Gracies Invade LA

By Roberto Pedreira







The date is January 13, 1987. Rorion, Rickson, Royler, and Helio visit Hayward Nishioka's judo club somewhere in that great American metropolis known as "Los Angeles". By some strange coincidence, Rorion just happens to have a video recorder. 



Segment 1

The tape begins with Rickson and Royler choking several unknown guys and then cuts to Rickson choking Hayward Nishioka.

Rickson (ripped, shredded, and buffed) and Hayward (flabby looking and a bit paunchy) restart on stand up. Hayward fakes (or legitimately attempts) a harai-goshi with his right leg but suddenly switches to a foot sweep. Rickson recovers, and they fall with Rickson on top, off the mat.

Rickson attempts osoto-gari with right leg, Hayward counters and scores ippon.

Hayward attempts an inside hook with right leg, Rickson goes back but turns on his right hip, sweeping Hayward to Rickson's right, using the foot that Hayward had caught as a hook. Hayward doesn't make a noticeable attempt to take a defensible position, Rickson then taps Hayward with a tight arm lock on Hayward's left arm.

Rickson grabs Hayward's left leg.

Again, this time finishes with armlock.

Hayward throws Rickson with uchi-mata, and immediately decides that's enough training with Rickson.

[Hayward and Rickson stop]

Segment 3    

Royler vs judo guy. Guy throws Royler with a maki-komi, but Royler lands on shoulder, rather than flat, and climbs to the guy's back. He shrugs Royler off but lands in Royler's guard. The same thing happens again and this time Royler walks his legs up catches a tight arm lock. 

Guy attempts seio-nage, but Royler takes his back, guy taps [the reason he tapped isn't visible on the tape].

Royler attempts three successive seoi-nage, none work, guy counter-throws him backwards, gets kesa-gatame, Royler gets guard, then back. They stop.

Guy attempts uchi-mata. 

Royler grabs leg, guy sprawls, Royler sweeps, mounts, then catches a chave de braço  army lock.  

Royler attempts uchi-mata, gets counter-thrown backwards again, gets guy's back, guy turns in to escape.


Segment 4  Royler vs Hayward

Royler initiates with unsuccessful inside trip.

Royler unsuccessfully attempts seoi-nage.

Royler keeps testing, probing, Hayward maintains an upright stable position without any attempt to throw or even off-balance Royler [some would call this stalling, but it seems to be a common tactic used by high ranking guys who are doing randori with a newcomer who they don't know what is his capabilities]. 

Hayward attempts uchi-mata, almost succeeds, but not quite. Royler avoids falling, but Hayward loses his own balance and falls to the dog position. Royler could have jumped on his back. but doesn't.

Hayward demonstrates a judo style guard (or as Keith Shwartz calls it, a LAB, "legs around bottom"). From stand up, Hayward is moving to his own left, at that instant Royler attempts a seoi-nage, turning right. Somehow they land with Royler in Hayward's "LAB". It looks like Hayward might have been trying either an armlock or triangle. In any case, Royler easily passes Hayward's "LAB".

Royler shoots. Hayward sprawls and gets top. Royler gets guard, and makes many attempts to sweep, but Hayward somehow manages to avoid.

They stand up. Hayward throws Royler with uchi-mata. 

Hayward attempts a foot sweep, Royler lands on his butt, gets up and tries an inside hook, misses, and grabs Hayward's leg. Hayward turns away, and Royler takes his back. Hayward dogs up, Royler pulls him back, establishes and maintains top control, sets up the army lock. Hayward resists and finally turns to the dog again. The same thing happens again. Both times Hayward was able to get his close knee up under Royler's leg and pry it off enough to make room to turn inside (which is a good move).

They stop.

The tape ends with Hayward sitting on the mat in seiza position looking none too thrilled about his experience. (Although maybe he was unhappy for other reasons, or maybe he wasn't unhappy but just looks unhappy even when he isn't.) Finally, the boys pose for a picture with their daddy Helio and Hayward and everyone applauds. At least, some people applauded. The judo guys probably didn't enjoy the experience as much as the Brazilians did.



Hayward was an open-minded guy, and critical of American judo players' infatuation with what they seemed to think was "traditional" judo, even while the Japanese were experimenting and refining the sport. The Japanese were interested in winning within whatever the rules happened to be, rather than preserving some sort of imaginary "pure" style. In an article called "Judo versus Wrestling" in the January 1970 issue of Black Belt Hayward recommended that American judo should adopt both techniques and training methods from wrestling. Since Hayward was open to borrowing and learning from wrestling, one would suppose that he would also be open to borrowing and learning from Gracie jiu-jitsu. It doesn't seem to have happened. The reason might be that Hayward was referring to the sport of judo, which is defined by its rules, rather than the techniques of judo. Some elements of wrestling could be added on to judo while keeping the judo rules. But he may have had a harder time with the jiu-jitsu concept. He mentioned this possibility several times during the session in fact. He couldn't have failed to notice the effectiveness of Rickson's chokes and army locks, but he probably thought, what good is it if you can't use it in a judo match? A hard left hook would undoubtedly be effective too. Unfortunately, it won't help you win a judo shia. 

(Interestingly however, Hayward competed in karate tournaments when he was younger, and won using judo foot sweeps combined with karate chu-dan thrust punches. He wrote an article about it for Black Belt during the early 70's, if our memory isn't vague.) 

From the transcript it sounds as though Rorion went to Hayward asking for judo advice, not to compare styles, and there is no evidence that the judo guys thought they were doing some kind of  "Gracie Challenge", unlike Jason Delucia and the other hapless mugs on the Gracie in Action tapes who knowingly accepted the "Challenge". Hayward seems genuinely concerned to give the Gracie brothers some useful judo advice. It didn't seem to occur to him that there was any ulterior motive involved. 

Rorion addresses Hayward by his first name which suggests that they know each other a little bit at least--Rorion had probably arranged the session in advance and with the unstated intention of recording it for future purposes. It didn't appear that the Gracie representatives went there to improve their judo, since Rickson and Royler had studied judo in Brazil and knew the rules concerning how long you can stay on the ground. Of course, at a judo club, players are not necessarily training for competitions and can stay on the mat as long as they want to. But Rickson and Royler already were overwhelmingly superior on the ground and had nothing to learn from the judo guys. It was their stand up that might have needed improvement.

A comparison of styles is revealing. Hayward's stance is classic judo, completely rooted and upright, elbows in, hands up, hips directly under the torso. The Gracie representatives at no time succeed in off balancing him. They, on the other hand, prefer a more hunched over "wrestling" stance (hips back). The classic stance makes it harder to be thrown, but easier to be tackled. The hunched over stance makes it harder to be tackled but easier to be thrown. And this is how things played out, Hayward threw the Gracie brothers, and the Gracie brothers tackled Hayward. It is also interesting that Hayward seldom initiated attacks, but usually waited for the Gracie representatives to initiate and then counter-attacked. As we all know, counter-attacking is a lot easier than attacking, because your opponent's balance has already been compromised by his attempt to unbalance you. Counter-attacking does of course require good timing, but anyone who has trained even a little judo knows that the timing you need to counter-attack an opponent develops faster than the timing needed to attack him when he's in a stable posture waiting for you to attack, as Hayward was doing most of the time.  

Hayward hadn't met Rickson and Royler before it seems, because Rorion refers to them as "the other guy" and Hayward refers to them only as "your brother" or with personal pronouns, rather then by name. Nothing in his experience could have prepared Hayward for Royler's and especially the Rickson's ground game. It must have been a sobering experience. 

The tape runs 20 minutes. There may be a longer version somewhere, but if Chris Onzuka is correct, Rorion is probably the only one who has it. Certainly there was more than can be seen on this tape, because Hayward compliments Rickson's and Royler's tomoe-nages. But on the tape, neither one attempts tomoe-nage. 

None of this appeared in either of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action tapes. It would have made great advertising, showing Rickson choking and army locking judo champion Hayward Nishioka. On the other hand, the world would have seen the Gracie representatives getting thrown, and who knows what the unrecorded part of the session looked like? (Plenty of chokes and arm locks of course, but how did the brothers do on stand up? And Rorion would have had a slightly harder time selling his claim that 90 percent of fights go to the ground. It isn't necessarily an easy matter to get a skilled stand up fighter to the ground, as anyone who has tried knows.) Another factor was probably that, to the best of GTR's information, Rorion (being a smart, ambitious man with a law degree), asked those guys who accepted the Gracie Challenge to sign waivers and releases (he also made on at least one occasion--according to Jason Delucia--lucerative side bets.  But Hayward and his guys weren't making a Gracie challenge, so how could they sign a waiver or release? 

A final interesting note is that Rorion blames the Gracie family's lack of success in Brazilian judo on "politics against the Gracie family", rather than the more plausible explanation that other Brazilians were better than they were at judo and the Gracies didn't want to neglect what they were already good at [ground fighting without stringent time limits] to work on becoming better at something that they weren't as good at [throwing]. The strategy seemed to be to get other people to accept a different set of rules rather than to get better at playing by the rules that were already in operation. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does tend to account for why some people in Brazil and other places seemed to resent them a little bit.



Approximately one and a half years later, another, larger, Gracie Judo Invasion took place. Click here for that article: Gracie Judo Invasion Part 2.

Other Gracie Challenges and Invasions (not the judo invasion described above) are shown on the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action tapes, now available on DVD, below (unless you have an ad-blocker enabled).



Articles and Interviews with the Rorion, Rickson, and Royler on GTR:


Rorion (with Royce after Sakuraba)

Rickson (after Funaki)

Rickson (from Athra Part 1)

Rickson (from Athra Part 2)

Rickson  (from Brazilian magazine Fighter)

Royler (after Sakuraba)

Royler (from Brazilian magazine Tatame)


(c) 2002, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved. 

Revised December 29, 2012, and May 9, 2016.

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