I don’t want to give my student the false belief that they are capable of defending themselves against a gun after only a few privates.

Drysdale – I totally agree. In fact, these styles of self-defense are dangerous because they allow the student to leave the gym with an illusion of safety. Granting them an equally illusory confidence that they should react in a certain way in case of a life-threatening situation as the one we are discussing.

Soluço – I had a student who studied various styles of self-defense against weapons. He ended up training the Philippine style of knife fighting. And he was teaching me a few things. I felt like a white-belt learning about how complex a knife attack and defense can be. Never in my life do I want to be in a situation like that one where I have to fight someone with a knife. And if I had to, perhaps the only resource I would have from my experience, would be range, clinch, perhaps a kimura. And even so still be at risk of being stabbed at some point. No way.

Drysdale - Shoot a double-leg and get a knife to the back [both laugh].

Soluço – Of course, of course. Weapons are a whole different category.

Drysdale – Self-defense is such a complex and unpredictable category that it is almost impossible to discuss it rationally.

Soluço – But here we go into a different discussion. Do we have to stick to Helio Gracie’s view that jiu-jitsu was made for self-defense? And that this confidence that the student gains through self-defense will change their lifestyle in a meaningful way? Because no one seems to care about it anymore, because no one wants to fight anymore. I’ve told you this before [at this point Soluço suggested that perhaps this part should be deleted. Upon further consultation, we decided to keep the following segment but remove the names of the protagonists], but to me, jiu-jitsu has had a few historical moments. One of them was when [X] got publicly slapped in the face twice by [Y] and did absolutely nothing about it. To me, that was a mark in jiu-jitsu history. It marked a drastic change.

Drysdale – That is very true, I never thought about that. That was the nail in the coffin for “raiz” [root] jiu-jitsu and the takeover of the “Nutella” [as in the dessert] jiu-jitsu.

Soluço – The whole of what it meant to be a jiu-jitsu black-belt, of having honor and fighting for it, died right then and there. And it was replaced by “I don’t want to have problems with the police,” or “I am worried about my visa,” or “I want to be publicly and commercially successful so I must be politically correct,” or some other concern. Because in our time, or at least that was what we were taught, was that if a man hit you, as a jiu-jitsu representative, it didn’t matter how big or skilled they were, you had a moral obligation to accept the challenge and fight back to the best of your ability, even if you were certain to lose. At least you would be respected after. If someone slapped you more so. The mentality was that you had to die there if necessary to defend your honor. Ten versus one? Ok, no problem, I have to at least put up a fight.

Drysdale – You are right. This marked a radical shift of things. Can you imagine Marcelo Behring getting slapped in the face and doing nothing about it?

Soluço – Stop it, never. Impossible. I can’t imagine any of them from that generation doing nothing. Our heroes, the people we looked up to growing up and learned how to love, we learned how to love them precisely for these qualities, being imperfect as they were. Some of them were totally inept for social life, but we still admired them. The stories that multiplied inside the community were, I mean, they gave jiu-jitsu the cohesion you discuss in your book. These things gave us courage and bonded us. It made jiu-jitsu special, different.

Drysdale – Being brave was part of being a jiu-jitsu practitioner. Being a “casca-grossa” was associated with jiu-jitsu and courage, they were inseparable. Today, everything revolves around sport. I think Carlinhos’ [Carlos Gracie Jr.] view of things was victorious. It is a hybrid of sorts, between Carlson’s casca-grossa views and the original Gracie Academy’s that was more business oriented.

Soluço – If, as you claim, modern jiu-jitsu is born at the Figueiredo de Magalhães academy out of the rivalry between Carlson and Rolls, as they alternated days at that gym, then I think this can help us understand Carlinhos and where he is coming from.

Drysdale – I still think that, if I am allowed to be a bit vague, Carlinhos, despite his own qualities, is a continuation of Rolls’ jiu-jitsu.

Soluço – Just yesterday, a student hurt his foot so I went inside the barricaded area. So Carlinhos was there, sitting next to Jacaré [Romero Cavalcanti, founder of Alliance], Siriema and André [Fernandes]. I mean, in that circle were jiu-jitsu’s leading minds, so I went to shake their hands. And I am quite close to master Jacaré, he’s much older now so I went over to give him a hug. These guys are the ones in command of jiu-jitsu. And I see Carlinhos like that, a bit of Carlson, a bit of Carlos and Helio and a bit of Rolls and with a view to export jiu-jitsu to the entire world and make jiu-jitsu the most practiced martial-art in the world and we will all live well because of it.  That’s the vision.

Drysdale – But if this is the objective, then jiu-jitsu is already victorious, because this is already a reality. It is a worldwide practice and still growing. We are surfing the art’s best economic wave ever.

Soluço – Maybe here in the US, not so much in Ecuador [laughs] write that down [both laugh].

Drysdale – What is interesting is that these conversations are had because things are going well. When things weren’t going well, everyone worked together to make them go well. When we were at war with everyone to grow, no one was having these discussions.

Soluço – Of course, of course.

Drysdale – “First world problems” I guess.

Soluço – And when we discuss jiu-jitsu Drysdale, I think we have points of view that are slightly different. Because you are in the US, so social media and money are more evident and they contaminate more your community. I am in a community where social media is important but in which money does not have that much power so it motivates and corrupts my community less than in yours. So, you are, in some ways, more critical and less optimistic, or perhaps even a bit pessimistic about jiu-jitsu’s current course because the power of money and social media weighs more over you in Las Vegas than over me in Guayaquil. Let’s put it like this, in Guayaquil I can be a bit more of an idealist.

Drysdale – I ask myself if Jigoro Kano wasn’t in the right here. He created an educational system and a unified curriculum. And unfortunately, I don’t see jiu-jitsu today as a method of education. I do see it, as you do, as a lifestyle, but I fail to see it as an educational model. I mean, ask yourself, which are the values in jiu-jitsu that are raising better citizens as Kano envisioned? I don’t think leadership in general is concerned with this issue. While the athletes who make use of sensationalist tactics to promote themselves, are doing enormous harm to the art. I say this because in order to make money, they end up behaving obnoxiously and as a result, they are teaching awful lessons to future generations. BJJ is largely build on children training, these children are watching these guys and hold them as references, since everyone is applauding their behavior. I believe this to be a terrible example for the future. I wonder if Jigoro Kano wasn’t already seeing some of these same patterns of decay in the commercialization of ju-jutsu in the West.

Soluço – I totally agree, but with one reservation. Kano is concerned with the upbringing of the citizen and this concern is greater than the concern for tournament results or even the commercial results. But even so, in today’s society, I believe that jiu-jitsu does improve on people and society, because the mats don’t lie. And being so, the necessity for hard work in order to overcome ourselves educates these individuals to work. While our schooling and economic systems don’t necessarily teach these lessons.  So even though jiu-jitsu has this gap, or I guess I should say, this lack of concern with improving on the individual it has a lifestyle that brings people back to the competitive mats and this teaches them at least something. In other words, through the truth of the mats, jiu-jitsu manages to teach that hard work yields results. And I don’t think this knowledge is still present in our society in general.

Drysdale – You are right. At the very least competition teaches hard work. However, I also believe that jiu-jitsu lives in conflict with itself. The competitive versus the commercial practice we were discussing. Of course, they can coexist but this also means that neither is optimized and that it is lacking a clear purpose. In a commercial environment, the customer is necessarily in charge due to the supply and demand logic. And people, if I have learned anything about them, will always want more in exchange for less. There must be a resistance to this in order not to dilute jiu-jitsu even more. Otherwise, soon, even the black-belt will be trivialized. I mean, the blue-belt has already been completely trivialized.

Soluço – I will give an example of what you say regarding people wanting more in exchange for less. I teach many children classes in Ecuador and I think that this is what I do best. I also taught children classes at the Alliance HQ in SP. And I always visit HQ when I am in Brazil and I believe that the kid’s classes have gotten really bad, because they are so limited. The poor little boy can’t sweat, can’t get tired, he can’t lose, he can’t get frustrated. I mean, I can’t explain it. I don’t know what happened.

Drysdale – This is terrible and exactly what I am talking about.

Soluço – The child gets to a beautiful and expensive gym, where a driver drops him off and picks him up. The nanny sits there for class, you don’t see neither Mom or Dad. And the child trains in a class that is recreational, full of games and only with a technical detail here or there. It is almost completely devoid of any actual fighting.

Drysdale – Now I ask you. Is jiu-jitsu preparing this child for life?

Soluço – In truth? No, it is not.

Drysdale – In some ways, I think it is making it worse and I’ll tell you why. Because it gives the student the illusion that because they have a belt that they truly earned it. You also create an environment of entitlement where people expect things because they are all deserving.

Soluço – But sooner or later another child, more competitive and deserving will come along and smash the other one in practice. Truth will come along. It is inevitable.

Drysdale – True, but what if the coach shelters the weaker child from the truth? From reality? I mean, the weaker child is paying… Doesn’t the customer get that he or she wants? I mean this happens at my gym. Students complain that they don’t want to train with this person or that person because they lose. I literally have to remember “who doesn’t want to train with who” when I am pairing my students up. This was unthinkable when we were coming up. Having the courage to face better and bigger opponents was practically a pre-requisite for being given even a blue-belt. People don’t want to lose in practice, this is crazy to me. The student comes in and wants to feel good all the time. He is more concerned with feeling good than with self-improvement. Sometimes I don’t know how to help them.

Soluço – Man, this happens to me too. I feel sometimes that I am a taken as a cruel coach. But I am not a cruel person. “But coach, he is stronger than me.” “Defend yourself” I say. “The little boy is crying” and I say, “cry in the corner by yourself, you can’t go to your Mom in the bleachers and I won’t give you a prize for crying, you can sit there and cry it out by yourself. Next round I’ll give you another chance.” Sometimes I ask myself, where I am in terms of the limits of what I can do, of what is acceptable in order to help my students, strengthen them, educate them and help them be independent. Or am I being abusive? I am currently reading Ronda Rousey’s biography and the whole time she complains about abusive coaches. I am speaking of abusive as far as hard training, not any kind of sexual abuse, but rather the physical and psychological type. And honestly, I want to be the type of coach that educates through and because of love. This is the sort of relationship I try to have with my students. But even being a coach that tries to educate through and with love and trying to avoid at all costs an abusive relationship, sometimes I have to be hard. Recently my daughter’s boyfriend fought a tournament in Guayaquil, he lost and went outside to cry and my daughter went outside to cry with him. And he still had to fight the open. I mean, you lost ok, but you still have the open class! No time for feelings, stay in the arena, stay focused, you have another war to fight. Chew that anger and spit it out on the mats by winning the next one. But then I get called cruel because I yelled at a boy who was crying.

Drysdale – But that is the only way you can help him. This pressure is necessary. Many times the parents aren’t doing a good job raising their children in my opinion. They bring their children to the gym and expect me and BJJ to fix everything. But at the same time, they don’t grant me the authority to do what I need to do in order to help the child. Because when the child gets tired, loses or gets hurt, the father goes and gives the child a hug. This creates a pattern of victimization. Of course, it is different if the child is seriously hurt but that very rarely happens. Children are trained to cry to get attention. Ever see a two-year-old fall down? First thing they do isn’t to cry. The first thing they do is look over to Mom or Dad to see what their reaction is. If the reaction is one of panic, the green light has been given for the child to cry and get cuddles for it. But if the reaction is a look as if saying, “get back up, you are fine” the child does exactly that. I try to raise my daughters this way. I try not to feel sorry for them unless it is warranted.

Soluço – Of course. I have a student, six years old. Always losing to another kid about the same size and age. He always finishes class without ever crying. One day, his Mother picks him up and asks “how did it go?” and then all of a sudden, he started crying. Because the trauma wasn’t in him, but in his Mother! And then the Mother came over to complain to me and removed him from jiu-jitsu. So, he went to try some other activities, but a month later he wanted to come back to jiu-jitsu. You see, it wasn’t him that was crying, it was the Mother who made him cry.

Drysdale – A dynamic is established of crying being followed by reward. It is a vicious cycle where a child victimizes itself in order to seek affection. Affection can and should be given free of self-inflicted victimization.

Soluço – There must be an understanding that physical violence is unacceptable but that psychological pressure is necessary. A coach should expect and even demand a certain level of mental toughness so that the child can learn independence and autonomy. I tread this line every day in my kids’ class. I am there on the mats with the kids, the parents are watching and I am often walking that edge of what I can and can’t do all while trying to figure out what the parents are thinking. It is almost like there is an epidemic going on. There is an epidemic of motor skills, because kids are at home all day in front of their computers. And there is an epidemic of… listen man. I am a very liberal and progressive guy. Not a misogynist at all. But, there is an epidemic of the absence of a masculine figure, of a figure of leadership. Earlier you were telling me about how you believe that Central Asia and the Russian Caucasus will take over the fight world. I don’t think those people are suffering from this epidemic we are. There the boy was born to be raised into a real man, to be a macho, sort of speak. To fight challenges, to be brave. And the Western world is suffering from an epidemic of precisely this. And I walk this edge with care every day. On the other hand, I feel that many parents bring their kids to jiu-jitsu so that they develop these things.

Drysdale – This is true. I agree very much. The strong masculine figure is demonized today. They have turned the strong male into a villain. If you even say the words “authority” and “hierarchy” people already look at you as if you were a Nazi.

Soluço – Yes, but people take these things to the extreme too. Why can’t you be both things? A tough father who is also loving and caring and who treats his wife well. I don’t see a contradiction in any of this. Are these two things really opposed? I want to be tough but still loving. But tough and loving at the right times. I mean, I am a sentimental guy. As coaches we need to find a way to balance these things out.

Drysdale – I try to do the same. When I child cries on my mats I tell them “there is no crying in jiu-jitsu” and tell them to sit in the corner until they stop. When I teach them striking, I am always saying things like “like a fighter! Like a fighter!” whenever they are falling out of line. I try to get into their heads that being a fighter comes with all these values such as discipline, courage, respect, etc. I even have a pool noodle I hit them with when they are out of line [laughs] I mean, I also have a shinai (bambu kendo sword) sitting there but I don’t think that would go too well so I settled for the pool noodle instead [both laugh].

 Robert Drysdale is the author of Opening Closed Guard and The Rise and Evolution of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He teaches BJJ daily in Las Vegas Nevada.

(c) 2024, Robert Drysdale. All rights reserved.

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