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December 1994, Full Contact
by Greg Walker

Full Contact extends its sincere appreciation to Terry Grant of Eugene, Oregon. Through Terry’s hard work and interest in seeing only the very best martial arts talent brought to Oregon, our initial meeting with Rickson was possible. FC would also like to thank Paul Vunak for his enthusiasm for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and Rickson in particular, as well as Tom Cruse, who encouraged Rickson to talk frankly with us. The following interview took place in both Oregon and Marina Del Rey, California just prior to Rickson’s impressive win at Vale-Tudo ’94 in Japan on July 29, 1994. G.W.

Full Contact: Why the Gracie Challenge?

Rickson: We’ve always had the challenge. It is simply the way we use to pit our beliefs about our system of self-defense in support of our cause, which is to promote Jiu-Jitsu. We are always ready to accept any challenge, from anybody, to prove Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The Ultimate Challenge is different. It is about putting two guys in a ring with only one walking out. It is not putting everybody else’s style against our Jiu-Jitsu; it is not a personal challenge. It’s just to see who will win.

FC: Ground fighting is often faulted when it comes to successfully fighting multiple attackers. Is this an area you’ve personally studied, and if so, what are your thoughts?

Rickson: For over 65 years, the Gracie family has worked to evolve and improve our Jiu-Jitsu. Of course, we have addressed the concern you mentioned, and we have discovered the following to be true, at least in our experience.
First, you must train in multiple-attacker situations in order to have a chance. How many martial artists, truthfully, can say they train realistically and hard when it comes to this kind of fight? I have found that if two people, who are fighters, really want to take you down, they probably will regarless of style or position. More than two, it gets even tougher.

FC: How have you personally trained for such situations?

Rickson: I have trained both in close quarters, like a room with only one door in and out, and larger spaces. We have fought against two men, three and even more, just to see how such fights progress. Sometimes I have two men stand in the doorway and I must fight my way through them in order to leave the room. These are just methods of training, but very good if done seriously and with the intention to learn.

FC: Several people who have trained with you in Los Angeles have told me they’ve seen you actually demonstrate fighting multiple opponents-and win.

Rickson: Yes, I have done this. You must be fast, confident of your abilities and not hold anything back to be successful. Understand, in the Ultimate Challenge, my brother [Royce Gracie] needs to use only the most simple, the most basic Gracie techniques to defeat his opponents. This is because no one really has the ground-fighting knowledge and skill to seriously challenge him. Royce is nice, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, so he plays with them until they get tired, and then he finishes it.
In reality, if a Gracie fighter is fighting for his life, he will use those advanced techniques that will quickly make an opponent injured so he cannot any longer attack. He will not choke someone out as much as break their arms, for example. When you fight many opponents at once, you cannot be merciful like we are at the Ultimate Challenge.

FC: What is your favorite multiple-opponent technique?

Rickson: My Sig-Sauer P220 .45 caliber pistol [laughing]. It is the best "technique" in this situation, I believe.

FC: Are you a good shot?

Rickson: Yes.

FC: We understand that by accepting the recent match in Japan a rift of sorts has developed within the Gracie family. Much will be made about this in the martial arts media, as you might imagine. Does such a problem exist and how will you deal with it?

Rickson: For years I have supported my family in whatever we do. When I was asked to train Royce for the Ultimate Challenge I did so. He has won twice now, and perhaps he will win again in September. I am also a fighter, that is what I do and what makes me happy. I am seeing great success in my career and must do what I believe at this point in my life will make a good future. As far as I know, there are no problems in the family, except for those unfounded stories that are fanned by the media.

FC: You are the only undefeated Gracie brother-both here and overseas, including Brazil-correct?

Rickson: Yes.

FC: Will you, now that you have won the Vale-Tudo in Japan, enter the next Ultimate Challenge and face Royce?

Rickson: We brothers don’t fight each other. I have many people who are interested in promoting me, with a number of opportunities. Today, I do not see myself fighting Royce, and may indeed simply offer the Rickson Gracie Challenge here in the United States. We will see.

FC: When you promote Gracie Jiu-Jitsu are you saying that no other style or system has any value?

Rickson: No, that would be foolish. Many people don’t know that my specialty is free fighting. I punch, I kick and I fight very well on my feet and on the ground. The goal is to be a well-rounded martial artist, especially when you are talking about real self-defense. I only say, "Look at what we have to offer before you make an decisions about our system." An understanding of ground fighting will make you a better fighter and martial artist, that’s all.

FC: What is an important aspect of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in terms of the student?

Rickson: Our Jiu-Jitsu is something you can do for your entre lifetime. My father ensured that our philosophy and techniques would work whether you are big and very strong or small and frail. It is all about leverage and feel. It is simple. You must be able to defend yourself at all times, under all physical conditions.
Today you are feeling good, you’re a large man and strong. Today you might get into a fight and be able to, if nothing else, simply overpower your opponent because of this. But what if next week you are sick with the flu? Then you would be not so strong, and your thinking might not be as clear. Still, you must defend yourself successfully. Kicks and punches when you are feeling good are easy, if you are in reasonable shape and have stamina and power. But if you are sick, all of this changes. In my Jiu-Jitsu you can still defeat most opponents quickly with little effort, no matter how you are feeling at that most important moment.
Plus, as you get older you do not lose the ability if you are a good Jiu-Jitsu man or woman. My father, even today, can teach and train with students and beat them all! He plays with them, he has fun in their learning from him. He is a remarkable man.

FC: Women and ground fighting, particularly the Gracie collection of Jiu-Jitsu, is something beginning to receive great attention. Do you teach women, and if so, is there a difference in your instruction with respect to your male students?

Rickson: If a woman wants to train with me like I train with men, that is her decision. Mostly, though, my female classes are different in approach and philosophy. Many women do not want to learn how "fight," like men do. They want to learn how to survive an unwanted confrontation, such as rape or spouse abuse. I teach women how to open a window of escape for themselves. We train very realistically because fights between men are far different than attacks on women. If this is so, how can we train the same for two different things? Ground fighting and Jiu-Jitsu are very practical for women because so many times their attackers force them into this position, and it is from here they must escape.

FC: Your wife, Kim, trains?

Rickson: Yes. She is very good, a good fighter.

FC: Why is it so hard-impossible to date-for anyone regardless of system or style to beat Royce or yourself? Even if they study ground fighting techniques, as have several to date?

Rickson: You cannot practice grappling, or ground fighting, or Jiu-Jitsu for six months and believe that, because you can execute a few techniques very well, you will beat us on the mat. It is like saying you can study karate for the same amount of time and then successfully fight Chuck Norris. Crazy!
We have been studying our art for over 65 years. I began training when just a young boy. My family has fought in the dojo, in the ring, in the streets and on the beaches of Brazil. We are always training and always ready for the challenge. Yes, everyone can be beaten, and I know this. But as of yet, I have not been.

FC: In many magazine articles you are called "arrogant." But those who we’ve talked with, who know and train with you, offer just the opposite. In fact, from our own experience you are totally the opposite. Why the contradiction?

Rickson: I am just me. Perhaps it sells more magazines to make me out to be something I do not believe I am. About Jiu-Jitsu, I know what I have done and can do, and I am always ready to prove it on the mat. Everyone in my family is this way.

FC: How do you prepare for a match like the Vale-Tudo?

Rickson: I am always prepared to fight. By this I mean I am always ready to defend myself from attack and to compete in the ring. Everything I do in a single day revolves around this: my training, my diet, my work. When I go to sleep, I remember that I might have to awaken to defend myself or my family and when I wake up in the morning I am ready from the moment my eyes are open. I am not aggressive, but ready-like the lion.
When I train for a specific match, I work very hard and with people who truly are great fighters. We work together to get better together.

FC: It has been said by those who train with you, or who have watched you fight, that you are a master of tactics and strategy.

Rickson: Again, [smiling] I have studied my art all my life and fought many times and trained hard. Sometimes, when I fight, I feel almost bad for my opponent because my brothers and I have explored so many possibilities that I know where the opponent is going, what he’s thinking and how he believes he might win before even he does. It is the product of training.

FC: Jesse Glover, Bruce Lee’s first student in America, might call you a "countergrappler," meaning you can read your opponent’s intentions, and by doing so, beat him to the punch-or the ground.

Rickson: Bruce Lee was a great martial artist. In a very real way, I believe the Gracie family is today responsible for the same revolution in the martial arts as Lee was when he gave us Jeet Kune Do. We both have challenged the accepted state of things and offered to prove our beliefs correct at any time, with anybody who accepts the challenge.

FC: Today there is Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and now, but wouldn’t it be fair to say that each Gracie brother has his own form of the family art?

Rickson: When you train with me, you feel the techniques differently than if you were to train with, perhaps, Royce. Yes, Rickson Jiu-Jitsu will be different than Royce Gracie’s because we are different people and different fighters. How you feel it is how you learn a move or concept, so there will be subtle differences between my brothers and myself in how our Jiu-Jitsu is taught. This only makes sense.

FC: When we first met and went to the mat at Terry’s studio, had any other martial arts magazine editors come to you in the manner for a story?

Rickson: No. You are the first, although Tom Cruse is both a student of mine and an editor too, if I am correct.

FC: You are. Tom edits The Probe for Progressive Fighting Systemes and is an excellent writer for both his own publication and ours. As a final question, what do you hope to see as a result of your new column in FC, and what does the future hold for Rickson Gracie?

Rickson: I want to share with your readers about Jiu-Jitsu and about how to become better martial artists and fightes. For me the future looks very bright, with many good things happening for everybody.

FC: Rickson, thanks for your time and congratulations on your most recent victory.

Rickson: Thank you, my friend.