Royler Gracie and Rickson Gracie. Kid Peligro photo.
Many words have been printed about Rickson Gracie. Most being inadequate to the task of truly describing the man or his Jiu Jitsu. Many have tried. Two black belts who recently were able to attend a seminar given by Rickson at the famed Gracie Academy may have come the closest.
It’s easy for our generation of up and coming competitors to forget our Jiu Jitsu forebears. Many competed before the Campeonato Mundial de Jiu-Jitsu was even a thing and their games were very different from the Jiu Jitsu seen in today’s competition. But that doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from it. On the contrary, in many ways we need the previous generation to bring many of us back to what Rickson Gracie calls “the essence of Jiu Jitsu.” In order to further this need Rickson gave a rare seminar in Torrance, California.
Even more rare was the fact that this seminar marked the reconciliation between Helio Gracie’s sons, Rickson and the elder Rorian, who had drifted apart once the came to the U.S.A. due to bad blood and legal issues. Combined, the sons of Helio Gracie represent arguably the most significant force in the development of Jiu Jitsu in America yet having them all in the same room is something few would have thought possible.
Thankfully both Andreh Anderson and “Little” Tony Pacenski were in that room and were able to share their impressions of the event. While Anderson attempts to describe the principles shared, Pacenski seems to evoke the atmosphere of the seminar. Excerpts of their write-ups are below, please read the rest at their respective sites.
Rickson. Bianca Maria Garcia Photo.
Rickson Gracie stands at the center of the enormous Gracie Academy mat and begins to share. I choose the word share over teach because one gets the feeling immediately that the information he’s transmitting is the essence of his jiu-jitsu—the art that defines him. He isn’t phoning in a series of random techniques to amaze us, he’s letting us in on the very thing that makes his jiu-jitsu the envy of perhaps every world champion that’s rolled with him—he calls it connection.
I don’t know whose arm is around my neck, but I perform a technique I just saw Rickson demonstrate. I execute the move immediately and turn to find that my attacker is a broadly smiling Rorion Gracie. He pats me on the back and asks me to do it again. He’s noticeably enthusiastic about the material and our exposure to it. He’s pleased and I’m relieved when I repeat the movement correctly. There’s always pressure wearing a black belt and having a Gracie family member—a red belt no less—ask you to perform a technique. I thank him for his help, and when his back turns I scurry over to a group of blue belts that seem to have an odd man out. The technique was a way to lift an attacker who has reached around your neck from behind without committing his weight either forward or backward. Without the benefit of his weight falling into you, lifting is difficult. Rickson shows us to bend at our hips the way we would if we were sitting into a deep chair, and then walk backward to get our hips under our opponent’s center of gravity. In any other seminar, this might simply be a basic self-defense technique, but Rickson uses this to as an introduction to the idea that weight can be easier to move if approached from the correct angle. He’s talking about leverage—a word that is frequently tossed around in jiu-jitsu circles; but as Rickson calls black belt after black belt forward and none are able to lift their opponents the way he can, one begins to realize that the concept might be familiar to most of us, but perhaps not deeply understood.
Rickson whistles through his fingers and everyone stops to watch as he calls forward a black belt and asks him to keep his balance. Rickson then grabs his partner’s gi at the shoulder and tugs and pushes while the black belt falls forward then backward, clearly out of balance. The roles are then reversed and the black belt pushes and pulls, but Rickson’s steps forward and backward are small and balanced, and we begin to see how connectionis the a relationship between the attacker’s base and our own. Soon it’s our turn to push and pull each other. We begin with basic judo grips on each other’s lapels, and when my partner pushes, my weight transfers to my front leg, and when he pulls it transfers to my back leg. Fair enough—anyone who’s wrestled or trained in judo will be familiar with the shifting of weight from leg to leg—but Rickson points out that when you’re connected, there is a certain tension in the arms as well as the legs, and that allowing that tension to disappear is to give up the connection you have to your opponent. Keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to teach you how to throw or avoid being thrown—not specifically—it’s to demonstrate the interaction between connected and disconnected. The first time I grab my blue belted partner, he’s easy to move. He reflects a bit on what Rickson said, and his balance becomes better and I have to push or pull harder to get him to step. He pushes me and I feel the sense of balance that Rickson described. I don’t feel it perfectly, but I have a better sense of control over my base, even as my opponent begins to pull and push with more intensity. There isn’t a good way to describe this technically—at no time does Rickson provide you with a set of instructions to follow—because Rickson is trying to convey a feeling rather than a sequence. When we are connected, we shift our weight in a way that doesn’t give our attacker anything to use against us. Rickson spends more time on this exercise than on any other, and with good reason, for it shows how being connected allows your base to remain independent of your opponent’s actions, while his lack ofconnection allows you to manipulate his weight and posture. Continue Reading…
Rodrigo, Ralek, Rickson, Kron and Crosley Gracie. Kid Peligro Photo.
As I was driving to the Gracie Academy in Torrance, I was thinking how thankful I was to be given the opportunity to attend this seminar. All the people that are supporting me such as covering my jiu-jitsu classes, sending their praise to train with Rickson and everyone that played their part in getting me a spot at the sold out event. I drove thinking about how blessed I was to be living in Redondo Beach, California and how everything was two miles down the road. For years, I wanted to attend a seminar hosted by Rickson; however, topics such as not being part of his association, team politics and other circumstances played their part in me not attending. I was always so open to it.
When I started training Jiu-Jitsu in 1995, I was always told that Rickson Gracie’s personal expression of the art was the best in the truest form. The stories that were told about how generations of the very best black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu were submitted at Rickson’s academy or during his last visit to Rio were told year after year during my journey to black belt. Rickson to me would always be the best. During the short drive to the academy, I also thought that tonight he would not really show new techniques and really get to the heart of how a jiu-jitsu technique was really applied in application. Thoughts of my times with Helio Gracie, Rodrigo Mederios, Rorion Gracie, Royce Gracie, Relson Gracie and Saulo Riberio came to my mind in how a professor made me really see the easiest and most effective way to do something on the mat. Well the time was getting closer. Were this new generation of Jiu-Jitsu students, even the Mixed Martial Arts students or No-Gi grapplers really getting this excited about a seminar as I was now that Rickson lives in Brazil again? I can only hope that this generation and the next continue to understand how importance Rickson Gracie is to Jiu-Jisu.
I arrived one hour early to the seminar because I always feel a little part of home there due to my time in the instructor’s training program during 98 and 99. Ryron Gracie was the first to greet me at the door and told me the seminar was in another hour. I smiled and he told me to help out with the kids’ class. Off I went to go play with the little ones. Rener Gracie was had the full group in a circle as I bowed into the mat area. There were 30 different parents and family members being entertained by the class of 25 five to eight year olds from Kindergarten to third grade. I walked over to Rener and greeted him saying I was here to help. I took my place on the circle and noticed that one of the little ones looked familiar. It was my friend son from 98 in the instructor’s program. Teaching my friend’s son from the old instructor’s certification program felt like things went full circle as it sometimes does in Jiu-Jitsu. Rener taught an amazing class, and finally students started pouring in for the Rickson Gracie seminar. Continue Reading…