“Interview with Rorion Gracie,” by James Williams and Stanley Pranin

Few martial artists, whether in the United States or abroad, have not heard of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The ability of the Gracie brothers to work successfully against fighters of many various styles is exceptional. Even more impressive is the fact that they seldom seriously injure an opponent, even one who is obviously attempting to cause them harm. The Gracies’ soft, blending approach has much in common with aiki, yet they have avoided the temptation to make their style harder in order to deal with actual conditions, either in the ring or on the street.

I first came to know the Gracie family in the late 1980s. My brother-in-law, Chris Poznik, had begun training with the Gracies and spoke highly of their style of Jiu-Jitsu. [Note: We have used “Jiu-Jitsu” as the spelling of “jujutsu” in this article as it is the preferred spelling of the Gracie family] Chris and I had wrestled in college together and I respected his opinion. Determined to find out just what these Brazilians had that was so special, I made an appointment for a private lesson. At the time the dojo was in the garage of Rorion Gracie’s home. I found Rorion to be about my height, slender and very polite. The ensuing session convinced me of the viability of the Gracie system. The fact that I was bigger and stronger, with extensive wrestling and martial arts experience, did not prevent me from ending up in several submission holds. Most of the time I had no idea how I had placed myself in the predicament. While I sweated and strained, Rorion remained calm and polite. His breathing never seemed to change. When the session was done I was quite impressed both with the practicality and sophistication of the art as well as the calm courteous demeanor of Rorion. As I bowed to him to end the class I was surprised to hear him say, “No, no, James. We are both men here. You don’t bow to me.” A firm handshake ended the lesson.

Over the years I have found this unique style of Jiu-Jitsu to be interesting in many different respects. All of the brothers that I have met and worked with, Rorion, Rickson, and Royce (with whom I have spent the most time), have been polite and self-effacing, never making a big deal of their abilities. It wasn’t until 1994 when taking photos for this article with my friend Toby Threadgill that I found out where this attitude and demeanor originated.

Helio Gracie is the patriarch of the Gracie clan. At eighty-two years of age and 138 pounds, he is still a force to be reckoned with on the mat. Instead of the assertive ego that is so frequent in martial artists of his caliber, Helio is a polite, soft-spoken, humble man who still gets on the mat and teaches students on a regular basis. Working with Mr. Gracie and observing him interact with his students and his sons, one is struck most strongly by the man as a whole. His physical health and attitude are excellent, the consequence of living his life as a warrior with a soft, blending Jiu-Jitsu approach and adhering to an exceptional diet developed by his older brother, Carlos.

I can speak from personal experience about the effects of this holistic approach to life. During a sparring session with Royce preceding Ultimate Fighting Challenge IV, I was admonished by Mr. Gracie, who was coaching the session, to take better care of myself. Considering who the advice was coming from and the fact that after the first twenty minutes of the session I was beginning to fatigue, I decided to take his advice to heart.

After the session I asked Rorion for a copy of the Gracie diet and some brief instruction on how to implement it. The results have been significant. I achieved a radical reduction in body weight that has resulted in improved health, flexibility and endurance. My ability to perform in a combative setting has also improved significantly. Few people these days approach their martial training in such an all-encompassing manner as the Gracie Clan. Jiu-Jitsu is not so much what they do as who they are. Their approach is more reminiscent of the classical bushi than many styles that claim descent from the arts of the samurai. However, for the Gracies, this classical mind set is cultivated on the inside and only becomes apparent when you begin to look deep into their art and personal characters.

–James Williams

The following is an edited version of two transcripts of interviews of Rorion Gracie conducted by James Williams and Stanley A. Pranin of Aikido Journal in the fall of 1994.

Aikido Journal: Who first brought Japanese Jiu-Jitsu to Brazil?

Esae Maeda. As a matter of fact, he came to Brazil around 1914. I think his trip was a reward for winning a championship or something like that in Japan. This was before the Japanese immigrant colony came to Brazil. My grandfather Gaston was a politician and a scholar at the time. He helped the Japanese champ get established in Brazil and, to show his gratitude, Maeda started teaching Jiu-Jitsu to my grandfather’s oldest son, my uncle Carlos, who was the eldest of five brothers. That is how the Gracie family first got involved in the art of Jiu-Jitsu.

My uncle was eleven years older than my father. He passed away last October at age ninety-two. I’m sure he’s in good hands. He was the oldest of eight children, five of whom were boys.

How did your father Helio become involved in Jiu-Jitsu training?

My father was the smallest of the five brothers and physically frail. He would often faint when doing any physical activity. He was actually told by his doctor to avoid any kind of exercise, so he used to sit on the side of the mat watching my Uncle Carlos teach classes. He did that for a couple of years. One day, when he was sixteen years old, a student showed up for class, but Carlos was not around and my father said, “My brother is not here, but if you want, I can go through the techniques with you. I’ve been watching for so long I know what I’m doing.”

My father went through the moves with the student. He was so excited, so determined, so enthusiastic about pleasing this student that the guy picked up the vibes. The student was really happy with my father’s enthusiasm for the whole thing. When my uncle showed up for the class and apologized for being late, the student said, “I’ve had a class with your brother and if you don’t mind from now on I’ll continue having classes with him.”

How did your father establish his reputation in Brazil?

Helio (on top) and Rorion Gracie (on bottom) training together

When my father was growing up in Brazil he challenged everybody and his victories were all the more impressive because he was physically so unimposing. He is only 5’8″, 140 pounds. People didn’t expect much of him in a fight and would go crazy when he won. The biggest selling point for Jiu-Jitsu was the fact that he did not have a lot of physical strength. If a large man wins, it’s no big deal. Everyone thinks that the best fighter in the world is the world heavyweight boxing champion. They idolize such a man, but in the process they diminish themselves. You can’t be sad because you are not 6’4″, 220 pounds. You have to do what you can with what you’ve got. The fact that my brother Royce is not a big, strong guy is a wonderful selling point for our method of Jiu-Jitsu because the average guy says, “Hey, look at what that skinny guy is doing! I can do the same thing!”

From the time that my father taught his first class my uncle Carlos practically retired from teaching. Carlos was about twenty-five years old and that’s when he started studying the diet and managing his brothers. My father Helio is the one who actually masterminded what we call now Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Initially he taught the traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu that he had learned by watching my uncle. In time, through trial and error, he kept polishing the art and made it more refined. He made it a more workable tool so that he could become more proficient himself.

The movements and chokes you see in judo and other Jiu-Jitsu practitioners are basically the same ones we do. If you were to take a picture they would look the same. The Japanese applied the choke like this [demonstrates a choke]. My Dad realized that if you push both hands, close your hands, turn your wrists, and extend your chest, you don’t have to use as much strength. So it’s the same choke but you put him to sleep easier. It required less strength from the person who is applying the technique. He could do the techniques instead of muscling. The techniques that we have in Jiu-Jitsu were not invented by my father. He never claimed to do that. What he did was make the art a little more accessible to the weaker person. My father did not invent Jiu-Jitsu, but he was the one who publicized it in Brazil. Everybody who does Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil has directly or indirectly learned from him.

So, then what is Gracie Jiu-Jitsu?

That’s a very important question. I’m glad you asked. Jiu-Jitsu is the teaching method developed by my father. This teaching method is so efficient that it does not require speed, strength, or coordination. This is why I have a registered mark ® on the name Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

You mentioned that your father needed to be able to defend himself.

In Brazil one could encounter dangerous situations every day. My father had to find a way to save his neck every day. It was like sharpening his blade on a daily basis. When students come here to the Gracie Academy to learn self-defense, their reasons may vary. Some want to get in shape or to lose weight or to become more limber, or because they like martial arts or they like the philosophy of different styles. Their reasons don’t really matter to us. My only objective is to prepare the student to defend himself on the street. That’s the focus of our way of teaching.

What about breathing? Gracie Jiu-Jitsu practitioners have extremely good breath control.

Breathing is also the result of practice and conditioning. In training you learn to breathe. You train without losing the timing of your breathing. You accomplish this by remaining relaxed. But in order to be relaxed you have to have learned the basic elements. If you don’t know how to swim and you tell the person in the pool, “Look! Relax!” he can’t do it, so you have to first teach the person how to swim. Then he can relax. Otherwise it won’t work, so the breathing goes with that. You have learned the technique so you know you can relax because you have the moves already pretty much planned. You know what you’re doing, therefore there is no urge to tense up and use muscular strength. You have to have confidence in the technique.

Do you use kata or forms to practice?

You can do the movements by yourself. I can go on the mat now and workout by myself. For example, I can pretend I am passing the guard or working on the mount position—I could do the whole thing. You could practice everything alone, but it is much more practical to do Jiu-Jitsu with somebody else. When we roll around we can do it very smoothly.

Everything you do is in relationship to your opponent, which makes it easier to naturally respond to whatever is happening. You have the opportunity to adapt and change as the fight is going on. Being relaxed and being more sensitive to all the different opportunities makes a big difference. You have more opportunities. If you are strictly a puncher and kicker and you miss or can’t drop your opponent with that perfect punch, he may get hold of you and that could be bad news! Ultimately, what counts is knowing that most fights will end up on the ground and being prepared for it.

What is the grading system like in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu?

For adults there are white, blue, purple, brown and black belts. For children: white, yellow, orange, green, brown and black. It takes about ten years to become a black belt. But a black belt is not a person who knows more technique. He is a person who is more sensitive to the application of the basic techniques.

So it doesn’t mean a student knows more technique or that he’s faster. It means that he has more awareness of what he is doing?

Yes, a person who has taken forty classes knows everything I know. He doesn’t have the execution that I have, but he knows the same moves.

It seems that your art is a part of your lifestyle. It engenders a soft, aware approach to life.

Yes, my philosophical beliefs combined with my diet and Jiu-Jitsu give me the confidence to deal with my life in a very positive way. A lot of people think all they need is to buy my instructional videotapes. But they forget that you can’t get the person into a choke unless you can get control of him from the top, all the way down, to put him in a position to be choked. They don’t want to go through the basics. They want to go right to the end.

We don’t win the fight with the techniques that we want. As we roll around, the opponent gives us openings. He tells us what technique he wants to lose the fight with. He says with his actions, “Here’s my arm!,” and we take his arm. We create a chaotic situation for the opponent who, out of desperation, offers opportunities. We take whatever he gives.

I know diet plays a very important role in your lifestyle. It goes with your flexible, aware mental attitude and flexible body.

Yes. The idea of our diet came first from my uncle. He was somewhat of a self-taught nutritionist. He never went to school or got a degree or anything like that, but he studied with many different experts and he came up with his own conclusions on the subject. Everybody in the family pretty much followed his diet. Many students and friends have benefited from it.

He started developing the concepts of the diet because in the old days there was always a fight going on. It wasn’t like now where fights, tournaments, or competitions are organized and planned. People would come in and say, “Look, I’ve heard about you guys and I want to fight!” Things happened on a daily basis. We’ve got to pretty much be ready to go at any time. For example, if you have a fight tomorrow, and you wake up with a major stomachache or a toothache or a headache, your performance is not going to be the same. A healthy diet is priceless.

I believe there are no diseases, only sick people. What happens is a body becomes weakened at its weakest part. It’s like a rope breaking at its weakest point. Some people never have headaches, but they have continuous stomachaches. Other people eat a lot of junk and never have stomachaches, but always have headaches. Some people can eat all kinds of junk and say, “Look! I’m thin. I don’t gain weight.” But they suffer from something else. It affects people differently. The concept is to combine foods so that when they are chemically mixed inside the body, they do not become acidic. It is an anti-acid type of diet which is easy to digest. We call it the Gracie Diet.

Do you eat much meat?

I personally don’t eat meat. But meat is okay in the diet. Royce eats a little meat, but mostly he eats fish and chicken. I personally am mostly vegetarian/frugatorian. I eat fish once in a great while. When I go to a restaurant, I might order rice with fish and vegetables, for example.

Do you drink at all?

No, no alcohol. I might have three glasses of wine per year. But, my theory is that if you are going to drink anyway, at least eat right. If you are going to be involved in a sporting kind of life, be aware that alcohol will affect you in the long run. But if you are forty-four or five years old and are not competing professionally, it won’t be so damaging to you!

Part Two published iand Aikido Journal #106

AJ: Would you describe how it was that you came to America?

Rorion Gracie: I first came here in the late 60s. I was seventeen or eighteen years old. Then I went back to Brazil and stayed there for a couple of years, but I started missing California very much. So I came back again for a few more months, then returned to Brazil and entered law school, then graduated after five years. I never practiced law, but I have a bachelor’s degree. At the same time while going through college, I also got married in Brazil, had two kids, and got divorced. I felt I had to go back to the United States. In the late 70s, at twenty-seven, I decided it was a perfect time for me to go back. The Gracie family is popular because during the 1930s my father was the first Brazilian sports legend. He had taught people from all walks of life including a former Brazilian president, state governors, and others.

Coming here and starting out from scratch with nothing but self-confidence was a challenge I had never had in Brazil. There I was born famous. Everyone was there to help us. We never had to stand in lines. We just went around and got in everywhere for free. The Gracie name was a tremendous door-opener. It was different from being the family of a politician since a politician may be very liked by some people and hated by others. But because my father was a sportsman, everyone regarded him as a national hero.From my previous trips to the United States I knew there was no teaching method that came close to the kind of Jiu-Jitsu we do. I was looking for adventure and wanted to start something here. The Jiu-Jitsu here was taught quite differently and was not very popular at all. I came here and spent the first ten years really struggling. I had to do everything from panhandling to sleeping on the beach. I was absolutely broke. Of course, nobody knew of the Gracie family. I got myself a house and made a couple of friends. We put a mat in the garage and every person I met I brought to the house for a free introductory class.

Everyone, of course, fell in love with the art. Then I started teaching a few classes here and there while cooking hamburgers, working in construction and cleaning houses.

I ended up getting a job as an extra in the movie business when I started doing some cleaning chores for people. I was cleaning the house of a lady whose husband was then an assistant director for the “Starsky and Hutch” series. She said, “How come you’re not in the movie business? Since you’re from Brazil, you’re an unusual type.” I expressed an interest in the idea so her husband took me to a casting office. I ended up getting the job and I did everything from “Fantasy Island” to “Hart to Hart.” I worked as an extra on many different television shows for ten years.

A production assistant for the movie “Lethal Weapon” had seen one of my fights against a kickboxer. The script had a big fighting scene and the director needed a fight coordinator. The man who had seen me told the director: “Look, you’ve got to meet this guy. He’s the best.” So the director hired me to choreograph the fight and teach Mel Gibson and Gary Busey for “Lethal Weapon I.” A couple of years later I worked with Rene Russo on “Lethal Weapon 3.” I not only trained her, but also when it came time for the fight scene, they hired me as a stunt man.

As I said, for the first ten years I was teaching Jiu-Jitsu in the house. I had about one hundred and twenty students coming to the house and eighty people on a waiting list. We couldn’t handle the number of students anymore, so we moved to our present location about mid-1990. Of course, success breeds competition, so now you have many people claiming to teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and have been trained by the Gracies. Everybody comes in from Brazil hoping to work with us, but my standards are very high. They say, “Gosh, you’re just like your father. Everything has to be exactly right; everything has to be perfect!” So they do their own thing and go on misleading the fans and the public who want to learn the Gracie method. It’s very easy for these imitators to say, “Oh yeah, I’ve trained with so-and-so who’s trained with a Gracie,” even though they are not certified by the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy.

So now all of those people claim to have some kind of involvement with the Gracies because that’s their claim to fame. That’s a good way to fool the public. There are a whole bunch of these guys who may be black belts but they don’t have any teaching training. That’s why these people can’t stand to work with me because I’m too picky in the way I want classes to be taught. It has to be one way. If they’re not willing to teach the way I want it, which is to do what is best for the student, I can’t work with them because my goal is not to get money from students. My goal is to help students and money is a consequence of my work. It’s not the reason for my work. That’s why I’m starting a certification program. I’m training instructors now. I do not endorse anyone who is not certified by the Gracie Academy.

The same kind of thing has happened with ninjutsu and aikijujutsu.

There are a lot of American Jiu-Jitsu associations and international organizations. That doesn’t impress people much. They want to somehow be connected with the word “Gracie”—the Gracie family name. The reason for this is that the Gracies are willing to back up their claim about the effectivenss of their art. Royce is winning open championships and defeating bigger opponents.

Do you have any other brothers here?

Yes, Relson. He’s teaching at the University of Hawaii and Rickson is also in California.

You and the Gracie family have proved that your mental and physical approach works in the real world. Your dad still teaches some classes, I understand. At age eighty-two, it’s really wonderful to be able to do these things. Do you have a family?

Yes, I have a wife, four boys and three girls.

Will your daughters be brought up with Jiu-Jitsu, too?

Yes, I think it’s great for the girls. My wife’s father was a sheriff and she used to work at the sheriff’s department sometimes, taking police reports. She used to read about women being attacked by guys with a knife and raped and this and that. She had nightmares of being attacked by a someone with a knife. When we went began dating I taught her some Jiu-Jitsu. Then she would use the techniques she had learned in her dreams and see herself defending against a guy with a knife. She never had nightmares again.
In my mind the real value of martial arts is being able to eliminate fear. To be able to let go of fear and grow as a person is a lot more important.

I don’t know if you can eliminate fear, but you can control your fears. People ask about the philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu. As a teacher I want to give you the confidence that you are not going to get beat up. If you come to feel that you’re now better than you ever were physically speaking, that you have the means to defend yourself to the maximum, then you’re ready to accomplish anything.

You have an fascinating approach to choosing names for your children.

I believe that names have a certain influence on people. Take the name John. There are great Johns out there and not so great Johns. I believe that not only does the name have an influence on the individual, but also, even more specifically, some letters are stronger than other letters. That’s the reason I use “R” so much. Beyond the idea of choosing names with strong letters, we also try to come up with names that are original. Therefore, the person is not influenced by the already existing aura of the name. So, for example, not only does my name “Rorion” begin with the letter “R”, but also there is no other Rorion. The name is in effect the constellation of Orion with an “R”. That’s where the name came from. I guess my parents had high hopes for me.

For example, when naming by son Ryron, I was not only thinking of a different name, but also of “iron.” The kid turns out to be very strong—as strong as iron. For Rener I was thinking of inner strength, one who has true intellectual strength. So I was thinking of inner, enner, Rener. Later, I read a book about a sheik. The sheik’s name was Malik. He was very smart and very strong. That was the origin for the name of my son Ralek—always an “R”. When my daughter Segina was born I was thinking of chosing a name with an “R,” but my wife Suzanne, who’s got a name with an “S” said, “Come on! It’s a girl. I want to name her with an “S” like me. I said, “Great, a girl with an “S”, but find a name that is unique, which doesn’t exist, and has got some meaning to it. So we thought of “sage,” “wise one,” and came up with Segina. So Segina is her name, but the essential word is “sage” and, boy, is she special!

When Reylan, our youngest boy was born, it took about six months to name him. In Portuguese, “re” is king and then “land” is “land” so I thought of “Reylan” without the “d.” For the the record, my children are Ryron, Rener, Ralek, Segina, and Reylan. From my first marriage I have two daughters, Rose and Riane.

In your dojo, I’ve noticed that unlike in Japanese dojos, you don’t bow. You advocate a philosophy of mutual respect and courtesy.

I think Japanese bowing is understandable because it’s a cultural thing. In Japan, people on the street or in restaurants see each other and bow. We don’t have that here. I think people, especially a lot of martial arts instructors, like to be looked up to as more important than their students, so they have them bow to show respect. I don’t think that is appropriate. On the contrary, it is I who must bow to my students because if it wasn’t for them coming in every day, I couldn’t operate this school.

It’s strange if you bow to me as you walk into the class, then beat the daylights out of me, and walk out and bow again. Something is not right!

I would like to ask you to talk about the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu “open challenge” to all comers. In this context, what is your view of the value of other martial arts?

First of all, we believe that all martial arts are good. They all have good, strong points about them. Some have more than others, but they all have good things about them. If you trace back to the roots, all the masters, regardless of what style, have themselves challenged people to prove how good their beliefs were. They went in and said, “Look, I’ll fight anybody! I believe so much in what I do.” In the early days, to establish their name and the reputation of each of those styles, there were people challenging everybody else. When my dad and the Gracie family got involved in Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, there was capoeira, a style that had its origins in Africa. There were boxing and wrestling, too. So there were styles already established as “effective self-defense systems.” The only way the Gracies could bring their art to the attention of the public and show its techniques was to offer an open challenge to anyone for a match. This is not to put down a discipline like boxing. A perfect punch will knock me out like that. There’s no question that boxing is something that does work. However, we felt we had something that was more complete. Boxing is good for punching, but it is vulnerable to an opponent who may be bigger, heavier and stronger and succeeds in grabbing you and throws you on the ground. The “Gracie challenge” is not to put down the other martial arts. That’s not the idea.

The idea is to say, “Look, you believe in what you do. I believe in what I do.” I want to teach my students something and go to sleep at night knowing that I’m not fooling them. So it is a question of professionalism. It’s a question of self-respect. My dad put his name on the line at 140 pounds against anybody and everybody. It was not a matter of saying, “Hey, I’m a bad ass! I’ll beat everybody!” But rather, “Look! I believe so much in what I do that even though I’m small I’m willing to fight anyone!” Like he did with Masahiko Kimura who was eighty pounds heavier. It’s sort of like David and Goliath, to show that your faith will carry you through.

That’s the bottom line. But some people see the Gracies as cocky and boastful. They say we are bad guys. The truth is that we are confident. The opposition does not have the humility to say that their style is good but lacks the grappling aspect. If they admitted it, it would make them even more respected by everybody.

Do you feel that you have achieved what you hoped to achieve in terms of recognition of the validity of your system?

Absolutely, it’s taking off. It’s unstoppable now! More importantly, we have made the whole world realize the importance of ground fighting.

Let me ask you something about the competitions the Gracies have participated in. I saw the videotape of one of the Ultimate Fighting Challenge matches, in which your brother Royce competed. Many people will measure a fighting system, not by what goes on the street, but by what happens in a ring. In other words, the winner is judged to be the superior fighter. But in one sense a ring is quite far removed from reality. You have a ring, for example, where a competitor can tap out to acknowledge his defeat. Such matches are certainly very demanding physically and mentally, but this is quite different from being in a street situation where your life is in danger. I don’t think anyone has ever died in one of these tournaments.Not in this kind of tournament.

I wonder then, does Gracie Jiu-Jitsu approach competition and a real situation in a different way?

No, we would use the same techniques in a survival situation in the street.

How would you adapt it to, say, a multiple-attack situation?

Basically, I don’t believe one person can fight two people effectively. Strategically speaking, Jiu-Jitsu strongly stresses and addresses grappling. We push for grappling because we believe most fights are going to end up on the ground. But I am not going to try to go the ground if I’m fighting two guys.

Of course, I don’t want to grapple with one guy and let the second guy kick me in the head. I’m going to try to stay away from the guy on the outside, keep the guy from standing up and, hopefully, have a chance to throw one down and be ready for the second one, like anyone else would do. The bottom line for me, though, is even though I’m going to try to do this, it’s not guaranteed that I will be able to keep the two guys at bay. If you have two karateka, kung fu exponents, or boxers fighting against each other, they will likely end up in a clinch. But that’s not their expertise. They are going to end up on the ground without knowing what to do. By having Jiu-Jitsu, at least I know what to do when I get to the ground.

That answers my question. In that particular situation, then, you would not use the same strategy as you would in the ring.

Of course not, I’m from Brazil, but I’m not stupid!

What about those living in a city like Los Angeles? Probably the average citizen is more afraid of an attacker armed with a weapon than of somebody punching them.

Yes. This is why even though I’ve been doing Jiu-Jitsu some forty years, I also have a gun. We have some techniques for all situations where you are bare-handed against an assailant with a weapon. In fact in my next series of videotapes, “Gracie Street Self-Defense,” we show what to do if you are walking down the street and you are attacked by a guy in a headlock, or a bear-hug or with a club, knife or gun. These videos have been translated and are available in Japanese.

I remember especially a fight in Ultimate Fighting Challenge I that your brother Royce had with Ken Shamrock who represents the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s big, strong, aggressive, and he’s got technique. He goes right after what he wants. Shamrock is pulling on Royce’s leg in an attempt to control him. He doesn’t realize that he’s pulling on something that isn’t connected to Royce anymore. Royce has emptied the strength out of his leg by relaxing it and is improving his position without concern for the fact that his leg is still being held. It’s fascinating when you make a really good top martial artist make such basic mistakes.

Yes, because he’s not aware of the sensitivity that Royce has. He is looking for just one thing to chew on. He wants that thing. He doesn’t have the ability that Royce has. He plays with one arm while he catches it from the other arm. Before his match with Royce in Ultimate Fighting Challenge V, Shamrock practiced Jiu-Jitsu to increase his chances even though he didn’t publicize the fact. He fought Royce in a very defensive way, looking for a draw, which for him is like a victory. It’s shameful!

I observed your brother Rickson during his tour of Japan, I think in mid-1994, and, as I said, I saw the television tape with Royce competing in the Ultimate Fighting Challenge. Do you emphasize in any way or have any kind of special training for maintaining one’s calm? Or is that just a by-product of the actual physical training?

We want to be calm, but one is only going to be able to really be calm when he has the confidence to able to handle the situation he’s in. We remind students to relax and not to muscle their opponents. We stress this in private and in group classes. If a student does the right technique, he doesn’t have to muscle. As a matter of fact, if you have to use strength then you are not doing a proper technique.

I first heard about your Jiu-Jitsu system a number of years ago in the various martial arts magazines. But the information was presented in a sensational way. So when I saw the article I just put Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in that same category. Then I got some different input from some of my Japanese friends and I saw the tournament and began to have a very different perspective. From observing Rickson and Royce in the ring and listening very carefully to the tape of your interview, I have seen that you lay great emphasis on cultivating humility. I think it is a very natural part of your lifestyle. It’s useful in social interactions as well. You could even regard a humble attitude as a frontline defense from one viewpoint.

Absolutely, I agree with that.

Now that you have amply demonstrated the validity of the Gracie system, are you then going to change directions and not emphasize the challenge so much?

Now there is the open fighting championship. It’s not just matches against Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, but anybody who believes in what they do. It’s time to show the world. With the open fighting championship, there is a venue where anyone who says his style is the strongest can go and fight. Jiu-Jitsu didn’t win the last tournament. Anybody can go in there and win. Martial artists have to believe in what they do and send somebody there to fight or go themselves and fight. It doesn’t mean that Royce Gracie is going to win everytime. People say all the time that the Ultimate Fighting Challenge is rigged, that I promote it to make sure that Royce is going to win easily. This is not true. We saw that in the last championship. Furthermore, with the television requirements for timed fights and the increase of rules which keep pushing the UFC away from the original concept, I decided to sell my interest in it. I’m no longer the promoter.

Would you tell us more about your videotapes?

A lot of people are of the viewpoint that if we put our techniques on videotapes, the whole world will buy them, learn the techniques and come to challenge us.

I really debated whether I should teach Jiu-Jitsu through the tapes or just hold the knowledge within the family, in order to keep winning fights as we’ve done for sixty-five years. It would be nice to say, “Let’s keep winning. Let’s not teach anybody. Let’s just beat everybody all the time forever!” But, on the other hand, I understand what my father accomplished through Jiu-Jitsu. It’s done so much for him, a very frail kid, weighing only 140 pounds. Jiu-Jitsu transformed his life, and mine, too. It gave me the confidence to come from Brazil at seventeen with nothing, have a hard beginning, panhandling in the streets, and build an organization that has gradually grown bigger and bigger internationally. I felt it would be selfish to keep it for myself. It’s too important not to be shared!

I believe that my mission in life is to perpetuate the teaching method that my father developed. I must spread the knowledge and have millions of people learning and saving themselves in back-alley fights. I have to reach people all over the world, which I’d never be able to do without the videotapes.It’s like being in the middle of a desert with a bucket of water and saying, “Look, it’s ten bucks a glass. You don’t pay, you don’t drink!” I can’t let people die because they don’t have any money. I can’t do that. I have to give the water away. Besides, if our opponents ever learn enough Jiu-Jitsu to defeat us, I will have accomplished my mission.

What, if any, concessions do you make to age?

I’m in my forties and my father is eighty-two and still practicing. Jiu-Jitsu becomes something that one does throughout their entire life.

Do you stop competing in the open challenge after you pass a certain age? Are you still competing?

Like in any physical sport, your performance will go down as you get older. I’m very busy with the business end of the academy right now. Of course, if you are going to be at a competition level, it requires a certain amount of time dedicated to training every day, which I don’t have. You have the same technique you did before, but you might not have the reflexes as a result of lack of training. In my case, I’m busy with other projects. They say life starts at forty, and I’m just starting to realize that.

So now I’m looking, higher up the mountain, and I can see much further. If I drop everything else and concentrate only on fighting, I could be competing today. There’s no reason why not. When my father was forty-two or three years old, he fought one of the longest fights in history—three hours and forty-five minutes non-stop! George Foreman just won the world boxing championship. So it’s doable. But competition does demand a certain amount of stamina, endurance and training and I just don’t have the time to do that stuff anymore. I’m looking at other battles now. Plus, if I did the fighting, Royce would have nothing to do!

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  • An enlightening interview with someone who on the surface would seem to be quite opposite Aikido teaching. The article exposes a deeper truth: refined, disciplined training refines the spirit too. Clearly the Gracie method is exceptional and has proven itself. The Gracie Clan emphasizes the importance of competition in proving a martial art worthwhile. In Aikido we have to internalize our training, ever mindful of details and the spirit of kaizen and train authentically with honest partners. Real tests are rare even for those of us who work or worked in a field where the opportunities for direct conflict were abundant daily. Using our training to avoid physical conflict is usually best. Being confident in our method as an effective martial art gives us that distinctive bearing and demeanor which attackers perceive and usually avoid. Aikido must continue to be taught as an effective martial art.

  • I think it’s wrong to post this interview without showing how this further perpetuates the gracie “cult”. A disclaimer on how helio gracie wasn’t a frail man and how the message rorinon shows to this day only further deifies his father, is important.