This article was originally published in 1995 in Karate/Kung
Fu Illustrated. It is © 1995 by Rainbow Publications, Inc. (publishers
of Black Belt magazine), and is reproduced here with permission. This article
can also be found online at the web site.
Rickson Gracie Q&A
As well-known and respected as three-time Ultimate Fighting Championship
(UFC) victor Royce Gracie is, the martial arts world has heard bits and
pieces about a person who, in Royce Gracie’s own words, is "10 times
better than me – he’s the only one who can beat everybody." That person
is none other than Rickson Gracie, Royce’s elder brother.
Relatively little has been written about Rickson Gracie. He does not
fight in the UFC. He does not market instructional videotapes. He does
not issue challenges. Neuertheless, he is often referred to as the
toughest man in the world.
In the following interview, Karate/Kung Fu Illustrated introduces you
to Rickson Gracie, whose fighting strategies and training philosophies
are guaranteed to inspire any martial artist.
Karate/Kung Fu Illustrated: Let’s start with some background
information. How old are you?
Rickson Gracie: I don’t believe in age. I try to be ageless. I
have my own understanding about time, and I think we have much more
intensity if we’re not concerned about age.
KKI: You are originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When did you
come to the United States?
Gracie: I came to the United States a few times to do seminars, then
moved to California in 1989.
KKI: When did you start jujutsu?
Gracie: I started training even before I was conscious about
training. My dad, Helio Gracie, used to play with me on the mat, so it
began before I was conscious of it. That was definitely an advantage
because everything you learn as a child makes you more natural. [Training]
time, experience and perfect technique it is the perfect combination.
KKI: Do you believe that a person who starts martial arts training at
age 10 can ever catch up with someone who started at age 2 or 3?
Gracie: That depends. Of course, the young one will have a more
natural ability to move, but there is a difference between just playing
without technique and playing with perfect instruction since you were
young. Sometimes when you are very young, you play around and develop
bad habits about how to execute techniques. Then it’s hard to fix them
afterward. Sometimes a 16-year-old can learn
in an ideal way and become much better.
KKI: Is it true that you have created your own fighting style?
Gracie: No, that’s not true. I don’t have my personal [style] because
jujutsu covers all the different aspects of real self-defense. The
translation of jujutsu is "soft art," so that makes no restrictions on
the [techniques] I can use in a fight. Once you become knowledgeable
enough to really understand all the principles of jujutsu, you will want
to cover all the different aspects of fighting, like striking, throwing
and fighting on the ground with controlling, submission holds and other
stuff. The perfect fighter is the one who combines all the different skills.
KKI: Is your style of jujutsu different from Royce Gracie’s jujutsu?
Gracie: I don’t say that, because we have been training in the same
system. But I am one person, and he is another. Once we have a complete
notion [of the art], we personalize what we do. It’s the same thing done
KKI: Do you call your art "Gracie jujutsu" or "Brazilian jujutsu?"
Gracie: I’m Rickson Gracie, I practice jujutsu, and I’m from Brazil.
You can think whatever you want. Heh, heh, heh. I’m not too much into
names I’m more into doing it, the source it comes from, and my name.
KKI: In a real fight, is your goal always to finish with grappling?
Gracie: Not exactly because, to give an example, no matter how good
Julio Cesar Chavez is as a professional boxer, he has no chance against
Mike Tyson because Tyson is much more powerful. An exchange of traumatic
blows is not going to be in Chavez’ favor. Hitting with my hands, knees
or elbows is something I like to do when the trade is in my favor. If I
get a lazy guy about my size, I’m going to try to hit him and avoid
grappling. But if I have a guy with very good striking skills, it would
be silly to trade blows, especially if he is 50 pounds heavier than me.
KKI:Do you always try to stay close to a bigger opponent?
Gracie: Especially if he is a striker. If he’s a big, slow
grappler, I will be pleased to hit him a couple of times before I get
into a grappling situation. Everything depends; I adapt myself to my
KKI: When you try to adapt to a new opponent, how can you tell if
he is a wrestler or kickboxer? Do you try to feel him out for a few
seconds, then decide?
Gracie: I decide from the way he looks. You can see the difference
between a crocodile and a bear. You are scared of both, but with a
crocodile, you just climb in a tree; with a bear, you run away. I can
read my opponents’intentions by the approach they have.
KKI: By whether they approach low or high?
Gracie: Yes. You can see if the guy wants to punch, kick or tackle
you. The human body must position itself in a [certain] way.
KKI: Is your philosophy generally to shoot in on a guy —in which case
you might not have time tojudge what kind of a fighter he is —or wait for
him to act before making your move?
Gracie: Sometimes I just [move] forward; sometimes I just [wait].
Nothing is for sure, especially dealing with an opponent. I like to look
in his eyes. I start with the eyes, and what comes afterward is … unconscious.
KKI: Do you maintain eye contact until you begin grappling?
Gracie: Yes, definitely.
KKI: So as long as you are punching and kicking, you look right in
KKI: How do you know when to move in on your opponent and grapple?
Gracie: That is more practical than theoretical. It’s hard to
create a theory. It’s just good timing.
KKI: In your fight with David Leveiki at the 1994 Vale Tudo in
Japan, you threw a lot of punches before moving in to grapple. Did you
try to distract him and wait for him to react before closing the distance?
KKI: So, in some situations, youjust throw punches and wait for a
Gracie: Yes, because I saw him as very defensive, and I felt like
KKI: But with another opponent, you might kick before going in?
Gracie: Yes. I kick a little bit, and I punch. With a guy [of
Leveiki’s] size, I’m looking to go to the floor.
KKI: Do you also work to develop your punching and kicking?
Gracie: Yes, but not in a professional way. I just like to play
with my strikes.
KKI: Do you have any special training routine to prepare for the
next Vale Tudo?
Gracie: Yes, I cut some of my classes and put more [time into] my
KKI: Do you have any plans to fight in the United States?
Gracie: Probably, but nothing is definite.
KKI: Would it be in some new event set up especially for you?
Gracie: Maybe. I think the martial arts community is getting more and
more interested, and more events are popping up—not just in the United
States, but all over the world.
KKI: Do you mean more interested in realistic martial arts events?
Gracie: Yes. It is definitely a new step in martial arts
entertainment. There’s no comparison between watching a fight like that
and a boxing match. That kind of event is getting more popular, and more
money will be involved. I’m just waiting for the right time.
KKI: Are you talking about events that allow grappling and striking?
Gracie: Yes, events that [allow] more free initiative to see who
wins a match —not with too many limitations. But they are still events
with a lot of sportsmanship and respect for the fundamentals of martial
arts. I don’t believe that, to demonstrate all the potential of a
fighter, an event must be without humanity or respect, or be extremely
violent. Events must have some way to protect the fighters and the
sportsmanship, because people are not there to [participate in] a street
fight. A street fight is something beyond the normal sport.
KKI: Are martial arts without respect the equivalent of a street
Gracie: Yes, but you cannot bring a street fight to the screen,
because in a street fight you can be dishonorable, disrespectful,
cowardly or cruel, and that is not what sport or martial arts are about.
Martial arts mean you can go there and fight —elbow,choke, head-butt,
squeeze, throw, control—but once the fight is over, you shake hands and
KKI: Is that always easy to do?
Gracie: Yes, if you know this concept. But if a guy asks for help
and then pokes your eye, bites you on the neck, pulls your hair or goes
for your [groin], that’s not exactly sport. I can [accept that I may]
get blinded or break my neck in a fight, but I’m not going to forgive a
guy if his intention is to put his finger in my eye. I’ve fought my
whole life but never thought about biting somebody or poking somebody
in the eye. Those things are totally outside of sportsmanship; you can
do them on the street, though. Although I am a professional fighter, I
have much more fear of fighting a 150-pound gang member in the ghetto
than fighting a 300-pound guy in competition, because the guy on the
street can have a knife or somebody else to attack me from behind. The
street fight situation is so complex. You can’t just say, "Let’s fight with
no rules and do whatever we want to see who wins." The idea to try to
represent anything-goes fighting is a little too much. I’ve seen a lot
of violent fights, and people don’t really need to get to a point where
it’s a personality problem or a moral problem and you go for a bottle or
a knife. If you fight, you fight. If you lose, you just lose like a man
and go home. Things must be on this level —with respect.
KKI: If you were in a tournament and your opponent bit you, would
you "forget" to control yourself?
Gracie: No. I would just squeeze him a little more. But I cannot
lose my control because my best friend in a fight is the technique, and
the more emotionally involved I am, the less technique I apply. It’s all
about keeping myself focused and going a little harder when I have a
chance to pay him back.
KKI: Speaking of focus, when we watch Royce Gracie in the UFC— even
in a long match he looks so relaxed and talks with his family at
ringside. Does that relaxation allow him to focus on technique more clearly?
Gracie: The condition you are talking about is the perfect
understanding of what’s happened and what’s coming. Nobody relaxes in a
situation like that. You just get things under control. Emotionally you
keep yourself controlled, but your mind is very intense. A lot of things
pass at the same time. You never relax.
KKI: Do you relax parts of your body you are not using to conserve
KKI: Is that a basic principle of jujutsu?
Gracie: Yes, but the most important principle is to apply leverage.
That makes all the difference because the techniques are based on leverage.
KKI: How important are strength, speed and conditioning?
Gracie: For strength, speed and conditioning, much more is much
better. Heh, heh, heh.
KKI: But you don’t need them?
Gracie: You don’t need them to waste like a silly guy. But if you
have them [when] you need them and combine them with techniques in the
right way, it’s always good.
KKI: Someone once said that, for self-defense, all you need is
technique. For competition, you need strength, speed and conditioning.
Gracie: And don’t forget the heart and the focus.
KKI: And experience?
Gracie: That’s even better.
KKI: How do the Japanese react to having a jujutsu master who is a
foreigner but is better than they are at their own country’s martial art?
Gracie: I think they like it because they see jujutsu the way it
should be— put in a very special place. Of course, I don’t know if they
like the fact that I’m a foreigner, but I feel like they have a very
good connection with the way I am, with my philosophy, with what I know
[about] the Japanese bushido (warrior ways). I think they like me
because I bring to them the whole cultural gift and the execution of a
beautiful art. They give me some kind of respect because I don’t have
any attitude problems and I’m a good fighter.
KKI: I heard about a possible fight between you and the Japanese
UWF International champion, Nobuhiku Takada. Do you think that will happen?
Gracie: I don’t think it’s going to happen because it’s hard for
me to fight in a federation even if it’s for good money where the fights
are not 100-percent real. I am more than happy to fight Takada or anyone
else but under an independent association or promoter who can establish
a realistic [event]. But I cannot put myself in a situation where, if I
win, my opponent can say, "I let him win because it was his turn, but
next time …."
KKI: Because, even if the fight was not fixed, people could still
think it was?
Gracie: Yes, they could say anything. So I recognize Mr. Takada’s
potential. I will be glad if he enters the 1995 Vale Tudo or if he wants
to fight somewhere else under an independent promoter. But I cannot
[risk] my reputation with an association where it’s not 100 percent.
KKI: Does the Vale Tudo have a good reputation for real fights?
Gracie: It has an excellent reputation because the fighters fight
for real. Their reputation is very good—good enough for me to be
involved with— because the Vale Tudo is a new event with rules
specifically for the event.
KKI: Will you continue to fight in it?
Gracie: At least for this year, because it’s already set up. But next
year … we’ll see. I like to live in the present.
KKI: What do you see in the future? Are you going to continue
fighting, open schools across the country or try to get into movies?
Gracie: My intention is always to channel my energy for the
present. I see a big interest in jujutsu and ground fighting, and that’s
great. But I put my intensity [into] things I do now.
KKI: How do you deal with the growing interest in your fighting style?
Gracie: We now have schools in four places: Ventura county, West Los
Angeles, Pacific Palisades and Laguna Niguel.
KKI: So you have four schools in Southern California and you do
seminars, but how do you deal with martial artists in New York, Florida
or even Northern California who desperately want to learn from Rickson
Gracie or one of his instructors?
Gracie: I offer intensive training programs, law enforcement
training, private classes with me and regular classes in my school. The
only time I don’t teach personally is during the month before my fights.
Fighting is something you must be focused to do.
KKI: Some people would say you have easily beaten many of the best
fighters in the world. Why do you still compete?
Gracie: I don’t see a relationship between having beaten some of the
best fighters in the world and having to stop fighting. There’s no
reason to stop. If I’m the best drinker in the world, I will still
drink. Or if I’m the best surfer, I’m going to [continue surfing]
because I enjoy it. Jujutsu is not something I need to change my
personality to do. It’s just a beautiful science. This science is
something I’m addicted to doing, practicing, teaching and sharing with
my students. I love to fight. It sounds kind of weird, but I’m not there
to beat up or hurt anybody. I try to win the fight as cleanly as
possible. Of course it’s a dangerous sport, but so are thousands of
other sports. What I try to do is use beautiful, scientific, technical
maneuvers. There’s nothing brutal or too aggressive about it.
KKI: Are you still learning?
Gracie: The day I stop learning is the day I die.
KKI: What are you learning: techniques, combinations or strategies?
Gracie: Jujutsu is like life: You are always learning something. The
foundations are one thing, but once you get to a high level, you start
to develop different maneuvers to do the same movement because your
opponent is improving with you. He’s adapting to different ways of
defending himself, so you should find ways to improve yourself. It’s
KKI: Some people have called you the toughest man in the world.
How do you react to that title?
Gracie: I try to keep the title, eh? Heh, heh, heh. I try my best to
represent the science of jujutsu, and I have never found anything to
prove that [my] technique doesn’t work. I don’t think I am the toughest
man in the world. It’s a little silly because I’m an average person; a
lot of people can run, jump and climb [better]. T find myself a guy with
a lot of heart, in good physical condition, but that’s not enough to
make me the toughest guy. I am for sure very knowledgeable in martial
arts. So far, that has kept me undefeated. It’s just a [matter] of hard
work and very hard searching for my own truth in what I’m doing.
KKI: If a fight continues for five or 10 minutes, what do you
Gracie: I don’t think; I just react.
KKI: You react to whatever your opponent does?
Gracie: Of course. I am connected with my opponent and with nothing
KKI: What kind of opponent gives you the hardest time in the ring?
Gracie: I don’t have a hard opponent because if my opponents come on
very strong in a situation, I commit myself to applying techniques away from
the danger. If I have a problem, I don’t know if I can handle it. So it’s
against my mentality to put myself in a problem [situation]. Sometimes a fight
takes longer, and sometimes it takes shorter. But I try to find myself in a
total understanding. It’s just a matter of time; that’s how I see my
opponent. I don’t think, "Wow! That’s one fight I almost lost."
KKI: Do you mean that, as soon as | you see an opponent, you prepare
yourself by thinking, "It’s just a matter of time. There’s no question
that I’m going to win. It might take a little longer, or it might take …."
Gracie: Fights are unpredictable, and if you make one mistake, you
can lose. I have the tools to handle all the possibilities I can create in
my mind, so I am very confident. Based on that and my preparation to
react in the right way against anything, I have the confidence I need to
put myself in the line of fire. It’s very dangerous, but so far I have
always done well.