is Gonna Drown"
but Rickson Gracie plans to do
something about it....
By Roberto Pedreira
Posted April 11, 2017
first exposure to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ as it's now called, was via martial
arts magazines featuring Rickson and the usual suspects. He was unimpressed.
Pictures didn't do the art justice. It didn't matter that much because he was
far away from any place where he could learn "BJJ", even if he wanted
later, about 1991, a friend of a friend from the USA, visiting the edge
of the world where Roberto was at that time living/working/training,
brought with him a Gracie Instructional tape. Roberto and his training
partners studied the "uupah" mount escape and deemed it most
worthy of adding to their menu of techniques, concepts, and skills. In
retrospect it was fortunate that it was the uupah escape and not an
inverted Berimbolo variation that he first encountered. History would
have been very different otherwise.
escape is a good example of GJJ/BJJ. It is mechanically simple. It
almost always "works" and it is easy to grasp why it works.
It's easy to learn and hard to forget. Someone who begins their BJJ
career with this technique and a few others like it will be immediately
prepared to survive a "real" fight. The same day. You don't
need to enroll in a Shaolin Monastery for 12 years.
Of course, the
uppah escape is a basic German folk style wrestling bridge, adapted by
the French into a style they renamed "Greco-Roman". It goes
way back, in other words. The Brazilians didn't invent it. They did add
some details, they repurposed it (the original application was for
avoiding pins), and more importantly, they were offering to teach it to
us, and they broke it down in a way that average Joes could understand
and do. You didn't have to be a hard-core wrestler with mangled ears.
Anyone could and should learn this art, they (Rorion Gracie that is)
said, if only to back up whatever art they already trained, if any.
Lessons weren't cheap, but you get what you pay for. No one forced
anyone to enroll in their lessons (and anyone who wanted to was entirely
free to go to Brazil if they wanted to: Jiu-Jitsu
in the South Zone 1997-2008).
The rest is
history, documented in GTR (est. 2000), and Jiu-JItsu
in the South Zone.
But the Gracie
marketing master plan contained the seeds of disaster. Everyone can
learn jiu-jitsu. The focus changed from self-defense and street fighting
(tackle, mount, choke, uupah) to hygienic fun sports (Berimbolo, 50-50,
Worm Guard, Kaola Guard, Panda Sweeps, Jailbaits, Crackheads, etc.,) for the whole family, mom, sis,
uncle Buck, your
girlfriend, everyone can train BJJ. That means academies must satisfy
customers. To keep prices reasonably affordable, they must maximize the number
of students per square foot of mat space. New students are attracted by
champions, hence competitions are required. To have champions, there must be
winners, hence there must be points. Etcetera, etcetera, everyone knows
how this story goes. It leads to TKD. Combat effectiveness goes out the door, as
Rener says. In return, we get medals and belts.
This is not
good, Rickson believes. Rener, Ryron, and Pedro Sauer agree with
him. Gracie Academy revenues are not what they could be. People
enroll but then quit after 3-5 months (there are numerous possible
reasons for this, but Rener and Ryron think it is because self-defense
is not adequately addressed in BJJ schools, their own included, until
recently). They admit that they were part of the problem. They taught
sports BJJ, or as they put it, they taught BJJ guys to fight with other
BJJ guys. And they gave belts to tough guys on that basis. The tough
guys didn't need to know self defense (or that's what they thought).
Thereby, the pool of potential long term paying students consisted mostly
of tough guys. People who are not athletic, physical, tough people, were
neglected and their needs ignored.
Rickson was the
same. When Roberto was at Rickson's school in a karate studio in a former
car repair shop on Pico, Rickson had just abandoned the old system of
requiring new students to take a set of privates (40, if memory serves)
before joining group classes. Group classes were 90 minutes including 30
minutes of warm-ups at a cost of $160 per month (three classes per
week). Within a few weeks or months the classes were slashed to 60
minutes (do your own warm-up before the class but the price is the
same). Rickson was preparing for Japan Vale Tudo 94 (if memory serves)
so he didn't teach beginners class (although Roberto had a few
from him anyway). Luis Limão, Mauricio Costa, and Jason taught the
classes, following Rickson's instruction to the letter. It was all basic and
fundamental. Triangles were considered too advanced for beginners (for
logical reasons). Most of
the things people are trying to learn on youtube now didn't exist. In
fact, youtube didn't exist. There were approximately three instructional
VHS BJJ sets on the market to choose from. But if you were learning from
Rickson, why buy tapes?
there for self-defense. He didn't think in terms of self-defense or
styles. He thought in terms of problems and solutions, or tasks and
tools. "Self-Defense" is too vague to be useful. He thought
more concretely. What if someone grabs my wrist and draws back to punch
my face? What is an appropriate thing to do? What if he or she pokes a
finger in my chest in a belligerent way? What are my options? What if he
or she approaches with a meat cleaver held overhead in a Psycho grip? He
also believed from expensive experience (i.e., wasted time) that the best way to learn is to
find a good teacher and listen to him (or her). Whatever he learned, he
evaluated it for effectiveness and efficiency. Can I do this? How likely
is it that I would need to? What are the costs of doing it?
Most people did
not want to do "self-defense" training. At least that's not
why they went to Rickson's school. (And in Brazil, Roberto could count
on one hand the number of times he was taught anything specifically
related to "self-defense") . The reason is obvious. Academies
are businesses. They teach what people want to learn. Rickson and Rener
are convinced that people want to learn self-defense. Ryron goes even
farther. People want to learn self-defense even if they don't know that
they do. Or even more emphatically, they need self-defense even if they
don't want it. They must be taught self-defense.
is that self-defense is the foundation for sports BJJ (for the minority who
want sports BJJ). Sports BJJ, no matter how skilled or amazing, without
a self-defense foundation is NOT jiu-jitsu, Rickson believes. "Jiu-jitsu
is gonna drown", he says, due to an over-emphasis on competition and neglect
Rickson is not
immune to criticism. At one time he did teach self-defense at his Pico
school. To defend a bear-hug from behind, bend
forward, taking care to maintain a stable base, reach behind and grab
the attacker's ankle, pull it out and up, while sitting back on
aggressor's standing leg above the knee, thereby putting him on the ground,
and then apply for a knee bar (a very old judo technique, by the way). However that was also phased out by the
beginning of 1995.
The above is,
with some minor adjustments, a decent way to set up a knee bar. Some of
the concepts are indeed "self-defense" fundamentals (keeping
base, applying pressure, leverage, etc.) but the scenario seems at
best a low probability one. Perhaps students would have been more
motivated if Rickson taught them how to avoid being street punched or
bitch-slapped in the face (see Gracies in Action for examples) and let
them drill it to the point of automaticity. Roberto observed this sort
of training in Rio (described in Jiu-Jitsu
in the South Zone 1997-2008, in chp. 5). But it was in a
juvenile's class. Would American adults want to do this? Apparently, not
so much. The Brazilian juveniles loved it though.
and Ryron (and Pedro) are not heavily invested in the competition
sub-niche. They are not focused on producing champions in BJJ under
current IBJJF rules. Rener's thinking is that people enroll to
learn self-defense, but then are taught competition BJJ, or how to fight
with other BJJ people using BJJ techniques and BJJ rules. Then they quit
because competition BJJ is not what they wanted. Rener and Ryron
composed a course to teach self-defense, incorporating fundamental
skills. They awarded blue belts to people who completed the course.
People who already had blue belts under the previous regime loudly
objected. Self-defense wasn't real BJJ, they criticized. (The
instructional methodology and evaluation systems were also issues). The
value of their blue belts was being diluted. A blue belt no longer
symbolized awesome bullet-proof destructive potential if the types of
gentle people who needed self-defense training could wear them.
also didn't like the idea. The desire to get belts (or ranks in general)
has always been a part of martial arts marketing (Kano knew this all too
well). The internet gave the complainers a loud voice and must have had
an unpleasant impact on the academy's bottom line. Rener and
Ryron took notice. They devised a special "self-defense" belt
(white with blue segments), which is specifically not a blue belt.
Rickson was satisfied with this solution and decided to join hands with
his two nephews (and Pedro Sauer). Their mission is to restore
self-defense to the place of priority in jiu-jitsu.
added that Helio Gracie told him to teach self-defense in the United States.
Helio Gracie had many odd ideas and never tried very hard to hide them
(not in Brazil anyway: Helio's Brazil Playboy interview here).
The fact that Helio Gracie recommended something is not necessarily a
good reason for doing it. But in this case, his recommendation makes
sense. GJJ/BJJ took off in the United States not because of Berimbolos
but because the Gracie brothers and some of their friends and students
kicked asses. That was what appealed to the old school converts. Getting
your ass kicked can be very convincing evidence and as Benjamin Franklin
said, learning from other people's painful experience is just as good,
opinion is that fundamentals are vital. After you have the fundamentals
dialed in, you can adapt them to your personal needs or interests, be
against rugby tackles, wrist grabs, knives, guns, bear-hugs, punches,
kicks, whatever, or sports, or MMA.
Rener and Ryron
came up with a plan. It might work. They are smart guys and will adapt
if it doesn't. It might work for them that is. For smaller academies,
maybe not so much.
suggestion: One way to build fundamentals into the system might be to
incorporate them into a warm-up. Example, the head-rotation movement
that Helio taught as a defense against a neck grab is a versatile basic,
natural movement that can be applied a a wide variety of situations,
both self-defense, and sport, including MMA.
unfortunately has a design defect, namely, it allows the aggressor to
pull your head down into a rising knee. But combined with basic stepping
(forward and to the outside) it becomes a "bob and weave"
(useful for avoiding head level punches) . The bob and weave can be
combined with a short bend at the knees for a "duck under" to
the outside of the attacker's arm, hence to his back, after which many
throws or take-downs become easy to safely execute. It isn't hard to set
up. Have one person throw left and right (open) hands, any angle, at
head level (where most punches are going to be aimed). Keep the speed
reasonable and allow time for the other person to step back. Keep the
movement continual. If the thrower is using her right hand, the bob and
weaver will bob and weave and step to the left (keeping feet
shoulder-width). And vice versa (the stepping pattern is an inverted
triangle). Assume that the thrower is right handed, and has her left
foot forward (as will be the case for most aggressors). Future UFC
champions can apply lag punches to the appropriate side. (According to Kenny
Weldon a lag punch is a body punch that follows a bob and weave,
where the hand "lags" behind the upper body. Three minutes of
this will be a good warm-up
probably the best way to avoid punches. It leaves your hands free for
other purposes and puts you in ideal position for defense or
counter-attacks. It is a good way to avoid being grabbed around the
neck. It's also a very natural movement. Babies and cats will do it if
you try to grab them by the neck.
drill: Ducking. When the hands come in, bend the knees and duck under
(keeping your chin down, shoulders up, hands up, and elbows glued to
your ribs). This can be easily combined with a penetration step leading
to single leg, double leg, or High C, depending on the relative position
of feet and a few small adjustments. For guys who think self-defense is
sissy stuff, they will probably resonate to it more if they see a
sports/MMA application. For aspiring MMA champions, the duck can be
followed by straight lefts or straight rights. Three minutes of this is
a good warm-up.
attacker's punch is poorly executed, a short duck will be sufficient. It
worked for Rolls Gracie in 1975 (see Choque
Vol. 3, chp. 15 for details, also Gracie in Action, or Myth #
develop the all-important senses of timing and distance and ability to
read an opponent's preparatory body movements.
teachers can dream up plenty of similar drills.
with Rener and Ryron here.
with Rickson here.
by a June 16, 2016 Gracie Academy youtube video with Rickson, Pedro, Rener, and
(c) 2017, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Minor edits March 24, 2019