Seminar With a Master of Jiu Jitsu – Rickson Gracie

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As some of you know, Master Rickson Gracie only teaches seminars these days. His days of teaching in the U.S. are limited, and if he’s teaching somewhere it’s a who’s who in the Jiu Jitsu world attending. Luckily, I received a message from my friend, former teammate and BJJ Black belt, Professor Mica Cipili that he was hosting a seminar with Master Rickson Gracie in Las Vegas and that me and my team were invited to attend. With a moments notice I immediately started to make travel arrangements. No questions asked. You see, I had trained at Ricksons academy in Los Angeles a few times in the mid 90’s and attended a seminar in 1997 at Pedro Sauer’s academy in Salt Lake City, Utah so I thought I knew what to expect. It’s funny, I had an idea but really I had no idea the impact it would have on me until later.

Originally I planned on attending alone, maybe with BJJ Black belt, Professor Pedro Sierra. I quickly realized what an opportunity it would be for some of the new guys in the gym, even some of the guys that have been around for a while. I had no idea that so many members of our team would be so interested.  We ended up with eight hungry BJJ enthusiasts attempting to climb the ladder of excellence in their journeys of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. White belts to Black belts.

Road trips with your pals are awesome and this was one of the better ones. I’ll never forget the road trip with Mica, Eduardo Mori and Madman Dave Phillips. We ended up on the border headed to Mexico south of San Diego. No GPS, no map, just us bull shitting on the road to LA. Not a big deal but after 10 hours in the car and at 3:00 am it was rough. Getting to Las Vegas was much simpler and not nearly as eventful.

With all the talk online about how great Master Rickson Gracie’s seminars are these days and a few key recommendations by guys I trust, it piqued my curiosity and intrigued my desire for knowledge . I had heard that he keeps it pretty simple, discusses his interpretation of his fathers Jiu Jitsu, as well as his invisible Jiu Jitsu concept, it’s meaning and how to develop it through training. I had also heard people complain that “it’s too expensive and not worth going to learn to bridge and shrimp.” This was a quote a BJJ Black belt friend of mine actually used. I can tell you this, after 20 years in Jiu Jitsu it was worth every dollar, worth every moment in the car for 6 hours with 4 stinky dudes. Like I said earlier, it was way more than I ever expected and I had no idea the impact it would have until later.

We arrived at the seminar about a half hour early, as we do in our gym. “If you are early you are on time, and if you are on time you are late.” This was no exception. Quickly we changed into our Gi’s and joined the others that were on time on the mat. I quickly made the rounds to acknowledge the black belts on the mat to say hello and show respect. It was good to see some familiar faces and catch up with some old friends. The seminar must have had 65 people there and 15 of them were black belts. The experience level varied which is most likely the reason for the content of the seminar.

The seminar started with Master Rickson leading the group in a show of respect to the Great Grand Master Helio Gracie by bowing in the seminar in a traditional Japanese style greeting. Immediately following Rickson then connected with the group by describing himself as a developer, not a creator or innovator but a developer of Jiu Jitsu. A very powerful description that I’m still trying to comprehend. At the moment he begins to talk about Jiu Jitsu I am immediately transported back to my years as a blue and purple belt. A time in which I collected every video, every article, every thing I could find about Rickson in an attempt to learn the secrets of Gracie Jiu Jitsu. It was a different time; a time of collecting bootlegged VHS copies of old fights, training sessions and workouts, Blackbelt and Inside Kung Fu magazines if the Gracies were in the publication. Not like today with the accessibility to the world in a blink of an eye through the Internet. Shoot, everyone I know was clinching their jaw and trying to do neck exercises with rubber tubing because of a video that circulated of Rickson working out at his house (and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s on YouTube). Needless to say, I was listening to every word and with 100% intent and focus.

Rickson quickly began his instruction and asked of everyone to understand the connection and weight distribution of base, balance and grip between each other in a series of drills of pushing, pulling, pressing an leaning on each other, demonstrating equally with many of the people attending. He took a brief moment to discuss the level of Jiu Jitsu in modern MMA and his displeasure with the “high level” Jiu Jitsu fighters no longer using Jiu Jitsu principles and philosophy to defeat their opponents. And as if it were deja vu, again I am reminded of a seminar in 1997 where Rickson taught us to clinch and control our opponents, except this time it echoes through my body to the bones. When most people are training other martial arts to compliment their Jiu Jitsu, Rickson was very convincing that we have to stand strong with the Jiu Jitsu methodology and philosophy to fighting and self defense that has been employed by the Gracie family since 1925. A concept I have wholeheartedly embraced with the influence of Grand Master Flavio Behring.

The seminar was scheduled for 3 hours but in typical Jiu Jitsu fashion it ran exceptionally late. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. The depth in which Rickson instructs is up to the person willing to accept it. You are going to get out of exactly whatever it is you are ready for. The techniques began with some standing techniques, followed up with working offensively and defensively from the mount and finished with techniques from inside your guard. I found a great amount value in every technique we discussed, Some were pleasant reminders of details often forgotten or overlooked, some were new and conceptual, but more than anything I was taken back to a Jiu Jitsu that was based on fighting and self defense before the more modern versions of sport (gi, nogi, MMA) were popularized. I think the highest percentage of practitioners today are focused on the sport more than anything else so it was a welcome perspective.

At one moment Rickson took a break, giving the students a moment to get some water and converse amongst each other. As he returned to the mat he removed his gi top and began to discuss his breathing exercises. If you’ve spent anytime studying Rickson you know  its a popular sight to see him work his diaphragmatic breathing. It’s was something I’d seen before and had implemented into my training years ago. Not all yogi-like but something similar. It was a challenge for me to not hold my breath and to control my breathing patterns in relation to movement and applying pressure to my opponent based on his breathing rhythm and pattern. Something he said really made sense to me, he said “breathing is like flexibility when you begin train it, it has immediate rewards.”

Rickson is known for his discussions about Courage and being “invincible”  and he spoke at lengths about these concepts and I’d love to share them but it wouldn’t do it justice. You have to hear it straight from him and you might be surprised by his answer. If you get the chance, attend one of his seminars. You’ll be equally impressed by the depth of simplicity and maybe even pick up some new concepts like “invisible Jiu Jitsu”, weight distribution or connection of the body for maximal effectiveness or even understanding the effects of diaphragmatic breathing to control your heart rate when going into a Jiu Jitsu sport competition or just understanding more about you and the control you have over your breathing.

Learning from Master Rickson Gracie again was a great experience. I found as much upside in 2013 as I did in 1997, if not more. My time and understanding in Jiu Jitsu is much different today than it was then but that’s why I think I got so much out of it. Honestly, I’m happy for the guys that took my advice and scheduled time off, sacrificed and travelled to Las Vegas because I told them it would be good for them, from the white belt to the black belt. One day, you’ll get the chance to go to a Master Rickson Gracie seminar again and you’ll realize like I did, you have a lot more to learn. Thanks for going guys. You are better at Jiu Jitsu for it.

In the end, I never stop learning, I continue to develop my own art of war and I climb the ladder of excellence one step at a time. Thank you Master Pedro Sauer and Grand Master Flavio Behring for your guidance and making all this possible for me.  Without you gentlemen none of this is possible. Thank you.

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