|Take the chest and two arms of VanDamme, the abdomen of Bruce Lee,
the legs of Stallone, add the face of Marlon Brando at his peak. Throw
all of this into the big boiling pot of Rio de Janeiro, adding "dende"
(a hot cooking oil from the state of Bahia), urucum (another Brazilian
oil) and a dose of Scotch Whiskey. After thirty-some years you will have
Rickson Gracie, the most perfect descendent of the legendary Gracie family
that created Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Rickson has dedicated his life to the
tatame and is today considered the best fighter on the planet. Would you
TRIP: At the press conference in Denver they asked your age, and you responded that you were "ageless." What did you mean by this?
RG: What happens is that people are very labeled by their age. I have a philosophy of life that compensates for my aging, not by the fact of being afraid of getting old, but because I think that people have to live in the moment intensely. With time, you can lose resistance but gain experience, so you gain energy.
TRIP: Where were you born?
RG: I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro.
TRIP: Did you study?
RG: I did the college entry exam for Physical Education and I decided to stop because it wasn’t what I wanted. It was there that I chose Jiu-Jitsu.
TRIP: How old is Helio Gracie? (Rickson’s father)
RG: Eighty-some years; 82, 83. I’m not sure.
TRIP: Does he still train and fight?
RG: He was always an example for all of us. He is a person who leaves me without words to define him because he still trains, even today. Now he has moved to a country house in Petropolis and he teaches there. The students go all the way there to train. My father was always occupied with thoughts about nourishment, ethics and a whole philosophy of life which he has always carried out.
TRIP: How is the Gracie family? What are its origins; how many are there; and where are they?
RG: The Gracie family came from Scotland and arrived in Brazil around 1900. The first generation that became involved in Jiu-Jitsu was my father, along with his brother, Carlos Gracie. A Japanese named Maeda Koma, who came to work in Brazil as a Japanese immigration representative, became very close to my grandfather, Gastao Gracie. As a gesture of friendship he offered to teach Jiu-Jitsu to his children. In this way, my uncle Carlos began to learn Jiu-Jitsu around 1912, 1915. Since then he began to participate in the development of Jiu-Jitsu, adopting a lot more leverage and other techniques than those that had already been taught. He became the highest expression of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil for a long time and was very well known worldwide. The next five generations represented Jiu-Jitsu and the tradition of the family. This is what keeps us connected to the sport and to this life that we live.
TRIP: There are some differences in the family. What is the reason for this? Is it the techniques; the different ramifications? – or is it something in the family?
RG: The family is enormous. My father had ten children. My uncle Carlos had twenty-one children-the oldest is already over fifty. I have already lost count of the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren in our family. I myself already have four children. That is to say it is an enormous family. It’s evident that in a family so large, among the great many different types of people are going to appear some differences, which is normal in any family. But on the other hand, a common union exists which has its existence in the sport. Everyone is interested in seeing Jiu-Jitsu grow because all of us are linked to Jiu-Jitsu in one way or another.
TRIP: But is there a dispute within the family to see who is the best?
RG: Some representatives of the family are no longer competing or fighting. They now have a moral obligation to create champions. So at times they want to promote these disputes internally, which creates this competitive climate among us.
TRIP: You said you have four children. How long have you been married?
RG: I have been married for many years. My oldest son, Rockson is fifteen. Kauan is twelve; then there is Kaulin who is ten and Kron who is eight.
TRIP: You are a handsome man with style. When you were younger, did you prefer dating or fighting?
RG: By the fact that we have been involved in a martial art since we were young, there exists a sort of obligation to not carry this to the home. Mixing this type of moral compromise with immaturity, I was predisposed to fight every day. Therefore, there was a phase in my life in which I was more involved with problems than with loving relationships. But thank God this has changed.
TRIP: Are you difficult with women? I mean, in two meanings: difficult in relating and difficult in being conquered.
RG: I am a romantic man, but I have a heart of stone (laughing).
TRIP: You and your family are the principal subjects of the photographer Bruce Weber’s book. How did you meet?
RG: I met him in Rio, when he had the idea to make a book about Rio de Janeiro. He wanted to do a report about all types of sports and athletes. When he was introduced to me, he began to understand the value of Jiu-Jitsu, the tradition of the family, the importance that the Gracie family had in the life of Rio de Janeiro. In this way he fell in love with the idea, and instead of simply taking some pictures, he did a huge report. From that point on, it opened the international arena and a lot of people wanted to know more about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
TRIP: So he went to Rio to make a book. He wanted to know who was who, and ended up knowing you.
RG: Yes. Actually, he did a lot at that time with Renan, a volleyball player, and with some surfers. In the book there are a few sections about various athletes, but his greatest interest was in the Gracie family. He saw tradition as a much more substantial subject. Today the Gracie family is the largest family in the world all turned toward the same sport.
TRIP: This makes you proud…
RG: Of course.
TRIP: In Rio, you are a famous man; everyone knows who you are. How do you feel now in L.A., the city of famous people?
RG: In Brazil, I felt like I was part of a sequence of tradition that was implanted by my predecessors. I feel very proud of being part of this tradition; but I never stopped being part of the sequence of work that has been developed for seventy-five years. When we moved to the United States, few people knew what Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was; few people knew our style, our potential. This has changed slowly, until we got to the point of giving classes to police academies and to the Marines. The events which are being promoted by Pay-Per-View are giving us great recognition. We came here to implant Jiu-Jitsu and it has been a great success in the First World. I feel like a pioneer of Jiu-Jitsu who has been very successful.
TRIP: You spoke of training the SWAT and the American Marines. How is this?
RG: We train the Army; the people of Delta Force; the Navy Seals, the Marines; and also different SWAT teams, the elite group of the police for street combat. We also train the Police Patrol and Police Academies. Finally, we are contracted to do special services for the Armed Forces. But we are not employed by them, because we would have to accept a low price to receive the approval of the Treasury Commission. With separate contracts, we are able to charge more. We therefore do not want to be employed by the Armed Forces.
TRIP: Was it the money that brought you to the United States? Were you feeling difficulties, or was it the desire to expand the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu throughout the world?
RG: I had reached all of my goals in Brazil. It was routine for me to win all of the competitions. My academy was always full of students. With the inflation and political problems of the country, with the difficulty of actually getting money together, I thought it was the best option. Not only to expand the art, but also for my personal benefit I would come to the United States. It was said and done.
TRIP: What is so different about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu than the conventional Jiu-Jitsu?
RG: In the United States?
TRIP: No, in general.
RG: In Brazil only Gracie Jiu-Jitsu exists. There is only one there. It was all created by my family. Some have a bit more technique, others have less, but basically it’s the same thing. Here in the United States there are perhaps fifty different types of Jiu-Jitsu, but they are totally based upon wrist locks and hip throws. It is as if they were aikido; they do not have much efficiency in the sense of real personal defense or fighting. The others [styles] are really impressed with the efficiency Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has shown.
TRIP: How long have you been in the United States?
RG: Eight Years. A little over eight years.
TRIP: And marketing? Did you learn this in the United States? Have you totally integrated yourself into the American style?
RG: Exactly. Living in America you have to enter into the mentality of the American life because they are a people who consume; they have conditions of consuming. If you have a brand name, whatever you sell, you get result. Make T-shirts, make key chains, make whatever, the people buy it; they love to buy. Another important thing is to give information. It is fundamental to use high technology, whatever your area is.
TRIP: I wanted to know your opinion about Jean-Claude VanDamme, Steven Seagall.
RG: There is no doubt that both of them picked the right moment to enter the big movie industry; they have their merits. I think that Jean-Claude VanDamme is good looking, and he really took advantage of the right moment-and won. Steven Seagall already innovated a lot in the action scenes. Instead of using those roundhouse kicks that Bruce Lee and VanDamme use, he began to enter with a little ore contact in the action scenes, with more locks and throws. He became much more visual, much more realistic. He really obtained an excellent effect in the movies, which explains his success.
TRIP: Do you have any pretensions of this?
RG: I have some plans. Of course it isn’t anything concrete, but I would like to be next in line for superstar. (laughs)
TRIP: Let’s talk a bit about the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the "Vale-Tudo" (Anything Goes) Championship that your brother Royce won in March of this year. What do you feel as the trainer when Royce is up there? Did you want to be in his place at any moment?
RG: Royce is a great fighter and needed this opportunity to acquire more experience and personality in the ring, because he’d never had the opportunity to show himself as a professional fighter. I think that h trained very strongly and at no time did he feel trapped. In relation to entering in the ring, I would like to, as I am the number one representative of the family. In terms of business, of strategy, it is much better to save myself and wait for a larger prize, or for a challenge under different conditions.
TRIP: How do you see the Vale-Tudo? Is the idea to see who the boss is? – who is the best?
RG: I think that the Vale-Tudo is the greatest demonstration of efficiency in the field of sports The Vale-Tudo does not need to be violent. It is violent when no technique exists to win. The fighter who has technique, as you saw Royce in this event: he delivered few punches, gave a few blows to create space, but he was always looking for victory. He did not get hurt, he did not hurt anyone, and won the fights relatively easily. He was different than the other fighters who did not have the same technique, and who just attempted to break each other until one totally lost his breath.
TRIP: Why do you think no boxer accepts this type of challenge?
RG: A certain problem exists for the boxer. Jim Anderson, ranked tenth in the world in one of these so-called federations, made the mistake of entering the ring in gloves. His first fight was with my brother Royce, and he lost quickly. We asked why he had entered with gloves and he said he only knows how to box. If he had entered without gloves he could have broken his hands because he only knew how to punch; he did not know how to clinch or kick. I thought what he said made sense, but what impedes boxers from entering the Vale-Tudo is that they think they are at a higher level than the competition. They have a certain code of ethics from the Boxing Commission. Besides this, they make a lot more money in boxing than this type of fight. We will see if , when Mike Tyson gets out of jail, he will enter a Vale-Tudo. It would be a full house.
TRIP: Don’t you think this type of challenge is like asking a soccer player to compete at baseball, for example?
RG: I believe that each one has his sport. For example, Mike Tyson: I think that he is inarguably the best boxer in the world. Understand? I do not see anyone who can face him in the world of boxing. But one day I picked on him for having said he was the best fighter in the world. It is one thing to be the best boxer and another to be the best fighter. Since that day I began to look for him, saying I wanted to fight with him in all my interviews. He has to prove that he is the best fighter if he truly feels that he is, because I believe he is not. In relation to this, Jiu-Jitsu mixes all of the arts in an event that combines everything.
TRIP: Do you miss Brazil?
RG: I miss my friends. I miss the beaches of Brazil. But I do not miss the organization, in the human respect, of the quality of life at all.
TRIP: Do you still surf?
RG: I surf a lot here.
TRIP: How often do you surf?
RG: I always surf.
TRIP: How do you view the violence in Brazil?
RG: It is a very serious situation, not only because of the violence, but in the respect of it growing. The government has not done anything to try to modify this. A great majority of the children grow up without any attention, without any support, without any perspective of work, or of bettering their lives. They are potential criminals.
TRIP: The delegate Helio Vigio is a great friend of the Gracie family and is famous for ending the careers of bandits. How do you view his job?
RG: I like and really admire Helio Vigio. I think he is one of the few police officers that is not involved in competition. He is a man who loves his cause and respects his own ideology. For these same reasons, he runs the risk of dying at any moment when things go down.
TRIP: Are you religious?
RG: I am not religious, but I am a very spiritual person. I believe in God. I believe in spirit. I believe in energy. I believe in good vibrations. All my life I turn into devotion to God. And I also believe in spiritual immortality and the power of our own mind.
TRIP: A question from Tim (of Billabong). "In Brazil, in all of its factions, everyone knows you are the best in the world. What do you do to keep the quality of your training without being close to all of the black belts in Brazil?"
RG: The following happens: If you know the techniques you only need to worry about executing them at the right time, and be in good shape.
TRIP: That means you do your own training?
RG: Yes. I do not need anyone else to do my day-to-day training.
TRIP: Tim also asks: What are the indispensable qualities to attain the peak? Is it calmness? Is it force?
RG: Jiu-Jitsu is a fight which combines all elements and all virtues of being human. It is not a sport in which you need to only be physically adept, or agile, or coordinated; you also have to be mentally prepared, using your emotional control, your patience, your courage, and your conviction. That is to say, these are all factors that have to be combined. You cannot only attack; you cannot only be rough and forget the strategy of being calm and defending yourself at the right moment to later counter-attack. It is a combination of patience and aggressiveness, with a lot of harmony.
TRIP: The boxer Sydney Dal Rovere asks: "What is the origin of Jiu-Jitsu?"
RG: Jiu-Jitsu was born in India in 2000 B.C., and afterwards migrated to China and later to Japan. It was there that Jiu-Jitsu became a fighting sport among nobility and Japanese Samurais.
TRIP: Sydney asks why a confederation does not exist.
RG: There already is one. There is the Confederation of Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian confederation of Jiu-Jitsu, of which Carlos Gracie Jr. is the president.
TRIP: Otavio Rivolta asks: "Which is the reality: Jiu-Jitsu has changed, or it is in a transitional phase?"
RG: I think there was a change in Jiu-Jitsu in the area of competition. The people have forgotten that the objective of a fight is to finish the fight. Instead, people today maintain control of a fight for a victory through points or time. Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil today is geared toward gaining points. In a way this harms the movements, the finish holds, and applications of the techniques. The objective should be to compete rather than only to win. They grab sleeves of the kimono and with for the time to end…this limits Jiu-Jitsu to an explosion of force. If there is not a restructuring of the rules, Jiu-Jitsu will be lost with this.
TRIP: Jiu-Jitsu, in Japan, was the principal martial art until the 40’s. Afterwards they developed judo and karate, right?
RG: In the olden days, Jiu-Jitsu was the only art used by the Japanese. When the Japanese had swords, they fought to kill with the sword. But when they lost the sword, they fought to kill with their hands, using different techniques, but always with the objective of ending the fight. This is the purpose of Jiu-Jitsu, which has the denomination of a "soft art" – this is the literal translation of the word. This art was altered a bit. With the passing of time, with the war and invasion of the occidental world into the Japanese culture, the Japanese hid this superior art and began to export a sportier side to the occidental world. This is where judo, karate, and aikido come in: arts that are purely sport. The objective of these arts is not to kill your opponent but to gain points. Even Japan itself, in order to maintain itself competitively in sports in the international arena, forgot the old Jiu-Jitsu and began to enter into a type of training that was a lot more intense than that developed for the world. They completely forgot the traditional Jiu-Jitsu that has as its principal objective the victory over its adversary. And today I am certain that long ago Japan had already forgotten the Jiu-Jitsu that was made and developed by my family.
TRIP: It is funny, this tradition of the "soft art" for a fight that has killing the adversary as its objective.
RG: It is soft because it is based on the movements of leverage. It does not have brutality stamped on the movements used; the movements are "gentle."
TRIP: You said you trained in Japan in ’92. How was it?
RG: In 1992 I went to Japan with my best friend and sponsor, Sergio Zveiter. It was a dream I had, to visit the origin of martial arts in the world, and to challenge whoever wanted to fight with me. So that it did not seem like a joke, I took $400,000 in letters of credit and a letter from Roberto Marinho, the president of NEC in Brazil, presenting me. This was so that my talk would be on the level of any professional fighter. We were very well received in Japan and we used this influence to try and arrange a fight with the best professional fighting associations there. Nothing worked out because in no way did the Japanese want to bet. I was very deceived because it was something in my head: that the Japanese loved to fight; that they loved to bet – and I had sufficient money, so much that we made the greatest investment to go there, and it ended up that nobody wanted to fight. We only lost money for our expenses, but…
TRIP: Were you able to challenge Yakuza (the Japanese Mafia)?
RG: We went around to all the large martial arts academies, but nothing came about. We were unable to come into contact with Yakuza.
TRIP: What do you think about the negative image that the groups of Jiu-Jitsu fighters in Brazil have?
RG: When I was in Brazil, many people told me about the image Jiu-Jitsu was having: the image of gangs; "Jiu-Jitsu came here and ruined everything"; "the people of Jiu-Jitsu create problems, hit others." This image is totally contrary to the image that my family has preached. We are great fighters but we are people with a tremendous amount of respect for others. And when I see the name of Jiu-Jitsu involved in riots, fights, and disorder, I feel very betrayed. What I wanted was for a code of ethics to be created for the Jiu-Jitsu fighter. He would have to see himself as a defender of the law; a man who respects the law; respects others as he respects himself.
TRIP: Do you think about returning to Brazil?
RG: In the future, I have plans to buy a ranch in Brazil and live in the countryside. There is the climate, the fruits, and things that I cannot live without. I really miss them.
TRIP: How do you see Jiu-Jitsu in the future? As a universal art?
RG: I believe Jiu-Jitsu will unify all martial arts. For a fighter to feel complete, he needs to have the vision that the Jiu-Jitsu fighter has: of being able to expect whatever problem, whatever surprise. He has to be able to adapt to any situation that may appear. The Jiu-Jitsu fighter is always ready in this way. A boxer and a karate fighter cannot adapt to variation.
TRIP: And what are the greatest difficulties in reaching this objective?
RG: Human material and time. We do not have many qualified Jiu-Jitsu instructors today to expand the art as it should be. It is growing, and I think we will get there, but we need time.
TRIP: How would you like to be remembered?
RG: I am not thinking about being remembered, for now…