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Jiu-Jitsu Books 


Roberto Pedreira

















Learning to Lose 

Roberto Pedreira

Posted May 21, 2022 (JST)

"We are all ready to win, just as we are born knowing only life. It is defeat that you must learn to prepare for."   --Mr. Han

Mr. Han expressed Oriental pessimism, or some would say, realism. Williams, being a veteran of the US Army in 'Nam, didn't buy it. Losing wasn't part of his game plan. He didn't even think about it. There was no plan B. Defeat was unacceptable. Looking good was his game, which was logical; often it's easier to look good than to overcome a formidable obstacle. The Gracie Family agreed with Williams and 1960s American self-esteem theorists. Defeat is not OK. Being less than the best is intolerable. Death is better than losing. In fact, losing is an illusion. Any outcome is a victory, at least in some sense. Not losing is winning, losing is winning, everything is a victory, if not for yourself personally, than for your style, your team, or your teaching method.

Sakuraba, being Japanese, believed (some would say he knew) otherwise. Sometimes someone has to lose. 負ける時負ける, 死ぬ時死ぬ. When it's time to lose, or die, one will lose, or die. 負けるは負ける (losing is losing). That was Sakuraba's mentality. Some would call that pessimism, even tragically low self-esteem. Others would call it undeluded objectivity.


Sakuraba to fans: "I lost, sorry." No excuses, no tears, in Japan. When you lose, you lose. It isn't a disguised victory. You lost. Note 1.


The Gracies and Art Davie stimulated MMA in Japan. Japan already had MMA, as a form of monetized spectator entertainment. But it lacked something that Japanese fans wanted, which was a steady supply of foreigners. The UFC attracted lots of foreigners, some of whom were Brazilians, including members of the Gracie clan along with their friends and students. Japanese fans wanted their heroes to win, but supported them when they lost, because they know that everyone sometimes loses and they might win the next time, if they train harder, fortify their spirit, get a little luckier, and don't give up (頑張る). The Gracie family also offered, or constituted, an always effective promotional gimmick: A rivalry (explained here by Morishita Naoto).

In return, Japan supported MMA, BJJ, Luta Livre, and a substantial segment of the Brazilian martial arts population by providing well-paying work for anyone who wanted it. All they had to do for their payday was be willing and able to get in a ring and fight. They didn't have to win. They sometimes did, but they also sometimes lost. Among those who lost were a fair number of BJJ specialists, including at least four members of the Gracie family. Most Gracies, those who were willing and able to accept Sakuraba's challenges, lost, but in all fairness, Gracies also won. He did it without being suspended for using banned drugs. Note 2.

Assuming that we agree that everyone will eventually lose unless they quit before they do, or don't fight, then the actual outcomes of the Gracies-versus Japan (Sakuraba in particular) are not interesting or informative. But let's see what we can learn from Sakuraba's take on the whole thing.

To recap, Sakuraba fought five Gracies: Renzo, Royce, Royler, Ryan, and Ralek. Sakuraba repeatedly challenged Rickson but for reasons of his own, Rickson didn't accept. (As a professional athlete Rickson had no obligation to accept a contract that underpaid him, and he was the only one qualified to decide how much was enough. The promoter Morishita  Naoto disagreed with Rickson, but he wasn't the one being challenged.) Interested readers can watch Sakuraba contra Gracies on Youtube so we won't waste ink describing them here. Instead the focus is on what Sakuraba thought about (1) Gracies (2) jiu-jitsu and (3) Brazilian fighters in general (since he fought quite a few, not only jiu-jitsu stylists.)

For the full details, read the interviews.

Sakuraba (with Mark Kerr), November 1999: Talks about training at Beverly Hills Jiu-Jitsu club, and win over Conan Silvieira

Sakuraba (with Kitano Takeshi), November 2000: talks about fighting Royce and about training general (very informative and interesting).

Sakuraba, November 25, 2000: Talks about fighting Rickson, Renzo, and Royce, and other oppoents and others matters of interest.

Sakuraba December 15, 2000: comments on Royce, Ryan, and Allan Goes.

Sakuraba, January 25, 2001: Sakuraba  discusses in detail the fight with Ryan, compares Ryan to Renzo and Royce, and says Ryan was not injured.

Sakuraba, February 1, 2001, additional commentary on fight with Ryan.

Sakuraba, April 2001 Talks about preparations for Vanderlei Silva, nothing specific about Gracies. Fans were beginning to wonder about the Gracie hype and could other Brazilians do better than the Gracies did.

Sakuraba, Pride15, September 2001: Talks about fighting, not Gracies in particular.

Sakuraba, August 10, 2002: talks about training with Ethan Milius at Beverley Hills Jiu-Jitsu Club, etc.

As is known, Sakuraba didn't limit his victims to Gracies, but also rampantly annihilated non-Gracie jiu-jitsu stylists, and various non-BJJ grapplers. Sakuraba however lost a few to jiu-jitsuistas, and in general had less success with strikers (those who managed to stay upright at least). Here are Gracies and others talking about Sakuraba:

Royce & Rorion, November 6, 2000. Rorion and Royce talk about losing to Sakuraba.

Rorion, February 20, 2003. Rorion wants one of his sons, Ryron, Rener, or Ralek to beat Sakuraba. Ryron and Rener were too busy making money to avenge the family name. Ralek had no talent for making money so he fought Sakuraba. He is the Gracie he finally beat him.

Renzo: Sakuraba beat Royler due to weight advantage. He beat Royce due to stamina and spirit.  (Very informative and interesting interview with Renzo).

Renzo: Comments on Sakuraba versus Vanderlie.

Ryan: "Royler was too light. He shouldn't have fought Sakuraba"

Ryan: He lost to Sakuraba due to an injury. He'll do better next time.

Alan Goes talks about drawing with Sakuraba.

Vitor Belfort complains that Sakuraba was disrespectful when he (allegedly) said he wanted to fight a stronger fighter than Vitor.

Vitor Belfort talks about Carlson, Randy Couture, Sakuraba's fights with Renzo and Royce.

Wanderlie Silva, March 8, 2001: Vanderley promises he will KO Sakuraba. Also that he will KO any Gracie who dares to enter the ring with him, including Rickson, but he thinks Rickson would never dare to confront him.

Wanderlie Silva,  November 21, 2001. Sakauraba dislocated his shoulder (when Vanderley slammed him). Thinks he was lucky to win. 

There is a theme in (most of these) these interviews. With a few exceptions, they concentrate on justifying the result (injured, too light, not enough time to train, bad luck, opponent kicked them) and promising that they will absolutely do better next time. As Renzo said, if he didn't believe he would or at least could win, he wouldn't get in the ring. Unfortunately, believing you can do something is harder than doing it.

Ralek restored the family's honor in 2010 by squeaking out a decision over the broken-down Saku, so tapped up from 14 years of wars and traumas that he looked like the Mummy. But Ralek didn't resurrect the glory of the family's jiu-jitsu. Because his jiu-jitsu was nullified by Sakuraba's jiu-jitsu. Before the fight Ralek hypothesized that Saku must have learned some jiu-jitsu. Otherwise how could he have annihilated Royce, Renzo, Royler and Ryan? Ralek was correct. Sak did learn "some" basic jiu-jitsu from a Brazilian legend (see Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone, 1997-2008, chp. 8). Saku also trained at the Beverly Hills Jiu-Jitsu Club. Moreover Ralek didn't beat Saku with jiu-jitsu. Because he couldn't use his family's jiu-jitsu, he did what Helio did against Dudú in 1935 (see Choque 1 chp. 15 for details). He used savate. He also used boxing. The first act of the fight was a punch that knocked Saku down and got him off to a poor start. Thereafter Ralek used pro wrestling (a back body-slam) and rugby. It was not exactly an earth-rattling victory, but he did win, so huge, enormous, props to The Man, Ralek Gracie.  




1.There are exceptions: When Takada Nobuhiko ( 高田延彦) failed to defeat Mirko in the same event, he excused himself by claiming an injured right leg due to Mirko's shin.

2. Ironically the family member who beat Sakuraba was the least heralded, least decorated of all, least celebrated, least accomplished, indeed a sort of black sheep and might be best remembered for losing a grappling contest to "Gordon Ryan, Gordon Ryan". Bizarrely, he might be better known for losing to a submission grappler than beating the "Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba. Bizarre because in the Gracie scheme of things, real fighting is a continuum, and MMA is closer to the "real" end than is grappling without striking. If we include drug-assisted controversial decisions, then Royce Gracie "defeated" Sakuraba in the 2007 rematch, making Sakuraba's record against Gracies 4-2.

3. Rugby is an under-rated way to take a man down. It's what Royce regularly used when he was able on his own initiative to take his fights to the floor in UFC 1-4, although his family and ring commentators seemed to believe that rugby tackles were an advanced technique of "jiu-jitsu."


(c) 2022, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.




GTR Archives 2000-2022