icon-align-centericon-aliQ: “Is it true that you are the founder of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA in Canada?”
A: Yes, that is correct. I am both the first Canadian to travel to southern California (where many members of the legendary Gracie family, who primarily developed Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, had relocated, from Brazil) to formally study jiu-jitsu in depth with the Gracie family and receive official rank along with instructor training; and I’m also the person who then first brought the highest ranked members of the Gracie family to Canada, for the very first time, to teach on Canadian soil; where we permanently established Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada and founded an international training association to facilitate the growth of only the highest quality Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for Canada.
But why don’t we let the historical record speak for its self. As early as 1993 there where newspaper articles documenting the establishment of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada, for the first time, but not long after in 1994, I was more publicly recognized for my efforts through a more detailed newspaper article that merely stated to the wider public the same things I and the original Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people have always known and said. These things were no secret to the people who were actually doing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu back then, and not lieing about it years later.
This article that appeared in THE LANGELY ADVANCE ,in the summer of 1994 gives a quite accurate and concise summery of my background in regards to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I had already been formally training in the system for around two years even though the very first UFC had only happened 8 or 9 months before. This Not only makes my self and my collaborators the founders of Brazilian/Gracie Jiu-jitsu in Canada, but I think more importantly, we must be the only legitimate “first generation” Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners in the entire country. I think that is more significant.
↑ My philosophy about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, self-defense and my statements about my role in the founding of BJJ in Canada have never changed in all these years.
Furthermore, I became a full-time professional BJJ/MMA based self-defense instructor and developer at a time when this did not really exist anywhere else in the world outside of the Gracie family, a couple of their top students or in Brazil.More importantly, in order to help this happen, I opened the first full-time, permanent professional training facility, custom designed for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and what became known as “Mixed Martial Arts”.
This was unquestionably the first facility of its kind in all of Canada and one of the very first in North America or anywhere else in the world for that matter. It remained in the same location for nearly 20 years! I don’t think anyone, inside or out of Brazil has accomplished that feat with the exception of the famous Gracie Academy in Rio founded by Carlos Gracie in the 40s and remaining at the same location, I believe, until the 1960s or 1970s and of course the first permanent North American Gracie Academy founded by Rorion Gracie, is still expanding and going strong after opening in 1988 or 1989 I think, just a couple of years before mine.
Moreover, and I think most noteworthy, is that we founded an international Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training net work and association that was probably the first of its kind in the world, very high quality, particularly for that period and ahead of its time. So much so that this aspect of our work could not be sustained and only in recent years with the astronomical growth of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu have similar organizations become viable and successful.
Q: “What specifically do you mean by ‘first generation’ practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?”
A: That is just a term that a lot of people use to mean “pre UFC practitioners” of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. In North America Brazilian Jiu-jitsu had at least two distinct phases of development, growth and popularity; the “pre UFC era” and the “post UFC era”. A lot of changes happened to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in the post UFC era so it is a very clear demarcation line that we can talk about more later. But I think the most important distinctions are the motives and expectations of the “first generation” students and how and why Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was taught in that era.
Q: “When did this happen, and what was the actual date and place of the official founding of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada?”
A: I opened the Academy 1991-92, began my formal training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu under the Gracie family 1992 and they were brought to Canada and taught here for the very first time in the nation July 23rd 1993. This ground breaking event was held at the Aldergrove Academy of Martial Arts (later, the Aldergrove Academy of Mixed Martial Arts since the term MMA did not exist yet ) which was at unit #2, 2993, 272nd street in Aldergrove, township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada.
↑ Royce Gracie and I (Robert LeRuyet) at the Torrance Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy-circa 1992. Royce was still some time away from becoming the first UFC champion and one of the world’s most well known martial artists. At the time neither of us could know how Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-jitsu would grow into a world wide movement.
Q : “Is it true that other people also claim to have founded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Canada?”
A: Oh yea! that is very true, I have personally come across two or three people who make such silly claims so there must be many more of them. The point being, that any flake or fraud can make any exaggerated claim they like-and are always happy to do so-but when asked to provide some kind of verification they never can. I’m not talking about any thing “official” here, just basic proof like dated receipts of the school they supposedly trained at or dated rank certificates or media stories and things like that, really just any thing with an actual date and objective verification would be fine.
That is why I’m including an “archive” section on this webpage. I take my credibility very seriously and have always been disgusted with…well, there is no other way to say it, the sheer amount of bullshit that is so much a part of the martial arts community. I have always spoken up against all the horse shit and flakes in the martial arts world regardless of who they were or how popular they are with their “flunkies” or people that owe their Belt rank or “credibility” or whatever to them.
As a consequence I am not very popular in some circles and in all honesty, that makes me kind of proud. If the phonies and bullshit artists feel threatened by me and the documented facts then I must be doing something right! There is an old saying: “tell the truth you shame the devil”, of course the “devil” is not going to be too happy about it.
↑ The front entrance to the Aldergrove Academy of Martial Arts (later: The Aldergrove Acdemy of Mixed Martial Arts). The first school in Canada and among the very first in all of North America to teach Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and “Mixed Martial Arts”. Taken July 1993-the day Brazilian Jiu-jitsu officially arrived.
Unfortunately for the public, the Martial Arts “industry” is largely populated by people with odd usually very selfish , “ego” driven agendas. These personal motives have nothing to do with and are actually, most often, directly in opposition to The establishment of a full fledged self-defense profession and “science”. A profession dedicated to discovering the truth about combating real world violence and to our clients and not our own fantasies and egos.
In this wacky world, the weirdos are constantly trying to criticize other people and slander myself or other professionals who are not happy with the status quo of this goofy “pseudo-profession” or irrelevant sport. The public deserves better than to have to listen to the constant prattling of fools or worse yet the lies of losers consumed by their own petty and infantile professional or ego jealousies. The very critical difference, that I want to emphasis and demonstrate to the interested public, is that anything I say here can be proven, is documented or is a matter of record.
I’ll be talking more about this at length but a big part of why I founded Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada was to wipe the slate clean, so to speak, so that not only did we have a new system that actually worked in real self-defense but a new way of doing things that did not include all the bullshit, phonies, flakes and weirdos. People who only had one thing bigger then their egos and that was usually their mouths or their bellies…often both!
As for the founding of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada, there really is no legitimate debate about this, I was running a full-time professional academy as Canada’s first Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructor and Canadian national representative for Relyson Gracie Jiu-jitsu as far back as 1993 and before the UFC. For an example about documentation and objective proof, I was on the front page of the sports section of the “LANGLEY TIMES” in October of 1993, still a month before the very first UFC. I was already a Blue Belt of the third or fourth degree and Canadian national rep; and remember this was at a time when getting belt promotions could be a very slow process.
It was our third or fourth Gracie Jiu-jitsu event to be held at the Aldergrove Academy, the first ones in the country, and the local media was starting to take notice because so many people were leaving the traditional schools and coming to train with us. I am on the front page doing a hip throw on Reylson Gracie and a copy of this newspaper article, the first local Canadian media exposure about Gracie Jiu-jitsu I might add, will be included in our “archive” section here below.
↑ Canada’s first main stream media attention to Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Oct 1993.
You know, in the end I do not think its all that important who founded Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada because it was going to happen eventually. However, I do think the differences in character, motives, goals and skill sets, of the original Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners, is important to compare with all the sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people who came after us. Moreover, I do think it is very important for the public to realize that so many people are willing to lie about this!
Its just a question of credibility and since this is one of the few instances of Martial arts lies and bullshit that can be easily proved or disproved I am happy to display my personal photo and document “archive” to the interested public and discuss this at length. Of course there are some true martial arts flakes out there who while having no rank in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu make bizarre claims about their role in the founding of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada but unfortunately there also appears to be some legitimate Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people who also decided to make spurious claims about their role in the founding of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada for what ever reasons. This is very unfortunate, because otherwise legitimate people are going to be viewed in the same light as the flakes and phonies and I guess they need to be! because if they are lying to you about this, what else are they willing to lie about?!
As I mentioned, it is simply a question of honesty and credibility. We as professional martial arts instructors need to start trying to have standards of credibility and professionalism akin to other professions instead of the idea that who ever tells the most bullshit stories or has the highest bullshit “rank”, or talks the toughest, or won some silly tournament by stalling or muscling or was better at kissing the “master’s” ass is the “real expert”. Or perhaps even worse, who runs the best glorified baby sitting service and keeps the most lazy, and increasingly obese, kids the happiest by handing out belts.
It really is a joke and has held back the martial arts industry or at least the self-defense aspect for a very long time. And I’m not talking about holding back people financially because nothing could be further from the truth; many people for many years have profited very greatly from bullshiting and misleading the public. The problem aside from all the ethical issues is very simply, that the very basic issue of real world self defense has become very clouded and confusing for normal people because of the rush to sell the public some martial arts “product”, “personality”, style or sport.
It was this environment, one based on every thing but real world fighting skills, that made it so easy for real truly skillful fighters, and even some mediocre ones, to come to North America and make fools of the so called self-defense experts and fighting “champions”. It is now often these discredited ”experts” who are often the ones who are making laughable claims about how they were this or that in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or Mixed Martial Arts. Or alternatively, claiming they have been doing this kind of ground work or Mixed Martial Arts methods as part of there style and since the dawn of time.
There is also a trend for certain people who where no more then kids or literally had never even heard of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu when I founded the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu movement in Canada to make false claims. This is probably because they have had successes in the sport aspect, ran higher profile schools or something like that. To be sure there are many, many people more well known then I am in the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community and I’m talking about just Canada here. I never had the intention of trying to promote myself or to try to get famous, especially among the increasing amount of goofs and losers that were gravitating to the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community and particularly to Mixed Martial Arts . I was too busy trying to promote the system for decent regular people and helping our communities as well as run the first academy of its kind in the county.
I guess I should clarify a few points here, since I may, once again, have shaken up the hornets nest by simply telling the truth. I certainly don’t claim to be the first Canadian to have been exposed to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or to have picked up a technique or two. For example, Paul Vunak, a well known Jeet kune Do instructor based out of southern California was making “Gracie” Jiu-jitsu techniques part of his system very early on. His seminar net work included British Columbia and I’m sure other parts of Canada.
In Fact, Jeet Kune Do was one of the only “big name” “styles” or organizations at that time that was seriously advocating cross training and quasi scientific inter-style research. which I was very into even back then. Paul Vunak had an editorial spot with one of the Karate magazines back in the late 80s or very early 90s so I was always interested in what he had to say about realistic self-defense, or as they called it “scientific street fighting”.
It was this mind set and motivation that distinguishes The true “first generation” Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners in Canada. We were looking for solutions to the dangerous problems of real life violence, like the Jeet Kune Do practitioners, and not motivated by getting an “ego fix” by play fighting with other Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournament people. Its not that we necessarily thought there was anything wrong with some of that, but at least in my case, I just couldn’t take what I thought of as “kids stuff” very seriously. If we had been introduced to the sport version of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu it is very unlikely we would have embraced it so enthusiastically and completely.
↑ Paul Vunak on the cover of “Black Belt” Magazine-early 1990s. “Black Belt” magazine was the oldest and most widely circulated North American martial arts magazine of that period.
Jeet Kune Do really seemed to be the only group clearly talking about the problems with sport based training and mindless adherence to “traditional” unproven styles back then. So I read all I could on Jeet kune Do. However, their conclusions as to what “real world fighting” was all about seemed at times, as preposterous as the “classical mess” that the Jeet kune Do founder, and movie star, Bruce lee, had railed about.
Jeet Kune Do staples,like eye poking, as a solution for every “low threat” self defense situation, was patently laughable. Moreover, original Jeet Kune Do seemed oblivious to the importance of ground work. How a “science” that claimed to have unlocked the realities and essence of real street fighting could have missed that one is beyond me.
Furthermore, heavily emphasized methods like “hand trapping” proved to be more useless then the classical reverse punch or spinning back kick that Jeet Kone Do adherents liked to dismiss so condescendingly. In the new unforgiving MMA arena we have occasionally seen opponents taken out by spinning back kicks or even with “school yard” headlocks, in the early events, but I have yet to see any kind of Wing Chun like “hand trapping” in a UFC type Mixed Martial Arts event.
However, they were at least talking about these things at the time when it seemed like no one else was. Nevertheless, it just seemed so weird how this well thought out modern and logical way of thinking led to ridicules conclusions like hand trapping and strong-side-forward kick boxing. I think the problem was the same mores bound adherence to old Bruce Lee material that was the same problem as any “style” while marketing themselves as the “anti-style” style.
The good news was, when something truly new and effective came around, like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, then some people like Paul Vunak at least applied the philosophy to the new material and started a greater dialog about it. In fact, he was the first one that I remember reading who talked about how just plain stupid it was about people talking about the “Gracie challenge” and how they or of course some one they knew, could easily beat the Gracies, but would never step up. This too was my outlook, so while we didn’t agree on Jeet Kune Do being the ultimate martial art, it sure was a breath of fresh air to see in print what the realist minority was thinking. Any how, some people picked up some techniques from these seminars and a few people might have actually gone to the USA for a seminar with the Gracies themselves, if it was convenient, and I trained with some of these guys in the late 80s/very early 90s or whenever, which I can talk about more in detail later.
Furthermore, I’m sure there were people who were Canadian citizens or whatever who were living in southern California at the time and doing some Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training because it was convenient and easy to do, California is full of “frost backs” who have Canadian origins but live full time in the USA; but I was told directly by the heads of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu academies, that I trained at, that I was the first person to travel from Canada to learn from them and then to return to Canada with the intention of transplanting the system there, with their endorsement and collaboration.
Hell, I was simply the first Canadian to get off my ass put my ego and my wallet aside and come all that way to train with them. At the time it was something noteworthy for them as well, because it was a sign of the growing popularity of Brazilian or as we all called it then “Gracie Jiu-jitsu”. So the Gracies and their instructors never hesitated to say “hey look we got a Canadian coming down here” and I heard it pretty much every class at every academy I trained at in the beginning, it was something novel for them as well not something I thought about all that much at the time.
Therefore, when I first went down to California to begin my formal training in 1992, I had no idea I was the very first guy to do it and I didn’t really care, I just wanted to train. I knew what was going on pretty much on the west coast where I lived and knew of no one with any connections with the Gracies but it was kind of a surprise to learn that no one from back east, where the Canadian population is much larger, had made the first inroads. I guess they were no different then the flakes we had on the west coast, all too busy talking about how tough they were to come and learn the system that was forever changing the martial arts world, but happy to lie about it later.
↑ Rorion Gracie and I (Robert LeRuyet) in the reception area of the Torrance Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy-circa 1992
It was Rorion Gracie who originally told me I was the first Canadian to come there and formally train in the system which as I mentioned, I found surprising. Rorion was considered by many to be the “leader” of the Gracie family in North America so he certainly knew what was going on internationally since it was his vision to expand “Gracie” Jiu-jitsu outside of the surprisingly small area of Rio de Janeiro where the so called “Brazilian ” Jiu-jitsu had never really spread out from until his efforts. Rorion and I did have some discussions about my goals of bringing BJJ to Canada when I was there and later when I was back in Canada but I ended up doing most of my early training at the Reylson Gracie Academy, which was in Corona Del Mar California at that time. I didn’t realize right away that the Corona Del Mar Academy were quite bitter rivals of the Torrance Academy and did not consider Rorion head of anything.
This was “Reylson” Gracie, one of the first sons of Carlos Gracie, not to be confused with his brother “Reyson” Gracie, who I believe only teaches in Brazil or with “Relson” Gracie who is a brother of Rorion Gracie and who are both sons of Helio Gracie. It is “Relson” Gracie who has had a well established academy in Hawaii for many years but whom I have never met. It was Reylson Gracie who I ended up first bringing to Canada in July of 1993 and he was very clear that no member of his family had ever been brought to Canada to teach before. So while these two branches of the Gracie family were fighting with each other over various issues they could at least concur that I was the first person to bring their system to Canada.
Reylson seemed very much more enthusiastic about what I wanted to do with the establishing of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada and seemed to share my vision and recognize an opportunity. Moreover, he was the highest ranked Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-jitsu teacher in North America at that time,(8th degree red and black belt) and one of the very highest in Brazil and therefore the world. Therefore, he seemed the most knowledgeable and qualified to help us found Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada; I really wanted the best for us.
That is why I brought Reylson Gracie up to Canada, but I also think that he felt he was “one upping” Rorion Gracie by getting into Canada first. I think that was a big part of his motivations, since Rorion and his branch of the family had been given all this exposure and credit for the international expansion. At the time I was starting out, I had no idea there was this much politics between the two main branches of the family but apparently it had been affecting things for many, many years and this is also something we will see more of later.
I of course had the same experience at the Reylson Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy when I went down there and being their first canuck as well. The local students would come over and gawk at the “Canadian” since to many of them Canada must have seemed a million miles away. Recreational Brazilian Jiu-jitsu students couldn’t understand why I came all this way to train.
Some of them got a good laugh at my particularly white skin. Part of it was coming down in winter time from Canada to the perpetually warm southern California but with my Celtic genes my skin is pale at the best of times. There were guys up from Brazil, which was even warmer, who would stare at my skin and tell me they never saw skin that white, and these were guys of European ancestry!
I had to laugh about that. After all, I was not on vacation. Here I was trying to make a good impression and trying to represent Canada well by training all the time I was there and not hitting the beaches and stuff like all the others were doing and these guys were getting the impression we were just some fanatical albino country!
But I am getting very far off topic, as I mentioned, as for the founding of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada there really is no legitimate debate about this. In fact, it was Reylson Gracie himself that first called my academy “Canada’s home of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu”, because we were not only the first academy, at the time we were the only academy in the country. We used this motto in our yellow pages adds for some years. These adds appear as early as 1993 or 94 and are a matter of record that can be checked out through some kind of Telus archive or old copies of the phone book. I’ll see if I have any personal copies that I can include in my “archives” here but it is things like this, that simply can not be lied about. If someone else claims this or that, the simple question is: “why is there no record of it?” the logical answer is: “because it simply never happened” or at least not when the bullshiters say it did.
Furthermore, I want to point out that we set out to systematically and professionally transplant the complete Brazilian Jiu-jitsu system into Canada. We were not a bunch of martial arts newbies, well not all of us (LOL) , who wanted to try something on a lark or for recreation or roll around at some silly tournament on the weekends or something. I dedicated myself full-time to this project and the training which meant I had to make significant personal sacrifices. I did this with out hesitation because I really believed we were changing the sate of martial arts and self-defense in a very profound and permanent way.
Q: “Is this first inaugural event, held to officially found Brazilian/Gracie Jiu-jitsu in Canada, well documented and verifiable?”
A: Yes, of course. Although I might not go as far as saying it was “well” documented. There were no T.V cameras or cheering fans (LOL). The event was certainly documented here and in the U.S.A. by the Gracie family and possibly by the governing Federation in Brazil. However, we have to remember that the first training camp for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canadian history and founding of the international training association that went along with it, was a pretty small affair.
Now days, big name Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructors or MMA fighters routinely do large or even sold out Brazilian Jiu-jitsu seminars and camps all over the world. Name MMA athletes go on tours to sign autographs at places like supplement stores to promote the sport and things like that. People going to Brazil to train directly there has become so common place that its turned into a major tourist business. However, all of that was decades away when I started and only began after the first UFC started to popularize Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. At this time in 1992-93, basically no one knew what Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was and people today would be surprised at how difficult it was to get people interested and get them to participate.
Funny how we now have all these people, in Canada and especially even in my area, all claiming to have been doing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in the early or mid1990s. Once again, I just want to warn the interested public that these kinds of claims are very easy to make but very hard to take seriously. The public needs to know just how widespread this kind of BS is in the martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu “community”.
Myself, my training partners and students all tried to generate interest from other people and especially martial arts schools but a lot of the time it really was like pulling teeth. Most martial arts schools where stuck in their own little worlds. Or sometimes, their own quite large worlds, I was training at a few different Judo schools at that time and Judo was a large international sport but there was zero interest in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu from the schools I looked into.
Sometimes there was some interest from individual members of other martial arts schools but mostly goofy people didn’t want to pay for it so we wasted a lot of time and effort on flakes which always makes a fairly expensive and collaborative enterprise even more difficult. Worse yet, the charlatans started coming out of the word work. Our original “Gracie” Jiu-jitsu events did attract some people and not just from other schools who came for fraudulent reasons. They mostly wanted to cash in on the “Gracie” Jiu-jitsu brand and were soon advertising themselves as “ground fighting masters” or “Gracie Jiu-jitsu instructors”, after just a couple of hours of instruction! This was becoming an increasing problem and embarrassment for me and the other legitimate students of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and is one of the reasons we had to cut back on the Public Brazilian Jiu-jitsu events. Which we can talk about in great detail later.
Let me be clear here, we had no intention of trying to make a profit from these training camps. Our only motive was to get Brazilian Jiu-jitsu established in Canada and to promote and popularize the system for every ones benefit while getting the best training for ourselves. However, we had to more or less break even or at least minimize what we had to pay out of our own pockets or most people were not going to participate. It had to be run like a business and no business is going to survive and thrive over the long term if it is constantly in the loss column.
However, like a new business you may have to put up investment capital first to get things started. Thus, in the end to get things off the ground we had to do basically a private event with just the most committed and dedicated people who were willing to take the required time off and put up the necessary money to fly Reylson Gracie to our academy in Canada, along with his first American Black Belt Ken Gabrielson . We had to of course pay him his teaching fees and feed and accommodate them in a good hotel etc. and we were going to have to take part in the international training network we had planed; which would involve traveling to train at the central Reylson Gracie Academy in California or possibly Brazil. In the end it was more than worth the time, money and effort.
Therefore, for the official inaugural Brazilian/Gracie Jiu-jitsu event in Canada only six of us were allowed to attend. We took some commemorative photographs and Reylson Gracie issued each participant a dated and signed certificate. Ergo, this is absolutely, positively not something that can be lied about.
Later I had one of the photographs blown up larger with a laser copier. One of the kids, I think, used “stick’em” letters to make a poster out of it. I thought that was cute, so I framed it and hung it on my Academy wall. There it stayed for nearly twenty years even though it was just supposed to be a temporary thing until we got around to doing something fancier.
This photo happened to be taken with a camera with an internal date stamp built into it. So even on the blown up copy that is not as clear as an original, you can clearly see the date and year stamped in the right hand corner. As I said, this poster hung in plain view on my academy wall for all those years and was seen by all the people training and visiting and by the visiting Brazilian instructors. If it wasn’t true, do you think maybe even one person might have said something in maybe the first ten years? I will included a copy of that photograph turned “poster” below.
Here is a larger version, so that the faces of the participants can be more clearly seen. Furthermore, for the historical record I want to point out that members of the extended Gracie Family had, at that time, recently completed a court battle over the “trade marking” and use of their name. Rorion Gracie had some time before, reserved the rights to the term “Gracie Jiu-jitsu” and apparently had excluded the other members of the extended family, including higher ranking and more senior instructors like Reylson and his brother Carely Gracie.
This led to litigation and a lengthy court battle, I believe, spear headed by Carely Gracie who ,of course, wanted to be able to use his own name in connection to his Jiu-jitsu profession. The result was the other members of the extended family could use the “Gracie” name but had to add their first name as well to differentiate their Brazilian Jiu-jitsu schools from the Torrance Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy and those other schools directly affiliated with Rorion’s Academy. Therefore, we did it the same way and added Reylson’s first name to any public material. But I wanted to clarify that this was the very first “Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-jitsu” event of any kind in the country and not specific to Reylson Gracie’s Academy.
↑ The Official Founding of Brazilian/Gracie Jiu-jitsu in Canada. July 1993-if you are not in this photo you had nothing to do with the founding and establishment of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada
Q: “Besides yourself, who were the other participants at this first ever Brazilian Jiu-jitsu event in Canada?”
A: I will list the people left to right as they are standing in the photograph:
Darryl Waddell, Bruce Cawston, Sean Stevenson, Reylson Gracie, Robert LeRuyet, Grant Haines and Frank Waddell . The only person who is missing is Ken Gabrielson who is behind the camera taking the photo.
Therefore, if someone is not in that photograph and their name is not on that list then they had nothing to do with the founding, which means the permanent establishment, of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in our country of Canada and I suggest they stop lying to the public about this and their dubious claims. The interested public now can see this well known fact for themselves, its rather indisputable and criticizing me or the other Brazilian Jiu-jitsu pioneers can not change the facts.
As I mentioned, the first Brazilian Jiu-jitsu event on Canadian soil did not cause that much of a stir only because Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was still in its infancy here in North America and was still fairly unheard of. Nonetheless, the Canadian event did get mentioned in at least one international martial arts magazine. Below is an excerpt from a 1993 edition of: “Karate International”, which was published on the East Coast of the United States and I have personally seen copies sold as far away as Great Britian. In contrast to the name of the magazine, “Karate international” had a lot of Jiu-jitsu content, which was uncommon for that period. This was because the owners or editors of that magazine where Jiu-jitsu people of the old school. Therefore, each issue had a Jiu-jitsu specific news and events page which again objectively verifies the first importation of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu into Canada.
However, Reylson Gracie was incorrectly identified as : “one of the Gracie brothers”. That was a term Rorion Gracie was using to identify his team of Gracie Jiu-jitsu instructors, which was usually his brothers, coming out of his Torrance California academy. I don’t think either one of them would have liked that because of their rivalry. As I explained earlier, Rorion Gracie and Reylson Gracie are cousins and not brothers. However, at that time the ” Gracie brothers” was the best known “brand” of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the Torrance Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy and Rorion really have to be given the credit for putting early Brazilian Jiu-jitsu on the map.
Instead of criticizing people, I want to take the time here to more publicly and lastingly thank those other participants for helping to make that project a success and for helping me reach my goals. Each of them made a lot of personal contributions and sacrifices to establish our Academy and to bring Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to Canada for all of our benefit and for all of the right reasons. It would not have been possible with out them.
unfortunately, I have lost contact with all of them over the intervening years so I am not able to thank them now in a more personal way. They were a great bunch of guys who really did have the right attitudes and motives for being recognized for being the founders and pioneers they were, unlike so many of the negative and disingenuous personalities that we now have in the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA community who did nothing like these guys had to do but want to criticize them for selfish reasons and mislead the public while trying to take credit for their hard work and sacrifices.
In fact, if you look at the kind of people who were involved in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in the very early days and how they unhesitatingly contributed to “the cause” and what their motivations were to get involved in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu we can see how far we have strayed as a system or style that was meant to be for decent people with higher ideas about personal development and protecting the people we care about.
Q: “Ken Gabrielson was the assistant instructor that Reylson Gracie brought with him for the Gracie family’s first foray into Canada?”
A: Yes, Ken was an American and Reylson Gracies’ first Black Belt in North America. In Fact, Ken was the second person in the USA and all of North America to ever earn a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I believe he had started at the Torrance Academy, as I had done, under Rorion and Royce Gracie as well as the other brothers and after some years there, he switched to the Reylson Gracie Academy in Corona Del Mar California. Before that Ken had been one of the top students and assistant instructors for Paul Vunak who, as I mentioned, was one of the most prominent Jeet Kune Do instructors of that time and a fairly well known personality in the larger self-defense community as well as an outspoken advocate of a more real world self-defense approach to martial arts.
Therefore, Ken was a very experienced martial artist and instructor. I believe he had been the main assistant instructor for Paul Vunak, basically his right hand man, when he did his international seminar circuit and things like that, so he was the perfect guy to travel with Reylson Gracie and help him expand internationally. He was a real professional in an industry badly needing professionalism. As we talked about, a lot of Jeet Kune Do guys were training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu at that time and some of them were able to devote themselves to it full time. The whole Jeet Kune Do movement was anti-sport and anti-tradition for tradition’s sake and supposed to be all about real world hard core “functional” street self defense. Therefore, ken and I were a lot alike in our eclectic training backgrounds and had both gravitated into Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-jitsu through trial and error with other systems.
In fact, this was very indicative of those times and a lot, if not most people, who where into Brazilian Jiu-jitsu where experienced martial artists who had switched over after discovering the much superior effectiveness of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu approach to real world fighting . Of course for guys like Ken, it was a little easier since his instructor was encouraging it, which was very rare back then and of course he didn’t have to travel those extra 3000 miles like I had to (LOL).
Ken had some of the same philosophies and experiences as I and a lot of other first generation practitioners had with primarily striking based self-defense systems. The instructors and top guys in Vunak’s system where very hard core and the training was predicated around heavy and full contact sparring and drilling. If you cant do it for real in the training environment how are you going to be able to do it for real in an actual fight, they reasoned. The problem with this hard core striking based methodology is that it is really hard on the body and the injury rate can become unacceptably high. As the world has discovered recently constant head trauma, even at low intensity is very dangerous over the long term. ken talked about the very hard core instructor’s certification course that he had done with Vunak and how brutal it was with a very high injury and drop out rate.
This was so reminiscent of my early experiences in the martial arts. By high school I was wrestling, playing Rugby or doing kick-boxing based martial arts every day. Thinking back I was in incredible shape and about as tough a 135 pounder as you where likely to find. I could have probably kicked the ass of a lot of guys who where much larger than me, in fact I did, but you had to catch me in that one or two weeks a month when I was not injured!
This is no exaggeration, and I’m not talking about anything serious most of the time and by the adolescent macho athletic standards of the day. Nevertheless, I was constantly limping around with a twisted ankle or pulled hamstring or whatever and this vastly degrades your performance and most serious of all, prevents you from training more or at least properly. If you try too, like many athletes do, you end up exacerbating those injuries which may very well never heal properly and can bother you the rest of your life. Furthermore, we now understand as a society the long term dangers of repeated head trauma.
The worst injury I got was in Junior High School and was actually from Rugby and not wrestling or martial arts. I got a torn rotater cuff during a Rugby game and my arm just hung there like a wet noddle at my side. I thought It had just gone numb after it got caught under me during a bad tackle. At the moment of impact, it hurt like hell, but then I didn’t feel much. So I didn’t think much of it and tucked my dead arm into my shorts and finished the game. Yea, I have to shake my head now thinking back about that but I was pretty fanatical on the field in those days. At my size I had to be, in order to survive with all those huge guys I played against. That was probably the reason I had won “most valuable player”.
Once I found out what was wrong with my shoulder I was supposed to keep my arm in a sling for like a month or something. I did for a while, but I could not stand the idea that I was wearing a big sign that said “come hassle me, I cant fight right now” (LOL). So I took it off most of the time when I was at school or at certain places and of course it took a lot longer to heal and that shoulder has been a bit of a problem ever since.
Most people are not going to go through this kind of thing in order to learn how to defend themselves, and they should not have to! No one wants to get injured worse in training than they would be in most real fights (LOL). As a kid I didn’t have to go to work the next day or worry about loosing a day’s pay because I got hurt training so I could more easily except the sprains and strains. However, it was still not any fun and even back then I was thinking: “there has to be a better way”. This was also the period when we first started hearing about the long term brain damage that was manifesting its self in professional Boxers long after they left the ring. To me, Rugby was a school sport that would come and go, but even at that early age I had planned to devote a large part of my life to the martial arts.
Of course what happens so often is people then get into the non-contact systems with a lot of forms or kata and little or no realistic sparring or drilling. Injuries become a rarity but so does any real applicable skill set as we will talk more about later.
What was so fantastic about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training was that it was both far more realistic than strike based systems but at the same time far easier on the body. If done properly Brazilian Jiu-jitsu “sparring” is as injury free as any full speed, full force “sport” can be. It was these very great advantages that the first generation Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners in North America saw for themselves so easily because of our experience actually fighting and defending ourselves with other martial arts or unarmed combat systems.
The most important point, is that we as “first generation” Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people were also natural and long time “cross trainers”. We believed in sharing and cross fertilization which led to the vastly accelerated development and improvement of what we call today “Mixed Martial Arts”.
In Brazil, at that time, they seemed a lot more closed minded and way too hung up on this petty “us vs. them” attitude. At the least, there was a kind of “clannishness” and even secrecy among the professional old school instructors. Worse yet, there was a lot of disrespectful attitudes among the younger generation. I didn’t know it at the time but Brazilian Jiu-jitsu had gone into a steep decline in its homeland as far as something the classy people did and respected.
Therefore, we figured that with those self limiting attitudes it would not be that long before we had a better system in North America with our philosophy of hybridization and cooperation. We were right of course and now cross training for MMA has produced truly the most complete and effective fighting system the worlds has ever know. Back in the early days it was often fun to watch some mouthy Brazilian Jiu-jitsu guy get his ass handed to him because he thought, or worse yet was told by his “expert” teacher, that fighting in MMA was just like tournament training and you needed to wear a Gi and all this other bizarre BS, which we can talk about more later.
Q: “This was all before the first UFC event?”
A: yes, and that is an important point, the very first UFC did not happen until nearly 1994, November of 1993 to be precise, and I was already Canadian national representative for Reylson Gracie Jiu-jitsu and well established in Canada at that time.
Q: “Why is that distinction important?”
A: well, mostly because the first UFC was the watershed event that marked the moment when large amounts of people and the mainstream media first noticed and heard about BJJ. It only really began to grow exponentially because of that event and as it grew it sent shock waves through the martial arts world, not to mention all the controversy the actual event caused, but I’m just talking about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as a self defense system here. Its effect on the martial arts community was a veritable revolution-and I might add, a badly needed one. much of the old very phony and flaky martial arts dogma was swept away or forced to change. Of course, as soon as some thing becomes popular every one jumps on the band wagon and starts making bizarre claims or trying to cash in-many of these people being the same fakes and phonies that had held back the martial arts community for so long.
↑ An original program guide for the First UFC event. The UFC heralded in an entirely new era of reality martial arts training that was nothing short of revolutionary.
Q: “what made you want to bring Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to Canada at a time when no one had heard of it and how did you first learn about it?”
A: Well, I would not exactly say that “no one” had heard of it, but really only people in the martial arts community and only those few who had an interest in things going on outside their little worlds of “our style” or “our sport”. While I loved all aspects of the martial arts I had always been most interested in the “real world” applications and serious self defense. Therefore, I did a lot of cross-training and research into different martial arts and combat sports, trying to figure out what really worked in real fights. I sometimes ran with what was a pretty rough crowd for that time period so I saw and was involved in my share of street altercations. I wasn’t very tall and was a skinny kid so I had no natural advantages.
On top of that, I always had a strong sense of justice and was the kind of kid that would stand up for the “geeks” or “nerds” that had become targets of bullies. I grew up doing this and lived a very martial arts orientated life style. Cross-training was not very common at that time and people today would have a hard time believing how closed minded and hostile to new ideas the martial arts world was, not to mention; just plain weird. As I grew up there was of course conflicts and violence of different sorts and as I went more into the work force during and after college I found myself having to take jobs such as security work and working with remanded youth and even mentally disturbed people. In these environments the need for effective, realistic self-defense skills was very great and encouraged me to do even more research and training into what was out there and best able to prepare people for real world violence.
In around 1988-89, the martial arts media such as “BLACK BELT” magazine and others, which were the closest thing we had to “trade journals” began to give coverage to “Gracie Jiu-jitsu” this obscure fighting and self-defense system that had come out of Brazil. I think Rorion Gracie had just opened the Torrance academy and was beginning his very skillful marketing campaign. What passed for martial arts journalism, such as “BLACK BELT” magazine was based in southern California as was Rorion so there was a natural fit.
I first took notice of “Gracie Jiu-jitsu” from an article that appeared in one of these magazines. True to form, I believe that these magazines got there que from outside since Rorion had managed to get an interview with “PLAYBOY” magazine. This was unheard of mainstream interest in a martial arts topic and don’t ask me how he managed that but the martial arts magazine industry took notice and from there I read about it as part of my research and thirst for knowledge. I was not a regular reader of “PLAYBOY” so I had not seen that article and never did until Rorion gave me a copy sometime later. I believe the name of the article was “BAD” and it focused on the “Gracie challenge”. This was quite interesting because no one had ever really heard of such a thing and the martial arts media picked up on it as well.
Don’t get me wrong, just because something appeared in “BLACK BELT” magazine certainly did not mean that it was true, far from it. Martial arts magazines don’t do investigative journalism and they don’t take sides, the martial arts world is far too wacky and petty for that. They print things purely to generate interest and keep their readership happy by printing a story on your style or your master. Trust me, all manner of flakes and weirdos have graced its pages and even its covers; so when yet another “unbeatable” fighting system was featured in “BLACK BELT” it should not have generated much interest. However, something was very different about “Gracie Jiu-jitsu”. This difference was the “Gracie challenge” which turned out to be another marketing coup for Rorion Gracie and the first very large chip in the soon to be crumbling edifice of traditional martial arts.
Q: “Could you explain a little more about the ‘Gracie challenge’ for those who are unfamiliar with it?”
A: Sure; in these articles Rorion Gracie claimed that “Gracie Jiu-jitsu” had been “undefeated” in real fights and “street condition” matches for the length of its history, which at that time had been sixty or seventy years. They were now in the USA and giving notice that they were willing to prove the effectiveness of their Jiu-jitsu by taking on any one from any style in these “street condition” challenge matches. This was indeed a bold statement, but as I have mentioned, anything you read in a martial arts magazine had to be taken with a grain of salt. What made this challenge much more then the usual empty boast from some loon was that they were willing to “put their money where their mouth was” and this is something the loons, fakes and bullies are never ever going to do.
In a world of false and often just plain flaky bravado, Rorion Gracie put up a hundred thousand dollars American and said “they”, meaning his brothers and family, would fight any one who matched the money in a “winner takes all” no-rules challenge match. Of course it was not about the money, they were happy to fight for free and usually did. However, they needed to show they were serious and wanted to attract those people who were considered the best fighters like Mike Tyson and other professional fighters who obviously were not going to fight for free. needless to say, and to make a long story short, they never had to pay up to any one. This is what really started the tongues to wag with in the martial arts and self defense community, in that early pre-UFC period.
Q: “So you founded Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada because of the ‘Gracie challenge’?”
A: No, not entirely; the “Gracie challenge” certainly made me take notice, as it was intended to do, but there was and is so much BS in the martial arts world that I first had to be satisfied that this was not just more of the same. Remember, we are talking about 1988-89 here. At that time I was just some skinny 22 or 23 year old idealistic kid-I had no intention of founding anything, and to be honest, I should not have had to!
I had no martial arts school of my own and little or no resources since I was fresh out of university and was trying to get some kind of career started in what became known as “the generation x experience”. But the martial arts had always been my first love and I just wanted to train, if this new style was that good then I should be training in it. I just assumed that every one else thought the same way and that the high level guys, the “champions”, the chain school owners and “the masters” wanted the best too.
I figured that these guys had the motivation, resources, connections and responsibility to go down there and either beat these Gracie guys up or confirm that this was the real deal. I mean what an opportunity! this was like the “holy grail” of martial arts, the style that every one had been searching for all these years but that no one could find and now it was finally here! The style that had beaten all the others and could actually prove it was the best.
I believed that all the sensies and instructors, sifus and gurus would be chomping at the bit to get to the truth and if this was the truth then we all wanted the best for ourselves and our students. therefore, the “real masters” would do the right thing, in a little while schools would be founded in Canada and in my area and I could go train-which was all I wanted to do at the time. Sounded pretty simple didn’t it? after all, all of us in the martial arts world are all about honor and the truth right? Boy was I wrong!
Q: “The response from the martial arts community was not what you anticipated?”
A: That is the point, there did not appear to be much of a response at all. The “Gracie challenge” and the whole approach of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was a wake up call to the martial arts world and no body wanted to pick up the phone!
As more and more people started to talk about it I then began to hear the same old “I’m tougher then those guys” BS from all the flakes and weirdos also know as “martial arts masters”. It was just so laughable and childish in the face of the “Gracie Challenge”! Hell, if you are so damned tough why don’t you go get your hundred grand?!
I mean, who do they think they are impressing? I guess they think it makes them sound tough but in fact they were just making fools of themselves in a similar way as people making up claims about founding Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada. They must be operating under the old political maxim that: “if you tell a lie long enough it becomes the truth”!
Far from impressing me, it was more and more turning me off of the martial arts community and really making me want to do something about it. Don’t get me wrong, of course not every one was like this, just the extreme phonies but almost every one else just plain didn’t care or couldn’t be bothered if it wasn’t there “style”, “art”, “sport” or whatever. It was this weird myopia coming from otherwise normal people that I found just as frustrating as I tried to change things.
Q: “so aside from the ‘Gracie challenge’ what did lead you to the eventual founding of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada?”
A: There were a few factors that came together and helped me have a kind of personal paradigm shift that led to a lot changing in my out look towards the martial arts world and the founding of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada. The first was my original cross-training philosophy, that is what always made me interested in finding a better way, then the “Gracie challenge” simply pointed me in the right direction but a lot had to do with the amount and variety of the physical encounters and assaults I was experiencing in the work I ended up having to do and finally a profound disillusionment with the martial arts community that made me want to create some kind of alternative.
This alternative was not just about training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu but about the entire nature of the martial arts community or at least the negative aspects of it which I had come to believe were far more pervasive than the positive aspects. I came to realize that we didn’t just need a new style to practice we needed a whole new paradigm to operate under.
Q: “Before we delve any deeper into where you ultimately arrived and the paradigm shifts that led to the founding of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada, perhaps we should go back to where it all began for you?”
Q: “ What is your athletic background like and where and when did you first start training in the martial arts and what got you interested?”
A: I got interested in the martial arts about 1979. I had been a pretty quite introverted kid in elementary school so I didn’t naturally gravitate towards team athletics. I played a season or two of soft ball like a lot of kids did and there was soccer and basketball in elementary school but it all seemed kind of artificial and unheroic to me because there was no contact.
I actually did some organized skating as a kid as preparation for playing ice hockey which is a real Canadian tradition. My parents were from the parries where there isn’t nearly as much to do in those small farming communities. Furthermore, the cold weather sucks so every one learns how to skate and play Hockey. I was the youngest in my family and the only one born and raised on the west coast. Therefore, I had a lot more options and never did play any organized hockey. I read a lot of history as a kid particularly military history and I could not imagine the knights of old or the great generals doing this stuff so it never held that much interest for me. But as an energetic kid I was always looking for something physical to do that was both fun, interesting and I suppose “relevant” although I probably would not have fully understood that idea at the time.
Near the end of Elementary School I got into Lacrosse a little bit and played a season or two. That was the first contact orientated organized sport I played and it was pretty wild so I had a very good time. Lacrosse is basically modeled on Hockey but is not played on ice and you use a very different kind of stick to throw a round hard rubber ball instead of sliding a puck down on the ice.
For those that have never seen or heard of Lacrosse the team structure, rules and feel of the game is very similar to Hockey. You have an identical type net at either end of the rink and you run on a hard surface instead of skate. The biggest difference is that the stick is a heavier more solid piece of wood with a woven basket at the end so you can catch and whip the ball, it is a very fast, rough and demanding game but at least you don’t have to know how to skate.
The main rule difference that changes every thing is that you are allowed to “cross check”, at least when I played, and this is a big “no, no” in Hockey. Cross checking, means you can hold the stick at either end and ram the opposing player with the middle of it and try to knock him down. As long as you hit the body, it was perfectly legal and we wore hockey type pads so it wasn’t like anyone was getting badly injured.
↑ A wild cross-check slides up the player’s pads and strikes the head. Although this was illegal it was a very common occurrence in the game of Lacrosse. Many of the people I later met in the Martial Arts world were simply “wimps” and cowards that could not have lasted 5 minutes in a sport like this but wanted the public to believe they were deadly “martial arts masters”.
Q: “So lacrosse is a lot like Hockey only rougher?”
Yea, (LOL), I guess you could say that. I remember running in there and seeing all these kids getting leveled by hard cross checks and just having a great time like it was some mini battle with sticks. At the time I don’t think I knew the origins of the game but it came from The natives of the east coast like the Mohawks. The east coast native people used to play with huge teams of maybe a whole tribe and play over large areas of many acres if there were enough people. So it could get pretty wild with different bands and tribes or whatever and it was pretty easy they say for it to become a virtual, non lethal, battle with sticks.
Therefore, I may have not been a great lacrosse player at that age but I think I captured the spirit of it and thought of it as something a warrior would do because of the contact and man to man or at least kid to kid nature of it. As for the rest of the game, well at that age there are always people interfering with your fun because we are supposed to be focusing on winning and loosing and skills development (LOL). I think I just liked getting in there and seeing if I could knock someone down with that stick.
Also, I remember some of the negative experiences with what they call today “Hockey parents”, except we were not playing hockey but the idea was the same with this over emphasis on wining and competitiveness. I saw parents almost come to blows because their kids were on opposing teams and some of them would advocate cheap shots and be very disrespectful to the officials or coaches of the other teams and all this stuff that seemed really bizarre to a young kid when its coming from adults.
It wasn’t that wide spread at that time, which is maybe why it was even more shocking but to see adults acting out worse than the kids at times made an impression on me. And look at where we are today with this kind of behavior becoming more and more violent and wide spread to the point that we hear on the news of parents killing each other in fights at the rink or wherever. Therefore, even at that time I seemed to understand that there was something really strange and pathetic about people who were so small minded that they could only really grasp the infantile concept of “winning” or “loosing”. So think how I felt as an adult years later when I’m dealing with certain Brazilian Jiu-jitsu “masters” like Marcus Soares who could have given any 10 year old lessons in petulant, infantile behavior (LOL).
The game of Lacrosse, or hockey for that matter, was not for wimps or goofs and either is real Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. It really does “build character” to learn to give and to take hits. Its just a game and if you give as good as you get from guys bigger and more experienced than you then you really have accomplished something that can stay with you for a life time while the “winning” and “loosing” part is very transitory.This is something a whole lot of sport Jiu-jitsu guys should have learned as children. Talk about stuck in the anal phase (LOL).
I certainly could not have expressed it like this at that age but I think I felt that way at an intuitive level. The world unfortunately is full of goofs and bullies that want to be able to cheap shot you but howl with indignity if you give them a clean shot. Out in that Lacrosse box you can’t hide you have to look after yourself and your team mates, which was a pretty cool experience.
There are rules and ideas of sportsmanship and as long as you stay within them, then I was happy to hit and be hit without complaint. However, just like in Hockey, if you felt someone had crossed those lines you could “drop the gloves” and go at it “man to man” or at least prepubescent to prepubescent (LOL). I have to laugh now thinking about that, but there are future bullies and sociopaths at that age and it was in this environment that I had to “throw down” if I thought it was worth fighting about.
I didn’t do too much of that then because as a wide eyed newbie I didn’t get that much playing time. But I do remember, team mates that I came to really respect, you know just decent kids that I went to school with then or later on so I knew they were good guys, who would drop the gloves against bigger kids because they had given a cheap shot to a team mate or something. That too made a lasting impression on me. I really liked the game in a lot of ways but in the end “organized athletics” was maybe too organized for me (LOL).
I remember one game our coach caught the other team violating some technicality, I cant recall, something like they had brought too big a team or tried to have too many player on the field or whatever, I cant remember but it was not like a safety issue or anything but it was a big enough deal to get the game called in our favor. On one level that was good coaching and he got us the win with no injuries or risks but to a kid my age it wasn’t very fun or exciting so that along with a lot of “riding the pine” and listening to mouthy “hockey” parents left me pretty bored so I eventually dropped out. At that age you need a lot of support and encouragement from your parents to be disciplined about anything. My parents were pretty easy going and with the high cost of pads and Lacrosse gear there was no point spending that money if I wasn’t that into it so I once again began to look for something that I could apply my youthful energies to.
So I ended up in Army Cadets, which was pretty cool in a lot of ways. I loved shooting big bore rifles and marching around but it was surprisingly sedentary. We spent a lot of time siting around reading maps and polishing our boots. on top of that, for some reason it seemed to attract a lot of low class nobs so there was a lot of cigarette smoking, spitting, swearing and stealing other kids patches and insignia.
The first real fights and violence I think I saw was hanging out with these nobs. Especially when in training camps with these kinds of kids so we had to back each other up. I saw a fair amount of bullying and there was always that natural unit against unit and town against town rivalry when we went out on maneuvers so fights were far more common then any other environment I had been in as a kid.
The first time I was kicked with a steel toed boot came from one of these low class nobs and the first time I’d seen blood drawn in a fight came as a cadet and it was pretty shocking for a 12 or 13 year old quite kid from the sleepy suburbs . I guess I learned about camaraderie and a juvenile version of a warrior ethos. Not to mention, that it is a good idea to know how to fight since loyalty and honor means you are going to have to fight for someone else even if you don’t want to. This was a theme that has influenced me all my life and fueled my later interest in martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
In the end, the o’l 1922 Royal Westminster Regiment, was too much like a combination of the boy scouts and reform school. I could not imagine the knights of old or the great generals hanging out with these losers LOL. Besides I was going into junior high in the 70s; I wanted to grow my hair long and meet girls not spend my time polishing my gun (LOL).
When I got into junior high or as I think they call it now days, “middle school”, I fell in love with contact sports. I was not a naturally athletic kid but I was a physical one and loved to rough house and use my body. I tried a little football but that was the biggest sport at the school and had its own world of politics and favoritism that I could never stand.
At my size and skill level the only position I was going to qualify for in Football was bench warmer, besides I never liked the game much on an organized level, too start and stop for me. I did like Rugby though, and it was not a popular program so the team was pretty small. Even a little guy like me got plenty of playing time. On top of that there was no BS politics or favoritism. we could just go out there and play hard. I should thank coach Lewis for that, I really respected him and liked that.
The fact it was rough as hell really appealed to that primordial physical nature I felt and that I think all men and boys have or at least should have and that is being lost rapidly in modern society. I’m not talking about violence or whatever, I’m talking about that innate human joy of using the body that nature gave us. That is why kids laugh, run and jump, play and climb trees. There really is nothing more unnatural for humans then to be sedentary.
Its that aspect that I think is most important in sport and more so in the martial arts and some thing I really want to return to in my Genesis Brazilian Jiu-jitsu system. I must have been one of the lightest guys but ended up wining “most valuable player” my first year out. I played Rugby and later wrestled all through school, but I was no “jock” in that social hierarchy, cliquey sort of way. I played the sports I played because I liked them and not because they were popular or to kiss ass to the teachers who coached them. I was too rebellious for the politics and blatant favoritism that I saw in the organized athletics around me.
Lets be honest, organized sports can be very discriminatory and I’m talking just on a physical level, if you are not a certain body type you are not going anywhere in football or basketball which were the two big sports in my time. In fact, Abby Senior won the BC basketball provincial championships for the first time in my senior year and the football championships the next year so I was at a quintessential “jock” school. This politics and favoritism always left a bad taste in my mouth so I guess I started to look around for something that had the physicality I loved but was not about silly games, some thing that had the positive aspects of athletics but not the negative ones, something that I could see the knights of old and the great warriors of history doing-this is what led me into the world of martial arts and partly why I have always considered it so much more than a sport.Furthermore, The Martial arts were all about history. They had long traditions and heroes of their own, they came from far away cultures and held the allure of secret esoteric knowledge. What could be cooler?
It was this fascinating synthesis of the physical and the literate, the mind and the body, that made the martial arts very different from any other activity and held such appeal to me. In fact, that reminds me of a funny bit I read in, I think, “Men’s Health” or some similar publication. It had this article on “how to make your self more fit and interesting” then had a quick humorous description. one of the suggestions was: “take martial arts” the reasons, “chicks will dig you because you can beat up rude jerks and talk philosophy after” and the bonus was “can make Bruce lee noises in bed”. I thought that was hilarious and even though I read that many years after the fact it pretty well described how I felt back then in junior high.
It was not that simple to get started, there were not many martial arts schools in the area at that time and of course something like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or Mixed Martial Arts were unheard of at the time. The central Fraser valley was a lot smaller than and what schools there were, were off the beaten path. On top of that, I had decided to do a little research which was my nature back then even before my college training. I was no gifted student, but I certainly was not afraid of books and I loved to read and learn provided it was something I was interested in. This really parallels my attitude towards sports; I had no interest in some “jock” sub-culture but I loved to work out, I was a terrible student but I loved to read and learn- no wonder I ended up devoting much of my life to something that wasn’t very mainstream at that time.
Anyhow, My first step was to take a look in the school library to see what I could find out about the martial arts. The terms “karate”, “kung-fu” and “Judo” were well-known by then. But I personally did not know of anyone involved in them so the whole thing was a big mystery to me.
like most of the guys my age, what we knew about the martial arts we got from television. In my case, the biggest influence was the old David Carridine series “kung-fu”. It had been around since the early 70s and we grew up watching it in re-runs.I had always thought it was very cool and the character “Cane” was the embodiment of the idea of the warrior/philosopher. Kung-fu seemed pretty cool but watching Cane do his thing in the old west seemed pretty far removed from modern life in the suburbs.
So as a little kid I never thought of it as something I wanted to do, outside of the heroic fantasy idea of course. As kids we might run around in the back yard and kick each other but there was no way in hell I was going to sit out in front of some temple gate in the rain (LOL). However, as I grew up I had this archetype that “Cane” represented in the back of my mind. Of course, I didn’t even know what an “archetype” was back then, but even so I had this intuitive acceptance of the idea that with “power” comes responsibility.
If the martial arts gives you power over other people then you need to use it wisely to help people. Otherwise what is the purpose? to produce more efficient thugs? For this reason, all through history and through many cultures training in the warrior arts went hand in hand with strong ethical codes of conduct. This is something that resonated deeply with me even at an early age.
This is a theme that I got back to many times through out my martial arts life because I had to be honest with myself and admit that I was encountering more flakes and people of just plain low character within the martial arts world then almost any other place! Far from producing better people it seemed to be having the opposite effect. This was one of the key influences that fueled my personal paradigm shift that I mentioned earlier and made me really want to create a better alternative by Bringing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to Canada, of course the irony is that this exposed us to a whole new species of lowlife and it is those experiences that makes ethical conduct such an integral part of my new LeRuyet Brazilian style Jiu-jitsu approach.
But I digress, lets return to my personal motivations to get involved in the martial arts. I made my trip to the library to do some research into what was out there once I had decided this was something I wanted to do. Remember, this was 1979, there was no internet and no real way to find out about stuff except to ask people and do some old-fashioned page turning at the book shelves or phone book.
There was not all that much there or in the public library but I found a few informative books I could read and I came across one in particular that made an impact on me. This was a really nice book, hard cover and gloss color pages. That made it really stand out since most of the other stuff seemed a lot cheaper made or was pretty dry historical reading. I think it was from England which was interesting, but over the years I’ve come see that the Europeans seemed to take their martial arts more seriously on some levels and their publishing industry certainly seems to. when I saw a book like this where people had taken the time and effort to have something of higher quality you kind of assume they must know what they are talking about, at least as a kid I did.
Furthermore, it had chapters on different martial arts so I had found a comparative study right there under one cover. This was just what I was looking for. In the end it was not that huge a book but it covered some major styles.
I think the largest chapter was on karate but to me they made it look really dumb. There was page after page of the karate guy doing the same techniques. no matter how he was attacked outside, inside, standing up or siting in a car, all he did was use a reverse punch, a knife hand “shuto”or a front kick.I guess the idea was to show how simple and I guess lethal, karate was. You sure would have thought so from the looks on the bad guys faces as they were punched, chopped or kicked.
The chapter on kung-fu was another story, it seemed to have everything, kicks, throws, takedowns, joint locks and many weird and wonderful hand strikes. Not to mention, much cooler and esoteric outfits (LOL). I knew enough about fighting even then to theorize that a warrior was going to need more than one kind of punch and the Fred Flintstone judo chop to be able to vanquish all the different foes and attacks that he might face… and if you got to wear cool threads while doing it, well that was a bonus( LOL)
From the very beginning of my interest in martial arts or self-defense, I was looking for the most complete system possible. I reasoned that this would make it the most effective since it could deal with the most situations. According to this book, which seemed the best and most informative, that style was kung-fu.
That got me thinking, “was not o’l “Cane” from the TV show a kung-fu master”? Yes he was, but also he was so much more. He was a sage , philosopher and a warrior with a very strong moral code and the honor to defend it. I had found it, not only was Kung-fu the most complete style but it was also the most complete philosophically.
On top of that, I learned that kung-fu had the longest history which was a bonus for a guy like me who read a lot of history, and according to that history all those other martial arts like karate and tae kwon do had come from kung-fu so it must be completely superior I reasoned. I didn’t want to be surrounded by dumb jocks or nerdy academics I wanted to enter the world of high-minded warriors, I would except no substitute-I had to find a Kung-Fu school.
Q: “Were you able to find a kung-fu school?”
A: That is a reasonable question considering that I was in Abbotsford which was a pretty small place in 1979 and did not have much of an Asian population back then. On top of that, I was too young to drive and I don’t even think Abbotsford had public transit at the time; so I could not go very far. I don’t know if any of this occurred to me at the time all I knew is that I needed to find a kung-fu school and I started to look and ask around specifically for one.
As luck would have it, I caught wind of what a guy I went to school with said was a Kung-fu school, I wasn’t sure if he had got it right since he was no budding warrior/scholar like I was and had not been reading up on it (LOL). I was able to track it down even though I don’t think it had any outside signage, but there it was the old “Fraser Valley School of Martial Arts” teaching “Shoalin Fist Way Kung-fu and kick-boxing”.
Q: ”The Fraser valley school of martial arts became the first academy you trained at?”
A: Yes it was and it turned out to be quite the find. It was light years ahead of anything else in the Fraser valley at that time and among the very best schools in the greater Vancouver area and maybe the country. It’s ironic that I ended up there because I was looking for a kung-fu school, as it turned out the kung-fu part was the least important aspect of what I learned there and I stayed for some years because of its modern and eclectic approach that was contact orientated and very realistic for that era; in fact, it was the closest thing we had in those days to a mixed martial arts academy.
Q: “Tell us about some of your early experiences with the Fraser Valley School of Martial arts”
A: As I mentioned, I’d tracked this school down and went with a friend to check it out. My friend had done some boxing and we had worked out a little with that but boxing just did not have the appeal or the mystique that kung-fu had so he said he was interested in doing some martial arts as well. The school was upstairs over another business of some kind, it might have been the original Clearbrook Fitness Center, I don’t remember.
We went up the stairs and I saw some people working out. One guy was doing double roundhouse kicks on a heavy bag which really impressed me, and some other people were doing Chinese forms. There were staffs and weapons leaning in a corner and what turned out to be Judo jackets hanging on a wall. There were skipping ropes and other modern training equipment all over and it would not have surprised me if there had been an incense burner supported on some Ming dynasty stand. It all seemed very cool and authentic like a modern-day version of the stuff I’d seen on the “kung-fu” series. Except no one had shaved their heads (LOL).
Q: “How old were you then?”
A: I would have been fourteen.
Q: ”Who was the instructor at the Fraser valley school of Martial arts?”
A: This was sifu Gordon Gong’s school or “kwon”. Gordon Gong was both classically trained in Shoalin Fist Way kung-fu and was also a professional kick-boxer. He was doing a lot of very progressive and serious training for that time and place. In Fact, Gordon and his instructor Bruce Curry were pioneers of kick-boxing and contact fighting here on the Canadian west coast.
I First met “Gordy” that day I went to find the place and take a look. He seemed easy going but professional unlike this classical karate tool that I had spoken to earlier who seemed to have airs of semi-divinity. Gordy invited us into his office and told us a little about his school. He said he taught “basic karate, judo, boxing and advanced kung-fu and kickboxing”. That sounded perfect to me and was sold on the spot.
Q: “What was the training like at the Fraser Valley School of Martial Arts?”
A: I think, “ahead of its time” or better yet “on the cutting edge” is a good way to describe the training there. we did a lot of different kinds of training and sparring. Thinking back to my first experiences there with the martial arts, I would have to give Gordon Gong and his school credit for instilling in me that eclectic philosophy towards cross-training that eventually led me to establish Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada.
More specifically, kick-boxing was the thing that Gordy Gong took the most seriously and he was a real pioneer in that area. Therefore, we all did a lot of kick-boxing style training.Thinking back with 20/20 hind sight of course, we probably did too much kick-boxing and I mean this in the sense that there is so much more to the martial arts and I mean just realistic martial arts.
We were so very close at times to developing into a true Mixed Martial Arts gym. That would have been very cool and saved me a decade of trial and error. We did do some wrestling takedowns for example and if I remember right, it was this little taste of wrestling used for self-defense that inspired me to go out and join my school’s wrestling team and led me into a few years of serious wrestling. I don’t know where Gordy got this from, I don’t remember if he had actually wrestled himself or just tried it out from Bruce Lee’s Toa of Jeet Kune Do manual that was kind of the cross trainers “bible” at the time. But just like the book, we only touched on the subject a little bit and then got back to the “real stuff” and at the Fraser valley School of Martial Arts, that meant kick-boxing.
You see, kick-boxing was kind of the “mixed martial arts” of that period and was definitely a required phase that the evolution of the “perfect” fighting system would have to go through and then eventually surpass. By this I mean that kick-boxing was quite new, at least in North America, and had developed as kind of a testing ground for what actually worked in full-contact fighting. At least, the stand up, striking aspect of full-contact fighting. Remember, that in this period almost everyone was doing some form of traditional striking arts that had become tremendously popular in the very early seventies. Almost None of these traditional Asian fighting systems actually did any fighting! At least not any systematic full-contact fighting, so practitioners of course had to figure out what actually worked in their own methods before they were going to think about what methods could counter them or worked even better. I went through this process as well on a personal level as did most of the first generation of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners in North America.
Its interesting on both a historical and technical level that North America had gone through two distinct Martial arts “booms” and “evolutions” with the results of the first one being largely forgotten as the second one started and the whole process had to begin again but in a much more confusing context. While in Brazil, they had kept more of an unbroken connection to the original “boom” and introduction of Asian martial arts into the West, not to mention, the evolution of hand to hand fighting that went along with it. one writer in fact, described the jiu-jitsu in Brazil as being so effective because it had in affect been “caught in a time warp”.
Q: ”So kick-boxing was the MMA of that period because it was new and full-contact?”
A: Yes, partially but mostly because of the controversy that surrounded it, in the same way as Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu would be so controversial to an even greater degree starting in the 90s. The difference is that all the controversy around kick-boxing came from within the martial arts community, particularly the traditional or “classical” martial arts community. Of course, one of the main reasons for this opposition to kick-boxing was because the unproven traditional arts felt threatened by the new more realistic approach in the same way that these same traditional arts as well as the now established combat sports like kick-boxing were horrified by the arrival of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
END OF PART ONE
Q: “Lets begin by going back further in time and could you explain what you mean by the first martial arts ‘boom’ in North America?”
A: Sure, that is an excellent idea because we as martial artist have really come full circle from that period and it really puts things into context to understand what happened back then, because we are again repeating a cycle and doing the same things that led to the de-evolution of our martial arts as realistic fighting systems the first time. Its like the old saying: “those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat its mistakes”; and in the case of martial arts and self defense nothing could be more true. So, I hope to raise everyone’s awareness of what is happening to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA by pointing out how our culture has already gone through this once before and hopefully we can avoid the same mistakes the second time around.
The first “martial arts boom” as I called it, is simply the first time in our history that Asian martial arts were introduced into North America, and the western world, and became relatively well-known. This began to happen around the turn of the 20th century. This period also coincides with the immense popularity that wrestling had in North America and the beginning of the rise of boxing as a legitimate and hugely popular professional spectator sport; not to mention, an amateur activity taught in athletic clubs and universities everywhere. Therefore, for the first time in our modern era there was a lot of what we would call today, “martial arts” going on.
But what is almost forgotten today, is that in this early period it was wrestling not boxing that was by far the most popular sport and had been so through the late 19th century. The sport columns were apparently full of wrestling and when people talked about “the heavyweight champion of the world” they were talking about the heavy weight wrestling champion. Boxing, on the other hand, was still largely illegal and had to fight for legitimacy, legal status and social acceptance in the same way that MMA would have to do a hundred years later. Into this environment, Japanese jiu-jitsu was introduced for the first time and was spreading around the world.
Q: “Why did Japanese Jiu-jitsu and not some other Asian martial art spread around the world?”
A: Japan was unique, it was the first Asian country to industrialize, modernize and adopt western technology. It did this so rapidly and effectively that it could go to war with a European imperial power like Russia and to the consternation of the world easily defeated the Russians in, I think 1904. This made Japan a world power and the rest of the world started to take notice of them and their culture.
In fact, it was Teddy Roosevelt the president of the United States at that time who brokered the peace treaty between Japan and Russia. He then became an avid student of Jiu-jitsu/judo and even had a Dojo installed at the White House. He also requested that Japan send him some top instructors so he could spread Jiu-jitsu into the USA. Therefore, we can see how popular jiu-jitsu was becoming in the early 1900s if the American president himself was doing it.
↑President of The USA, Theodore Roosevelt introduces the peace delegates from Russia and Japan, from a period sketch. President Roosevelt went on to be the very first American to win a Noble prize in 1906, for his efforts to bring the Russo-Japanese war to an end.
Q: “wow that is truly fascinating and something I’ll bet most people, even those into the martial arts, didn’t know.”
A: well, you could fill the library of congress with all the things so called “martial arts experts” don’t know about their field of expertise but what is even more historically interesting and what even less people realize, even all the “experts” in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, is that Teddy Roosevelt, the president of the USA was indirectly responsible for the birth of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Q: “How could the President of the USA be responsible for the birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?”
A: When President Roosevelt asked the Japanese to send him some top instructors, who do you think they sent him? None other than Mitsuya Meada and some other high ranking instructors and this is why Meada left Japan and began to teach and travel in North America and then South America. In south America he taught Carlos Gracie and the rest is BJJ history. So without Teddy Roosevelt and his influence with the Japanese Meada may never have left Japan and could not have taught Carlos Gracie and there would be no BJJ.
Q: “So because of Teddy Roosevelt Jiu-jitsu became popular in North America in the 1900s?”
Well, I don’t know how influential Roosevelt as an individual was. I don’t know if he actively promoted Jiu-jitsu that much or it was just something he was into personally. He was an avid sportsman and was into boxing and wrestling and all the “manly” pursuits from what I have read; but his interest in Jiu-jitsu is recorded because he was a famous person so we know about it but I would say he was more an example of the growing popularity that was all over but just isn’t really remembered. I did read that because of Roosevelt’s interest in Jiu-jitsu the first systematic hand to hand combat programs, using Jiu-jitsu, were introduced into the US military.
In fact, there is an old Jiu-jitsu manual that now days is pretty easy to find on the internet written by a fellow named Alan Smith. The manual is from 1920 and is called “THE SECRETS OF JIU-JITSU”. Smith was the hand to hand combat instructor at one of the US training camps during World War One. The manual is surprisingly good for that period and it’s because Smith had trained directly in Japan and gotten some of the more closely guarded tricks of that Era. Anyhow, I read recently that Smith had been originally brought to the USA as part of this program Roosevelt had initiated.
This Parallels what was happening in other western nations during the same period. Kaiser William in Germany also instituted Jiu-jitsu training programs for the military after seeing a demonstration. Jiu-jitsu was popular enough in Germany that there was even a Short lived Jiu-jitsu magazine published in Germany during the 1920s. I mean think about it, in the 20s! There was no Martial arts Magazine in the USA until “BLACK BELT” started in the 60s.
So I think the point is that we would probably be surprised if we went back in time to that era, I think we would find that there was a kind of jiu-jitsu fad going on in the 1900s similar to the Ninjitsu craze we went through in the 1980s.
Of course the times where very different in the sense of the “mass media”. There was of course no television, but there wasn’t even radio yet until about 1920 and motion pictures where just getting invented. So apparently people went to a lot of what they called “circuses”, not too different from our circuses of today but they included all kinds of cultural and sportive entertainments not just lions and tigers, I guess they were more like what we might term, traveling expos. I didn’t realize how popular and part of cultural life these traveling shows where in those days until I started to come across all these very diverse references to circuses, Jiu-jitsu and martial arts.
Q: “Do you have any specific examples so people will understand what you are talking about?”
A: sure, there are a tonne of them but let me give you a couple interesting ones that come to mind. One of the more main stream examples that I was surprised to learn of, is of Joseph Pilates, the inventor of the now very famous Pilates exercise method that most everyone has heard of. I read that he was working for a Circus as a boxer and self defense instructor and they were in England when World War One started. He was German or Austrian born so that made him an “enemy national” so he had to be interned during the war. I guess this gave him the time and opportunity to work on some of his re-hab ideas which led to his famous method but apparently he started out as a traveling circus self-defense instructor and performer.
In the more Martial arts context, we have Samuel Lichenfeld , the father of Imi Lichenfeld who went on to move to Israel and found Krav Maga. Samuel was a circus “performer” himself for many years before becoming a policeman and he had learned weight training and jiu-jitsu while working in the Circus. He then trained the police and his son in Jiu-jitsu as well as “physical culture” at a well-known gym he founded.
My own grandfather who came from France in 1908 said that he had seen Savate, the classic French style kick-boxing in a traveling Circus as a boy and they lived in the real backwater section of France at that time.
There are more obscure examples that are nonetheless very interesting and important to the history of martial arts in North America. One of the very first permanent Asian based martial arts schools to open in the USA was in Pittsburgh in 1927. This school was a Jiu-jitsu school founded by a man named Dewy Deavers who had also worked for a circus and learned jiu-jitsu starting in 1910 from a Japanese troop. Guys like this are barely remembered now days and might not be remembered at all except his school was around a very long time and I think still exists under his students. How many other schools and instructors have simply been forgotten?
Furthermore, there is an original “Defendu” style that was put together during or after World War One and they are still around, sometimes referring to the method as “British Jiu-jitsu” since the originator was an English man who’s name escapes me but who also originally was said to have learned by working at a theater or something where these traveling troops of Japanese Jiu-jitsu practitioners would perform.
As for circuses, the connection to jiu-jitsu does not end there. The most relevant one to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is that Gastao Gracie, the father of Carlos Gracie, was a Circus owner in the North of Brazil. This is how he met Mitsuya Meada who was involved in some capacity with the circus which was apparently holding boxing and mixed fighting events and was even called “the American Circus”.
Therefore, in the 1980s people went to see Ninja movies but in the 1900s it sounds like there were a whole lot of people going to see Jiu-jitsu demonstrations and fights. This had to be done live, and one of the most popular ways of seeing live events was through these “circuses”.
Q: “so what happened to all this very early interest in Jiu-jitsu?”
A: Now that is an interesting question, the answer to which I am still researching but that can still be answered in different ways. For one example, the sport of Judo that is the direct inheritor of this early Jiu-jitsu movement and popularity, is hugely popular in places such as Europe and Japan. Judo athletes are celebrities there and it gets TV coverage like Hockey and Football does here. In other parts of the world there are even more connections to the early Jiu-jitsu movement so the answer would be that there was and still is considerable interest, in Russia Jiu-jitsu was mixed with wrestling and became Sambo a very popular sport in Russia and to a large degree in Eastern Europe. Of course in Brazil or at least Rio there was always a strong original Jiu-jitsu following which eventually became a worldwide expansion. But what is also intriguing is that Brazilian Jiu-jitsu had to come to North America again before it became popular worldwide and even back home.
We have to remember that Jiu-jitsu did not just become popular, it took the west by storm in a way, by proving its fighting superiority in what was then a very competitive and even hostile environment. Something the other Asian martial arts did not have to do the second time around when the Asian martial arts had their second “boom” starting slowly after World War Two. All you have to do is look at how many western countries were adopting Jiu-jitsu for their police and military all before the First World War-which was 1914 to 1918.
Jiu-jitsu then seems to have become complacent and de-evolved into the very sportive form of Judo we have today so that its original prowess as an actual fighting system was mostly forgotten by the end of World War Two, when new Asian arts began to become trendier. It is this trend that the Gracies vigorously resisted in Brazil and instead of de-evolving like it did pretty much around the world, Jiu-jitsu in Brazil kept evolving as a real life fighting system and not as a sport, at least until fairly recently.
Q: “So you are saying that Jiu-jitsu was largely forgotten in North America because it became a sport?”
A: Yes, that is the simple version but I think the point is that jiu-jitsu in the 1900s had been so formidable that it had nothing left to prove, so to speak, and had become almost universally excepted as the best fighting system, but as it became the sport of Judo no one was really left who remembered or was interested in the old style and the new generation of people interested in self-defense started to look for alternatives because Judo didn’t appear to have the solutions anymore and didn’t want to be used for actual fighting anymore.
Of course popularity and effectiveness are too very different things, there are always going to be fads and popular trends that are not based on logic. For example, in the old Soviet Union and many of the Eastern bloc countries karate was illegal for some time, but anyone could do Judo or Sambo .So it’s sort of ironic that people risked prison time to do Karate which was proven to be very ineffective in the early UFCs but didn’t want to do the grappling systems that were legal and proved to be far more effective. People often just want what they are told they cannot have, or do whatever every one else is doing without asking why.
What is different about the rise of Jiu-jitsu is that it did this in a time when there was a lot of open and even hostile racism, in the west, against Asians so in a sense they didn’t want jiu-jitsu to succeed but it did in spite of this. They didn’t want to accept that a foreign and “inferior” people could defeat them, and of course like today there were lots of arm-chair fighters saying that jiu-jitsu was no good and could be easily beaten and bla bla bla. But just like the phonies we had in the 90s talking about how they could do this or that against Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it is pretty hard to argue about, when those who actually fight are being choked out all the time. Those who don’t actually fight of course remain “undefeated” and the toughest men alive (LOL).
Anyhow, the point is that I believe we have come full circle and the exact same thing is now happening to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, it is more and more becoming just a watered down sport.
Q: “Before we go any further this might be a good time to discuss the differences between “Judo” and “jiu-jitsu” since you have touched on them a fair bit, can you elaborate?”
A: That is a very good idea because there is a lot of confusion about the terms even within the martial arts community and about the origins of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. So in my best cryptic style let me first add to the confusion by saying that: Judo is Jiu-jitsu but not all Jiu-jitsu is Judo and even Judo is not really Judo anymore so it can’t be jiu-jitsu, but there is jiu-jitsu that could be called Judo. Did you get that?
Q: “Ah…no; could you clarify that for us a little?”
A: I was of course just joking, but what I said is actually very accurate if we understand that “jiu-jitsu” and “Judo” are not things, they are just terms that have been applied to different methods by different people at various times. So something can change a lot over time but still be called the same thing. Actually, a good analogy is boxing. Boxing in some form has been around for a long time and has gone through distinct phases of development, those phases were very different sports or bodies of knowledge yet they are all still called “boxing”. The original organized “boxing” was governed by, I think, the London Prize Ring” rules. This was bare knuckle fighting that had no rounds and to which upper body grappling and throwing was just as much a part as the punching. To the modern boxing fan this rough and tumble fighting would be nearly unrecognizable yet it was still called “boxing”. Now imagine the confusion if these two separate things were around in the same time period and equally popular.
An even better example, but more obscure unless you are well versed in martial arts history and lore, but a great analogy nonetheless is the example of “Savate” vs. “Boxe la Francise” or French boxing. “Savate”, is the old street fighting and kicking style that does not really exist anymore; it was combined with English Boxing and safer ring rules to produce the modern “Boxe la Franciese” or “French Boxing” but this new system is still generally referred to as “Savate” even though it is very different from its original form.
The same thing happened with Jiu-jitsu but in a more complicated way, since not only was there a modern version “Judo” derived from the older cruder method “jiu-jitsu”, but then the modern version started to change so much that some branches went back to calling what they did “Jiu-jitsu” and others never changed at all and at the same time the original cruder pre-judo version of jiu-jitsu also still existed.
Q: “That makes more sense but more specifically when, why and how did this happen?”
A: That is an excellent topic to cover, because by answering this we tie it all together with why there was the first Jiu-jitsu “boom” in North America and the western world. All these changes to Jiu-jitsu and its exportation from Japan to the rest of the world and Brazil was really the brain child of one man.
Q: “And who was that?”
A: I am speaking of Jigoro Kano who is arguably the most influential Martial artist in history and a very influential figure in Japanese culture and the modernization movement on many levels. Without him Brazilian Jiu-jitsu could never have come into being.
Q: “What makes Jigoro Kano rank so high in your estimation?”
A: Kano, I think, would be the only one among the well-known martial arts figures that would be a recorded historical figure even if he had not been involved in martial arts. In other words, even if Kano had never gotten into Jiu-jitsu he would still be remembered in Japan for his other accomplishments. If I am not mistaken he is often called “the father of sports” in Japan. He was a member of their version of Parliament, not to mention, was the first Japanese member of the International Olympic Committee and things like that. I also read that he was the most extensively traveled Japanese of his time and was known the world over as the unofficial Ambassador for Japan.
From all accounts, he is the person who inspired the now ubiquitous stereotype of the wise, humble, philosophical and good natured martial arts master. He was like a real life Mr. Miyagi but who spoke perfect English as well as French and was a highly educated, upper class international statesman.
In the area of martial arts he had such a profound influence that many of his contributions have become so standard that their origins are largely forgotten. For example he invented the training uniform known as the “Gi” that was subsequently adopted by karate and all kinds of other martial arts around the world.
Furthermore, we cannot forget that it was Kano who invented the whole idea of the “Back Belt” when he designed the kyu/Dan belt system and this has become the most recognizable symbol and title in the martial arts the world over. Pretty much every one in the world knows about being a “Black Belt” and people think this stuff has been around for thousands of years and has some ancient mystical origin but it was all designed by Kano to better organize and systematize his “new Jiu-jitsu”.
↑ Jigoro Kano the mastermind behind the Jiu-jitsu modernization movement. Seen here in his “Judo Gi” the training uniform he invented to better suit the needs of modern Jiu-jitsu/Judo. He also wears the now ubiquitous martial arts belt. Kano was also responsible for introducing the “Kyu/Dan” or colored belt ranking system, later adopted by many forms of martial arts around the world.
Q: “Kano’s ‘new jiu-jitsu’ became Judo?”
A: Yes, although the term did not catch on right away and they where used interchangeably for some time which is the basis for much of the confusion today. “Do” is the Japanese word for “Road”, “path” or “way”. The term “Do” implied a way of life with a moral/ethical element as opposed to the older “jitsu” which was a “method”, “art” or sometimes translated as “science”. However, we are talking about pre-western science Japan so the way they would have used the term isn’t our idea of “science”.
He wanted to elevate Jiu-jitsu to a way of life that trained the body not only physically but morally and spiritually. I read that he was not the first person to use the term “Ju-do” as opposed to “ju-jitsu”, but he did try to popularize it and really emphasize the other aspects of training. The new Jiu-jitsu was to be used for much more than just survival on the feudal battle field.
It appears, that the “Kito” ryu that Kano studied used the term “Judo”. At least one source says that the teaching certificate that Kano received from the Kito-Ryu said “Kito Judo” and not “Kito Jiu-jitsu”. Therefore, the term “Judo” was not particularly new and Kano officially called his method “Kodokan Judo” and not merely Judo.
Q: “What did Kano want to accomplish by developing Jiu-jitsu in to Judo?”
A: Kano wanted his “new Jiu-jitsu” or “Judo” to play a very important role in the new modernized Japan. It was to be a new “Budo” for a new era. Kano envisioned a complete method of physical, moral and spiritual education. It is very clear from the record and his writings that he was very against, or at the least very ambivalent, about Judo being a “sport” in the conventional sense.
This opposition to Judo being turned into a sport is well documented and is very easy to understand even at a basic level. A “sport” is very narrow in scope and can only really be participated in by younger people and generally only on that selfish ego-gratification level. I think this is very, very important to realize and understand because the identical things happened and are happening to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Carlos Gracie and Helio Gracie were very out spoken to the end of their days that their system was not developed to be a silly sport. Yet the small minds prevail against the explicit instructions and philosophies of the very masters that practitioners claim to be following but are clearly ignoring and therefore disrespecting.
Q: “If Judo was not intended to be a sport what was it designed to be and to be used for?”
A: To answer that question we first have to look at what the old Jiu-jitsu was like at the time that Kano became interested in it. Jiu-jitsu was seen as a relic of the feudal period by most people. Kano wanted to both preserve jiu-jitsu, but also make it relevant and valuable to the new modern Japan. The old Jiu-jitsu was often crude, secretive and based on feudal notions. The new Judo was to be smooth, open and based on scientific principles and striped of mysticism.
Old schools or “Ryu” of Jiu-jitsu still exist in Japan and have been transplanted around the world to some degree. Therefore, it is not very difficult to take a look back in time and see what feudal era jiu-jitsu was like. You can see demonstrations of it from around the world on YOUTUBE and sources like that. Anyone can see that it is very different from modern judo, and I am talking about its training methods not its content or techniques. It looks very formalized and artificial, since there was generally no methods of “sparring” or contested training. The most common training method was “kata”, which in Jiu-jitsu were two man prearranged movements, done without resisting the partner.
It is very interesting that at that time Jiu-jitsu was a bunch of separate and even hostile private schools, some of which had been around for hundreds of years and others that were more recent and had developed because of specific needs in specific time periods. These different schools or “Ryu” were more like different martial arts even though they where generally lumped under the generic term “jiu-jitsu”. However, they could be quite different, some emphasized striking and where very “karate” like, some emphasized throws others were used in combination with the swords that the samurai carried. Some had been developed from Chinese martial arts that had been brought to Japan and that is where the term “Kempo” comes from. “kempo” is just the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters that mean “fist way”, so there were branches of martial arts called “Kempo jiu-jitsu”. Anyhow, all these separate kinds of jiu-jitsu were literally from different historical periods and based on different ideas and theories.
There is this idea that this old style jiu-jitsu was “deadly”, and some of it may have been, but the problem, then as today, is how do you know its “deadly”? In other words, how do you actually practice “deadly” techniques on another human being. This is a problem martial arts instructors have struggled with since the beginning of time and of which Jigro Kano delved into seriously as he set out to modernize jiu-jitsu.
What a lot of people like to say is that this kind of jiu-jitsu was deadly because it was not a sport. Well, it certainly was not a sport because at that time the idea of a “sport” did not exist. In fact, many simple ideas of modern training often did not exist in the feudal Japanese thinking.
For example jiu-jitsu schools that focused on throwing may very well not have had mats or even taught the student to fall properly! Remember, we are talking about a period of Japanese history where there was no real systematic teaching of anything. Public schooling did not exist, all forms of education where primarily personal and private affairs. If you wanted your kids to learn to read and you were wealthy enough you would hire a basically private tutor and if you wanted to learn to fight you did the same. Whether the person you hired had put any thought into how to actually teach you in a safe progressive way, was a totally different matter.
They lived in a world that is hard for us to really get a feel for in the sense of how unstandardized it was. Add to this general way of thinking, the feudal idea that your method of fighting should be kept secret because if your opponent knew your techniques he could use them against you and this was often a matter of life or death in the feudal era. So most martial artist are probably trying to find ways to make their techniques harder to understand not easier. This of course prevents systematic teaching and learning and slows down the whole evolutionary process.
Its funny how much of this survived even into the modern era when it comes to Judo. For example, I have some books by early English Judo practitioners, like Eric Dominy, who said even into the 1940s the old Kodokan method was being taught in london and he stated that the way some of the throws where taught was like someone had sat down and figured out the most difficult way to teach and perform them!
It is often said that kano removed the “deadlier” or dangerous techniques to make Judo training safer. When put this way it implies a “watering down” process where the most combat effective methods have been removed and I have read of classical Jiu-jitsu instructors making this argument. This may have been true later on when Kano appears to have tried to prevent his Judo from becoming too grappling orientated, but early on we could just as easily say he removed the “stupid” techniques. Things like eye poking cant be practiced in a realistic way so you don’t include them in the free style training method but you cant practice eye poking or biting or whatever in a realistic way through kata either so the argument is a little silly.
As I said, its hard for modern people to get our heads around feudal type thinking but some of it would just seem plain stupid to modern people. This isn’t unique to Japan by any means. Just look at fencing in Europe when it was taught entirely as a combat skill or “martial art” during the renaissance period and later. These people had much in common with the Japanese Jiu-jitsu instructors in how they thought about teaching their skills, because at that time Europe was feudal and full of similar feudal ideas.
For my example about fencing, the fencing mask wasn’t even invented or at least widely excepted until , I think, the very late 1700s! That meant there was literally hundreds of years worth of needless injuries. I read some where that at that time it was a common saying that: “no fencing master retired with both his eyes”. For modern people, this just seems moronic and you kind of go: “what where these idiots thinking?”. But I guess the answer is we cant really know because they are thinking more feudal age thoughts.
Maybe they felt the risk of injury was what made the training work and without it life and death fencing would degenerate into a mere game. Maybe the masters of Fencing felt it made them look cowardly to hide behind a mask when they should be able to defend all attacks from their students. Who knows, there is some merit to these thoughts but to modern people safety has to come first since injuries make long term learning impossible.
Therefore, on the most basic level Judo, was to replace jiu-jitsu in the sense of training methods and systematization. It was also be a form of “physical education”, a term we all grow up with in the modern era but was just being developed at that time. This seems obvious to modern people but at the time it was quite an innovation and Kano ran up against a lot of resistance from the “old guard” of the classical jiu-jitsu.
Q: “Should we look at Kano’s back ground in more detail in order to understand the development of his system?”
A: yes, that is the best starting point to understand the development of both early Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Kano was born Oct 28th, 1860, so he was part of that first generation of Japanese who were living in the modernization period, what the historians refer to as the “Meji restoration”.
Kano’s father was from a family with a tradition of education and scholarship, they had been monks and other traditionally educated people. In fact, Kano’s biography states that Kano’s father was hired as a tutor to Kano’s mother’s family. It was his mother’s family that was named “Kano” and they were a fairly wealthy sake brewing clan from Mikage a town not far from Kyoto. Kano’s father married into the family and was also adopted into it, so he took the name “Kano”. Therefore, it appears that Jigaro Kano got the best of both worlds as far as his education goes, His father’s people had always believed in education and his mother’s family was wealthy enough to send him to the very best schools.
Furthermore, his father also appears to have been a real modernist and wanted the best upper class, modern type education for his son so he could play a role in the new immerging industrialized Japan. After the death of his mother the family moved to the capitol, Tokyo and his father became heavily involved in the modernization of the national shipping industry and became a government official for the maritime department. Tokyo was also where the best schools and opportunities were and so Kano began his life long association with the highest levels of the Japanese educational system.
It was at school that Kano first started to hear about and become interested in Jiu-jitsu. Apparently, school in 19th century Japan wasn’t that different from today in the sense that there was “hazing” by the older students and bullies have been around since the beginning of time. Now days its seems there is an epidemic of bulling in our modern society which should tell us something about the kinds of people we are raising. In those days however, the solution, at least on an individual level, was pretty simple. They didn’t give out moronic “politically correct” advice to freighted kids like: “make friends with the bully” (yea, I want to build a friendship with a burgeoning sociopath.) Kano didn’t like bullies and didn’t feel he had to tolerate them so his first interest in Jiu-jitsu appears to have been purely practical.
I have only come across this in one source, but according to a European published book it is claimed that Kano got interested in Jiu-jitsu because of one of his European professors “a German, Doctor Baelz”. Baelz it said, was a privy Counsellor and a professor of medicine at the university of Tokyo where Kano studied. Baelz is claimed to have taken a course in jiu-jitsu “under one of the oldest masters, the 70 year old Totsuka”. Apparently having a very influential and respected westerner become interested in jiu-jitsu helped revive Japanese appreciation for their own traditional fighting arts.
I am not sure if this was the case specifically with Kano, since Baelz may have become interested in Jiu-jitsu after Kano since he didn’t come to Tokyo university until 1876, but he certainly had that effect in a more general sense and organized demonstrations of Jiu-jitsu at Tokyo university.
Its a very interesting connection that seems to have been ignored by most historians. That these two men who had the same ideas about preserving traditional Japanese Martial Arts in the modern era, as a from of physical education, and who were at the same place at the same time. Kano was a student of European languages so I find it hard to imagine that Kano and Baelz were not well acquainted. Would not have kano wanted to practice his German with native speakers and would not have Baelz enjoyed conversing in his own language so far from home and with few German speakers around?
There has always been a lot of western influences in Kano’s philosophy and on his Judo/Jiu-jitsu, but of course the proud and sometimes chauvinistic Japanese are not likely to want to accept this or a least make it well know.
Q: “What specific western influences where there on Kano’s Jiu-jitsu?”
A: One of the most interesting is the fact that Jigoro Kano kept his martial arts or “Budo” notes in English. It is often surmised that he did this to keep them secret and this may have been part of his motivation. Be that as it may, if it was only about secrecy, why would Kano not keep his notes and studies in French or German? If I am not mistaken, kano was also fluent in these languages and I do not think they were as common among the educated classes as English. In fact, why not a mixture of them? Now that would have been extremely confusing to anyone trying to read them. Even most Europeans who might have been fluent in one or two of the languages would not have been able to decipher it so probably no Japanese of the time could have.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that he chose the language of the most scientifically advanced people in the world, to keep his notes on the science of attack and defense that he was developing. I have often wondered if his Ideas and principals were not first conceived of in English and only later translated into Japanese. If this was the case than an argument could be made that “Judo” was more of a western system then a Japanese one! The Japanese of course are never going to except this but its an interesting idea and goes hand in hand with the fact that a western country like Brazil so whole heartily embraced this kind of Jiu-jitsu and feel that they and not the Japanese brought it to its highest level of development.
Furthermore, There is an interesting irony that the Gracie Family started to get heavily involved in Jiu-jitsu at about the very same time that Kano started to try and impede the natural evolution of his Jiu-jitsu. Hence, it was like a historical or karmic passing of the baton. As the original Kano Jiu-jitsu started to regress in Japan, it started to flourish in Brazil starting around 1925 when the first Gracie Academy was opened.
Q: “How and why did Kano try to impede the natural evolution of his Jiu-jitsu/Judo?”
A: Its clear from the historical record that Kano wanted to de-emphasise the ground fighting aspect of his system despite the ground fighting victories of the Fusen-Ryu over Judo and the growing realization among many of his own followers that the ground fighting was more relevant and important to real fighting and self defence than the stand up throwing was.
He probably saw the system naturally evolving into a more ground fighting method and developing in a direction that he simply didn’t want it to go. Therefore, he actively discouraged and prevented this by changing the training and competition rules and protocols. From various sources its claimed that his final version of Judo was to be 25% ground work and 75% stand up throwing. According to an Article in BLACK BELT magazine with a disciple of the great ground work expert Oda, Kano initially wanted even less ground work something like 15 % but Oda changed Kano’s mind about some of the dangers of being on the ground.
I think from Kano’s own quotes on the topic, we can understand that he simply didn’t like ground work for more personal reasons than anything else. He stated it was “undignified” and was quoted as saying “Men are meant to stand and not crawl”. For a person of his time and social status this is a somewhat natural position to take. It is historically interesting to note that the upper class samurai of the feudal era also appear to have had similar opinions since the more esoteric and upper-class jiu-jitsu of the nobles evolved into the aki-jiu-jitsu or aki-jitsu and like its modern incarnation Aikido, there was no ground work or even much close in grappling or rougher techniques.
On the other hand, the lower class soldiers used simpler forms of jiu-jitsu that had the ground fighting and chokes and this appears to have been looked down upon by the nobles even though it was probably more effective in real hand to hand fighting. Just like the European knight of the middle ages, who wanted to use his sword and stay on his horse, fighting on the ground was for peasants, but then again so was gun powder and we know how that turned out for the elites. So I get the impression what we are dealing largely with a kind of upper class prejudice and once someone has a prejudice they begin to rationalize it.
It is very noteworthy to remember that back then Kano said the same things about multiple opponents and ground fighting as more “theoretical” “fighters” do today. I want to point out that Kano was concerned about multiple opponents and being kicked while on the ground and things like that because it is clear he had developed his Judo to be a real world fighting system and not a sport. This kind of thinking on his part, whether we agree with him or not, shows he was always taking into account the realities of real fighting.
He would not be so concerned about that if he was thinking purely along sport lines, so this might be the most important thing to learn from Kano’s thoughts on ground fighting. Of course he meant well but in the final analysis how much real world fighting did kano do? He certainly trained hard at certain periods and “fought’ impromptu matches with nonbelievers. But I don’t know if he was ever in a real world violent encounter. These kinds of experiences change our perceptions from the theoretical to the more practical. This too, is part of the evolution as the theoreticians and tacticians taught the young men who had to go fight in the wars that were happening at this time they then use and see the techniques in more practical ways as did the police departments. Judo became much more than one individuals style of jiu-jitsu it became a national movement to modernize the feudal jiu-jitsu and had to be used by many in ways that Kano never had to.
Thus, you can not really stop the natural evolution of something that is “organic” and had become a national movement throughout Japan and used by all kinds of different organizations for different purposes. Either “Judo/Jiu-jitsu” is a modern science based on natural laws, principals and concepts or it isn’t.
If it is a “science”, than it can not belong to anyone person. Jiu-jitsu therefore is not something you “invent” but is something you “discover” and apply. Just like Einstein did not invent “relativity” its something he discovered because it was out there all the time and he was able to figure it out and express it in a formula and scientific papers that others could understand and build on. “Relativity” did not end with Einstein and it certainly did not belong to him, it was not his “style” of science and his and his alone. This would be a silly idea, those that came after him built on his work and in the modern era probably know much more about it than he could have. But they could not of done their work with out him first laying the foundations, this is the evolutionary process.
Kano was the “genius” of modern scientific Jiu-jitsu. He discovered the principles and developed the first “formulas” in a sense. These were the training protocols and the techniques that where tested scientifically by actual application in live situations. This testing continued and was fueled by the loss to the Fusen-Ryu and the testing and experimentation led to more and more ground fighting. It looks like Kano just didn’t like the results in a similar way perhaps that Einstein never excepted some of the implications of relativity theory, or at least elements of Quantum theory.
You can ignore the new discoveries or developments as an individual, but other people are not going to and this is what happened with the divergence of kano Jiu-jitsu into what we call today Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Q “Lets return to the pre-Brazilian Jiu-jitsu/UFC period and what led you to discover Brazilian Jiu-jitsu”
A. By the end of my Karate instructor period, I had become pretty disillusioned with my own instructor. At this time I still loved the martial arts and just thought that he was an aberration and not just a symptom of a bigger disease with in the entire martial arts community. So that put me in a tough spot. I had already started from scratch with a whole new style and school of martial arts after investing some years to it and I didn’t want to have to do that a third time.
More importantly, I was taking my collage and education very seriously. I was kind of buying into those implicit and explicit opinions and pressures that it was time to be an “adult” and to focus on work and career and not the martial arts. A lot of people at that time including my parents thought of the martial arts as recreational at best and maybe a juvenile distraction from my collage academics at worst. So you find yourself buying into these beliefs as well so this was the period of my life that I was the least focused on the martial arts and starting to think more about conventional work and career.
As luck or fate or whatever would have it, it was my work experiences that really started to force me to refocus on the martial arts in an even more serious and committed way and actually helped lead me into making the martial arts my work and profession. So at a time when I really wasn’t thinking at all about the martial arts as a legitimate occupation fate started to give me some wake up calls. It started out simply enough.
A friend of mine from Collage had got hired by a security company. I think it was “Pinkertons” or one of the big companies like that because it was unionized and payed quite well. My friend said it was the perfect job for us university students because his shifts where at night so it didn’t interfere with classes and all he had to do was man some “night watch-man” kind of booth.
They were guarding some huge industrial storage facility out in the middle of nowhere so there were never any hassles or incidents. Once an hour or something he had to do his rounds to make sure nothing was being stolen through the chain link fences and that was it. That left plenty of time to study for exams or work on your assignments.
Man, when I heard he was basically getting paid to study for exams I wanted in on that-what collage boy wouldn’t? So I started applying to all these security guard companies. What my friend had neglected to tell me was that he had gotten his sweet gig because of a family connection. Those highly coveted jobs were very rare and the company that hired me payed little more than minimum wage and did a lot of high traffic area security. Hence, the kind of work I ended up doing was a lot different and full of physical encounters and violent incidents.
At that time, there was zero training. The companies were more concerned with saving a buck and with liability issues than with protecting their staff. Therefore, if you could be bonded you were in and I probably got hired because of my Martial arts and self-defense training.
If I had known how utterly dispensable and replaceable they considered the staff to be and about the hazardous working conditions for shit pay, I most likely would not have taken the job. A lot of the shifts were at shopping malls and I thought that would be pretty boring and as about as dangerous as going for ice cream.
Q “where was the first location of what became the Aldergrove Academy of Mixed Martial Arts and eventually the birthplace of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA in Canada?”
A. That’s an interesting and relevant “historical” question because I was so well established and so long at the 272nd street location that most people interested in the real story of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada don’t realize that it wasn’t our original location with in the town of Aldergrove. We had started out somewhere else sub-letting space and it ended up being such a negative experience that we almost wrote off the town of Aldergrove as the kind of place we wanted to set up shop in.
Thinking back, I have to now laugh, maybe that would not have been such a bad thing- to have stayed out of Aldergrove, but I ended up meeting some really good people that helped me set up that full time location on 272nd street and this accelerated the process of bringing up members of the Gracie family to Canada for the first time and establishing the countries first BJJ/MMA training facility. Without that first location I don’t know if I would have met those people and who knows what would have happened or when.
We originally found space at a fitness club or gym called “ROCK BODIES”. It used to be at the corner of Station road and the Fraser highway. The owners were this odd little couple who were both short and quite obese. I mean man, they looked like they should be joining a fitness center not running one. The husband’s day job was that he worked at a brewery! No, I could not make better stuff up, the guy looked like his job at the brewery was to be the “taste tester” (LOL).
Well, that was Aldergrove, you could probably go down to the book store and find it was owned by an illiterate (LOL). Anyhow, after we settled on Aldergrove to establish a new kind of school, we started out subletting some space from them in their “cardio” room until they really screwed us over.
Q “Tell us how you ended up in the town of Aldergrove, which has the distinction of being the location of the first Gracie Jiu-jitsu training camps in Canadian martial arts history.”
A: If I’d known then what I learned later then it might have been a different story. At the time when we were looking for a place to set up a training facility, I didn’t realize that the town of Aldergrove had a lot in common with what you would call…well…there is no polite way to say it… a “Ghetto”. Although, I don’t think I need to pull any punches about Aldergrove.
To this day, Aldergrove is known, completely fairly or not, as a dirty little town full of crime, violence, and drugs. But at least the people there are low class (LOL), like a real ghetto with poverty, very high levels of crime and social degradation.
People sometimes think I’m exaggerating but there were all kinds of low class stuff you would find there and not anywhere else that would affect everyone and not just the underclass. For example, every year there was some kind of lice break out in the local elementary schools so we had to constantly worry about it infecting our kid’s classes. It was a regular occurrence that I’d just not heard of happening or experienced anywhere else in the Fraser Valley and if it did, I guess it would never happen again because normal people are not going to tolerate it, but in Aldergrove it was par for the course and business as usual. Other places might have a fishing season or something but Aldergrove had its lice season every year (LOL).
Q. “Sounds like a great place to start a new upscale business.”
A: yea exactly, (LOL). But that was the funny part, and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression because the surrounding area of Aldergrove or technically the “Township of Langley” is actually very affluent. There are a lot of acreages and estates in this quite beautiful semi-rural setting. In fact, this area of the Fraser Valley is internationally known as Horse raising country and there are many horse farms, breeders and riding schools throughout; not the kinds of activities most crack heads are interested in (LOL). But the actual town of Aldergrove turned out to be a different story. I guess it had always been this way and even years later I heard people refer to it as “white Compton”, “bummsville” and “shitsville”.
Q. “Had you never been there before?”
A. Of course I had been there before. I’d lived most of my life in the Fraser Valley and Aldergrove was right between the two larger communities of Abbotsford to the East and the City of Langley to the west. These are the outlying municipalities of greater Vancouver for those of you who don’t know the area and in between these two cities running along the Canada/USA border is this really nice verdant semi-agricultural area But there wasn’t much there so I really never spent much time in the actual town, you know except to drive through on my way to Langley or something.
Through high school and collage I had some friends who lived in nearby Bradner, which once upon a time had been some farming village but was now acreages and hobby farms and was known as “the tulip capital” of BC or something. This was because of the extensive flower growing industry there. So not the kind of place you would think of as very hard assed or tough (LOL). If I was out in the “country” visiting my friends in Bradner and we wanted to grab a beer or something we would go to Aldergrove because it was so close but unless you lived there or more importantly, had done business there then you probably would not have known how scummy it could be. I mean in collage we made jokes about Aldergrove and the yokels but in the end we just thought it was more Abbotsford or Langley, which at that time were some of the most affluent middle class communities in the greater Vancouver area. We thought: “why would Aldergrove be any different”?
I mean its not like the town looked that different from the rest of the Suburban central Fraser Valley. It was not full of burnt out cars and crumbling brick buildings with broken windows (LOL). It was maybe a little older and run down because I think it had originally sprouted up in that location during the World War Two era since there was a small military base not far away.
The main street was the Fraser Highway which is a major highway in that area so while small the “main drag” and “down town” looked pretty normal and had some long established businesses. It’s just all the low income and low class people that live nearby and not the normal people driving and shopping along the Fraser Highway that give Aldergrove its ghetto reputation. Although It did have some seedy places like the notorious “Alder Inn” right in the down town. But every town in the Fraser Valley has one of these older hotels that dates back to that WW II period or earlier, this one had the reputation of being the local biker bar.
In Fact, we thought the place was hilarious like something out of a bad movie like “Roudhouse”. Yea, actually it was a lot like “Roudhouse” but with less charm because neither Patrick Swayze nor Sam Elliott were ever working the door and there was no hot lady doctor (LOL). I remember the first time we went in there back in collage or whenever, it was an afternoon so it was pretty quite but a buddy and me wanted to shoot some pool so we went to the Alder Inn. They had the pool sticks locked up behind the bar and we had to give them a driver’s licence as security because the regulars had broken so many of the pool sticks smashing them over each other’s heads. In those days we had never heard of such a thing in our own back yards.
Hence, If someone had told me then that I was going to open a martial arts school on the corner of 272nd street and right across from the infamous Alder Inn’s parking lot, I would have thought they were on drugs. In fact, I would have though any one spending too much time in that town were going to be on drugs (LOL).
Q: “So let me get this right… you opened a martial arts school right across the street from the roughest most infamous biker bar in town?”
A: why yes I did(LOL). It was quite the experience, but on a certain level it was the perfect place for Canada’s first permanent academy for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and what came to be known as Mixed Martial Arts. At this time and at this location we had to literally fight for our survival as a school and as a business in the same way as the original Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people had to do in Rio, back in the day. Looking back I am really proud of that, I had to face down scum bags, fight in the street to protect my myself and my students, take on challengers and chase off trouble makers of every variety.
There were a lot of times I wished we had opened up some where else but once we were established there it became a matter of personal honor and pride. “I’m not moving for any trash or scum bags” was my way of thinking. I justifiably developed a kind of “siege mentality”. You had to know how to actually street fight and deal with low-lifes so old school Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Aldergrove had an interesting symbiotic relationship.
So now days when there are so many…well, there is no polite way to say it…wimps, goofs and cowards involved in what they call “Brazilian Jiu-jitsu” who want to criticize myself or the other people who were actually there from the beginning and were willing to do the stuff that others wouldn’t and couldn’t do, well of course we find these kinds of wimps and goofs offensive.
I mean come on, the real experts are what…? The guys who’s biggest sacrifice and toughest battle was to go to a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournament with no breakfast (LOL)? This kind of stuff is why I want the public to know the truth. We had to actually fight, for real, for our defense and yes as cliched as it sounds for the honor of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. unfortunately, it does not seem like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has much honor with all the goofs that have gravitated into it who are only good for slandering their betters and lying about stuff they know nothing about.
I have to take a lot of responsibility for part of that because in the end I am the guy who brought the first real frauds and Bullshiters to Canada. Guys like John de La O and Marcus Soares have had a tremendous negative influence on the local Brazilian Jiu-jitsu scene. In my own defense, I of course broke all ties with the frauds when I found out what they were but once they have their own flunkies that don’t know any better or worse yet don’t care then there was not as much I could do. But that is another topic we can cover in great detail as we go along chronologically.
Q: “To return to the topic of the very first Brazilian Jiu-jitsu school in Canada and specifically why it was founded in Aldergove BC?”
As I may have mentioned, I realized that a training facility and at least a few committed training partners was critical if anything was going to develop. I had had that experience before of being a part of a goofy myopic school that simply didn’t want to take advantage or train in the material I had traveled far and wide to bring back. There was no point trying that again so a school and people who wanted to experiment with MMA type sparring and train in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as I did had to come first.
So I talked to people got a few collaborators and the next step was an actual proper business location that we could eventually bring Gracie Jiu-jitsu instructors to and just have our own space to get away from all the very weird myopia that characterized the martial arts world of that time.
We were based in Abbotsford which already had its share of Martial arts schools and to be polite we didn’t want to compete for students with the schools we had been part of and hoped to keep our connections with. Therefore, we drove out to the next town over which was Aldergrove and started to do some reconnaissance. As I mentioned, at that time I had no idea what Aldergrove would be like.
I had been working on my personal curriculum and system for some time already and even without Brazilian Jiu-jitsu I could just not work on it and develop it with out my own school. However, These karate and kick-boxing schools had no mats and no interest in getting any so there was no way we were going to be able to do proper ground fighting and eventually formal Brazilian Jiu-jitsu with out a proper facility. So, I started investing in mats and looking for space.
One day we drove out again to Aldergrove and as we crossed Station road we saw that “ROCK BODIES” gym and saw they had a small “Karate” sign out front along with the other things it was offering.
We figured we better check it out since we didn’t want to try to open a school in a town this size if there were already a bunch of martial arts schools. We went in and met the odd-ly shaped couple that ran the place (LOL). They were just in the process of opening up a “cardio” section next door and were planning to have aerobics, Karate and other stuff. They were still in the renovations phase and had not yet even looked for other program instructors outside of the traditional aerobics so the timing seemed quite fortuitous.
Q: “What was your personal system like in that pre-Brazilian Jiu-jitsu period?”
A: I had been cross training for all of my years in the martial arts. That alone was quite uncommon in that period. Thinking back what I was doing was pretty advanced compared to most places but the biggest flaw that is so easy to see now is that there were no real unifying principles.
I had trained a lot, explored a lot of different styles and accumulated some good techniques, a lot of which I still use and teach today. Therefore, In a sense it was a lot like a mix of Shoot-Boxe and the original Krav Maga but with a more “traditional” flavor. By that I mean my primary sparring method was stand-up kickboxing style and added to that were specific defenses or solutions for the common street self-defense situations. I had been cherry picking these techniques from a number of styles for some years and like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu I was always looking for the best way to solve a real life problem. Most of these techniques were actualy standing jiu-jitsu techniques although I might not have always been aware of that.
Q: “so in 1997 you must have been very proud and looking forward to achieving yet another important “first” for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada, by hiring Marcus Soares then overcoming the bureaucratic hurtles necessary to legally bring him to Canada?”
A: I was, very much so, but…Well…let’s just say that Marcus Soares was a bit of a disappointment from the very first instant I met him and not at all what I expected or that we wanted or Canada needed.
Q: “How could the long awaited Marcus Soares be so “instantly” disappointing?”
A: Believe me; it was not very difficult for a guy like that. Firstly, Marcus Soares did not look anything like any of the high level Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructors I had met or trained with. In fact, he seemed almost the opposite. For a man barely into his 40s, Soares appeared quite old, badly out of shape, worn-out and generally very unhealthy, and these were Soares’ positive qualities (LOL).
But to be perfectly frank, at that time I had never met an overweight Brazilian of any kind and the idea of an obese Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt, especially a supposedly high level one, was simply unheard of. I honestly did not believe that they existed. So of course I was immediately a little shocked when I saw what kind of physical specimen Marcus Soares was. He certainly didn’t look good in a lot of ways.
Here I was with my vision of bringing a leader, mentor, and role model to Canada to help set an example of all you can achieve through Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Instead I get a guy who looks like the “before” picture in a “before and after” advertisement for some kind of weight loss or health product. (LOL)
In all seriousness though, this was not a good sign. When it comes to average people it is not my job to criticize or judge somebody but to help them reach their fitness and self-defense goals. This is after all what our profession was supposed to be all about. However, when you have an individual, like Marcus Soares for example, who is less healthy looking and more out of shape than the average person- yet claims to be an authority on these things and someone we should emulate, then of course you have a serious credibility problem. The public should rightfully balk at the absurdity of what had become the laughable stereo-type of the fat, phony “martial arts master”. I’m not sure if the public is aware of just how prevalent this was in the pre-Brazilian Jiu-jitsu/MMA era. Therefore, I sure wasn’t going to tolerate these low standards from myself, my employees or my staff when we were trying to inspire people and initiate a paradigm shift away from the old phoniness in the self-defence industry.
It was only a first impression but the lack of self-respect Marcus Soares seemed to have for both himself and the public image of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu began to make me a little skeptical of him right from the beginning. Of course, this skepticism began to grow worse and developed into disgust as I learned and saw more of what Marcus Soares and his “jiu-jitsu” was all about.
Q: “so you began to have doubts about Marcus Soares’ legitimacy because he didn’t meet your standards of health and basic physical fitness?”
A: yea, that is certainly how it started since that was something anyone could see right away, but I didn’t think these were “my standards” as far as the health and fitness went. I thought they were the standards of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu professionals and especially the Gracie family. The way I had been taught was that Brazilian Jiu-jitsu had to be far more than just a bunch of goofs that wanted to fight all the time. That is one of the things that made Brazilian Jiu-jitsu so special was all this accumulated knowledge about how to live well and keep the body healthy that went along with the physical training.
This is an important point and not just another empty martial arts cliché. Just like the self-defense aspect there is so much non-sense and bull shit about health and wellness, not just in the martial arts world but from all kinds of sources. One of the things that made Brazilian Jiu-jitsu so fascinating and beneficial was that its developers not only took a completely practical and proven approach to self-defense but they extended this practical mind-set into the realm of overall health and nutrition. They really had developed Brazilian Jiu-jitsu into a complete life style that had all kinds of attestable benefits beyond just the self-defense.
The point I want to make is that one of the reasons I devoted myself full time to bringing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to Canada was because of how impressed I had been with the health and life style of the high level instructors that I had trained with. It really was inspiring, but these old school guys like Rorion or Reylson Gracie did not try to push their body maintenance methods or special diet on anyone; instead they led by example. They were genuine role models for so much more than just how to fight, which of course they surpassed the rest of the martial arts world in as well.
Q: “Marcus Soares did not live this Brazilian Jiu-jitsu life style?”
A: Not that I ever saw. Don’t forget that Marcus Soares lived at my home for some time so that experience gives you real insights into someone’s life style and character. Remember anyone can be someone’s student or flunky and make goofy claims about how great their instructor is, but when you live with someone and do business with them you truly get to know someone intimately and in-depth. Therefore, I know what I am talking about when I say Marcus Soares was no role-model for anything. In fact, Marcus Soares was basically the opposite of what the old school guys and I stood for.
Now don’t me wrong, I would never be that critical of just how somebody looked. Lots of great fighters don’t look like male models (LOL). For example, when I was coming up as a martial artist in the 1980s we all looked up to Benny “The Jet”, the champion kick-boxer. Benny was the first North American fighter to beat the Thai boxers at their own game and on their home turf. However, as far as his body type went, Benny always looked a little soft and never had that ripped kind of physique in the same way that great MMA fighters like Fedor Emelenco or BJ Penn didn’t look shredded and actually a little soft. Who cares as long as you are working out, living the life style and are the real deal?
Therefore, at first, I tried to give Marcus Soares the benefit of the doubt. I thought maybe he was all beat up and worn out looking because of all the Vale Tudos he had fought for the honor of jiu-jitsu or more importantly all the street fights he had been in protecting the innocent and putting dangerous criminals and violent bullies in their place. For better or for worse this had been a key part of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu life style in Rio. The lack of reliable policing and courts in Brazil made it a necessity for people to be able to look after themselves and be able to handle frequent real world street violence. The people of Rio had really respected the old school Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners from the original Gracie Academy for being able to do this. Some of those guys had become legendary for standing up to huge bullies on the beaches and in the streets of Rio. The only thing I ever saw Marcus Soares stand up to, was a McDonald’s counter(LOL).
Man I have to laugh about that now, oh that makes me split a gut, imagine a guy like Marcus Soares , who as I found out later had a reputation in Brazil for being…well, how would you say…“preferring to not be around if there was anyone tough or any real trouble going down” fighting in a Vale tudo ! Oh man, they would have had to put him in a diaper because he’d be shitting himself so badly (LOL).
Marcus Soares apparently had done absolutely nothing in the way of fighting except safe Gi tournaments, decades ago, and then hide behind Carlson Gracie for 30 years. I was appalled to learn that not only had he never done any vale Tudo he wouldn’t even do the training. Furthermore, this included even the most basic contact type training for self-defense that was mandatory at the original Gracie Academy for any kind of belt advancement .
As for helping people and battling for justice in the real world, he personally told me he had only been in two real fights in his entire life! These sounded like basic bulling to me. I was just incredulous, just like I never imagined there were fat, lazy Brazilian Jiu-jitsu “Black Belts” at that time I had never in my wildest dreams, or nightmares, could have imagined a high level Brazilian Jiu-jitsu “Black Belt” who was scared to fight or defend himself and others in the street!
Unfortunately these were things I only learned about later and they had a lot to do with the kind of Academy Marcus Soares had been trained at in Rio. At the very least, if I had known that there were Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Academies right in Rio, back then, that promoted people to “Black Belt” for doing nothing more than sport jiu-jitsu, and only when they were young, then kept promoting them to advanced levels of “Black Belt” when they were doing absolutely nothing of use-I would have been truly speechless, dumbfounded and nauseated. I would have thought this was a kind of fraud but most importantly, for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Canada, I also would have been a hell of a lot more careful about what kind of a “Black Belt” and person I hired for my staff and exposed the Canadian public to.
Believe me, this was just a small part of my awakening about Marcus Soares and his very crude, sport only, “jiu-jitsu”. I had been told a little bit when I’d been training with the Gracies but again, I just did not fathom how much Jiu-jitsu had fallen largely into disrepute, back in Brazil, because of the public behavior of many of its practitioners. Some of the Academies that did not follow the old school standards had become real “goof factories” and the major outlet for this goofishness was often Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournaments.
Q: “Tournaments were having that much of a negative impact on Brazilian Jiu-jitsu even back then?”
A: I don’t know how extensive it was, because I wasn’t there but some of the old school professors that I respected certainly thought so. My perspective was that there is nothing inherently wrong with Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournaments just like there is nothing inherently wrong with soccer matches. But when you overlay any type of sporting event with a culture of flagrant disrespect, or in the case of Soccer, a culture of violent hooliganism then you have real problems that are harmful to both the sport and to society.
In the case of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, imagine what the classy people are going to think if it’s the participants who are the goofs and hooligans! What was even worse for the image of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and something I personally could not believe was tolerated, was the high level coaches and even “legendary” figures within the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community who apparently encouraged this! Therefore, I came to believe that the worst aspects of sport jiu-jitsu were diametrically opposed to the values and methods of authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the healthy life style based on it.
Q: “Do you believe that sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the more self-defense and life-style Brazilian Jiu-jitsu are mutually exclusive?”
A: No, I don’t think that they are necessarily incompatible but sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was never meant to be anything but a relatively small part of the entire system of unarmed combat, self-defense and especially the overall way of life. Sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was absolutely not intended to be, and can’t be, a substitution for authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Not if you want to be true to the vision of the founders and get the deeper and real world benefits anyway. I mean, come on people, am I the only one who thinks that a “self-defense” system that consistently produces people who don’t know how to defend themselves, like Marcus Soares, is anything but a joke?
Q: “Is this the same kind of ‘sportification’ that we discussed Judo having gone through and that basically destroyed Judo as a real-world self-defense system?”
A: Yes, that is exactly what we are talking about. However, I think we need to understand this “sportification” process on a deeper level and realize that turning a real world-fighting system that was meant to produce “warriors”, into a silly ego game or “sport” does not only erode it on a technical fighting level but seems to erode the quality of the people who become interested in it aw well. Or worst of all, it actually erodes the character and values of the normal participants to a degree that it seems to produce more bullies and narcissistic cowards then “ethical warriors”. Therefore, it would be this shift in content and values that Jigaro Kano was very concerned about and that I would definitely say is diametrically opposed to authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the values of most of the old school practitioners.
Furthermore, even the relative kinds of “sport cultures” that developed first sport Judo and then sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu appear to have been quite different. The Brazilian Jiu-jitsu sport culture seems to have been much more tolerant of the blatant disrespect and all the other negative behaviors and low ethical standards that produce tools, bullies and goofs instead of “warriors”.
On a personal level, back then in 1997, I had little interest in sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu but I was open to the idea. I thought at the least it might be good for children or women who probably would not want to do contact training or real fighting. After all, the legendary guys like Rickson Gracie had done some sport Jiu-jitsu and everybody, except Marcus “the master” Soares of course, respected Rickson Gracie.
Sure, I had had some negative experiences with people like the Vasconcelos brothers in 1996. They seemed to think it was just fine to be a goof as long as you win some Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournament. But they had been young, immature testosterone driven athletes from a wealthy, by Brazilian standards, family in their competitive prime so they just seemed like spoiled kids with a sense of entitlement and who had never faced the real world violence like there is so much of in Brazil. Moreover, they were not from a Gracie school.
Nevertheless, when I started training with Marcus Soares I became completely turned off of sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I though “shit”; if being this focused and hung up on sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu creates someone like Marcus Soares then there must be something very seriously wrong with it. I really saw him as a “cautionary tale” and anti-role model, and thought everyone else would too. All I knew, is I sure as hell did not want to be like him by the time I was 40 and if sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was how he got there then that was a path to be avoided like the “road to perdition”.
Q: “What is it about sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu that can produce these negative personality types?”
A: Well, we are not talking about just sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, but any kind of sport, at its worst. In fact we are really talking about the society that produces people who are so shallow, small-minded and petty that they can’t understand anything but the most infantile ideas of “wining” or “losing”.Once the sport becomes only about getting any kind of advantage anyway you can, you are not producing healthy sportsmen and women you are producing narcissistic liars, cheats and cowards.
How many Olympic Games scandals do we have to hear about before we understand this? Furthermore, I’m not talking just about “doping” scandals here, because that stuff is just some confusing, weird hypocritical world of today “this is allowed” but “that is not”. No, I am talking about stuff like rigging equipment, bribing referees and officials, judges conspiring to choose the “winner” before the event and just out and out cheating in ways we just could have never imagined until we read it in the paper. We can understand this a little more on the Olympic level because it’s a huge business with millions of dollars and high stake careers on the line but when we see the identical values among kids playing pee wee league we have some serious problems as a culture.
These problems can manifest anywhere when you allow very shallow, small-minded and often not very bright people to get obsessed with the pure narcissism of meaningless sport competitions. This culture of narcissism and ego-glorification starts to produce goofs of the lowest kind of character who will not hesitate to cheat, lie, bully, act in very cheap or cowardly ways or just about any other kind of the most negative behaviors all in order to say they won some stupid contest.
In other words, they need to get a cheap “ego-fix” like a crack-head needs his crack fix. Do you think drug and substance addictions bring out the best character and personality traits in people (LOL)? Of course not, they are highly destructive, people start doing awful things they never ever thought they were capable off all in order to get that all important “high”. Therefore, we should not forget that these ego-experiences that sports can produce are really just chemical experiences in the brain and not much different from the effects of a drug. Thus, any sport can produce people so addicted to their own ego that they will say or do anything they can get away with to help get that high and ego-fix. Furthermore, the more disrespectful and permissive the sport environment is the worse this is going to be. If it gets bad enough, then more and more normal decent people are not going to want to be part of it so they leave and you are left with more and more goofs until they come to dominate that activity. You have in effect a reverse evolution where positive behaviors and normal people are weeded out.
I had seen a lot of this while not so much in conventional sports but in all kinds of aspects of the Martial Arts world. This was one of the major reasons I wanted to bring Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to Canada, so that we could wipe the slate clean, bust all the myths and not have an industry largely run by obese frauds talking about how tough and great they were but in fact were wimps and cowards.
Hence, when I saw what Marcus Soares looked like, that made me concerned. Moreover, when I discovered Marcus Soares knew nothing about real world fighting and living the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu life style I was appalled; but when Marcus Soares started to constantly run his mouth about how great he was and trying to insult real Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners and role models, all while being too lazy or scared to work out, I was outraged. I started having the worst kind of Deja vous. Marcus Soares was starting to look, live, sound and act just like the other pudgy charlatans that had made the self-defense industry an often bad joke and winning all the silly tournaments in the world wasn’t going to stop the laughing.
Q: “I think I understand, but can you elaborate more on these values and their negative impact on Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?”
Sure, let’s look at some specifics. This kind of ego-junkie life style can be bad enough and just plain weird when we are talking about conventional sports. Man, the depths to which some people will sink to get that ego-fix and be declared the “winner” is nearly as reprehensible and low as the soul destroying degradation many drug addicts put themselves through.
For example, I recall them discovering the Marathon runner who “won” by getting on a train or bus or something (LOL). However, when you over lay these negative sport values onto something that is supposed to train “warriors”, supposed to produce people who are more courageous and ethical than regular people but encourages them to be whiny cowards instead, then I think that is something really perverse.
Just look at what is standard practice and perfectly legal in most combat sports and sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Combat sports are usually in weight classes, which of course is necessary for safe, fair competitions. Be that as it may, when I was a kid just getting into the martial arts I couldn’t help but feel there was something quite cowardly about trying to cut all this weight, by dehydrating yourself, just so you could basically pretend to be a smaller person and get into a lighter weight class.
At that time and age I just could not help thinking: “what are you, too scared to fight someone your own size?” So when I wrestled through High school I never ever considered cutting weight. Shit, I was skinny enough and probably worried I might not get the weight back on (LOL). But to a very naïve, young martial artist like I was in those days, this need to get any advantage just seemed rather desperate and dishonorable. It certainly did not express the “warrior ethos” that I believed, or wanted to believe, real martial arts were based on and real martial artist lived by.
Interesting and sad that years later there were actually some deaths at some American high schools from young wrestlers trying to cut too much weight too fast. I can’t remember but there might have been like diuretic drugs or something involved in some cases. However, cutting weight by dehydration has finely been recognized as extremely unhealthy to still developing bodies and can cause severe health problems and even death if taken to extremes. Thus, the high schools started to have to introduce rules against this kind of thing. This is just one more example of how the idea of healthy sports competition becomes perverted into its opposite by embracing a “win at any cost” mentality.
When I went to “open” or “freestyle” martial arts tournaments it was even worse because there were all these different divisions based not only on weight, but experience, belt level and age. I routinely saw people lie about their belt level or experience, age, weight or whatever they could get away with. Believe me, nothing was sacred.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu sport tournaments are run pretty much the same way. First, you have to pay to get into this type of “open” or Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournament, so they are really private money making rackets for the promoters. The referees and officials are just volunteers that come from the participating schools so there is lots of room for abuses by instructors and other biased people refereeing their own students.
I participated and refereed at some of these freestyle tournaments back when I was still a karate fighter so I know what I’m talking about. Sport Brazlian Jiu-jitsu tournaments are run the same way, as money making rackets for the organizer and generally have pretty low standards of professionalism. Even back in my karate days I thought these kinds of twenty ring martial arts circuses were pretty much a joke. They were nothing like those “proto-MMA” fights I had done when at the Fraser Valley School of Martial Arts. Nor were they like properly run wrestling tournaments that were sponsored by non-profit national organizations.
I really had a hard time, even back then understanding why people would pay to do this silly stuff, to degrade themselves and real fighting systems all for a three dollar trophy or metal but come a real violent incident when people needed help the “champions” where usually nowhere to be seen.
My both philosophical and practical problem with this “forget honor and just find any advantage to exploit because it makes you feel good” mentality is a simple one. I think that it often produces craven goofs that while often making good bullies are actually more cowardly than the average person!
This is simply because; a real “warrior” must be trained to stand up against the odds not try and find every cowardly way to stack them in his favor. Normal, non-martial arts trained, people do not usually build their self-image around being “masters”, Black Belts or “fighting champions”. Therefore, they are not risking these all too precious ego-fantasies if they find themselves involved in a violent self defense situation and therefore are not as frightened of shattering these myths they have not built about themselves.
A normal person may be risking his personal safety if, let’s say, he intervenes to help someone else caught up in a violent situation. He or she may feel more fear or trepidation because they are untrained and this is perfectly natural. However, if they overcome this trepidation and intervene anyway because their self-image is built around wanting to do the right thing then they are performing as “warriors” whether they realize it or not.
Being motivated to risk ones safety for no other reason than the desire to help those in danger is the very essence of the “Warrior ethos”. It is in fact a very ego-less act since “the self” is risking far more than it is likely to gain. Others may think this foolish, but the “warrior” knows that complacency and, worse of all, cowardice is of much greater harm to himself and to his society than the potential physical harm he faces.
Even Gandhi said: “that violence was preferable to cowardice”. That reminds me of an old saying that I am probably paraphrasing but I think nicely summarizes the differences between my philosophy of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and that of people like Marcus Soares who seem to have internalized only the most negative values from sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. “The warrior fights the battles that need to be fought but the coward only fights the battles he knows he can win.”
Q: “Are you really saying that martial arts training or sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu can actually make you less able to defend yourself in real life and that it makes sport Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners more cowardly then untrained people?”
A: well, yes, sometimes and in a way, I am saying that. But I’m not saying always “less able”, I am also saying “less willing”. That is because we are not just talking about this on the physical level but more importantly on the level of our psychological motivations to train in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and what that can do to us as people, on an ethical, spiritual and moral level.
When Marcus Soares revealed to me that he had never, ever put himself on the line in the streets of Rio de Janario I found that very disconcerting and indicative of his character. That there had never been anyone or anything worth fighting for in a city so full of crime, violence and injustice I just found unbelievable. What the hell was the purpose of all that training he said he had done-to go hide in the academy and think you are cool by hanging around the people who are not afraid to fight? Jesus, what an example to set by someone who claimed to be Carlson Gracie’s most senior instructor, no wonder Carlson Gracie never even mentioned Marcus Soares, when listing his top students, in any of the dozens of interviews with him that I have read.
But that of course is not the worst of it. When it comes to “Black Belts” who can’t fight very well and are of the lowest moral character then it’s one of Marcus Soares’ proudest students that set a new unprecedented low, in low standards and low class that surpasses even the master.
Q: “which Marcus Soares student are you referring to?”
A: I am, of course, talking about the notorious Marcus “conan” Silveira, who at that time was Marcus Soares’ proudest accomplishment. This was also the guy that made headlines in the martial arts magazines for getting arrested then convicted, in the USA, for illegal drug dealing and importation!
Before that Marcus “Conan” Silveira had the unenviable distinction of being the first Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt to be soundly defeated and “taped out” in a televised international MMA fight. Not only did he get finished by a non-Brazilian Jiu-jitsu fighter, he got his muscle bound ass whopped by a guy he must have outweighed by at least 40 pounds!
Nevertheless, some saw this as an improvement over the other fight he lost to a kick-boxer who he also outweighed (LOL). At the time, I think these were the most humiliating defeats Brazilian Jiu-jitsu had ever suffered. Personally, at that time, I could not believe it. Who the hell was this loser Silveira who was not only loosing fights but getting humiliated by much smaller fighters? Oh, Marcus Soares trained him, well, that tells us everything (LOL).
But in all seriousness, the performances of this guy “Conan” Silveira and even some of his team mates really started to damage the reputation and image of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as this ultimate undefeated fighting system. I sincerely could not believe that Carlson Gracie wanted to put that just awful fighter in the ring or cage for high profile MMA fights. Just as unbelievable was that Marcus Soares wanted to brag about having trained the guy. I had never seen Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Fighters perform that terribly, since there had been more than Marcus “Conan” Silveira getting badly beaten.
Remember, this was in the early days of North American Mixed Martial Arts and Royce Gracie’s unprecedented victories over much larger fighters under “street conditions” had been the main reason Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was becoming so popular. However, this new crop of Carlson Gracie fighters, who Marcus Soares kept mouthing off about how great he and they were and how much better they were than Royce Gracie and everyone else I had trained with, could not reproduce Royce Gracie’s results. In fact, they seemed quite the opposite; they were often big fighters getting badly beaten by smaller men like they were doing some kind of anti-Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
I began to fear there was something very seriously wrong with Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the people in it, like Marcus Soares. Luckily, I came to discover that the problems of all these Brazilian Jiu-jitsu fighters being badly beaten was more a result of the Carlson Gracie approach to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA then to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu itself.
Q: “Firstly, Marcus Soares claimed that he specifically trained Marcus “conan” silveira for these important MMA fights that he lost?”
A: No, I don’t think that he went that far. Probably because the few other old school Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people who knew him from Brazil and even the Carlson Gracie team would have laughed at him and revealed that he was a fraud and lying, if he had been stupid enough to do that publicly. He certainly lied and tried to bullshit me as to his background but his deceit became apparent very quickly. As I mentioned, Marcus Soares could not even do the most basic standing self-defense punch defenses so he certainly could not have trained even a third rate fighter like Marcus “conan” Silveira for a MMA fight.
I mean I was right there, I saw it for myself and it was not a pretty site.The punch defenses Marcus Soares tried to teach at my academy were simply the most awful instruction I had ever seen or received from a person claiming to be a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt. In fact, and this is no exaggeration, the garbage he tried to pass off as standing punch defenses was the worst instruction or demonstration I had ever seen or received from a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu person of any belt rank, even the white belts. Before or since that time.
People sometimes think I am exaggerating about just how dreadful and unqualified Marcus Soares was, but in this punch defense case, at the least, I still have it on video tape somewhere. Therefore, it was not something I imagined or made up; with a guy that incompetent I don’t have to. It was plain to see by everyone who actually knew how to use Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in a fight how ridiculously unskilled he was.
Q: “Since you have video proof of this could you give us some details?”
A: Sure, the horrible image is forever burned into my memory (LOL). Marcus Soares’ idea of standing “punch defense”, was to stand there and make awkward swinging motions with his arm, pretty much the same as the worst kinds of “karate” type arm blocks that you see completely untrained people try to do because they don’t know any better and maybe had seen on TV or something. Then make your clinch as the stand in attacker has to remain still and obligingly leaves his arm extended.
At their best, this was the same kind of “karate” style blocks fighters, like myself, with back grounds in karate had been taught, tested and flatly rejected years ago because they simply did not work at real life speeds. Furthermore, I had absolutely never, ever seen anyone, including the white belts, at any Brazilian Jiu-jitsu school I had trained at be stupid enough to try and actually train live against punches this way. This of course was lost on Marcus Soares because he had never trained against life punches and, definitely at my academy, I saw for myself he was too scared to. Of course other authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructors, even junior ones, would teach ridicules shit like that, because they had been trained properly. I had never, ever seen any Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructor try to pass off stuff this bad as Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, they would have made fools of themselves.
At the time, I remember just staring in disbelieve as Marcus Soares stumbled through his punch defense methods. They were so stupid and dangerous that I remember thinking: “what the F#&@ is this rubbish and who is this phoney!” Like I said, even a white belt would not do that garbage but here again we had Marcus Soares telling us how this was the best way to do it and how great he and his team was and every one else was “no good”. That was one of the specific moments that I remember well and saw undeniably that I had spent thousands of dollars and years of planning and effort to bring what looked like a fraud to Canada.
Q: “Do you mean to say that a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt instructor of the high level Marcus Soares claimed to be, did not know how to defend himself against basic punches!?”
A: That is precisely what I mean! With that ridicules stuff Marcus Soares was teaching, nobody could, it plain can’t work. Anyone who actually trains and fights knew that. Of course the main problem was that Marcus Soares had neither trained nor fought. However, Marcus Soares still did not hesitate to teach this fraudulent horseshit to people and especially to my students and I of course could not tolerate it. In good conscience I could not let a phony mislead my students; their personal safety had to come first so Marcus Soares and his dubious Brazilian Jiu-jitsu skills were becoming an increasing embarrassment for me and my academy and were undermining the public’s newly created vision of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
However, there were also other business considerations. I was on the hook for thousands of dollars, had expanded the academy to give him private teaching space and had heavily promoted Marcus Soares’ arrival in Canada. So of course I really wanted his employment to work out. Therefore, at first I again tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I tried to make excuses for him and figured he must have other punch defenses and fighting skills that we could actually train and teach.
But Marcus Soares just kept mouthing off about how great he was and how I “knew nothing”, along with everyone else, except him and Carlson Gracie of course (LOL). I mean it was pathetic, like other Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners all we had to do was put on some gloves and train these methods with some contact to see if they worked. Honestly, in those days this was nothing unusual or any kind of a big deal, it was standard training and an integral part of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training philosophy and of course still is in my method of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. But Marcus Soares could only mouth off, that seemed to be his best skill, he certainly could not do these techniques he wanted us to blindly except, in anything even approaching a live situation.
In authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu we don’t teach bullshit, it has to work in the street or MMA ring and we test that through hard contact drilling and sparring, both standing and on the ground. This was after all, what the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA revolution was premised on. Hence, I naïvely thought that a little proper training with the gloves on would purge his mind of this laughable stuff and the problem would be solved and he might actually be some use to the non-goof public. I really hoped his reputation could be rehabilitated and that he could just shut his mouth and actually do a little realistic training. However, Marcus Soares just plain refused to do any training of this kind or much of anything else for that matter. He must have actually thought his job was to mouth off in the most petulant ways about how great he and his team was, while being too scared to back it up at the most rudimentary training levels. It really was pathetic, Marcus Soares just exuded that “fat fraud” imagery and negative stereo-type that I had set out to try and change within the martial arts industry.
Now, don’t get the wrong impression, I certainly was not trying to embarrass him. This kind of training is done carefully and safely and can be a lot of fun. Moreover, you could never, ever get to Black Belt in the Helio Gracie style of authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu without these skills. At the time, as I think I mentioned, I really thought Brazilian Jiu-jitsu standards were more uniform and enforced by the Federation in Rio.
Therefore, it took me a little while to figure out why Marcus Soares was so hesitant to do the required kind of training we all did. It turns out Marcus Soares simply did not know how and was scared to death of actually getting punched. As I said, my students and I were not trying to kill each other like it was some death match or something(LOL). That was not how we trained. Nevertheless, you have to train in more realistic ways to be able to actually use Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for self defense or MMA fighting and be promoted to higher belt level.
Furthermore, Marcus Soares did not have to do it in front of the other students if he was too anxious and didn’t want to. Marcus Soares could have trained privately with me or even at my home since he sent so much time there being a bum and leeching off me. I asked him to train at my place on many occasions. But Marcus Soares seemed unusually frightened about stuff white belts routinely did. As I mentioned, I again tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, I thought maybe he was a little rusty, not to mention lazy, so I wanted to help him and of course learn all these Carlson Gracie methods he kept claiming were so much better than everyone else’s.
Q: “The kinds of ‘superior’ methods he could not do and was too scarred to try?”
Exactly! I remember well one time at my academy, we were doing some stand up training with strikes. We used head gear and boxing gloves so there was little risk of any real injury. Marcus Soares was sitting there on his ass, as he usually was, and trying to be condescending and talking his moronic shit about how great he was and how bad we were. So I asked him to join in, he suddenly had something to do and ran out of the room like he had shit his pants (LOL). This was a near every day experience with him.
Let me be perfectly fair and clear here, I really was shocked at his cowardly hypocrisy. Basic standing strike defenses are a cornerstone of authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and you can’t be even a legitimate Blue Belt, the first adult belt rank after white, without them. Of course some instructors are always better at some aspects of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu system than others, that is only natural, it is a huge system. Therefore, every legitimate instructor at the least knows the technical aspects of the punch defenses well enough to teach and demonstrate them. He may have other methods that he prefers due to his personal experiences or body type but he knows and can teach the fundamental concepts and moves. These basic punch defenses had been more or less the same, with some variations in all the Academies I had trained at and had proved themselves in real fights.
Marcus Soares simply could not do these. He could neither teach, train nor apply realistic punch defenses at any commonly acceptable level. When I asked as his employer to demonstrate these or any skills in this area, which were a requirement for his position and his employment he could not and refused on many occasions. This was in stark contrast to his claims to me that he had trained people in Brazil for Vale Tudo fights. Finely, Helio Gracie himself set the basic technical criteria for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Blue Belt. That simple but all important standard was the ability to defend yourself, in a real fight, against a bigger and stronger attacker.
Therefore, Marcus Soares had demonstrably told me falsehoods to get into the country. He had grossly exaggerated his experience and training back ground. He did not have the knowledge or skills that he claimed and which had been requirements for his employment and Canadian work visa. Worse yet, Marcus Soares was by the recognized standards of Helio Gracie not even a Blue Belt and was therefore a fraudster.
Q: “Marcus Soares claimed he had taught Vale Tudo in Brazil but not specifically to Marcus “Conan” Silveira?”
A: yes, that’s right. Marcus Soares told me the lies he thought he could get away with in order to exaggerate his qualifications and mislead me into bringing him to Canada. Once here, of course, it became pretty clear that Marcus Soares had never taught anyone one Vale Tudo or MMA, how could he, he didn’t know how and had always been too frightened to even train it. As for Marcus “Conan” Silveira, he had been in Miami, Florida for some time and had not seen Marcus Soares in I don’t know how long so he had not been trained by Marcus Soares in a long while.
You see It was in the USA that what came to be called MMA was catching on and spreading rapidly. Therefore, Carlson Gracie had recently moved to North America for better economic and fight opportunities and was personally training, coaching and cornering his team which included Marcus “Conan” Silveira. I guess promoters had been told that this Carlson Gracie fight team had been such a big deal in Brazil so when they came to North America, they immediately got the high profile fights. Such as at M.A.R.S and Extreme Fighting, as I think they were called.
However, this Carlson Gracie fight team also started losing a lot of these high profile MMA fights. At the time, this was really, really shocking and embarrassing for all of us original practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in North America. For those of us that had been involved in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu since even before Royce Gracie had cemented the reputation of Brazilian/Gracie Jiu-jitsu at the first UFC, it was truly mind-boggling. This Carlson Gracie team really seemed to be doing the opposite kind of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu that Royce Gracie had done and was undermining the reputation of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. They may have thought they were some big deal in Brazil but their performances in North America were often shamefully bad in that early MMA era. This is a topic in its self, but it certainly made me rather suspicious of these claims about how great the Carlson Gracie team was, that Marcus Soares kept beating his gums about in the most petulant and infantile ways.
It got to the point that some of the highest level Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people were commenting on how bad they thought the Carlson Gracie team guys were. Of course infighting among Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people was nothing new. Nonetheless, when guys with a childish mentality like Marcus Soares start mouthing off, in the most infantile manner, about how much better than everyone else they are but are apparently much worse and keep proving it by badly loosing high profile MMA fights; then they should rightly be called on it. Authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people are going to want to distance themselves from what the public probably perceived, at the least, as mouthy losers. At worst, High level and proven fighters within the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community were publicly saying that some of these Carlson Gracie guys should not be considered black belt level.
Furthermore, these criticisms were of top Carlson Gracie fighters who at the least, were in no way ever afraid to get into the MMA ring or cage. In fact some of them I had a lot of respect for and liked to watch their MMA matches. However, if active fighters who trained hard could have been thought so poorly of then imagine just how awful and low belt rank they would have considered someone like Marcus Soares who was too lazy to train in any fashion and definitely too scared to even do the VALE TUDO training much less ever fight in one. In the street you can shit your pants, run away like a sniveling coward and then lie about it later while telling people how great you are. This was apparently the Marcus Soares method of self-defense and I was as disgusted by it and him as I could be.
Q: “Do you have some specific examples”
A: Let’s see. For documented and verifiable examples which I always insist on because of the lack of veracity in the Martial Arts and self defense industry I should have something I can locate right now. Furthermore, we are talking about people like Marcus Soares who have the very lowest level of credibility and integrity. Thus, I want the public to understand that because of this I disassociated myself from Marcus Soares and his methods decades ago even though it cost me a lot of money and time. In the end, no matter what it cost me financially or in the area of belt promotions, political conections or whatever, I simply could not be associated, in any way, with an indolent fraud who cast Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in the worst possible light.
Moreover, through these detailed discussions I hope to inform the public about the documented truth and that there are people like myself, in the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community who do hold themselves to higher levels of professionalism and prefer to deal with documented facts and not the lies of petulant fakes.
Therefore, in my personal records I have the below internet interview conducted with Rorion and Royce Gracie. This was a question and answer format that was published in “Karate International” magazine in their issue after UFC XVII. Hence, it can be looked up and is verifiable. They cover a lot of topics so I will not include a scan here of the entire document but will just quote some relevant questions and responses from two of the most knowledgeable Brazilian Jiu-jitsu sources. There is not a lot but here are some key opinions that most of the authentic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community of that time shared.
“SKILLRULES: Rorian (Rorion Gracie), what do you think about Carlson (Gracie) and his fighters?”
“Rrgracie (Rorion Gracie): I think they lack technique.”
“SENSEL: With 47 years, in Ju-Jitsu, I must ask why the young Gracie’s students are so arrogant?”
“Rrgracie (Rorion Gracie): Whose students are you referring to?”
“Please be specific. Who is the instructor?”
“SENSEL: One of them wrote to Michael D (the editor of Karate International). in the KI letters page.”
“Rrgracie (Rorion Gracie): Please find out and let me know. That is not the message I give to my students.”
“MAW: Royce (Gracie), do you think you or any of your immediate family will fight in UFC again?”
“ROYCE GRACIE: Possibly we might fight in the UFC again.”
“MAW: We miss you guys in there…and allot of the other BJJ (fighters) are not of your quality.”
“ROYCE GRACIE: A lot of BJJ fighters should not be positioning themselves as BJJ experts.”
“Hi Im Kyle: Do you train with Vitor Belfort (of the Carlson Gracie team) much? And what do you think of his skills compared to the others?”
“ROYCE GRACIE: I trained with Vitor once. I would rate him a purple belt. Vitor wears a black belt, as do many others who do not deserve to.”
Q: “Let’s move forward now and into this currant era. Can we better explore the contemporary state of the martial arts world and what your Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA system is like after these 25 years of evolution and development?”
A: Sure, I’d be happy to.
Q: “In this modern era where there is now so much Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts available what makes your Brazilian Jiu-jitsu system stand out from the crowd and what are the differences between what you do and the generic approach?”
A: I think this can be summed up by a phrase one of my students coined some years ago. He said my Brazilian Jiu-jitsu system is: “The new old-school”. I liked that because in one simple phrase it captures a lot of my philosophy and approach towards Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and just as importantly, Mixed Martial Arts.
What that means to me, is that I am old school in the sense of my values, my outlook on how and why we do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the role that “warriors” should play in modern society. At the same time, my Jiu-jitsu is not old fashioned or trapped in the past because we are not afraid of change. To me Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is always a work in progress and doesn’t belong to anyone. But being old school I don’t just buy into any new trend, like the sportification of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, just because everyone else is doing it. Any changes have to be to the benefit of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioner and not a detriment.
Therefore, I am often looking outside conventional Brazilian Jiu-jitsu these days because the focus is often too narrow. When It comes to real world self-defense we have to look at what other styles who take it seriously are doing. I mean, common guys we have to stop taking our “self-defense” advice from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu “Black Belts” who only do tournament Jiu-jitsu and have never been in a real fight in their lives or even trained for one. This is one of the reasons that the public has increasingly lost confidence in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as a solution for real life high violence situations. Hence, the main purpose of my system and programs is to restore this public confidence.
From almost the very beginning I took a very independent stand on various aspects and issues of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and my opinions were often in opposition to the conventional wisdom and beliefs of the experts. I have to point out, that in every case my position has been vindicated and now excepted as the norm. The importance of “no-Gi” training, the need for proper wrestling style take downs, the need for extensive strike training for MMA, the superiority of the “Russian style mount” for arm locking and the dominant role of leg locks were all things that were hotly contested in the early days of North American Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Q: “You are often cited as a ‘leg lock’ specialist. Wasn’t that quite unusual at the time when you started Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?
A: Well, if I have to have a speciality I would prefer to be known as a self-defense specialist that has done a lot of relevant work on real life violence and how to combat it. However, as far as the ground work goes, then I have certainly spent many years studying, training and using leg locks, much of that time in an era when leg locks where quite taboo in most Brazilian Jiu-jitsu circles.
Q: “what made you want to focus on leg locks when they were so unpopular?”
A: I didn’t at first, it started out slowly. In the beginning I was concentrating on learning the conventional Brazilian Jiu-jitsu methods and in particular the Reylson Gracie system of Jiu-jitsu which was very, very comprehensive. That is why we selected the Reylson style to be transplanted into Canada and we wanted to learn the entire system. Like most if not all approaches to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu of that era, Reylson Gracies’ jiu-jitsu standard curriculum included a few leg locks but there was certainly no emphasis on them. I had originally learned a few foot locks at the Torrance Gracie Jiu-jitsu academy but I don’t think I actually saw any used.
The difference at the Reylson Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy was in the attitude towards the leg locks. A lot of the teaching staff at the Corona Del Mar school were Americans like ken Gabrielson, Jonathon Jackson and John De La O. We North Americans did not have the same strange prejudices against leg locks as the majority of the Jiu-jitsu guys from Brazil did. We simply thought that was silly, the American attitude, at least at that Jiu-jitsu Academy, was a submission is a submission and I felt the same way.
Q: “Why Did the Brazilians have this bias against leg locks?”
A: That is a good question, and I think there are a few reasons for that but the main one that makes sense in my book is because of the knee locks and particularly the “heel hook” or “heel lock” submission.
The “heel hook” is the best example, It is genuinely dangerous in a way that most joint locks are not so all foot locks get associated with it. Many people list the “heel hook” as the single most hazardous submission in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or Mixed Martial Arts, when it comes to easy and very bad injuries. The heel hook is done on the foot of the opponent but it causes a very severe twisting and shearing effect on the knee. It takes very little effort to destroy an ACL of the knee and of course with knees these injuries can be permanent.
Therefore, no one wants to see the heel hook being casually used in training especially by under belts. In Fact, when I started Brazilian Jiu-jitsu the “heel lock” was one of these semi-secret techniques that did not appear on the standard curriculum and was really supposed to only be used in serious fights like Vale Tudos where the goal is often to injure your opponent.
Q: “How did you learn the infamous heel-hook?”
A: If I remember right, it was Jonathon Jackson a former US Marine and Brown Belt staff instructor at the Reylson Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy who first showed me the heel lock in one of those “off the books” lessons that he was probably not supposed to give me. Like the neck locks these kinds of attacks where treated as “closed door”, “need to know only” classified knowledge that was usually reserved for more senior students that had to fight under the more extreme conditions like a Vale tudo/NHB. He probably swore me to secrecy and had me swear that I would never use it in training with the students or show it to any of them. I had probably been telling him about all the problems we were having in Aldergrove with all the scum bags and the real fighting I was having to do. So he wasn’t going to leave me unprepared for that kind of real world violence and street fighting.
The American instructors where good guys and generally very helpful and completely open and forth coming with all the material and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu techniques. This wasn’t always the case with the Brazilian instructors who had come up in that more secretive, “hold the student back” tradition. Some of the Americans had to fight bare knuckle challenge matches and knew what it was like to have to “defend the honor of your academy”. The difference was that I was a lot less experienced and no one had to fight challenge matches until you where a more seasoned advanced belt. However, experienced or not I was representing the Academy up in Canada where I was on my own so they recognized my need for “superior fire power”.
People sometimes think I’m exaggerating about the “secrecy” that surrounded some of these techniques but even some years after this I came across an article in a men’s life style magazine in which the author had gone down to train with Frank shamrock and the “lion’s Den”. The writer’s purpose was to publish an article about his experiences. In this article he mentions that when it came time to learn the lion’s Den’s most important leg lock, which I presume was the heel lock, Frank Shamrock would not let him photograph it for the magazine.
I wasn’t long before I began to understand how dangerous these attacks could be and how much difficulty even high level guys would have in defending against them. Instead of being closed minded against leg locks I began to see them as the perfect equalizer for smaller fighters against much bigger fighters especially bigger trained fighters. Remember at this time there was no modern MMA yet Vale Tudos/NHBs and of course real street fights had no weight classes. Far from merely just not being biased against leg locks I realized that not being good at them was a real weakness of the conventional Brazilian Jiu-jitsu system. Many Brazlian Jiu-jitsu instructors were still in denial about this and very closed minded and even hostile to new ideas
For example, thinking of Frank Shamrock, I had seen a very early Frank Shamrock fight when he was starting out. It was in one of the Japanese events, pancrase or Shooto or something. It must have been Pancrase because Frank Shamrock did a lot of his early fighting for them. Anyhow, his opponent was Alan Goes a very experienced Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt. I found the fight very interesting because Goes appeared very much in control and seemed much better on the ground as he controlled Frank Shamrock on the ground so I thought he was going to win decisively. Then Frank shamrock caught him in a heel hook and Goes only avoided being submitted because he used a “rope escape” which was a peculiar Pancrase rule. Later I read that Goes’ leg was badly injured and he had to be in a cast for some time. I thought it was very telling about the BJJ style at the time that Goes could easily shut down most of the ground game of Shamrock but then be so susceptible to a leg lock.
Therefore, safety factors were certainly one aspect of the traditional Brazilian Jiu-jitsu leg-lock bias. However, from my perspective leg-locks were far too valuable to be ignored. In the end, Leg-locks are simply “good jiu-jitsu” in the sense that they are a good expression of the principle of “maximum efficiency” and really do allow the smaller fighter to level the playing field against much larger opponents.
Q: “You mentioned that there was more than just safety issues behind this original bias against leg locks, what were the other factors?”
A: There is actually an interesting and “deeper” rational behind the eschewing of leg locks in what you could call “classic” Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. This was an important part of the training philosophy that helped Brazilian Jiu-jitsu evolve into such a formidable and technical fighting system. Therefore, I think it is important for new Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners to grasp this insightful philosophy as to the role of leg locks in old school Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Over the years, I think it was just easier for some Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructors to give a short, definitive answer to why leg locks were not being used. They could just say that they are too dangerous or that they don’t work very well or that if they fail they leave you out of position. I have been told these things by various Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructors and old time practitioners that I spoke to back in the day and all of these arguments have some merit, except the idea that leg locks don’t work very well-which is just plain stupid and always was.
However, behind all this rationalization is a very shrewd understanding of how to develop technical jiu-jitsu skills to the peak level. Ground “randori” is considered much more “technical”, or purely skill based, by Brazilian Jiu-jitsu experts, than the standing throw-based randori that Jigaro Kano emphasized. This is because things like “speed”, “strength” and “reaction time” are so critical in standing randori and these athletic attributes can be far more important than purely technical skills. However, on the ground everything slows down and becomes more subtle, it really can become a battle of who is smarter, more sensitive and more skillful as opposed to who is bigger, faster and more athletic. This more technical approach to randori produces the more technical Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioner and, on a certain level, the most technical kind of ground randori training uses the Gi and does not use leg locks.
This is because the very most technical aspect of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu ground work is the classic positional dichotomy between the bottom or “leg guard” position and the top or “guard passing” position. This positional relationship and training modality is like the “Yin and Yang” of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. By that I mean the two opposing positions are meant to contrast, complement and neutralize each other equally. If the bottom player cannot reverse or submit the top player and the top player cannot control and “trespass” the bottom player then they are literally stuck there in a positional and technical stalemate.
This stalemate is one of the simple but brilliant aspects of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training. Instead of accepting a stalemate and changing the position or have a referee stand you up, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training philosophy is that you must stay there and find a technical solution for the impasse. This kind of “guard” training, when done correctly, is extremely skill intensive, the most skill intensive aspect of the already more skill based ground randori that Brazilian Jiu-jitsu emphasizes.
This is simply because in this position strength, speed and conventional athleticism have much less influence than in other positions. You can’t really “muscle” or “speed” your way out of a skilled person’s guard, this being far more true with a gi on, and the bottom person can’t really force a submission because they are fighting against gravity. Thus, this forces people to use more skill and technique and not force and strength which, after all, is meant to be the very essence of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
However, to get the most out of this skill vs counter-skill “chess match” the two opposing positions have to be as equal as possible. Once other elements are introduced like striking, leg locks or even the slipperiness of no-gi training, the balance begins to shift and the strategies change. With these other elements being used the fighter may not have to find skillful, technical solutions to the positional impasse. They can, in a sense, instead attack the position itself.
Therefore, you can see it took me a while to explain it and it can take a fair amount of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training to really understand and appreciate it so for a lot of Brazilian jiu-jitsu professors it was just easier to say “leg locks are too dangerous” or whatever. In the end, it is really about emphasizing what they saw as the most technical aspects of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training in order to develop the most technical practitioners.
This can be a very valuable training philosophy at times but it is also dangerous to start thinking that it is reality. If you create a kind of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu fantasy world in which punches, strikes or leg locks do not even exist then clearly you are going to have problems when trying to use this jiu-jitsu in the real world or even in MMA matches. Thus, there is a big difference between training methods and philosophy and fighting methods and philosophy.
You have to have different types of training and, more importantly, understand the purpose of each kind of training. That is really the biggest problem of emphasizing sport-based Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, it’s not just that its often silly but it distorts the very nature of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu by taking what is essentially only a training modality and turning it into some ultimate ego contest at the expense of everything else.
By pretending the other things don’t exist sport randori or “rolling” becomes the end all be all. In other words, as I must have said many times, “sparring” becomes an “end” in itself instead of a “means”. We become good only at randori or “rolling” but don’t know how to actually fight and defend ourselves under real life conditions. To old school Brazilian Jiu-jitsu people this would be laughable.
Q: “so to return to leg locks, they should not be used in randori because they make you less technical?”
A: No, you are missing the point. There should be more than one kind of randori/sparring so just like punches and strikes, leg locks are appropriate for some kinds of training but maybe not so much for others. leg locks make you technical in different kinds of ways so it’s really a question of what skills you are trying to develop.
Leg locks are a more specific kind of skill; they are attacks or submissions and very, very effective ones. However, they are not foundational skills/attributes like balance, posture or energy conservation. These things are more common to all aspects of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and so the more you develop them the more your overall Jiu-jitsu game will improve. The classic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu approach to top position vs bottom position, without the leg locks, really emphasizes and develops these foundational skills. Perhaps most importantly though, from a classic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training philosophy is that this “yin and yang” battle is also perfectly integrated into the classic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu concept of “positional Control”.
Q: “Leg locks don’t use positional controls?”
A: Not really in the classic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu sense of being on “top” or “underneath” of someone. Basic positional control is fundamental to real fighting and self defense and is a really simple idea. If someone attacks you, especially a bigger and stronger person, and you put them on the ground then get on top of them you have created a tremendous positional and tactical advantage for yourself.
The top person has gravity assisting everything they do. The “mount” position allows you to pin down an opponent with your hips and body weight while leaving your hands more or less free to strike or apply a submission to the opponent. This is a very natural and instinctive way to fight.
Watch two kids with no wrestling or whatever training, fighting on the ground and what they intuitively try to do is sit on top of the other person, it is nature’s most basic grappling position. Believe me, I know from practical experience. Growing up I was the youngest, by a lot of years, in a family of five siblings. I must have spent half my childhood with someone sitting on my chest (LOL). Therefore jiu-jitsu just refined these natural and instinctive ground positions and the art and science of positional control evolved from that.
However, leg locks generally need a totally different approach and methods of control. In most leg locking techniques there really is no top person and no bottom person. The two fighters usually have their legs pointed at each other in a kind of inverted and equal positional relationship that is pretty strange and confusing compared to the simple idea of getting on top of someone.
The strategies and positional control theories are totally different between upper body control and lower body control. Its like one of those old Kung-fu movies, Tiger style vs Crane style which is better? That is why even someone highly skilled at the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu top game can be completely out of his element when attacked with lower body submissions because the governing principles and strategies change so much and are so different.
Q: “Which do you think is better?”
A: Well, I would have to ask: “better for what”? But as far as basic, fundamental fighting and self-defense goes, then top positional control has to come first. In real world fighting gravity and that sandwiching effect against a hard surface are tremendous allies to have.
Other combat sports that use leg-locks, such as Sambo have different rules and philosophies about ground work. The matches are a lot shorter than black blelt BJJ matches and they really want to restrict the amount of ground work there is. Therefore, the ability to not have to go through a positional control battle and surprise an opponent with sudden submission is a real asset in that kind of sport. Leg locks fit perfectly into this kind of time restricted format where you had to make a fast all-out submission attempt like in sport Sambo.
Q: That’s interesting, many people have the impression that the sport of Sambo is all about leg locks.