T Nation

Ralph Gracie assaults Flavio Almeida


#1

Has anyone followed this drama unfolding in the jiu jitsu community?

TLDR: Gracie Barra opened up shop very close to Ralph Gracie’s school. Ralph is a violent man and very good at fighting, and nobody who knows Ralph was surprised to learn that he clobbered Almeida because of it. He didn’t care about the legal consequences, he did what he did out of principle.

Some people believe that sort of behavior has no place in jiu jitsu. Some people believe that sort of behavior is how we got jiu jitsu.

Renzo Gracie came down on the side of his brother Ralph, but it’s worthwhile to note that he’s also very close with Flavio Almeida. He didn’t mince words at all. “Gracie Barra has become weak.”

My first reaction was, wow, that’s clearly assault and uncalled for. It’s not something I’d do, but I’m also beginning to learn that there’s rules for the public, rules for sport jiu jitsu mats, and rules for jiu jitsu mats where you’re learning how to fight. I’ve experienced the difference between all three first hand.

My instructor and his instructor, the most senior black belt in my state, came down HARD on the side of Ralph Gracie. The general vibe I got from them was “Of course he decked him. What do you think would happen?”

It’s worthwhile to note that the head instructor got his black belt from Amal Easton, who is a Renzo Gracie black belt. But they were both firm in their opinions before Renzo made a public statement, and were completely unsurprised afterwards.

I haven’t heard what my old instructor or anyone from the sport circles have said about the incident, but the comments on the youtube video come down hard against Ralph.

Anyone have any thoughts on it?


#2

(half-joking here)

Agree with Renzo Gracie -Ralph Gracie totally telegraphed that elbow; unless he was disarming (pun intended) Almeida by whispering sweet nothings to him during that conversation, yeah, weak.


#3

So, I gave this some actual thought.

And yes, it was extremely disrespectful for Almeida to do what he did -literally trying to take money out of Gracie’s pocket. In the old days, Gracie would’ve challenged Almeida to a fight/duel, kicked his ass, and neutered Almeida’s attempt to mooch off of Gracie’s existing business.

(example of co-existing peacefully) Kyokushin Karate (considered the first and most influential style of full contact karate) founder Mas Oyama had two students who both claimed to be Oyama’s “#1” student -Shigeru Oyama (no relation) and Tadashi Nakamura; when they both landed in Manhattan NYC, Shigeru Oyama set up shop on W. 4th St., Tadashi Nakamura set up shop on W. 23rd St. Shigeru taught a “harder” style, Nakamura went “softer” -slightly different markets, enough distance apart. Afaik, the two schools never interacted.


#4

It’s funny how a simple case of assault can expose huge rifts in a community. My instructor believes that a formal split of some sort will become necessary in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He described it as similar to how outlaw bikers distinguish themselves from “polite” bikers with the 1 percent patch.

I don’t see this as inherently bad. People with sport/competition priorities and hobbyists who like that vibe will be better suited with different training styles than people who want to learn jiu jitsu as a pure fighting art, irrespective of weight classes and any sort of rule set. I’m not sure where Gracie Barra falls on that spectrum, but I am keenly aware of where Renzo Gracie’s lineage in my area does.

The problem right now is that it’s all under the same mantle of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, even though the differences between one school and another can be dramatic. The other problem I see is that sport schools often sell their services as “self defense”. That’s a half-truth, because someone who trains and grapples against resistance will always be much better off in a fight than someone who doesn’t.

Someone who studies a curriculum that’s geared toward practical fighting for the first few years will be much, much better off in a fight than the sport grappler who spent their white belt years working x-guard, an array of gi-only chokes and worrying about point strategies. Most black belts at any school would whoop the hell out of most people, but you don’t need to become a black belt to have a tremendous advantage in a fighting situation.

I suppose the differences I speak of are not unlike the various styles of karate. I know Kyokushin does full-contact sparring while others stick to kata. That’s a REALLY big difference between what you can be doing under the general umbrella of “karate”. They do a much better job of differentiating what you’re getting into, which is why they fly different flags. Shotokan, Kyokushin, Kempo, Rex-Kwan-Do, whatever.

My instructor and I have talked about this several times. He’s been kicked out of a few of the area schools for the crime of being really good at jiu jitsu, and doing the exact same things he does to me every time we train. Fortunately he was always welcome at my old school, which is how I met him. He was a fixture at open mats, came to Marcelo Alonso seminars and occasionally dropped in for a class. He’s a “belt breaker” and so am I. I’m not a mat bully, but I’m big, strong, and good at what I’m good at, which isn’t everything, but it’s enough to cause problems.

Higher belts often duck me, or try to turn every roll into an instructional lesson. Not all of them do, but I’ve even had a black belt stop our roll to get up and change the song that was playing when I had him in tight side control with good shoulder pressure, and the bell conveniently rang while he was getting the tunes right. C’mon man! Just call it a flow roll next time!

This crap just doesn’t happen when i get the chance to roll with people from my instructor’s school. All of their black and brown belts of all ages and sizes are perfectly capable of shitting in my mouth if they wanted, and it’s very much a lead-from-the-front school. To them, I’m a training gift, the big strong guy that they want to make their shit work against. I have explicit instructions to not hold back pressure or techniques against anyone with a blue or higher belt at that school. Male or female. And they all dig it, and a lot of them make me eat shit and you can sense the joy when they do. I think those moments are great too. It’s skill and grit coming out on top, as it should.

This is just basic attitude differences. Training methodology varies wildly too. Just last night I was talking to a Judo brown belt who’s just starting BJJ and he’s really frustrated that nobody at our local school wants to start rolls from the feet, which we do every time unless we’re looking at a specific situation. He’s now got an open invite to train with us and work his stand-up. What’s the point of ground fighting unless you can put someone on the ground? Guard-pulling may be perfectly viable in competition, but it’s one of the dumbest things you can do in a real fight!

I get the wisdom of being more cautious working stand-up, especially with newer students, but the hurdle of learning how to fall and keeping yourself safe on your feet isn’t particularly high. I get the wisdom of flow rolling, and I do a lot of that too. I get the wisdom of dialing back pressure, which is very useful if you want to control someone without making them absolutely miserable, like a new student or your drunk uncle at a wedding. But I can’t overlook the value of going at each other and getting to the truth of the matter.

Can you do the thing or not?

Maybe it’s just a business dispute between Ralph and Almeida, but my instructor and his instructor are framing this as something of a battle for the soul of jiu jitsu. Perhaps that’s a bit overblown, but my experiences on the mats tell me it’s not. The differences are real, and Renzo didn’t mince words about Gracie Barra’s direction.

/rant over.

All other thoughts are welcome!


#5

I’m not going to comment significantly on this - other than to say that there is a lot of retrograde thinking on this subject from people in the jiu-jitsu community I’d expect to know better.

I’ll let Carlos Jr. speak for the team:


#6

Thanks for sharing!

In case I haven’t been clear, I have never trained at a Gracie Barra school or with anyone from them, so I have no idea what the curriculum or training style is like. The closest one I know of is 3 hours away from me in Boston. I’m speaking from the perspective of a relatively new student with exposure to the 4 schools within an hour of me, plus one more “parent school” in New Hampshire. Maybe 50 training partners total over the years. Small sample size.

I was a 3 stripe white belt at my old sport school and I’ve spent the last year training “off the books” at my now-instructor’s home mats. His school is over an hour away, but I’m looking for a new job in that area to make training there viable for me. For now I have to settle for mostly private sessions with a four stripe brown belt :slight_smile:

I’m still on good terms with everyone I’ve ever trained with, but I’m training where I’m at for simple reasons. He’s teaching what I want to learn at this stage of my development, and I want to know what he knows as well as he knows it as I move forward. And he’s 5 min away, which is nice. The other school’s aren’t teaching the same stuff, especially when it comes to stand-up, clinch work, takedowns, takedown defense and strike management.

I’m also becoming more aware of qualitative differences in technique and fundamentals. My old school more or less promoted automatically as a function of mat time. Just stick around and you’ll get the belt, all the way up to black. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what I want. I want to meet the same standards my instructor did and learn the same curriculum, so I can hopefully do what he does eventually.

These differences were not at all clear to me when I began, and I was made to believe that “jiu jitsu is jiu jitsu” and the differences between schools are minor. They aren’t, at least not in my area.

I think Carlos Gracie Jr’s statement was well-put. I’m not sure how much of the shade he threw was warranted and I’m not sure how much of the shade Renzo threw was warranted. I don’t know any of them and I don’t know the full backstory. The conduct I hold myself to certainly in-line with what Carlos Jr. preaches. I think the broader goals of jiu jitsu are the same at the Renzo lineage school in my area as what Gracie Barra states, with one exception…

We stand for a philosophy of health, friendship and cooperation and preach non-violence; the latter being only accepted in extreme situations that require self-defense.

That last point is definitely different at my instructor’s academy. No doubt about it. They don’t encourage anyone to commit assault, but the head instructor (who has a podcast I listen to) is very clear that he believes there are things worth fighting over as a matter of honor and principle. That’s who he is and he doesn’t shy away from it, and he seems to credit Amal Easton and Renzo Gracie for cultivating that mindset during his training.

I can definitely see why that could be considered retrograde, but I’m also beginning to understand what their notions of honor and principle mean. He lives it too, it’s not just talk. It’s part of what gives him so much gravity as a person and as an instructor. He’s probably a bit sociopathic, but his jiu jitsu and way of teaching it checks every box I’m looking for in a way that nobody else in the area does.

It seems like the split is happening naturally, as more “brands” emerge like Gracie Barra, Gracie Academy, and regional groups of schools like Easton Academy in Colorado or Serra BJJ in Long Island. Speaking for myself, I’d like to see these schools do a better job of explaining to new students what they’re getting into. Right now it seems like everyone makes the claim that you’re learning jiu jitsu and will become capable with your bare hands. Only one school in my area truly delivers on that promise. That’s a problem, and know plenty of people who have years of mat time that would not fare well in a fight with an aggressive and strong high school wrestler.

Not everyone who studies jiu jitsu will fight, and most probably won’t. I deal with violence as a bouncer, but I wouldn’t call any of those encounters fights. That’s in no small part to the stand-up work I’ve learned and being able to control adult men without taking the fight to the ground and without hurting anyone (arm-drag to RNC, take the back with seatbelt grips or get to a side clinch have been working great!). All good outcomes with basic white belt moves that just aren’t taught everywhere.

The higher belts I’ve trained with have undoubtedly gained a great deal of benefit from their experiences with jiu jitsu and have undoubtedly helped shape a lot of positive experiences for many people, including myself. But do they really know jiu jitsu? I’m starting to think some of them don’t. What they do is something different. Not bad, but different.

You can either do the thing, or not.


#7

It is the practice of violence. Why would anybody that practices it be surprised by violence?

If people don’t like that they should practice judo rather than jiu-jitsu. Americanize it, buy belts and pat each other on their buts.


#8

That’s where it emerged from, for sure. It’s since gone off in different directions at some schools, which describes most of what’s available in my area.

The funny thing is if the butt-scooters, guard-pullers and start-from-the-knees rollers did more judo they’d probably be a lot better off! But what you’re talking about is definitely happening already. Get your belts and pretend you have a skill set that you don’t. Don’t forget to post liberally on social media with mean-mugging pictures!


#9

This is the dumbest thing I’ve seen. And a perfect example of how dumb and dogmatic some of the Brazilians can be.

Really? Really? You’re gonna punch a guy because he opened up a gym near you. So this guy has a monopoly on the entire BJJ scene.

How about this. You rise up to the challenge. If your program is better people will see that and if its not they will go to Almeida’s school and perhaps you will reevaluate your approach.


#10

I feel like this is a dig at sports BJJ gyms? All the sports bjj gyms I have been to and seen have better quality products(students). Those places have people who are competitive and driven they train way more than your avg bjj hobbyist. The hobbyist also seem to be the type who populate self defense oriented programs.

Also every serious sports BJJ gym I have seen trains takedowns and throws frequently. But perhaps the schools in DMV (DC,MD,VA) area just perform on another level. I am talking TLI, BETA academy, Yamasaki, Standard BJJ, the list goes on.


#11

It is interesting that Ralph used an elbow/strike on the feet, then 2-on-1 kicks to the head of a dude on the ground against Almeida. Those are the best things to do against bjj.


#12

Martial arts has truly come full circle when B/GJJ has become Wing/Ving Chun/Tsun


#13

@oglebee Regarding your first post, I generally agree that in a competitive business environment, you have to compete. That’s just how it is in the USA. I’m not sure what was said in the lead-up to all of that , but it made Ralph take a stand in the way he did. That may have flown over fine in Rio, but now he’s going to suffer the consequences.

Regarding your second post, it was a bit of a dig because the schools in my area where that happens are literally selling the idea that you’re going to learn to handle yourself in a fight if you give them your money and take their classes. That’s only partially true. Like I said above, you’ll certainly be better off than not training at all, but it brings up questions of integrity in business practices and how they reel in new students. My instructor’s school is very clear on their approach. The white belt curriculum is geared towards handling violence with your bare hands. Sport comes later.

Their white belts and even blue belts are fairly mediocre in local competitions, but it’s worth noting that their black and brown belts are among the region’s best in sport grappling. They’ve also produced a number of accomplished pro MMA and Vale Tudo fighters, including the head instructor. Out of 6 or 7 total black belts at that academy, 4 have been invited to recent Fight 2 Win Pro events in Boston. The head instructor lost in no-gi to an active IBJJF world champion after not competing for almost 10 years, but he held his own and performed admirably. The proof is in the pudding there for sure. Their top guys are as legit as they come however you want to measure success in jiu jitsu. Every blue belt I’ve trained with there would be a handful in a real fight. Every single one, even the 140 lb dude. They’re about as well prepared as you can be in 2-3 years of mat time. Many of them also do Muay Thai, which is also taught there but kept separate from the jiu jitsu curriculum.

But, to your point, plenty of sport gyms are no-doubt top-notch all-around. It’s also worth noting that your ROI on training takedowns or strike managment won’t pay off that well in competition, at least at the levels I’m at. It takes a lot of work to get good at that, and that’s time that could be better spent on the ground if you have sport grappling competition goals. If you don’t know De La Riva guard, you’ll struggle against it (like I do). It’s not on the menu for me for quite some time, and plenty of other stuff you see in sport isn’t either, but that fits in with my personal training priorities.

Perhaps living in Maine has given me a pretty skewed perspective. It’s a small state with limited offerings, and I’ve never been exposed to what I’d consider a top-notch sport school.


#14

Yeah, one more after watching the vid again.

Mike Tyson was right. Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.


#15

Jiu jitsu isn’t a superpower by any means! It wasn’t a fair fight by any measure, but like my instructor’s instructor said “What did you think would happen? It’s Ralph Gracie!”. I don’t know Ralph, but he does. I wouldn’t want to be in close proximity to that guy while pulling whatever levers it takes to drive him to violence.

The sagest wisdom ever to come out of Iron Mike’s mouth!

On a related note, we also incorporate slaps and palm strikes into training to keep ourselves honest about what it is we’re doing. Not all the time, but some of it, and it’s something anyone can opt out of. That’s not the same as getting punched in the face, but it’s a good approximation that you can do day-in, day-out without showing up to work with busted lips and black eyes. It would also be a worthless distraction to someone who is interested in prioritizing sport grappling competition goals.

Another example of how things can vary wildly from one school to the next, all being sold to new students as “learn to fight by studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with us”.

They’ve started hosting unofficial tournaments at my instructor’s school too. Here’s the first one.


#16

I almost started yelling “dig dig dig!” as the one girl was trying to work a leg through that sprawl.

She needs to get on her toes!

The slapping does change the movement, how and when you close the gap & maybe what you’re willing to give for what you’re trying to get.


#17

Those ladies are both around the senior white belt to early blue belt levels, so they’ve got plenty more to learn! Great performances for sure.

I think it’s a pretty good concept that introduces more violence without taping up hands and putting on gloves, which most people don’t walk around wearing. If you get into a fight your hands will probably be bare, which favors a lot of grappling techniques and introduces more risk that your hands will break if you punch with reckless abandon. I also like that slams are legal, which introduces an element of risk to things like triangle chokes that are present in reality but not in sport BJJ competition.

It’s not Vale Tudo, but it’s an accessible competition format for a hobbyist or your typical guy who doesn’t want to get beat up. I still think that’s the most common profile for a new jiu jitsu student, someone who doesn’t want to get beat up. That’s why I think there’s a problem with truth in advertising.

Rules obviously shape tactics and training priorities, and this is part of what drives the differences between schools. Were you watching jiu jitsu in the “Reality Check BJJ” video above?

Is this also jiu jitsu?

Are they both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? I think most would say yes, that’s all under the same umbrella.

If I’m a new student who doesn’t want to get beat up again, how am I supposed to know which school to sign up for? How many sport schools would suggest that they aren’t the best place to train, and instead point you towards a Renzo Gracie lineage school with a white belt curriculum geared towards fighting? Perhaps some, but none in my area did for me.

If I want to dominate competition with butt-scooting, donkey guard and acrobatic moves like Jeff Glover in the video above (and he’s a very accomplished sport grappler), I’m absolutely certain that my instructor and his instructor would be up-front with you that donkey guard isn’t even on the curriculum.


#18

Reminds me of Pancrase. Which, coincidentally, Bas Rutten made a fantastic demonstration on just how much you can mess someone up with a palm strike if you throw it with violent intent.

When MMA was still newish to CA, they had “pankration”, which was bodystrikes only with grappling. Lotta folks just treating the strikes like a formality, whereas I came in with 2 subs, some wrestling, and strikes. It can really change gameplans.


#19

Here’s perhaps the most badass video on youtube. Bas Rutten set to Motorhead.

Totally. Strikes change everything, and someone with a good shot can put you on your ass before you know what hit you. A student at my instructor’s school is roughly my size and also a wrestling coach, and the first time I rolled with him he hit me with a sucker double and smashed the hell out of me in a way that I’d never experienced before. At the time I had never trained a sprawl, despite spending about 6 or 7 months at my first BJJ school.

My four or five classes of omoplata training were not particularly useful in that situation. If it was a real fight I would have been beaten to a pulp on my back.


#20

I’m weathering the snowstorm here with pot roast and beer, so now’s the perfect time to expand a bit more on what I believe are some of the deeper currents that are running underneath the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu scene in my area.

This is just my opinion, and I don’t know if anyone else shares it. I’m just speaking for myself here.

Honor and integrity are things my instructor speaks about a lot. It’s something his instructor speaks about a lot. Their conceptions of it don’t rule out violence as an acceptable response. They don’t encourage violent behavior per-se, but they simply acknowledge that things get heated for a variety of reasons. Sometimes things will go to blows, and self-defense isn’t the only situation where violence is justified in their minds.

I share this general view, even though my parameters for acceptable violence definitely differ from theirs. I have my own code. My instructor’s never been in a real fight, but I pity the first person who picks one with him and I think it’s natural that he shares the same view as his instructor of 12 years. His instructor’s been in many fights, and I don’t share all of his views on violence, but he’s articulated them well enough to where I can understand and empathize with his code of conduct when it comes to violence.

Is the code of conduct he describes illegal? In some cases, yes. Is that barbaric? Absolutely, at times. Is it retrograde thinking? By most modern measures, yes. Do I respect it? Absolutely.

Behavior like that isn’t welcome in civilized society, but civilized conduct isn’t what put Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on the map. It’s popularity and, by extension, it’s profitability would not exist without violent people like Ralph Gracie who fought and won with the techniques that they trained. It would be another obscure martial art from distant lands if not for the bloody and and shocking actions of Royce Gracie in a competition that was widely decried as barbaric and uncivilized. Even today, you will never see Vale Tudo rules sanctioned in the USA, but many of the core concepts of jiu jitsu have become a prerequisite for being competitive in sanctioned events like the UFC.

I frequently deal with mildly violent and, in a couple of rare cases, severely violent situations as a bouncer. I take the circumstances into account when considering what my response is, whether it’s in the moment or after it’s all shaken out. In the last month I had the police ask me if I wanted to press assault charges against two different people who got a little chippy with me instead of leaving when they were asked. It was all on video too. I declined both times. I don’t believe they were seriously intent on hurting me, they were just seriously intent on looking like tough guys and very averse to being dragged out of a bar in front of their friends. They were also wasted. Nobody needed to go to jail and have life-altering criminal charges brought against them for acting tough and completely failing to hurt the bouncer. That’s part of my code when it comes to violence. I have my own ideas on the matter. I think everyone should.

Where I think my instructor and his instructor have a very valid point is when they criticize schools that fly a flag of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but don’t do a good job of preparing their students for violence. Many, if not most schools in our area fit this description. They are capitalizing on the reputation that the martial art gained through violent actions but failing to embrace violence in their curriculum and training methodologies.

Sport grappling competitions and training norms of polite exchanges of technique during a training roll are perfectly fine, but that’s not what I think of as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s beating heart. To me, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is practicing for the real thing and training high percentage techniques that I can put into action under stress, regardless of whether the person is bigger, stronger, more flexible, younger, more experienced, or more aggressive than me. You either do the thing or you don’t, and you take your medicine and learn from every encounter.

Again, I don’t know anything about Gracie Barra and whether Renzo is right that they’ve gone soft or not, but “going soft” definitely describes the majority of jiu jitsu as it is being practiced in my corner of the world. I see the differences as dramatic enough to be completely different martial arts.

It would have been nice if they were labeled more accurately, so new students can select something that fits their needs. I say that with the utmost sincerity too. Many people like the polite chess match of exchanging techniques and seeing where that leads. I do too. It is incredibly fulfilling on many different levels. Many people don’t want someone’s shin across their face. Many people are not comfortable with their air passages being smothered by their opponent’s hand, or getting murder choked. It’s not unlike rough sex. Consent is important. There’s only a few of my regular training partners who I will apply face pressure to so they turn over when I’m in mount. It’s not something everyone wants to endure, and I’ll be considerate of that if my training partner doesn’t want to play the same game I do.

That’s totally fine, but I’m not sure you can call that type of training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and sell the notion that you’re making your students into fighters. It’s just grappling for fun at that point, and there’s nothing wrong with it.