Ryron Gracie | Finding Jiu Jitsu’s Big Picture

Ryron Gracie likens Jiu Jitsu training to music. An uncomplicated back and forth between notes, combining to make something special. Something melodic.

It’s the same when two training partners are on the mat rolling.

“That’s the Jiu Jitsu way of doing Jiu Jitsu,” Gracie said during an exclusive interview with Hayabusa. “Think about it, the way of, when you shake someone's hand, you can’t lay on your back, you can’t let them ever side mount you, they can never pass your guard. That’s not the Jiu Jitsu way of approaching Jiu Jitsu because Jiu Jitsu is gentle. Jiu Jitsu is give and take and there’s a flow.”

Raising his hands chest level, Gracie, a fifth-degree black belt instructor at Gracie University, struck his knuckles together four times, mimicking a struggle and continued: “Jiu Jitsu is not this. Jiu Jitsu is music. Move with the person and you have to think what’s sustainable.”

Ryron Gracie is the grandson of Hélio Gracie, a forerunner to what is known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Hélio Gracie learned Judo from his older brothers, who learned from Mitsuyo Maeda, a fighter and judoka from Japan. The younger Gracie brother, instead of relying on brute strength, used leverage and specific movements as a way to gain control of an opponent. His methods became known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

What's the big picture goal? It’s that we enjoy Jiu Jitsu for as long as possible.

It should not be a surprise, considering those familial ties, that sustainability is at the heart of what Ryron Gracie does on the mat. Jiu Jitsu is a martial art that can be practiced for as long as you choose. A key factor in longevity is taking care of your body and approaching training sessions with a certain mentality.

If anyone should know, it’s Gracie, who began training as a toddler in Torrance, California. When he takes the mat, he doesn’t shy away from submitting partners, but that isn’t his first goal. He prefers a methodical way in which he and his training partner are exploring techniques and potential openings. He’s well aware that if he chooses the high-paced sessions, ending with a submission, the potential consequence is his students will absorb and attempt to mirror that style. It has the capability of turning the environment in the room toxic.

“They're going to fall into what, wanting to be more go, go, go and to hurt people and advance,” he said. “You have to think about this: what's the big picture goal? It’s that we enjoy Jiu Jitsu for as long as possible. But when your energy is to overcome and to dominate and defeat everybody who you touch in your academy, then it's everybody working against everybody … I believe in an environment where I do want to submit you, but when it makes sense. And you might submit me and we're both working together to build more comfort and more understanding of not only this art, but of a fight, of a grapple, of a connection. When two people touch, my goal isn’t to avoid submission, or to submit the other person. It’s to understand them and myself and what's possible in that grapple.”

He firmly believes elements of self defense should be present when teaching Jiu Jitsu. Learning how to defend yourself sets off a chain reaction that not only leads to peaceful resolutions, but also helps a person gain a level of confidence that may not have been there before.

The family, long-term Jiu Jitsu environment is what I grew up with. My grandfather, my father, my uncles, my brothers.

“I believe that with our efforts at Gracie University, Rener and myself, and a lot of other schools that in time, people will realize the value of offering self defense to the students,” Gracie said. “If you have a school with 60 or 100 or 120 people, that's nothing compared to what you can have if you offered confidence to everybody. Whether it's a 5-year-old child or a 73-year-old adult, anybody. A woman, a man, doesn't matter. It's just confidence. It's a tool that they can take with them wherever they go in life.”

Just as he grew up learning Jiu Jitsu, he is now passing that on to his children. It’s his chance to recreate the bonds built by his family who were constantly on the mat together.

“The family, long-term Jiu Jitsu environment is what I grew up with,” Gracie said. “My grandfather, my father, my uncles, my brothers. So many of us around Jiu Jitsu forever and that's probably the most amazing thing about my whole life. The most special thing about me and my life that I've felt is just always being around family on the mat. Now as I'm older, I'm starting my own family. I have my own children and my wife and we're playing on the mat in our garage or at the school. Look for that, help create that.”

The lessons taught by the Gracies go well beyond everyday Jiu Jitsu players. Ryron’s father, Rorion, was approached to create a course for members of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations unit teaching them how to survive hand-to-hand combat. In 1994, the Modern Army Combatives Program was enacted thanks to the Jiu Jitsu foundation created by Rorion.

This has made a natural segue into law enforcement. Gracie Survival Tactics (GST) course, taught by Gracie University, is meant to train local law enforcement as well as military members how to approach every interaction with caution and how to react if something goes wrong. Ryron brought that course to Kingston, Ontario, Canada and explained its benefits.

“When it comes to law enforcement, they don't know who they're going to come across in any given moment, and their lives are always in danger,” he said. “If you don't know who you're dealing with, it could be somebody who's a murderer that you stop for running a red light, or it could be someone who just had a bad day and ran a red light. You don't know, but you have to be ready for the worst case scenario and Jiu Jitsu gives tools to the smaller officer to defend themselves against an ambush from somebody who could be the same size or much bigger, heavier and stronger. What we want to do is give police officers, a little more time … because then backup can show up to help you, or you can handle it on your own and get away to safety.”

In the end, it’s all about a Jiu Jitsu journey that encourages learning, confidence and provides safety.