Made the following reply to on Reddit post of a white belt asking about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. My reply was removed unfortunately so here it is where I have a little more control over content. -Dan Lukehart (Original Facebook post linked below.)
“The first academy of note in the United States was in southern California by son of Helio Gracie, Rorion Gracie. The Gracie Academy (USA) was the official US branch of the original Gracie Academy in Brazil. This is a major contributing factor as to why southern California is the main hot spot for Jiu-Jitsu in America and its influence and contributions to Jiu-Jitsu and MMA are undeniable. The Gracie Academy helped spread the art of Jiu-Jitsu in the United States and unintentionally developed the sport of Mixed Martial Arts in the process.
To understand a bit more about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and what it means, some understanding of the Gracie family needs to take place. To new practitioners who mention “The Gracies,” is often spoke of as a unified family of Jiu-Jitsu representatives. For the experienced practitioner, the Gracies are spoken of not as a collective unit, but as individuals who all have a different skill set, interpretations of what Jiu-Jitsu is/should be and motives. The Gracie family is huge and most do Jiu-Jitsu on some level.
View a very incomplete family tree for some perspective: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gracie_family
It is important to know who is behind the “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” banner as unsuspecting potential newcomers could be lured into thinking that there is a huge Gracie Jiu-Jitsu movement. Today this is exclusively the domain of Rorion Gracie’s sons Ryron and Rener at the Gracie University (formally with The Gracie Academy). When you hear the term “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” It is specifically referring to one very narrow sect of Helios lineage.
Rorion, who had his degree in law in Brazil, engaged in litigation with family members over using the trademarked term “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” in their academy name or describing their Jiu-Jitsu. In an interesting twist, the court ruled that other Gracie family members could not use the term “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu,” when they describe what they do, but could use their full names. This is why you currently see “Rickson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu”, “Clark Gracie Jiu-Jitsu,” “Royce Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.”, “Gracie Barra” ect.
Here is the case of Carley Gracie vs Gracie USA(Rorion): http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1471487.html
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Early on, particularly Helios descendants, used the Gracie Academy as a point of first contact when coming to the United States. Over time, various disagreements caused splits from the Gracie Academy both in Brazil and USA. In addition to the lawsuit, Rorion manipulated the story and history of Jiu-Jitsu to be a more Helio friendly and self serving version of events. This was very off-putting to most of the family as it undermined the great contributions of other Gracie family members.
Carlson Gracie recounts a story of Rorion twisting a narrative of Jiu-Jitsu in his favor taking advantage of his inability to speak english: http://www.bjjee.com/interview/carlson-gracie-on-his-jiu-jitsu-being-different-from-helios-his-relationship-with-rorion-ibjjf/
Reila Gracie, angered by the distortion of events, wrote a book about it detailing a much more balanced version of events. You can find it here:
With the increasing falling out with other family members, the Gracie Academy also grew marginalized in competitive Jiu-Jitsu competitions. Their strict adherence of not modifying any of the techniques and strategies of Helio, brought a closed mind to the innovations from Rolls Gracie – the family champion through the 70’s.
Rolls Gracie, a child of Carlos but raised by Helio, was a huge innovator who traveled around the world bringing different techniques from Judo, Wrestling and Sambo into Jiu-Jitsu. He also adopted a more aggressive style and propelled the next generation Gracies to stay as leaders in Jiu-Jitsu into the future. Rickson, though officially a black belt from his father, was taught by Rolls and carried his legacy after Rolls untimely death in a hang gliding accident.
Rolls sparring with Rickson shortly before his death:
Helio had counted on Rorion to continue to represent his philosophies and techniques on a high level and it came to his extreme disappointment that Rorion was continually bested by those that had incorporated other strategies and techniques – mainly Rolls. Rorion doubled down on a strict adherence to Helio, likely in an attempt to win his fathers approval. Rorion and Rolls had friction as a result.
Pushed forward by Rolls, the art continued to evolve and as various students and family members split from the Gracie Academy (Brazil), many academies with talented competitors began to appear everywhere.
Unable to prove their claimed superiority in a wide variety of tournaments with many high profile losses, the response was that Jiu-Jitsu competitions were straying too far from self defense roots. This explanation always came after a loss at a tournament they agreed to enter, often with special rules. The supposed reason they lost was the Gracie Academies emphasis on fighting and self defense rather than on techniques of “sport jiu-jitsu.” They turned this sport Jiu-Jitsu into a pejorative term they use for almost all other academies.
Wallid Ismail (Carlson Gracie) choking out Royce Gracie for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFtYBvkox38
Having a falling out with Rickson over financial matters relating to Rickson teaching out of his garage and not at the Gracie Academy, Rorion was unable to get the family champion to participate in UFC 1. Rickson, who concluded his brother was all about money and bitterly demanded 1 million dollars from his brothers finances to participate in UFC 1. Effectively pricing himself out of competition, Royce was the only other choice.
Royce’s success in the early UFC’s, the entire world saw the potential in Jiu-Jitsu and in Mixed Martial Arts in general. While what Royce did was amazing, his opponents were not knowledgeable in submission grappling. Rorion was given an additional platform to boost his version of Jiu-Jitsu as Royce was aligned with the Gracie Academy at this time.
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Royce split with the Gracie Academy shortly after UFC 1 and remains highly critical of the Gracie Academy. Ironically, he shares a strict adherence to Helio Gracie, but strongly disagrees with the Gracie Academy approach.
Royce on Gracie Academy’s Gracie University: “With all due respect, our nephew’s curriculums and online programs are not a true representation of the teaching method, belt grading, and philosophy that we learned from our father, Grandmaster Helio Gracie. ”
While the rest of the world outside of Brazil was forced play catch up with their submission grappling skills and when they did, Gracie Academies fighting emphasis became increasingly marginalized in that domain…as well as in sportive competitions.
Their strict adherence to not cross training within even other grappling arts, much less striking and wrestling, was their downfall in MMA. Royce attempted to learn from mistakes and cross train, but was criticized by his half brother Relson Gracie. He felt that Royce for not following Helios methods as the reason he was losing.
Relson Gracie(son of Helio) on Royce Gracie (Son of Helio) http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2014/11/3/7148989/relson-gracie-says-royce-and-renzo-disrespects-helio-by-crosstraining
History demonstrated time and time again, you must be highly skilled in all aspects of the fight to be successful in MMA. While Royce attempted to evolve and still test himself in MMA, the Gracie Academy distanced themselves from MMA with the rationalization that the rules of Mixed Martial Arts did not allow their fighting style to become effective as rules, time limits and weight categories limited the effectiveness of their pure self defense art which has no rules.
As a result, there was a re-branding of sorts. Their Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was not only NOT for competitions, but NOT for MMA as well. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was ideally suited for untrained attackers of any size. This was the justification, both implied and stated, for not participating in MMA or Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. So, they are left without a domain in which to prove their interpretation of the art.
The logic is that untrained attackers react differently than trained attackers. Emphasis on sparring was reduced to reach out to additional demographics who were intimated by sparring and choreographed fighting movements was emphasized.
They started an online school, Gracie University, where no sparring was required to earn up until a brown belt. Additionally, they started a network of Certified Training Centers to all who are willing to attend a expensive seminar and memorize the movements, but not demonstrate an ability to do them against fully resisting opponents. Eventually, Rener and Ryron started their own physical academy called Gracie University as their father retired and sold the Gracie Academy.
Here a Certified Training Center is run by a 16 year old blue belt: https://www.mixedmartialarts.com/news/453526/16-year-old-blue-belt-run-Mississippi-Gracie-Academy/
Some discussion on Reddit about the issue: https://www.reddit.com/r/bjj/comments/3oyubz/65_of_gracie_certified_instructors_are_blue_belts/
Some shadyness going on at Certified Training Centers: https://www.reddit.com/r/bjj/comments/3obmtm/teen_gracie_university_blue_belts_teach_jiujitsu/
The current thought among many high level MMA practitioners (with some permutations) is to perfect the sport of wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai for exactly what they are and bring them together and omit where needed for MMA. Among elite MMA fighters, the current experts on planet earth for 1 on 1 fighting arts, they might laugh that this is even still debated.
There are many positions and techniques which will not apply in a fighting context that you will learn at a BJJ academy, but learning them increases your movement IQ. Having an open mind and learning everything is exactly what makes you highly skilled. One highly criticized “sport” position was the 50/50 guard which turned out to be highly effective and useful in MMA fights. When you know something, you can always choose not to use it if the circumstance allows but if you don’t know something, then you don’t know it!
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50/50 is cutting edge in MMA, but everywhere in sport Jiu-Jitsu:
Innovations from competitive Jiu-Jitsu are not limited to this example.
Eddie Cummings is a Jiu Jitsu competitor whose understanding of heel hooks develop this technique to a high level:
All time “Sport” great Marcelo Garcia has completely reinvented Guillotine choke from its traditional method. Ironically, this is MMA competitor Jake Shields signature technique which he learned after losing to Marcelo Garcia via guillotine at ADCC! Also learning from Marcelo, top UFC competitor Cole Miller studied with and often finishes with the “Marcelotine”
Aside from MMA, the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has evolved tremendously in the last 20 years. The above Marcelotine is now regularly taught by progressive academies and is but a small example of the progression in this time period. There are tough competitors of all generations, but current champions competing against past champions would be roughly equivalent to the modern NFL player vs the NFL player of the 1950’s.
In response to the rapid evolution, many of the adaptable 2nd generation Gracie family members have attempted to select a focus. Carlson Gracie went on to have a huge impact on MMA with his legacy at Brazilian Top Team, American Top Team and Nova Uniao while others such as Carlos Gracie Jr. have gone on to be leaders in competitive Jiu-Jitsu. Those who have evolved became continued leaders in their fields. Those that have not were left behind (read: Gracie Jiu-Jitsu)
Demonstrated time and time again, having a high level “sportive” background in any of MMA’s disciplines, can prove to be an effective platform from which to move to high level MMA. “Sport” Jiu-Jitsu should not be used as a pejorative. Fabricio Werdum, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion, is one of the most decorated “sport” Jiu-Jitsu competitors of all time! Rafael Dos Anjos, former UFC lightweight champion, is also had his base in competitive Jiu-Jitsu. Jose Aldo, Demian Maia, Jacare Sousa and Beniel Darush, Ryan Hall are all sport Jiu-Jitsu competitors and represent at the upper elite of the sport!
Clearly, at very minimum practicing in the sport of Jiu-jitsu allows you access to the top competitors, training partners and instructors. If transitioning to MMA, certainly modifications to their Jiu-jitsu game needed to be done. What doesnt change is their understanding of the body, resistance, distance, base ect which made this a relatively seamless transition.
It is roughly equivalent to saying elite rock climber Isaac Caldiero wont do well on American Ninja Warrior ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aL57-jfV6QI )because his discipline was rock climbing and not the specialized obstetrical course of the competition. He made special a training routine ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2Etd4zoOXQ ) for the competition, but the bulk of his skills were acquired from a love rock climbing!
If you were to watch one video about the subject, watch this interview with Renzo Gracie on the subject which sums up most of the communities feelings, including mine, on the subject:
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