Gracie Jiu-jitsu's new path

Written by Liam H Wandi

If basketball has Jordan, and boxing has Ali, then jiu-jitsu has Rickson Gracie. Widely regarded as the greatest jiu-jitsu fighter of all time, the enigmatic Gracie is now at the forefront of a new governing body for the art that is set to embrace students, competitors and instructors alike. Fresh off the launch of the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation, Gracie gave an insight into his goals for the organisation and why he wants the BJJ community to step away from the ‘modern jiu-jitsu’ trends and go back to its roots.

Gracie in seminar mode.

Professor Rickson, what is your role within the new JJGF?

My role is that, with my current experience, I could identify the real problem we have to solve today. Then, I give my input and my ideas on how we can approach and address that. My partners, who are experts in the technological and corporate sides, will get together with me and try to build a platform where the message can be exposed and shared. We are working to achieve a very balanced federation between the technological and the business sides.

What would you say is the mission statement of the JJGF?

It’s service. Our mission statement is service because I think that’s the most important need, not only for the sport but also for the community.

Why now? Obviously the idea has been brewing in your mind for a while but why now in 2014?

It is a combination of factors. First of all, over the last seven years since I moved to Brazil, I have been travelling around the world teaching seminars and I can definitely feel the appreciation of the knowledge. A lot of Black-belts don’t have even basic principles of weight distribution, invisible power and leverage. Everybody has been motivated to play the sport and the sport has become a huge competitive element, but I feel like there is a need for people to understand the concepts.

I have 10 different seminars, progressive levels. If people are comfortable with level one, I will give them levels two, three and four. However, every time I got into a seminar, there’s approximately 200 people on the mat and at least half of them didn’t have the basic ideas from level one. Because of this, I ended up giving almost the same seminar over and over again, of course with a little difference.

I know you have mentioned in the past that you want the federation to become a meeting point for the jiu-jitsu community, very much like Facebook.

That’s right. Within the JJGF, we focus on three different pillars of work. The first one is the communication aspect — I feel like there is a need in the entire community to have access to general information where everything is in the same basket. The biggest associations today have their own circuits and their own champions, and they don’t mix with each other. The IBJJF has a good slice of the cake, NAGA has another, Grapplers Quest, Dream Jiu Jitsu, SEVEN, Copa Pacifica and US Open are others. [There are] so many different associations and federations doing tournaments these days and they have no relation with each other — this is creating a divide in the competitor community and doesn’t give them access to eventually look towards the Olympics. [We need to work] towards a premium, worldwide circuit, which would translate into a possibility of appearing on TV or bringing major sponsors into the game.

Based on that need, we need to come up with a lot of service in the communication aspect by creating a ‘Masters Council’ to get their active voice in the community. Also, creating a Facebook-like social media outlet for the community, so every fighter can have their own profile, download their own fights, and ask for their own sponsorships. There will also be forums so the community can ask and get answers from the masters from the council.

Jiu-jitsu is an evolving art and the way I feel about the current evolutionary process of jiu-jitsu is that it’s taking us in a very sportive direction and losing effectiveness in real life. So, in order for us to restore effectiveness, we have to work on the communication.

Talking about the competition aspect, I feel like if we don’t do anything, we’re going to lose our effectiveness. I love competition. I [used to] love watching the athletes fight, but in the last few years, I feel like 80 per cent of fights are very boring and very ineffective. I’m suggesting a change of rules to create more dynamic action, prevent the stalling and make the fighters fight more dynamically as they would fight on the street… I want to make them rethink the way they fight.

With the new rules, 90 per cent of the current champions won’t be happy because they’re used to fighting in a way I call ‘anti jiu-jitsu’. They create technical ways to diminish the motions and control the action to gain an advantage. Once they get the advantage, they sit back again and stall the fight in order to win the medal. While this is an easy way to the medal, it jeopardises our effectiveness as a whole. This is why we have to work in the communication and in the competition aspects, but most of all we have to work on education. We need to preserve the art and its philosophy.

Jiu-jitsu has been around for many years and we have had a few different federations, but why do you think we have had these problems arise? Where do these problems come from?

You know, I feel like it’s nobody’s fault. I feel like introducing advantages into the game, which is presented like half points but they’re not really points, started the problem. It’s like in basketball having a ball hit the ring and you reward the team for that. That would create a situation where the players don’t feel the need to learn how to score the ball in the basket anymore. Advantages were meant initially to help resolve grey areas but unfortunately they’ve created more grey areas… In order for us to restore effectiveness, which was part of our culture, we have to definitely make changes in the rules like cutting advantages and penalising stalling. By doing these two things, you’re going to see a completely different fight. They have to push to advance the position and attack the opponent. It brings a completely different action package that’s going to be better for the viewers, for the training and ultimately for the fighters. I really believe most of the existing champions aren’t going to be too happy with that but I’m trying to favour 85 per cent of the competitive community — the White- and Blue-belts — who, without knowing, are being misled into believing that they have to use these stalling positions to get the medal.

Without this intervention, in 10 years from now, jiu-jitsu will become something like taekwondo or sport karate, where there are great athletes with great, explosive expression of athleticism, but are far removed from effectiveness in real life.

Will the JJGF enforce or at least suggest testing for performance-enhancing drugs?

Of course. I think any governing body that does not oversee that aspect of their sport is making a huge mistake. I mean, it’s like showing up to F1 with a car that has a jet engine. Drug enhancement is forbidden in sports for a reason. So, to make our sport legit, we cannot close our eyes to this modern problem. The federation will have to play an active role in overseeing this and taking away all the bad apples so they don’t spoil the whole sport.

It sounds like you’re trying to create something bigger than yourself, something that can replace you in future?

Oh, man, you know that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. If I look back at my life, I did everything I could do to represent, to fulfil my students’ needs in order for them to become better as men, as competitors, as parents or whatever. I feel like I’ve been dedicating my life to jiu-jitsu and as my body is physically fading, the best contribution I could do is to create some kind of pattern of quality control for our product and our community, because what I see is our product being diluted and weakened. I see that as my last challenge, my last fight — it’s very fulfilling and very motivational. I feel like if I can accomplish half of what I’m thinking, I’ll be the happiest guy on earth.

Will the JJGF interfere with belt graduations at the club/school level?

No, we are not a dictatorship and I think leadership comes from having an open mind [and] trying to bring the people together by listening to and respecting their opinions and observations. We have a belt system with knowledge requirements within each belt centred on technique and reflexes, but again, we’re not in the game to forbid people from using their own standards for belt testing.

In your opinion, what makes a good instructor and what makes a great instructor?

A good instructor teaches the programme. The great instructor identifies what the student needs to learn and then teaches to fulfil those needs.

Will you still be doing seminars?

Yes. As my mission and dedication towards the federation becomes bigger, I will definitely diminish my physical seminars because, firstly, I’m not getting any younger, and my bones are complaining more and more. Secondly, because I can really achieve great work by spreading the art through this new tool. Of course, I’m always happy to be on the mat and fulfil people’s needs by being there and sharing techniques, but that’s not something I’d be focusing on.

Thank you very much, Master Rickson Gracie, for sharing your time and knowledge with our readers.

My pleasure. Thank you for your great questions and for having such a passion for jiu-jitsu. 

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