Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rickson Gracie FAQ

Taken from Sherdog Forums
Written by Donkey Kong

These things tend to disappear from the internet, so I thought I would archive them for Rickson fanboys like me (who isn't one?)

I wrote NONE of the below article. I only combined the Q&A to try and form a cohesive narrative


Who is Rickson Gracie?

Rickson is an 8th degree coral belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Son of Helio Gracie, and a former professional fighter with a record of 11-0 in MMA.

Why is he talked about so much?

There are a few reasons why Rickson is always being discussed. Overall it is a mixture of factors: the myth built around him, some controversies in his career, and the fact that his words have a huge weight in the jiu jitsu community in general. We will discuss all three in this FAQ and attempt to clear as many misunderstandings as possible.

Is he a mixed martial artist?

In one word, no. Although he competed in Mixed Martial Arts, he has never been a mixed martial artist. Rickson , as his brothers Rorion and Royce, were not raised and trained in sports jiu jitsu, but in streetfighting and self-defense oriented Gracie Jiu Jitsu, as taught to them by their father Helio.He refused to train in striking arts, keeping basically to jiu jitsu and other related grappling arts, such as Judo, Sambo, and Greco-Roman wrestling.

It must be said, however, that there is a river of difference between second and third generation BJJ fighters, taught by Helio or his sons until the beginning of the 90s, to the 4th and 5th generation Jiu Jitsu fighters of today. Mainly, Jiu Jitsu as it is trained today focuses very little on self-defense and the application of its techniques in realistic situations. Thus, it can be said that most black belts today, although more proficient on the ground, are weaker when it comes to applying their jiu jitsu in real life than those of 20 years ago.

With this in mind, Rorion Gracie trademarked the name Gracie Jiu Jitsu, forcing other Gracies to teach under their own name ( Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu, etc), in an effort to preserve the Jiu Jitsu legated unto him by his father.

In short, Rickson is not a mixed martial artist. He is a Jiujitsuka, or "jujuteiro", who actively competed in MMA, like his brothers Royce and Royler.

What did Rickson Gracie do for MMA?

Typically Royce is hailed as the one who took MMA to where it is today. It is true that Royce showed Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to America, but roughly one year later, Rickson was fighting in Vale Tudo in Japan and also bringing BJJ to the spotlight in that country. In winning all his six fights in VTJ 1994 and 1995 by submission, he brought a whole level of respect to his jiu jitsu in that country.

PRIDE, a former MMA giant, was founded basically to show Rickson fighting Japanese icon Nobuhiko Takada. The fight happened in PRIDE 1, with Rickson winning by submission via armbar.

As a corollary, Yuki Nakai, the legendary Giant Killer and ultimate badass, after being defeated by Rickson, started into BJJ and eventually became not only the president of the Japanese Federation of BJJ, but also founder and head teacher of Japan's best BJJ school, Paraestra Tokyo.

In short, while Royce was battling in the UFC in America, Rickson was doing likewise in Japan, roughly at the same time, with equally great results. Just as the UFC grew from Royce's efforts, so did PRIDE out of Rickson's.

I keep hearing that Rickson is some sort of BJJ legend. How good is he, really?

Very good. Rickson earned his black belt in 1980, at the age of 18, and has never been tapped in competition. As a matter of fact, nobody has ever come forth claiming to have tapped him OUTSIDE of competition. To this day, there are testimonies of current jiu jitsu greats praising him. The most recent was Andre Galvao, who claimed Rickson had tapped him multiple times and he himself hadn't managed a single submission.

Other BJJ athletes who spare no hyperboles towards Rickson's skill on the mat are Demian Maia, Nino Schembri, Paulo Filho, Royce Gracie, and Ricardo Arona, to name a few.

Ok. He's so good. How come he never won a Mundial?

Rickson never won a mundial because he never fought in one. The first Campeonato Mundial de Jiu Jitsu was in 1996, when Rickson was already 34 and long since retired from grappling competition. He did, however, win every single Copa Company, the biggest jiu jitsu championship in Brazil and precursor to the mundial, both in his weight class and in the absolute, beating everyone there was to beat.
As a matter of fact, the absolute category was commonly called the Rickson Gracie category, even though he weighed on average 82kgs, or 180lbs.

Who was better, Rickson or Rolls?

It is hard to accurately measure the skill of someone who died at the peak of their career, especially when that peak was so far above his contemporaries. Rolls Gracie was a pioneer, the Gracie champion of his generation, and widely considered the most talented grappler in the history of the Gracie Family.
He actively sought to improve himself by cross-training and competing in Judo, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, breaking several family taboos.

Contemporaries of them both claim that Rolls was the Mozart to Rickson's Beethoven. It was impossible to be sure because they were of different generations, and there is nostalgia and affection involved, but most claim that if Rickson was in a level apart from all others, then Rolls was simply hors concours.

This debate is impossible to resolve. Suffice to say that for either one to be compared to the other is compliment enough, in the eyes of the Brazilian BJJ community.

Rolls Gracie

400-0? What's THAT all about?

This is the biggest source of controversy in Rickson's career. And that is largely due to some misunderstandings. To understand what this record is about, we have to go back to a time when MMA as a sport did not exist, and the Gracie family fought simply to show the world their jiu jitsu.

The Gracie family has always had a champion to answer challengers. Typically the position of champion went to the most talented and dominant grappler in the family, the one who could best defeat all comers. The first champion was George Gracie, followed by Helio, then Carlson, then Rolls, and finally Rickson.

Basically, the champion was the one who would take on the more prominent challengers. Since Rolls died, Rickson was expected to be the family champion despite his young age. During the 80s and early 90s he took on all comers and won.
In this time, he was never defeated. Coming into his first fight in JVT, he calculated that he had won roughly about 400 challenges, and because he had no official record in professional fighting,as in Shooto or the like, JVT simply put that as his record, also choosing to hype the fighter.

In short, Rickson's 400-0 was an approximation of his record made by the JVT based on all the challenges he had won in his life. Rickson was not a professional fighter, as all Gracies he had fought to uphold the name of his family and the style of Jiu Jitsu. He considered that his record. Of course nowadays that MMA is a well-developed sport, there is such a thing as a professional MMA record. At the time, despite the existence of Shooto, there simply was nothing of the sort.

Didn't Helio Gracie call bullshit on the 400-0?

No. In an interview, Helio did say that he didn't consider Rickson as being 400-0, because he did not consider closed-door challenges to be professional fights. He went on to claim that, by that standard, he himself would have won over a thousand fights ( quite likely, considering how famous he was and the span of his career). Helio was probably the most popular Gracie champion, having fought over a dozen times in full stadiums, in the presence of national authorities. That is what he considered a record-worthy fight.
In short, he did not consider challenge fights something to call a record, but he did not dispute that Rickson did in fact win over 400 challenges without ever losing.

What does the 400-0 include?

Challenge fights and grappling competitions.

Then it's bullshit. He lost to Ron Tripp.

And here we come to the main catalyst of the 400-0 controversy. It is a known and documented fact that Rickson was defeated by Ron Tripp in a Sambo tournament. Ron managed to score a takedown on Rickson, who fell on his back, thus losing the match. Rickson later claimed to not have known that those were the rules and refused to accept that as a loss.

A loss is a loss.

Indeed. Rickson is not a perfect person, nobody is. Most guess that because he was always held to unrealistic expectations ( be the family champion and always compared to Rolls) from a very young age, he developed something of a vain zeal for his image as an undefeated fighter. The refusal to accept the loss probably came from that vanity and zeal.

Either way, that was the only recorded time Rickson was ever defeated in any sort of martial arts contest. Given that this one loss is the only one to have come up, excuses or no, it still is an outstanding record.

If Rickson is so great, and the family champion, why didn't he take on Sakuraba?

This is one of the greatest Rickson controversies. And it shouldn't be, because it has been explained by several parties many times. Keeping this short:

The fight was signed and set. Then Rickson's son, Rockson, died tragically, effectively retiring Rickson for years. He was devastated and in no condition to train, let alone fight at the highest level of competition, thus, the fight was canceled.

Kazushi Sakuraba, the fight was cancelled due to Rockson's death

How did Rockson die?

It is not known for sure. The reason for this is that he disappeared and appeared dead a while later, and those who know it for sure simply will not talk about it. The official story was a motorcycle accident, but nowadays there are two theories which have been hinted at and mentioned by some who would know:

-Rockson died of a drug overdose.
-Rockson skipped town and left LA with drugs belonging to dealers who eventually caught up with him in New York.

Whether the truth will come out isn't known.

Father and son

Why does Rickson want so much money to fight? Isn't he just using it as an excuse not to?

Whether or not he is using it as an excuse is something that only he would know. Most with some knowledge believe not. The reason for that is his expectations are not in sync with what is being paid to american fighters by the UFC nowadays, and that is the payscale the modern MMA fan is used to.

The most well-paid MMA fighter in the world , do you know who that is?
Fedor? Wrong. Lesnar? Wrong again. Who then?

The most well paid fighter in the world is Royce Gracie, having been paid far over 1 million dollars plus undisclosed bonuses per fight, to fight in K-1 NYE events in 2004 and 2005.

It is in that scale that Rickson defined his own expected pay, which is speculated to be around 2.5-3 million dollars, taking into consideration his massive popularity in Japan and previous salaries he had received. Very high, but in accordance to a previously realistic standard.

Nowadays nobody in the MMA world can or is willing to pay that, so he had been effectively retired until he officially retired in 2009.

Is he going to fight again?

No. As of 2009 Rickson is officially retired and no longer interested in fighting professionally.

So what is he up to now?

Rickson is giving seminars on jiu jitsu and trying to develop jiu jitsu as his father saw it: not a fighting tool but a social tool, to give confidence to women, children, and physically weak individuals by giving them the ability to defend themselves.
This is in tune with his father's beliefs and the direction which he has taken for his life and jiu jitsu.

Rickson at a Seminar in Rio, November 2009

One last thing, I watched Choke and I am curious, what in the hell is it that Rickson does with his stomach?

It is called Naoli.That is a skill common to experts in Yoga, which Rickson practices. It requires a long time of practice to acquire that level of control of normally involuntary muscles. It's a breathing exercise.

Rickson doing Yoga, one of his most famous pictures

Other minor facts about Rickson:

-He follows the Gracie Diet, detailed here: Gracie Diet

The family has always claimed that this diet is the secret behind their longevity, it was developed by Carlos Gracie based upon an Argentinian doctor's experimental diet. It is followed by most family members since it is what they grew up on and is also something of a family tradition.

-Rickson's son Kron currently competes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He has plans to go into MMA purely with Jiu Jitsu to follow in the Gracie family tradition. He is commonly referred to as " o filho do Homem", or " the son of the Man", with an upper-case when in writing. Normally found in the following argument:

"Well it's easy for him, I mean he's the son of the Man, has the guy coaching him 24/7..."

-He is normally addressed by jiu jitsu fighters in Brazil regardless of belt as "Mestre", or "Master", an honor which few receive.

-The acrobatic move he pulled off in JVT to escape a single-leg takedown is usually referred to as "The Superman", even in Brazil, because after the fight a young Rockson said "Wow dad you flew like Superman!"

-Rickson's closest brother is Royler.

-He is a proponent if "Ginastica Natural", or "Natural Gymnastics

Rickson & Crosstraining

Rickson has a reason not to believe in cross-training. He has the same mentality as his father, Helio. Helio did not believe in winning fights. Some fights, he said, are impossible to win. He believed in not losing and not getting hurt. He had this belief, that the attacker is always at a disadvantage, and that a man with a perfect technique who does not attack , leaves no holes and can not be defeated.

Rickson believes that training in striking arts will deviate the focus from the principle of jiu jitsu, which is being safe, having no holes in your defense, and attacking when the opponent has an opening. He believes striking exchanges are something of a lottery and he does not believe in risks. He believes in control from beginning to end.

Because of that principle he pretty much advocates using only the principles behind jiu jitsu. This also led to the Big Nog controversy when he said that he wished Nog would believe more in his jiu jitsu and focus less on striking and more on safety, because he was always hurt in striking before finishing on the ground. Nog did not like that comment, even though Rickson also said that Nog was a legend, an admirable fighter with a great heart.

The thing about Rickson is that, because he is Rickson, whatever he says will have a lot of weight. And when he says something negative...well.... it affects people.

Likewise, Rickson said about 2 years ago, that he believed the level of jiu jitsu in MMA was not up-to-par, and that it could and should be applied better. Wanderlei took it personally and challenged Rickson, prompting Arona and Saulo Ribeiro to join the discussion , and creating a ruckus in the MMA world.

On Tatame magazine number 112, Rickson in an interview when asked about the current state of MMA said

" I wouldn't like to delve deep into this subject but, personally I feel like the technical aspect of MMA is sub-par right now. I'd rather not go too far into this."

He was referring to Jiu Jitsu,and was being as noncommittal as possible because he knows that whatever criticism he throws any way will rile a lot of feathers. No avail: most misunderstood as if he meant the sport as a whole.

This interview was the talk of the Brazilian MMA community for months and led to various responses. Arona, whom Rickson had picked to win the PRIDE 205 Grand Prix, defended him whereas Wanderlei, who at the time was still a hothead, replied publicly:

"I will place my title on the line against Rickson, if he chooses to prove what he said."

Rickson replied that if he was offered the fight by PRIDE, he would take it.

There was a split in the media at the time, with old-school guys supporting Rickson and mostly Chute Boxe members supporting Wand.

Arona then entered the discussion by saying that he would beat Wanderlei, using jiu jitsu, to prove the point. And so he did. And the issue was over, but that sparked the animosity that Wand still holds towards Rickson.

What many don't understand is that MMA community is still small. A mistranslated article from the Portal do Vale Tudo to here will quickly end up in Yahoo Sports, or in an article by Dave Meltzer and all the way back to the top guys via TATAME or Nocaute magazine, creating a mess due to a poor translation. Shit spirals down very fast, and feuds begin before an explanation even gets a chance to show up.

Rickson's expectations of his sons

Rickson has always been very vocal about his lack of expectations for his son. He is very aware of this for two reasons

1- Many argue that it was the tremendous pressure placed upon Rockson for being the son of "the great Rickson" that drove him towards drugs and a deviant lifestyle and led him to leave LA. That and the divorce. We all now how that turned out for Rockson.

2- The pressure over Kron from the BJJ community is immense. He was on a huge streak, I think over 50 matches won in a row by submission in the brown belt division. He lost his first fight as a black belt, to the eventual champion Sergio Moraes ( who split the title last year with Marcelo Garcia too), and there was a collective gasp of disappointment.

Rickson has mentioned in every single interview where the subject of Kron comes up that he's doing all he can to try and support his son against the huge pressure of not only being a Gracie, but being the son of Rickson Gracie. The kid is talented, but he is expected to win as if he were Rickson himself.

Rickson said that whatever Kron chooses to do, it's fine. Kron said that he has a lot to prove on the mat but he thinks one day it will be time to prove himself in the ring. Those are post-fight interviews from recent championships, you can likely find them on youtube.

Rickson's Mother

Rickson's mother was in fact the maid at their house, and not Margarida. The maid was caled Belinha. Margarida was unable to have children so Helio convinced her to pretend she was pregnant, even by wearing fake foam bellies under her clothes, while the maid had his children. Thus were born Rorion, Relson and Rickson.

The other children, Robin, Royce and Royler, were born of Vera, while he was still married and living with Margarida. Rickson only found out about his brothers and that his father had a parallel family when he was already a teenager.

As it turns out, Helio and Carlos were always outspoken about sex and reproduction as a purely natural act and their desire to form a clan, so within the family it was accepted after a while. Carlos himself had many children from several women, and Carlos Gracie Jr. being born of his best friend's wife is not exactly normal.

Carlos convinced his best friend and longtime business associate Oscar Santa Maria that he (Carlos) channelled a Peruvian spirit who gave him advice, and that spirit told Carlos to have a baby with his friend's wife. He convinced his friend to allow it and impregnated her.

The baby, Carlos Gracie Jr., was born in Peru. The friends kept on being friends. After the third of Carlos's sons was born of his wife, Oscar Santa Maria came into himself and ended their friendship and all business relationships, then proceeded to sue Carlos for fraud, claiming Carlos had manipulated him for years.

Still, in time the brothers considered themselves true brothers, ignoring the fact that they had different mothers. Helio continued loving and being loved by both wives, though Margarida suffered from depression due to her inability to bear children. When she died, Vera moved in with Helio and was with him until he died last year.

Nowadays Rickson's closest brother is Royler, even though they are only half-brothers who didn't know of each other's existence thoughout their childhood.


Mark said...

awesome article sir!

Anonymous said...

Pretty embarrassing. After all these years I can't believe that a single person talks about this guy, especially in a good way. It's proof that reality doesn't exist!