Rickson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

Rickson Gracie is widely regarded as the best of the best in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he's so much more than that. He's a warrior, a philosopher, a thinker, an inspiration and a role model. Which is why we're presenting these glimpses of the man that not many Black Belt readers have seen.

The Water

"Whether it's the ocean or a river, I always have to be on the water. Coming from Brazil, I've always been exposed to the ocean. I've been at the beach and surfing all my life. The most valuable thing I get from the ocean is at the energetic level. I truly believe we're affected by the energy — maybe it's the electromagnetic field. It's not something we can sense at the physical or mental level; it's at the energy level. Exposure to this makes me feel like my energy level is balanced. If I need more energy, I feel like I can get it at the ocean. If I feel stressed, I go there to relax. The feeling of equilibrium is beautiful."

A Brazilian Thing

"I don't think it's necessarily a Brazilian thing. Brazilians like to stay at the coast because of the weather, the breeze, the marine layer, the fresh air. It's so different from being in the high desert or the mountains. But for some Brazilians, they really like the contact with the ocean, which is relevant at that energetic level."

Teaching Jiu-Jitsu

"I don't think education should be based on fear. I never expose the student to a situation in which he has to feel afraid in order to succeed. With a growing knowledge of jiu-jitsu, you learn when to use different techniques and when to let it go."

Gentle Art

Rickson Gracie


"Jiu-jitsu practice is definitely more gentle on the body and less traumatic. An older guy can practice jiu-jitsu differently than he does kickboxing or judo. That doesn't mean the idea of practicing jiu-jitsu in a sportive way diminishes the necessity to learn self-defense. The practice of self-defense gives the student a sense of empowerment. If you just do it to empower your brain, that's a great thing. If you add the physical component, it becomes a physical exercise. Jiu-jitsu is accessible for older people, for children, for people who are uncoordinated or handicapped. It can adapt to the person's needs, but the core of the teachings has to be based on self-defense."


"Especially from Japan, I get many invitations to endorse [MMA events]. In the U.S., I feel MMA has taken a turn toward entertainment and is getting away from martial arts beliefs, so I don't feel like I would fit in anymore. It's more like a circus than anything else. But I still watch the fights — and notice the problems out there. In my mind, I have solutions for everything I see, so I'm very comfortable regarding what the future holds."

Diet for Health

"As my dad always said, 'Health comes in through your mouth.' If you are not concerned about what you eat, you're silly. It's like going out in the winter and not caring about what you're going to wear to stay warm. Eating is crucial for health. I don't follow the Gracie Diet 100 percent because I have my own evolution of it that I adapted for my own use. But I think we should all respect our bodies and avoid putting bad things in them. My routine is to avoid preservatives and food in boxes — no junk."

Diet and Jiu-Jitsu

"I don't think the jiu-jitsu curriculum has to interfere in your health practices. That's something you should [decide for] yourself — morals, values, attitudes toward life and [pathways to] grow as a man or woman. Good nutrition is the same. But breathing well, eating well and good practice are the fundamentals for any jiu-jitsu development."

Staying Fit

Rickson Gracie Breathing


"I'm not training anymore with the expectation of [engaging in] any kind of performance. I live for maintenance. I have many injuries, so I try to go around them and have fun. I surf a lot with different-size boards and different-size waves. I appreciate the details in everything I do. If I have to change my board [to one that's] a little thicker to have fun, I do it. My limitations keep me out of the risk areas, though. I don't try to prove anything to anybody. My mission now is to live as long as possible and spread these concepts about jiu-jitsu. I'm highly motivated but physically engaged at about 20 percent because of my body. But my mind is going at full speed.

"I also bike ride and do stand-up paddleboarding. And I walk with the dogs, swim and snorkel. And I like skateboarding. I try to have fun."

Some People's Fear of Learning Jiu-Jitsu

"That's because they've never been exposed to real jiu-jitsu, the traditional martial art that Helio Gracie taught all his life."

Final Photo Shoot(Black Belt conducted a photo session with Helio Gracie when he was 89, and he repeatedly threw his son Rorion Gracie for the camera.)

"I think it was having happiness in his heart. Something I heard of that pertains to this is they did a study of places that have the greatest longevity, like a part of Spain, Okinawa and so on. One of the things these people don't even have a word for is retirement. A fisherman said he had very heavy fishing days when he was 20, and even when he was 80, he would go to the beach and throw his line in the ocean. It's different, but he's still fishing."

My dad was connected to jiu-jitsu with his soul, his DNA, his spirit and his brain. Every time he would invite me to go to his ranch, he would say, 'Don't forget your jiu-jitsu gear!' He lived completely in his mental, physical and spiritual world, and that way he can live forever."

That a director of my city's opera company would call me seemed a little odd. There are probably some monkeys who know more about opera than I do. But the director was inviting me to lunch, so of course I went.

It turned out the company was producing a performance of Madame Butterfly, the Puccini opera that tells the story of a doomed love between a French military officer and a geisha in early 19th-century Japan. The opera has come under fire for its stereotyped, utterly fanciful depictions of Japanese culture. The local company was trying to anticipate such criticism, and the director asked me, since I serve on the board of some organizations related to Japanese culture, what I thought.
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