BBC's 1964 documentary The
Great War told the story of the First World War. The War lasted
slightly more than four years (August 1914 to November 1918). The
documentary was almost as long as the War, consisting of 28 episodes
averaging 40 minutes each, without commercials. That is approximately five
hours of screen time per year of history. In terms of historiography, it
barely scratched the surface.
Robert Drysdale is a man who doesn't shirk
challenges and has often been successful, sometimes remarkably so (Mundial
black belt adulto title, for example.) It wasn't a huge surprise that when
the history of BJJ bug bit him in 2017, he decided to make a
documentary about the history of jiu-jitsu in Brazil, which as of now
covers approximately 111-164 years (depending on when you start the
The documentary runs
90 minutes. It obviously doesn't go into great depth. But that isn't
what it tries to do. Robert Drysdale explains that the film was intended to be
"edutainment," that is, factual information presented
entertainingly. He is well-aware that the full story can't be compressed
into a 90 minute film. The aim was to entice the viewer to
dig into published written works that provide the factual underpinning for
the film. If it doesn't manage to do that (because reading long, dense
books is hard) at least it will put on record that what we have been told
by self-seeking salesmen is not always necessarily the final word.
Guard (the book) is 419 pages including photographs and
miscellaneous front and back matter. The main content is an account of how the film was made from conception
to completion. It succeeds in that. Apparently, from Robert
Drysdale's account, making
a documentary film with an international crew on multiple international
locations, is not easy or cheap. Yet he got it done. He wrote a book about
it. This is it.
It is also partly autobiographical.
Robert Drysdale was by his own account a pretty
ordinary bi-cultural kid. He did not grew up on a tatame, and wasn't a
street fighter who never refused any challenge. He played futebol (of
course) as a kid but wasn't a fenômeno of any particular variety. He was inspired to learn BJJ by
watching Royce and other early UFC period heroes of the ring.
Coincidentally he interviewed Royce for the film and book. Some of the
interviewees are people who were "present at the creation" (the
creation was not a point in time, but an extended period covering at least
three decades so it would be more accurate to say "during the creation"). In any case, before UFC 1. Some of the interviewees got on
board after UFC 1. Everyone has a different point of view (as is
normal in human life), and a range of opinions. Some of the views expressed
are based on recollections of experiences, including the experiences of
having heard or read something somewhere.
As often happens in
oral histories, people sometimes confidently feel that they remember
something that actually didn't happen, because they mix memories of
experiences with memories of what they read or heard. (Basically they don't
remember when, where, or how they encountered the incident in question.)
That doesn't mean they are wrong. It means they aren't automatically right.
It means verification is needed. Robert Drysdale gets it. He isn't trying to
lay down the "truth". Historical research (historiography). is a process, not a
fact-sheet. Robert Drysdale also gets that martial arts people tend to like
cool stories. The founder of Kōdōkan judo knew that too.
He told cool stories and encouraged other people, foreign writers
especially, to do the same. (People
also like conspiracy stories and happy endings, but that is a different
topic.) Accordingly, Opening Closed Guard has a lot of cool stories.
At least some of them are verifiably true. Some might be. Others are not.
This is normal in the martial arts world.
include but are not limited to:
Shiguero and Mario Yamasaki
João Alberto Barreto
Carlos Gracie Jr.
Yuuki Nakai (中井祐樹)
people, including those connected with the Kōsen tradition (which was Kōdōkan,
not a separate style) are included. One of those was 8-dan Murata
Naoki ( 村田直樹),
who unfortunately recently passed on. Murata 8-dan was one of a small
group of genuine historians of judo and jūjutsu. For obvious reasons,
he had little to say about Mitsuyo Maeda apart from the usual myths and
misconceptions emanating from the two inaccurate 1912 books of Susukida Zaun.
A few non-Kōdōkan
(traditional ryū) people also expressed opinions and even shared some
techniques with Robert Drysdale.
The film is not
even released yet and has already stirred up passionate controversy. Some
people feel it is too anti-Gracie, while others feel it isn't anti-Gracie
enough. Some feel it is too pro-Gracie, others that it isn't pro-Gracie
enough. Some want their own teacher or lineage to be highlighted more.
Welcome to the world of BJJ.
Drysdale declares strict neutrality. He loves jiu-jitsu, but not necessarily
everything about the culture surrounding it and the darker corners of its
history in Brazil. He doesn't overtly take
sides in the BJJ political wars and schisms that began when Rorion made
jiu-jitsu a big business. (Roberto sympathizes. To
some people if you aren't pro-Gracie, you must be anti-Gracie. In their
world-view, there's no such thing as historical research or objective
reality. Everything is politics.)
The book (and
documentary, which Robert Pedreira has not seen) focus most on the early
days and middle period hence is somewhat Carlos and Helio-centric,
reinforcing the false impression fostered by Rorion Gracie and his tag-alongs
that BJJ is all about the Gracies and that Gracie means Helio or Carlos
(depending on which side of the family or franchise business you happen to
be.) This is not entirely untrue. There would be no BJJ today without the
Gracie family. But the most important Gracie in terms of the BJJ that
existed by the time it reached America is relatively neglected in this
story (as it was in Gracies in Action 1 and
Gracies in Action 2.)
obviously, is Carlson Gracie without whom (according to himself) the
Gracie family would today be selling bananas on a street corner to
survive. It was an uncharacteristically immodest statement, but not far
from the truth (and probably said without malice, because Carlson was not
malicious.) Robert Drysdale acknowledges this unfortunate omission and
hints that there may be a sequel documentary/book, in which case Carlson
will undoubtedly receive his due. In the meantime Robert includes a picture of himself in 1999 posing with Carlson, looking like a
star-struck fan (Carlson was his favorite Gracie, Robert writes.) It's a
Roberto (Pedreira) has written
hundreds of book reviews. He subscribes to the school of book reviewing that
focuses on describing, critically evaluating, and elucidating. He doesn't believe in recommending books without
knowing the reader's background, interests, and budget, and without being
asked. However in this exceptional case he will go out on a
limb and say that anyone who is interested in BJJ history, documentary
production, and cool stories will probably find
something to like in Opening
(c) 2020, Roberto
Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Updated October 20, 2020.
Opening Closed Guard is also
available from Amazon, which includes various independent reviews.