By Elias Cepeda
On Monday I wrote about practitioners of “real” Jiu Jitsu. That is, those who have a background in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and who test those skills in real fights.
Kron Gracie looks to be the next such high-profile example as he sets his sights on a 2014 MMA debut. Royce Gracie is, of course, the first that most of us ever heard of.
Gracie entered the original UFC tournaments as the lightest fighter in open weight contests where the only rules were no biting, eye gouging or fish-hooking, and submitted three and four men in single-night tournaments with the Jiu Jitsu skills that his family developed. As such, Royce’s place in history is more than secure.
As younger family members of his try to carve out their own space in MMA, however, Royce is offering not support but rather rough criticism. Many have criticized fighters like Roger and Rolles Gracie for not being as well-rounded as a few of their best opponents, and take the occasions of their losses to pile on.
Surprisingly, Royce is the latest critic to add some fertilizer onto that pile. Unlike many others, however, Royce says that the reason for his family members’ recent losses is because they are trying to be too well-rounded.
“Jiu-jitsu is enough,” Royce Gracie recently told MMAFighting.com. “I’ve trained boxing in the past to learn the distance, trained wrestling to understand how he would take me down, but I won’t get there to fight my opponent’s game. The [new] guys [from the Gracie] family want to complement their game, like if Jiu-Jitsu was incomplete. I guess they forgot a little about history.
“I do jiu-jitsu my whole life, so why would I try to stand and bang with Mike Tyson?” he went on. ”I’m going to learn boxing in six months because my opponent is good in boxing? That makes no sense.”
I suppose the “history” Royce speaks of is his own, where he was able to dominate many opponents because they had never trained Jiu Jitsu before. Once they did, competition started to level-off and he and everyone else started having more trouble with one another in the ring and cage.
Why Royce is choosing to make self-aggrandizing criticisms of family members who are still physically sore from recent losses is beyond my understanding. It is safe to assume, however, that Royce has no real first-hand knowledge of the type of training and development of cousins like Roger and Rolles, who have trained under the leadership of perhaps the most MMA-accomplished Gracie, Renzo.
That aside, let’s focus on the thrust of what Royce seems to be saying. He’s assuming that his cousins are distracted by the training of too many other things other than “pure” Jiu Jitsu. Things like wrestling (ie. getting the fight to the ground) and striking (ie. not getting knocked out on the feet while you’re there).
To me, Jiu Jitsu has always been more of a philosophy than any particular set of moves or even focus of a portion of fighting (ie. grappling or submissions or ground fighting). That is to say, what makes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu unique is that it always recognized that anything – strikes, clinching, take downs, submissions, ground work – can and usually does happen in a fight. With that understanding, a true Jiu Jitsu practitioner proceeds along a path that he or she believes will best prepare them for anything.
They will ignore no possibility of danger and so will prepare for everything. As Bruce Lee was fond of saying, real fighting is about honestly assessing – through fighting – what works and what doesn’t. If something works, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t.
Something that works well for a great BJJ practitioner is being able to get on top of their opponent where they can better control and finish them. Royce knows this. He did it plenty of times.
When he could, he took down his opponents. When he could not, he worked off of his own back.
That doesn’t seem very different at all than what we have seen guys like Roger and Rolles do in their fights, mostly successfully but sometimes not. But we’ve also seen examples of Jiu Jitsu guys having lapses of judgment in fights and paying for it. Think of Demian Maia trying to throw a high kick against Nate Marquardt, or Vitor Belfort letting Randy Couture walk him backwards into the cage and initiate the grappling. I can’t remember any Gracies making similar mistakes.
So, if we see Gracies try to fight conservatively and to their strengths in competition as Royce always did, what exactly is Royce’s beef? The fact that Roger and Rolles spend time working on their weaknesses in training, evidently. This is where Royce is just flat out wrong.
Back when no one else in MMA trained the indispensable style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu except for Royce and his family, he could get away with the basic strike-blocking and poor take downs to go along with his excellent durability and Jiu Jitsu skills. Jiu Jitsu fighters these days are faced with an entirely different world – one where everyone trains high-level Jiu Jitsu and uses it along with their own wrestling or striking bases.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu provided the first martial arts style to recognize that grappling and striking could occur along with ground fighting, but that doesn’t mean that BJJ takedowns or strikes are the most effective when facing a good wrestler or striker, all other things being equal. And that’s a big part of it – the submission grappling part of fights is very often equal, even between Gracies and non-Gracie opponents.
The Gracie name isn’t magic. If you train Jiu Jitsu with a real instructor for years, you will get good at it, no matter what your name is. Rolles and Roger fight guys who are very good at Jiu Jitsu, as well as other things, like wrestling and striking.
The fact that they train like professional fighters and not mid-twentieth century part-time martial arts instructors is not something to be criticized. Royce saying that Gracies can neutralize modern striking and wrestling without training striking and wrestling is just about as absurd as the Akido or Tae Kwon Do instructor who says that you don’t need to train grappling because their kicks and punches and footwork will prevent anyone from ever grabbing them.
Working on weaknesses is a hallmark of champions. Royce knows this. Maybe it is just hard to admit in public.
If he had better striking, perhaps he would not have gotten beaten up for an hour and a half by Kazushi Sakuraba’s leg kicks before having to throw in the towel. Chances are, however, that Rolles Gracies would not have avoided getting knocked out last Saturday night if he had spent less time working on his boxing in training.
“I believe in pure jiu-jitsu. That’s what I’ve done in the past. You have to go back to your roots and train Gracie jiu-jitsu,” Royce went on to say in his interview.
I couldn’t agree more. The thing is, to me Gracie Jiu Jitsu is about never staying stagnant, constantly evolving and constantly improving to be able to meet new fight challenges.
Royce met the challenges of his day bravely. It would be great if he didn’t now try to sully the efforts of his younger family members who are trying to meet the challenges of their day with bravery, but also with a bit more technique.