Black Belt 05/98
Rickson Gracie is a martial artist who truly needs no introduction. Everyone knows his name and his reputation as perhaps the toughest man in the world. The stoic Brazilian knows what people are saying about him, yet he keeps a relatively low profile. You won’t see him lecturing about armbars on any instructional videotapes, you won’t see his mug on a magazine cover every other month (at least not in the United States), and you won’t see him fight in a no-holds-barred tournament any more than once every year or two. About the only contact the average martial artist will ever have with the grappling phenom is at one of his standing-room-only seminars or at the annual tournament he holds for members of his pack, the Rickson Gracie American Jiu-Jitsu Association. So if you’re hungry for info about the man, the myth or the monster-depending on your point of view-this Q&A is for you. -Editor
BLACK BELT: Why do you fight in Japan and not in the United States? Thousands of martial artists here would love to watch you compete in an event like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
RICKSON GRACIE: The producers of Pride 1, the event in which I competed in Japan on October 11, 1997, try to do a high-level event that will increase the standards of the sport. They’re trying to get TV coverage [in the United States], and it takes a while to put those things together. To be successful, they’re trying to contact the most prestigious fighters in Japan to draw the public. Fortunately, the first one was a success.
BB: Are no-holds-barred events in Japan the same as NHB events in the United States?
GRACIE: There is a big difference between the events now in Japan and the events which happen in the United States. In Japan, they value the traditions of the martial arts, including respect and sportsmanship. After Royce [Gracie] left the UFC, we started seeing in it and other events more of the brutal and violent aspects of martial arts. They are no longer about how you win a match; they’re about how one tighter can pound another one and about who can receive the most punishment. Those concepts are more sensational, and they bring a bad name to what are supposed to be very martial arts-oriented and philosophical events. They’re supposed to be for people who devote their life to the martial arts. They’re supposed to be for them to test their skills, but in many cases that isn’t exactly what’s happened.
BB: Why do you think NHB events and the situation surrounding them are improving in Japan while they are worsening in the United States?
GRACIE: Because the Japanese are sensitive to the concept of being a martial artist. They’re not interested in the brawling aspects.
BB: Is it because Japan possesses what’s been called a "martial" culture?
GRACIE: I think so. They cannot separate the sensational aspect of fighting from the traditional or philosophical aspect-or from bushido, which means "way of the warrior." So they unify everything. If a fighter has a bad attitude, if he lacks respect-even though he wins-the Japanese have a different impression of him. They watch an event in total silence, and when they see a movement, they all say "Oh" at the same time. That shows that they have a connection with what’s going on in a fight.
BB: A lot of people are saying that if NHB events succumb to political pressure or stop making enough money to survive in the United States, they might move to Japan or Brazil. Do you think there would be any differences if they were to make such a move?
GRACIE: Basically, no. The Japanese and the Brazilians love to fight. They love to see action. There’s an open door for this kind of event in both countries.
BB: Are you going to fight again in the Pride event?
GRACIE: I think so. I haven’t signed anything yet, but we’re having conversations.
BB: So you must agree with the way they did things the first time.
GRACIE: The rules are always adjustable. They make different rules for different matches. So depending on the next negotiation, the rules could be adjusted.
BB: Do you have any plans to tight a big-name American fighter in Japan? Some people accuse you of fighting only mediocre Japanese fighters about whom the American public knows nothing. They say that if you fought someone like Ken Shamrock or Marco Ruas, they would have more respect for your abilities.
GRACIE: I’m open to fight anyone. It’s not about me saying I want to tight this person or that person. It’s about how interested the promoters are in promoting a tight like that. So I just keep on training and waiting for my next opponent.
BB: So whatever gets worked out by the promoters is fine with you?
GRACIE: Oh, definitely.
BB: Your most recent fight was against Nobuhiku Takada. How did that go?
GRACIE: I think it went the way I expected it to; I don’t believe in luck. Based on my training, suffering and focus, I expected the fight to go a certain way. Fortunately, it went very smoothly. I didn’t have any problems or get hurt. I took advantage of my opponent’s mistakes. I was pretty happy with everything.
BB: How many people were in the audience for the fight?
GRACIE: More than 47,000 people were there.
BB: And it was on Japanese television?
BB: Is it true that the Pride 1 event was created to showcase your fight with Takada?
GRACIE: Yes. This fight was the first time the prime-time news in Japan covered one of my events. They gave us about 10 minutes worth. It was really big there.
BB: What do the Japanese think of Takada?
GRACIE: He definitely is, currently, the most famous one. He is [featured in] video games and as a doll. The big thing about fighting him is that I am limited to the martial arts community for the people who are really interested, but Takada is known to everybody-from the youngest to the oldest. He’s a national idol.
BB: So he would be like a Mike Tyson here-before the biting? Everyone would know his name?
GRACIE: He’s like Hulk Hogan or Mike Tyson or….
BB: Do they know his name from fixed wrestling matches or from real fights?
GRACIE: They believe Takada is 100 percent for real. Of course, he had some big tights as a pro wrestler, but the Japanese pretty much believe in Takada’s skills.
BB: Has anyone in Japan ever asked you to do a fixed fight?
GRACIE: Yes. But that’s totally against my principles. Takada’s people wanted us to fix the fight, but we said, "No, we don’t fight fake." I call myself only a fighter, a martial artist and a teacher. I’m definitely not an entertainer. I don’t have any desire to use my skills to just entertain people-by sometimes losing and sometimes winning fake fights. It’s against my honor.
BB: How long did you train for the Pride tight?
GRACIE: Because of the delays, I trained hard-core for about six months. I basically need about three months to get ready for a fight.
BB: That must take a lot of time away from your teaching schedule. Does it cause any problems at your schools?
GRACIE: I have instructors who try to run the show by themselves when I’m not there. Of course, for me, I wonder if there is something missing in my routine. Also I believe the students miss me,but my absence is a phase, and we all adapt.
BB: When you get to be at such a high level in any art, is it hard to find good training partners? Obviously you can beat any partner you have. How do you find a challenge?
GRACIE: The key for that is to reduce your elements. This makes average opponents become tougher because you limit yourself with regard to what is available to you. So the challenge is there.
BB: Does that mean that you tell yourself, "Well, I won’t do any advanced techniques that he doesn’t know," or "I’ll use only 50 percent of my speed"?
GRACIE: Yes. There are many variations to make yourself weaker. Or maybe you can decide to just work from the bottom or whatever. That makes a big difference because an average guy can give you a much harder time.