Karate/Kung Fu Illustrated 10/97


by Steve Neklia

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 black-belt representatives.

"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."
Just as I started feeling that the dork gods were smiling upon me, Kim drove up, followed by Rickson. They seemed friendly, but then Rickson excused himself and walked into his house. I would have been perfectly happy to wait in his garage for the next three hours, but a few minutes later he emerged and said, "Let’s go to lunch."

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 karate organizations.

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.
When your Brazilian-jujutsu knowledge and technique reach an above-average blue-belt level, you can apply to become a "coach." Once you attain purple-belt level, you’re a "training assistant." Getting to brown-belt level means you’re an "assistant instructor." And at black-belt level, you’re finally an "instructor."

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 affair.

We finished lunch and drove back to Rickson’s house. I was preparing to say good-bye when
Rickson asked the question: "Did you bring your gi?"

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?
Wouldn’t that be foolish?

"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 technique.

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.
Then I thought of what Gerry had said Rickson told him after they worked out once: "You are like an eagle with no feathers." That made me feel a bit better.

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.