| Karate/Kung Fu Illustrated 10/97
For those of you who have been living in a cave and don’t know who
Rickson Gracie is, here’s a little background on the man. He’s a son
of Helio Gracie and the brother of Royce, Rorion, Relson, Rolker and
Royler. He’s a seventh-degree black belt, and his technique is considered
to be the finest expression of Brazilian – jujutsu in the world. Most
people consider him the best fighter of the Gracie clan. His innate
talent and early mastery of the sport have resulted in an undefeated
record after more than 450 fights, including jujutsu tournaments, freestyle
wrestling matches, sambo competitions, no-holds-barred events and street
fights. (This is merely an overview of his career. If I listed all his
wins, we would have to rename the magazine Rickson Gracie Illustrated.)
When I got a call from Kim Gracie, Rickson’s wife, telling me when
to show up at their house for the interview, I was on cloud nine. I
knew it wasn’t supposed to be a typical session in which I rolled with
him and reported on his technique because I knew he wouldn’t have time
to spar with an awestruck columnist. But I was still excited.
I asked my friend Gerry Costa if he would go with me, as he is a mutual
friend and knew how to get to Rickson’s house. When Gerry came to pick
me up, he asked where my gi (uniform) was. It was not going to be that
kind of interview, I said.
"Always bring your gi," he replied. "You never know."
We left early so Gerry could spend some time with an old friend from
Brazil who was staying at Rickson’s. Consequently, we arrived a full
three hours before Kim had told me to be there for the interview.
The only person at home was Gerry’s friend, Rodrigo Vaghi, one of Rickson’s
"Good," I thought, "if we leave now and come back after
lunch, Kim and Rickson won’t know we have invaded their privacy three
hours early and I won’t look like such an eager dork."
Over food, Rickson explained his life’s goal of forming a global network
of Brazilian-jujutsu students. He hopes to create a Brazilian-jujutsu
organization as large and well organized as the judo, taekwondo and
The first step in the realization of this plan has already taken the
formation of the Rickson Gracie American Jiu-Jitsu Association. Although
the association isn’t even a year old, it already has over 1,500 members.
To ensure a strong organization, Rickson said one needs good instructors.
He then produced a list of his "representatives," and it was
chock full of good instructors. Some names you may recognize are Royler
Gracie in Rio de Janeiro, Fabio Santos and Carlos Valente in San Diego,
and Pedro Sauer in Salt Lake City.
Rickson’s association currently has nine black belts. For Brazilian
jujutsu in the United States, that is very strong. Unlike in most other
martial arts, there are many more potential students of Brazilian jujutsu
than there are qualified instructors. People want to learn but have
no one to teach them. Rickson’s association is trying to deal with this
by sending instructors around the world to train and test practitioners
of other martial arts so they can become representatives of his association
and teach Brazilian jujutsu.
In case you’re wondering, the first step to becoming a representative
is to join the association. You can learn techniques by attending seminars
or working out with a partner. When you have some technical ability
and a place to teach, you can test to become an official representative.
Rickson wants the association and its students to be able to show the
effectiveness of jujutsu and demonstrate the benefits of sporting competition
for the entire family. That’s why he’s organizing the First International
Rickson Gracie American Jiu-Jitsu Association Tournament in Los Angeles
in August 1997.
At most Brazilian-jujutsu tournaments, two things stand out.
First, most competitors are young, tough guys.
Second, there appears to be a total lack of organization.
Rickson aims to fix these shortcomings. He’ll include women and children
in his tournaments as soon as enough join the association, and he and
his wife are striving to make the tournaments an organized, respectful
We finished lunch and drove back to Rickson’s house. I was preparing
to say good-bye when
I said, "Yes," and he told me to put it on. I have put on
a gi thousands of times-but never just before grappling with Rickson
Gracie. All of a sudden, I forgot how to tie my belt. Then my mind started
racing: How was I going to roll with the king of roll? Should I try
to make him submit?
"Don’t be stupid," I thought. I stayed in the bathroom for
what seemed like years, then decided that no matter what happened, I
would just try to be technically correct-so I didn’t embarrass myself
or my instructor.
As we rolled on the mat, Rickson put me in one bad position after another,
then explained the correct way to get out of each one. I had heard that,
when a person finishes grappling with Rickson, he critiques that person’s
There is no gray area when it comes to technique; you either do it
correctly or you don’t. Rickson had no problem letting me know how I
looked. "You know what to do," he said.
As I started to swell with pride, he added, "You just aren’t doing
it." The swelling quickly subsided.
Martial artists who have spent their life searching for an effective self-defense system should thank all the Gracies for transforming the lump of coal known as jujutsu into the diamond known as Brazilian jujutsu. And they owe special thanks to Rickson Gracie for continuing to polish that diamond and for making it more available to martial artists everywhere.