Why Rickson Gracie Doesn't Like Rubber-Guard
May 11, 2019
In the early 90's Rickson
Gracie marketed himself as Brazil's greatest vale tudo fighter, undefeated
in ten years. (Helio, who did pretty much the same, did not take Rickson's PR seriously,
but certainly understood why it was necessary. If you want people to pay
to see you rolling around on the floor with another man, you have to give
them feuds, back-story, and drama). It was not totally a phony story. There was a grain of truth
to it. But it was grossly and deliberately misleading (see interview with
Yori Nakamura). Gullible Americans (the types who read martial arts
magazines, and some others, but not Brazilians) ate it up. In the process Rickson
boxed himself in with his own subterfuge. He could not afford to risk
losing for less than top dough (see interview with Morishita
Naoto). Because if he lost he would forfeit his claim to fame and
justification for top dough.1
That's not a criticism.
Rickson had every
right to chose that particular pricing strategy. Professional fighters are
in it for monetary compensation (or valuable consideration, as the
American IRS intimidatingly says). Their objective is to get as much as possible, adjusting
for the risk of loss or injury (see George Foreman's wise words here).
But if top dough is not forthcoming, who is going to pay
Rickson is older and wiser
now, and fewer people care about Brazilian beach brawls and dojo sparring
matches. More recently he has been making himself available for
interviews. Where better to reach millions than on Joe Rogan's show? Where
Joe rocks, Eddie Bravo will not be too far away (although their musical
tastes seem at odds, Joe apparently favoring Jimi Hendrix and Elvis
Presley, Eddie more on the Kiss/Alice in Chains side of the divide).
Thus it came about that
Rickson, looking somewhat ill-at-ease, encountered Eddie Bravo and found
himself locked down in a "rubber-guard". The outcome was very
different from when Royler met Eddie the first time (and second too, for
that matter). The encounter was not a confrontation. It was friendly
discussion. Eddie demonstrated his innovation and respectfully explained
its evolution, history, and rationale.
Rickson made it clear that
he respected Eddie Bravo. He was equally clear
that he didn't like rubber-guard. We know that from a comment he let slip:
"Rubber-Guard: I don't like it." It would be hard to
Rickson explained his
reasons: "I feel the position of rubber-guard is very vulnerable if
the guy in it knows what he's doing. You're putting yourself in a very
awkward position and expecting your opponent to get panicked to don't know
what he's doing."
Eddie, "Rubber-Guard" was his adaptation of
"high-guard" as used by Renzo in some of his Pride matches. High-Guard
has been around forever, as Rickson knows very well, because he used it
himself in 1983 against Zulu. In fact, Rickson's high-guard was
indistinguishable from 10th Planet's Rubber-Guard (as you can verify by
watching Gracies in Action 1).
Rickson had a over-hook on Zulu's right arm, while holding his head down
with his (Rickson's) right hand. Rickson's leg position varied from
conventional to high, as circumstances required. Eddie might not have been
inspired by Rickson vs. Zulu II but only if he didn't watch it or wasn't
Rickson Gracie in
Action, setting up Rubber Guard
(Rorion Gracie) described Zulu as a "wild, unorthodox,
unpredictable 220 lb brawler" and 40 lb heavier than Rickson (in
reality, Zulu weighed 91.8 kg, while Rickson was 79-80 kg). According to
Rorion, "Rickson is keeping his opponent very close so he can't
develop distance for a powerful hit". Rorion added that keeping the
opponent close was a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu technique that viewers could learn
by taking Gracie Jiu-Jitsu lessons. So Rubber-Guard is really Gracie
The concept of
depriving the opponent of the space needed to generate punching power
however was not invented by the Gracie family. In boxing it is known as
clinching and was (we might guess) invented by boxers who wanted to avoid
getting punched when other means failed (and still is used in this way
today, attesting to its efficiency and scientific basis).
intimated that rubber-guard might be efficient if the guy gets panicked
and doesn't know what he's doing. As Rorion correctly pointed out, Zulu
was an unskilled brawler who didn't know what he was doing (or more
logically, didn't know what to do).
which is based on brute force (according to Rorion and Helio
jiu-jitsu is based on scientific principles. One such principle is
"leverage". The human spine is a lever. It is more efficient
(less force needed to achieve a given effect) to control what is attached
to the lever by manipulating it from the end. Where the head goes, the
body will follow. It is more efficient to move the body by means of the
head, than vice-versa. Thus, high-guard is more
efficient for off-balancing an opponent and keeping him or her off-balance. In addition, the jiu-jitsu
stylist's weapons (legs) are closer to the targets (arms and neck), which
is more efficient in terms of time needed to cover distance. In this way,
rubber guard is scientific, therefore it is jiu-jitsu.
So why doesn't
Rickson like Rubber-Guard? It can't be because he doesn't use it. He does,
or at least, he did when he needed it.
Rubber-Guard put him in a "vulnerable position"? It seems not.
It might have if he had frozen there, but he aptly adjusted his position
as the fight unfolded, in response to Zulu's actions and reactions.
It can't be
because it isn't efficient or scientific. It is, despite what Rickson may
think to the contrary. Rickson conceded that it depends on what the
opponent does (panics) or doesn't know (what he's doing). On one hand,
that's true of every technique. On the other hand, rubber-guard should be
reserved for situations where it is appropriate (as Rickson explicitly
admitted). Don't exchange punches with a better striker, as Rorion has
taught us many times. That doesn't mean you should not punch if you are
the better striker. (It also doesn't mean you have to punch either, for
example, if the gap between you and the guy's grappling is greater than
the gap between your striking, which would give you a larger comparative
In other words,
conclusion seems to be use Rubber-Guard or don't, as the case may be,
depending on how well you can apply it and how well the opponent can or
can't defend it. But above all, keep talking about it.
personal view, for what it's worth, is that it's useful and educational to
explore all and any new techniques with an open mind, and then decide
whether or not, or when and where, to use them, if at all.
Eddie in front of
The Bomb Squad Gym 
literally thousands of rubber-guard videos on youtube and
elsewhere. There are also literally several books including this one, which Roberto purchased at his own expense and read with an open
mind. Because, while Roberto is not a rubber-guard player per se, he will
gladly use rubber-guard concepts when circumstances allow, for example, (as Rickson puts
it) when "the guy don't know what he's doing"). Because a lot of
guys don't know what they are doing or can't do what they know, and also because Roberto
don't want to be one of those guys who get caught because they
"don't know what he's doing".
It is unlikely
that anyone who isn't already a fan of Eddie Bravo will watch such things
as the 2-hour plus documentary
on the development of the pre-Rubber Guard half-guard theory. However
Roberto did it, in order to avoid talking out of his hat. In so
doing he concluded that there is a method to Eddie's apparent madness, while agreeing with Eddie
that the Rubber-Guard system doesn't always work and isn't for everyone.
Because you have to first break the guy out of his posture. If you can't
do that, Rubber-Guard isn't going to work and the Grand System collapses. Maybe that's what Rickson
meant. You aren't going to break Rickson's posture. But for other
opponents, it might work. Royler Gracie can confirm it. Twice (2003 and
Rickson is correct and so is Eddie. Rubber-Guard is inefficient and
vulnerable, except when it's not, and vice-versa.
Edgar Varese's (French composer) advice to Dave Brubeck (jazz pianist),
"travel the world and keep your mind open."4
More Rickson here:
Rickson with Yori Nakamura,
Rickson Gracie, Interview
1994, first published 2002
Rickson Gracie, @1996
Gracie: Jiu-jitsu is going to Drown, 2017
classic interview with Eddie Bravo
vale-tudo career prior to the 1994 Yori Nakamura interview, consisted of
two fights (one in 1980, the other in 1983), with one strong and
aggressive but minimally skilled opponent. (For details see Choque
Vol. 3.) However, it was technically true that he was undefeated
in ten years, if sambo competitions are excluded.
2. Rickson talks about Rubber-Guard:
Original encounter with Eddie Bravo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8Ccl5jY9do
The picture is from a 2006 Inforest Mook (magazine book)
(King of Jiu-Jitsu).
Eddie alludes to the interview in the 2007 video documentary mentioned
GTR will publish an English translation in June, here.
Quoting from memory, from the documentary Jazz, by Ken Burns. Good
advice in music as in martial arts.
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(c) 2019, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.