Tatame Magazine, March 2014
- Tatame Magazine March 2014
By Marcos Luca Valentim
Being a member of the most important family of the jiu-jitsu world is a blessing and a “curse.” A blessing because the name is a source of pride and respect based on what their ancestors did for the sport; a “curse” because it is a name with a lot of weight and therefore, the responsibility and expectation on the back of each member is gigantic. So when one of the branches of this huge family tree chooses to go down a different path, they must be prepared for the consequences that the revolutionary act can, and will, generate. After all, he is not just any person, he is a Gracie. In the end, you realize that his purpose is the same one that moves the entire family: to share jiu-jitsu with the world.
If you are one of those critics that says online courses trivialize jiu-jitsu, I present to you: Rener Gracie. Rorion's son, and grandson of Helio, who, along with his brother Ryron, created Gracie University. This training program acts as a true online learning program with classes, reviews, tests, and final exams. It may sound strange to defenders of the traditional way of teaching, but Rener ensures that their method is efficient and perhaps even more effective than conventional classes. Created to preserve the legacy of Helio Gracie, this course aims to spread jiu-jitsu worldwide and, in just six years, already has more than 90,000 students in 196 countries. Still not convinced? Alright. Surely the words of Rener Gracie will, at the very least, make you reconsider.
How important is it for you to have the last name Gracie and the responsibility to teach jiu-jitsu?
Being part this family, the grandson of Helio, is an honor, it’s an opportunity to affect many people around the world. I can reach men, women, children and even military personnel. This family has had an impact so strong on the world that I could be in China and still have this impact.
How was it living with your grandfather? Which values did he teach you?
Before he died, I would travel to Brazil frequently to visit him in the summer, and spend up to two months training, learning things from him and living the lifestyle of jiu-jitsu. The Grand Master was who he was because he found new solutions to old problems. He always thought of the most efficient ways of solving problems, on the mat and off. If you are having difficulty in a relationship, business deal, or with your health, he would apply the principles of jiu-jitsu to solve the problems. My grandfather was very humble. Even as one of the greatest fighters of all times, he remained humble and very respectful. You could be a white belt, but he would treat you like a world champion.
In 2002 , you earned your black belt from your grandfather, what did this mean to you?
It was a very special moment, but more significantly, was the responsibility of keeping his philosophy alive. Before he died, he told me that it was very important to keep jiu-jitsu available for the weak people, to continue showing that anyone can do it. If not, the essence of jiu-jitsu would be lost. Therefore, I dedicated my life to teaching Helio Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and his principles.
What aspects of your jiu-jitsu did you learn from your father and from your grandfather?
With the Grand Master, I learned how to survive on the mat. I do not need to hit my opponent, I need to avoid defeat. When my grandfather faced Kimura and other opponents, this was his secret: survival. From my father, I learned how to teach jiu-jitsu. My father is the best jiu-jitsu teacher of all-time, and he gave me the gift of knowing how to teach with the highest level of efficiency.
You only competed in jiu-jitsu for a short period of time, but you still managed some good wins. Why did you decide to stop so early? Do you not think you could have done more for jiu-jitsu in the competition arena?
Competition is something you do for yourself. That's my philosophy. Competing puts you in a moment that is entirely yours. When I competed, it only fulfilled a certain aspect of my life. I was fine, but there were thousands of people worldwide who wanted to learn jiu-jitsu but didn’t have access to quality instruction. If I continued focusing 100% on competing, I would not be able to dedicate myself to teaching the way I do now. Today , thousands of people are learning jiu-jitsu, but it would not be possible if I were still competing because I would not have the time to dedicate to both.
Do you think pure jiu-jitsu can succeed in MMA as it did with your uncle Royce in the past?
I do not think so. MMA is a game, not a fight. It’s a game played with many specific rules.
In the fight between Georges St- Pierre and Johny Hendricks, Hendricks did more damage, but the champion retained his title because he knows how to play the game. In MMA there’s boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, muay thai, and the striking arts give more points in the eyes of the judges, but if you don’t know jiu-jitsu, you will be defeated by anyone who does. For street self-defense, in a fight with no time limit, jiu-jitsu is still the best martial art.
In a recent interview with Tatame, Kron Gracie said he wanted to prove that jiu-jitsu is still the most efficient fighting system for MMA. Do you agree with him? What advice would you give him?
I agree that the art is the most efficient. Not only because the art can defeat any other art, but because jiu-jitsu is the only art in MMA that anyone can learn and effectively apply against larger opponents. I don’t think that him fighting MMA will prove this, because today every fighter uses jiu-jitsu. For example, GSP is a black belt, and what if he defeats Kron? Does that mean that jiu-jitsu is not effective? No, it means that GSP is better at the game.
Have you thought about fighting MMA?
For my entire life, I was convinced that MMA would be my path. When I was a kid, my uncle Royce was beating everyone in the UFC. This was the objective of the family. But today, all the fighters have adopted jiu-jitsu. Back then, Royce’s purpose was to prove the supremacy of jiu-jitsu over all other martial arts. Kron is an athletic guy and he’s very committed. I respect him and I like him. He’s dedicated is admirable, but I prefer to focus on teaching.
Only a few famous jiu-jitsu fighters are able to transition into MMA successfully. Why?
It has a lot to do with the individual. Jiu-Jitsu is a very patient art in which we look for our opponent’s mistake so we can take advantage of it. That was how Master Helio developed the art. But MMA is more explosive. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, for example, has always been very aggressive, so he was able to make a successful transition.
You and your brother, Ryron, created Gracie Univerity. Today you have thousands of students all over the world. Did you expect for it to be so successful?
We knew it would be successful, but we didn’t know it would happen so quickly. Today we have more than 90,000 students in 196 countries. The demand for us to continue creating new content puts us under a lot of pressure. I often visit other countries for seminars, and I meet Gracie University students who show incredible appreciation for what we’re doing. Some of our videos have over one million views. We have to be very careful about what what videos we release to ensure the quality of the technique and to ensure that we preserve the humility that our grandfather taught us.
Many people criticize the Gracie University learning model because it is online. What do you have to say to those who criticize your teaching method?
First, those who criticize it are doing so because they do not know how effective it is. It’s easy to criticize something you don’t understand. Second, our students study their lessons online. Some people think that you simply watch some videos and you get a belt promotion. But that is incorrect. You watch the videos to learn the techniques, then you go to the garage and practice for countless hours, and if you do this for a few years, it’s possible for you to take a test and earn a belt promotion. The same way you can learn a technique by watching an instructor demonstrate it live, you can learn a technique by watching videos online, and online you can rewind as many times as you want if you don’t fully understand a technique. Some people don’t understand that online learning is even more effective than learning in a traditional setting. In a live class, there are students of all belt levels, and the instructor teaches the same techniques to everyone. Online, each person has their specific class. Some people have tried learning in the classroom, but the lessons were random so they had difficulty learning. So what did they do? Resorted to Gracie University.
What are the belt tests like?
They can do a test with us personally so that we can feel their techniques. But, until they reach that point, they send us videos every few hundred lessons to prove what they’ve learned. The blue belt is the only belt that can be earned through the internet. They have to send a video that is 25 minutes long showing their techniqeus so we can evaluate their quality of execution. All the other belts can only be earned in person.
Are there other online courses?
Yes, but none so complete. Our curriculum is linear. The other online courses simply throw up a bunch of chokes, arm-locks, etc., and the students go there to learn whatever they want in random order.
Would you say that Gracie University is the best tool for the expansion of jiu-jitsu?
For sure. It is our best method for the dissemination of the ideas of my grandfather. For other people, like Murilo Bustamante and the guys from the previous generation, I want them to understand our method. It’s not a method that is familiar to them, and I don’t want to offend them, I understand their side of things, but I teach through a different window. My grandfather was also against the idea at first, but after he realized the quality of the online course, he said: “This is incredible. It is a way to reach the entire world.” I hope that everyone gives Gracie University the respect it deserves. I understand that masters from previous generations are sad, but we are doing a good job. My grandfather would be proud.