Friday, November 22, 2013

Rickson Gracie: Classic Q&A With the Legend of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Rickson Gracie: Classic Q&A With the Legend of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

by Robert W. Young
Photo courtesy of Black Belt – May 9, 2013

In the world of MMA, athletes come and go. Olympic wrestlers claw their way to the top, then sink to the bottom two months later when a clever kick lays them out cold. Tough young Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylists work their way up the ladder, then lose horribly to a street fighter with a strong overhand right. Yet one person never succumbed to those fates. While he competed, Rickson Gracie was a cork in the ocean of MMA. He took on the best opponents the sport had to offer, and he didn’t lose a single match. Presented below are some of the most interesting comments Gracie made during the numerous interviews he did with Black Belt.

When you’re considering taking a fight, what’s important to you?

Rickson Gracie:
Of course, money, location and opponent, as well as the size of the event. But mainly what I look for is an event that will show the sport as a beneficial and positive influence for others. I am concerned about how the event presents itself, the goal behind the fight and the values of the organizers. I believe the Zen aspect of the martial arts is very important — including respect among fighters and the way an event is run.

You want to be involved only with people who promote fighting in a positive way, not in a violent way?

Rickson Gracie:

Some Brazilians have told us violence is a big part of the jiu-jitsu scene in Brazil. They said the art’s status used to be very high there, but now people think it is just a tool of street thugs. Is that true?

Rickson Gracie:
Jiu-jitsu is the fastest-growing sport in Brazil because everybody wants to be a fighter. Many students now think they have to fight to prove themselves. They train at a jiu-jitsu school and go out to nightclubs to fight. That’s been a big problem for Brazilian society. It’s because a lot of gang members, tough guys and problem kids have jiu-jitsu techniques put into their hands, and they become like little supermen. They beat everybody, and they create a lot of problems. This is the negative side, the wrong use of the power of jiu-jitsu. Now in Brazil, people say, “Oh, anyone who trains in jiu-jitsu normally creates problems.”

But that’s not exactly what happens. Professionals who are involved in jiu-jitsu try to develop the positive side of the art. Only the people who study jiu-jitsu to cause trouble on the street bring this kind of bad image. But the police understand it’s not a jiu-jitsu thing; it’s a criminal thing. It’s the same as the way a lot of people use guns to commit crimes. Jiu-jitsu training gives a sense of power, and people sometimes use it the wrong way.

Have you noticed similar problems in the United States?

Rickson Gracie:
No, because it’s much harder here to solve disagreements by fighting. You can get sued, and the criminal-justice system is much more effective here. In the United States, if you make a problem, you definitely will pay for it.

Is it true that there’s a rivalry in Brazil between jiu-jitsu and luta livre?

Rickson Gracie:
Yes and no. Yes because you can say there’s even a kind of rivalry between jiu-jitsu and jiu-jitsu. We all compete with each other, but because we are practitioners of the same sport, this rivalry only goes to one level. Jiu-jitsu people don’t have that kind of thought for luta livre people. They don’t think, “I’d like to beat him, but he is a nice guy because he practices the same sport as I do.” Because it is only a similar sport, there is competition between jiu-jitsu and luta livre practitioners.

But things used to be much worse than they are. Now it’s more respectful, and the students are starting to compete together in important international events. Things will get better until the problem disappears.

Why has Kazushi Sakuraba been so successful against Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylists?

Rickson Gracie:
He doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s very calm … the kind of fighter who waits for you to make a mistake and then capitalizes on it. I saw fights where people kept pressure on him — like when he fought Kimo [Leopoldo] — and he got beat up pretty easily.

I saw fights where he didn’t really win — like with Royler [Gracie]. Sakuraba stayed outside and kicked Royler’s legs and punished him, and because of the weight difference, he got the advantage.

I saw him fight Royce [Gracie], and Royce had the advantage in the first rounds. And then he just got tired and could not keep the pressure on Sakuraba. He could not finish the fight before he got tired.

And I saw him fight Renzo [Gracie]: He was always very calm, waiting for Renzo to give him the space to create new options for himself.

Basically, Sakuraba’s not a destroyer; he’s not a guy who has a great expertise in anything. But he’s very smart and very tough. He’s not afraid of getting beat up, and he plays with the crowd and makes a mess in his opponent’s head.

How does a person acquire that kind of mindset? Could a fighter consciously develop his mind to use those same tricks?

Rickson Gracie:
I think you can develop that kind of mind, but some people are born with it. It’s just that in every match Sakuraba has won, it was not a victory he could put over his shoulders [to display]. Of course, he deserved to win — he’s a tough opponent — but he never made the victory. A lot of people allowed him to slip through their fingers. Nobody who lost to him says, “That guy is really good; he kicked my butt.”

So you don’t see much technique in Kazushi Sakuraba’s fights?

Rickson Gracie:
Of course he has technique, but I don’t see anything that impresses me. The mental aspect of his game is the most valuable possession he has.

Do you feel any pressure to fight Kazushi Sakuraba — to protect the Gracie name, if for no other reason?

Rickson Gracie:
I don’t feel pressure to fight anybody because I don’t have a commitment to myself to prove anything or to my family to protect the name. The family will always be respected. I don’t think winning one more time or losing one more time will shake it. But in my heart, I really think Sakuraba deserves to get beat because it’s like he’s lucky all the time. He’s just very slippery.

If you don’t fight him, who would have the best chance of beating him?

Rickson Gracie:
A simple fighter can beat Sakuraba if he gets the “enlightenment” he needs to get the mental and psychological elements to guide him through the fight. Sakuraba is not a great puncher or a great submission fighter. He just stays calm and takes advantage of the openings. And if another fighter is calm enough to wait for his shot and tight enough to not give spaces and lose the opportunity, he can win.

What is your current training routine?

Rickson Gracie:
I have two ways to train: One is when I’m just teaching and trying to maintain my level. The other way is when I’m preparing for a fight. That’s when I increase the intensity and the rest periods so I can recover and reach maximum performance.

When you’re not training for a fight, what does a typical day consist of?

Rickson Gracie:
It always has some kind of recreational activity — like surfing, bike riding or some kind of cardio. And then I teach and eventually spar.

Do you consider teaching a workout?

Rickson Gracie:
Yes. It’s not a very stressful workout or something I need to recover from, but I always break a sweat and get my blood circulating. I definitely get something from it.

Do you lift weights?

Rickson Gracie:
Sometimes prior to a fight, I exercise with weights.

Is most of your sparring grappling, or do you also practice stand-up?

Rickson Gracie:
I do a little bit of everything. But I always try to establish a purpose for my secondary training: to bring something to my abilities. I don’t try to be the best in every segment of the martial arts.

In a previous interview, you said you have no favorite technique — that you use the openings your opponent gives you. Is that still true?

Rickson Gracie:

Do you have a favorite way of ending a fight?

Rickson Gracie:
As quickly as possible. (laughs)

Spectators might not like that because they won’t get a chance to see a demonstration of Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques.

Rickson Gracie:
Yeah, that’s a problem. (laughs)

What effect has your family had on the status of Brazilian jiu-jitsu around the world?

Rickson Gracie:
There has been an explosion of jiu-jitsu. The exposure it has today is 100 times more than it had eight or 10 years ago. That has a lot of positive elements because Brazilian jiu-jitsu has such a good reputation and good credibility.

But there are also negative elements, such as when people think only of the effectiveness of jiu-jitsu so they can display their power and superiority. They don’t know that being a true warrior means you don’t need to beat people or prove you’re better. Because of them, some people think Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters are like animals who don’t understand the true martial arts. Personally, I am very concerned with balancing those two elements: the Zen aspect of the martial arts and the effectiveness of jiu-jitsu.

A few years ago, everyone thought Brazilian jiu-jitsu was unbeatable. But now some people are defeating the best Brazilian fighters. Has that affected the state of the art?

Rickson Gracie:
Always it is the individual that wins or loses. A fight is not won because of a technique or specific drill. It is won because of the physical, strategic, emotional and technical qualities of the fighter.

At one point, Brazilian jiu-jitsu was so unpredictable for other fighters that it was easy to win because no one knew what to expect. Now everyone knows. Now everyone trains in Brazilian jiu-jitsu — even if they are boxers or karate experts or wrestlers. They develop a sense of where the danger is, and that brings the fight to a higher level.

Fighters who practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu now have to develop their other senses: their [strategy], their heart, their emotional control. Sometimes those elements — if they have been developed so much during a fighter’s life — will allow even a guy who has not trained a lot in Brazilian jiu-jitsu to succeed without being technically superior. Now that the raw techniques of Brazilian jiu-jitsu are not a secret anymore, you have to prove yourself as a fighter in a more general way.

If a big wrestler on steroids acquires a basic understanding of jiu-jitsu — enough to avoid leaving his arm to be trapped in an armbar, for example — is that a great advantage for him?

Rickson Gracie:
Just being big and well-prepared is already a great advantage for him. That makes the smaller guy the underdog no matter what he does. I still believe it’s possible for the smaller guy to win because a fight is not decided by the prevention of one technique. He has to create a nightmare, create smoke, then all the elements must be pushed to the limits. Even if he gets tired and confused, he has to be able to make quick decisions because that’s when the opportunities start to pop up. It’s hard to win quickly against a tough opponent.

Do you think all MMA fighters — even those who deny it — train in jiu-jitsu?

Rickson Gracie:
They definitely have a sense of the positions they need to avoid, and to develop that physical sense they have to practice.

How do you plan on contributing to the rise of the sport after you retire? Will you start an event of your own?

Rickson Gracie:
Anything is possible. Right now, I don’t think about the day after tomorrow; I’m too busy thinking about today, about the projects I have going on now. But I do plan to be involved not just in Brazilian jiu-jitsu but also in the positive development of the martial arts. That’s my mission in life — to give people a sense of how the warrior spirit can make them more peaceful.

NOTE:  Copied from - Part 1 and - Part 2.

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