GTR Archives 2000-2020













(Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Techniques)

By Renzo Gracie and Royler Gracie 

assisted by John Danaher and Kid Peligro

Rev. by Roberto Pedreira

Posted December 16, 2020 (Japan Time)


Serendipity recently brought Renzo and Royler's book[1] to Roberto's attention. It was published in Japan in 2003 and is mostly old news but contains a few points of current interest, hence this review. The original English version was published in 2001. The Japanese edition includes an introduction by Yuuki Nakai 中井祐樹, who at that time was the head (会長) of the Japanese Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (日本ブラジリアン柔術連盟.)

Renzo and Royler need no introduction. John Danaher is described in the book as a graduate of the Columbia University Philosophy Department and a student of Renzo and an instructor (指導員) at the New York Academy. Kid Peligro is described as a MMA journalist and jiu-jitsu black belt. All are obviously well-qualified to write about some aspects of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Apparently none of them are historians or can read the Japanese language fluently. Where did they get their historical information? Read on if you dare.

Note that this will not be a review of the English version. Roberto hasn't read it. For the same reason it will not discuss the accuracy of the translation.

What was the serendipity that brought Renzo and Royler's book to Roberto's attention? It was the bibliography of a different book, specifically an obscure 2013 non-fiction book by Sannohe Kenji (三戸健次) titled Conde Koma Story (コンデ・コマ物語). Mr. Sannohe (when he wrote the book) was a retired math teacher and middle school administrator, coincidentally in the district where Conde Koma (Mitsuyo Maeda, 前田光世) was a middle school student.[2] Mr. Sannohe obtained from local archives and discussed some interesting (perhaps even paradigm shifting) documents concerning Maeda from that period which Roberto has independently verified (and will discuss in due course.) 

The relevance to the present review is that Mr. Sannohe cited Renzo and Royler as one of his sources about Maeda. That leads us to wonder where Renzo and Royler acquired their knowledge about Maeda. (No sources are cited in their book.) It seems that the sources were martial arts magazines, Gracies in Action, and internet forums. 

One example will suffice. It occurs on pp. 30-31. 

According to Renzo and Royler, Maeda was a vale tudo fighter with extensive experience in "real fighting" against boxers and professional wrestlers. Because of this he developed his own style which consisted of setting up entries to a clinch with low kicks, followed by elbows, then a trip to the mat from which Maeda submitted the opponents with joint locks using his body in a connected way. 


This method resembles the way Brazilian fighters fight nowadays, they point out.


In reality Maeda never did this. See here for a brief summary and Craze 2 and Craze 3 (forthcoming 2021) for details with sources. This story originated with an internet review of a 1997 book about Maeda's immigration work in Brazil and prefaced by a review of the usual inaccurate accounts of Maeda's ring career (see here.) The ring career section was based on two highly inaccurate books from 1912, which were in turn based on a series of dubious articles written by a friend of Maeda's based on some letters written by Maeda (in which most of the claims that can be checked are either inaccurate or false. Roberto has checked them.) The reviewer, Mark Gorsuch, was not a historian or even a martial arts person. The book he reviewed did not say that Maeda set up clinches with low kicks and elbows. Gorusch simply assumed that he must have, because Maeda supposedly taught the Gracies and that's what Gracies did (he thought). The misconception ended up in Reila Gracie's biography of her father Carlos (see review here.)

Renzo and Royler assume that Maeda taught their grandfather. Because that's what they heard. It might have been as much as four years or as few as two years, they say. 

Maeda did have students. Their names were published. Carlos Gracie's name was not mentioned. (See here for some details. Also available here.)

Renzo and Royler speculate about the type of training Carlos might have had with Maeda based on their assumption that Maeda set up clinches with low kicks and elbows and had many "real fights" of the vale tudo variety against boxers and wrestlers. However they admit (in the Japanese version at least) that it's only hypothetical. Basically it must have been the same sort of vale tudo preparation that MMA and UFC fighters do now, they conjecture. 

Roberto doesn't want to leave the impression that Renzo and Royler's book is about history. Most of it is not about history. It is primarily about the requirements for the four colored belts used in the Gracie system (blue, purple, brown, black). This is called ブラジリアン柔術の帯と昇級制度 on pp. 36-39. Techniques are divided into groups, and awarded a certain number of points. The groups are self-defense (護身), throws (投げ), guard passing (パスガード), attacks and submissions (攻撃、サブミッシヨン), sweeps (スイープ), escapes (エスケープ), combination attacks (コンビネーシヨン攻撃). The number of points awarded and the specific techniques vary according to the belt. 

Roberto both agrees and disagrees with Renzo and Royler's belt system (although he wouldn't pretend to tell them how to teach or operate their academies and franchise systems). Based on educational psychology, it makes sense that a syllabus, curriculum, clearly stated learning objectives and evaluation procedures can be and probably are useful things in terms of promoting learning and enhancing student retention at the basic level (from white to blue) but at higher levels the way it has traditionally been done (individualized coaching with lots of mat time) is probably the best way to prevent BJJ from becoming a typical commercialized martial art, the type that "anyone can do," assuming it isn't already too late for that (as Rickson Gracie fears.)

Renzo and Royler's technique are arranged by belt. The book has colored tabs indicating which techniques are "techniques of blue belt" and so on for each belt.  The "front shoulder choke from the guard position" for example is a black belt technique. Roberto learned this technique from Rickson Gracie when he (Roberto) was a white belt, in one of his first classes at the Old Pico Academy in Los Angeles. How it happened is described in the preface to Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone, 1997-2008 (recently updated.) It would serve no good purpose to repeat it here but suffice to say that Rickson evidently didn't consider it a technique that was beyond the capabilities of a fresh, green, very clueless white belt. The important element is context and Rickson's teaching style, which (at that time at least) was to teach what is needed when it is needed to those who need it (he did it without saying a single word, too, like a Zen master.) In general that is an effective and efficient teaching method when and where it can reasonably be applied. It is difficult in large-scale, mass, highly commercialized contexts. Regrettably this is probably the future of jiu-jitsu. But people will have belts and everyone will be happy.



1. Roberto suspects that John and Kid actually wrote the book and in tried and true jiu-jitsu publishing tradition, the ostensible authors contributed their famous names and posed for the pictures.

2. Maeda's first name when he was a middle-school student wasn't Mitsuyo (光世), a fact that is highly relevant to Mr. Sannohe's book and to the question of whether Maeda was a Vale Tudo MMA "jiu-jtsu fighter." His name was (later written as 栄世). which like most Japanese names, can be pronounced in various ways, hence the numerous variant alphabetic spellings of Maeda's names that can be found across time and place. Japanese historians and journalists disagree on how his name was pronounced (if there actually was a single pronunciation.) According to Maeda's personal friend 押川春浪 (who would have been in a good position to know), Maeda's first name was pronounced えいよ (Eiyo). Others think it might have been Hideyo, or even Eise. To add to the confusion, Maeda himself at least occasionally wrote his adult name 光榮 which can be pronounced Mitsuei, Kōei, among others. (All sources to be provided in Craze 3 forthcoming.) 

How did Japanese writers deal with this  mess? (Actually it didn't bother them, Japanese people are used to this sort of thing. The real name is the written name, not the spoken form.) They weren't and still aren't sure, so they usually referred to him and  generally still do as Mr. Maeda (前田君, 前田氏 or コンデ・コマ, Conde Koma, or more recently, if they have been influenced by the Gracie revolution, by the name most commonly used in foreign countries, Mitsuyo Maeda or in Japan, 前田光世.  

Other Book, DVD, and VHS Reviews by Roberto Pedreira (and guest reviewers).  

Some classic interviews with Renzo and Royler:

Renzo 2000 talks about Sakuraba etc.

Renzo 2001 talks about Dan Hendrerson and Sakuraba etc.

Royler 2001 with comments by Rickson



(c) 2020, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Revised December 17, 2020.



GTR Archives 2000-2020