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The Importance of Respecting Tradition: A Conversation with Rilion Gracie
- Updated: January 17, 2013
By Felix Rodriguez, Staff Writer
Rilion Gracie is a sixth degree black belt in the art his family popularized throughout the world and currently holds the rank of Master under the guidelines of the IBJJF. He is the head instructor at Rilion Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy and he splits his time teaching at the academy’s Houston and Miami locations. Master Rilion learned the art directly from his father Grand Master Carlos Gracie and his other main instructor, Rolls Gracie who was his older brother and family champion until his untimely passing.
Between learning the family business as a young child and having to grow up with 19 older siblings, Rilion has dealt with size disadvantages for as long as he can remember. He has learned to overcome them by relying on sound technical principles and a refined understanding of how to use an opponent’s strength and momentum against them.
After more than four decades of dedication to his father’s philosophies on martial arts, nutrition and life in general, Rilion Gracie has become one of the most respected and universally well-regarded members of the Gracie clan. His cousin, Rickson Gracie, has gone on record acknowledging that Rilion possesses the most technically sound and effective guard he has encountered in jiu-jitsu.
Master Rilion agreed to do a rare interview at his Houston academy and shared his views on the importance of honoring and respecting jiu-jitsu’s traditions. Here is what he told TXMMA:
Interview – Rilion Gracie
TXMMA: What are the most important values you learned from your father that you try to pass on to your son, nephews and students?
RG: I think he [Carlos Gracie Sr.] taught me that honesty is the main value which helps build good character. Being honest, not just with others but with the self as well, is the most important element for a person to set a strong foundation and achieve their goals in life.
From a martial arts standpoint, my father also taught me how to work with self-defense and all of what is involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA today, but to do so in a positive way in order to achieve a better quality of life for myself. His lifetime of studying and developing the art and the Gracie Diet’s proper nutritional regiment have led me to gain discipline and self-control through jiu-jitsu. I’ve learned that it is important to pass the legacy of his life’s work on to my family and students because it can contribute to improving their quality of life as well. I’d say the most important thing I learned from my father, aside from the value of honesty, is that jiu-jitsu is like magic for self-confidence. It can improve a person’s confidence on the mats and off of it by extending and applying what we learn in training to all aspects of our life. Jiu-Jitsu will wake up the genius that you have inside.
TXMMA: Your father was the first Gracie to learn from Mitsuyo Maeda; how important was it for you to respect traditions growing up learning jiu-jitsu from one of the closest people to study from the original source?
RG: Our school is a self-defense school and the jiu-jitsu we prefer is no time limit jiu-jitsu. Our jiu-jitsu is the kind you use to fight an opponent without need for points or time. The truth is that for me this jiu-jitsu is what I know as the “traditional” type. It was the jiu-jitsu I developed all my life, it is the jiu-jitsu that gave me the efficiency I have on the mat and the skills I am known for.
TXMMA: Do you think jiu-jitsu is better displayed in competitions with shorter time limits like the standard IBJJF format or do you prefer newer alternatives with longer match times like Metamoris’ recent presentation?
RG: I prefer no time limits because in a real fight there are no time limits. The need for time limits, at any capacity, came to be because of how jiu-jitsu grew so much. The number of people looking to compete grew exponentially and with so many people wanting to compete scheduling became a problem. Time limits were created because if we are going to do a competition without time and points it becomes impossible to handle the time for all the fighters to compete, it’s not realistic. The competition is like a celebration for all the fighters to have fun and check how their skills measure up against other athletes. So that’s why the competitions today are what they are, with the time, to make it more professional and reliable and easier to organize.
The emphasis on time limits and point management to win without submitting has taken away from the essence of the art, which is self-defense. At Gracie Elite we have a program that’s specific for people who want to compete, which is different to the main course learned by all our students that places great focus on personal self-defense and the traditional no time limit jiu-jitsu I learned with my dad, Carlos Gracie and with my brother Rolls Gracie.
Real jiu-jitsu was designed to benefit the smaller person against bigger opponents so that is when no time limit is going to work against the stronger attacker. Without changes to the traditional jiu-jitsu we wouldn’t enjoy the competition scene we have today though, so in the end I think everything is valid as long as the sport’s growing and going in the right direction. But self-defense must remain a great part of it’s core.
I’d like to clarify that although the Gracie Elite academies follow a traditional curriculum we love all kind of BJJ be it with time limits, no time limits or self-defense; we are complete and cater to males, females and kids.
RG: Gracie Elite is an organization that includes many associations that make it what it is. We are a large group of friends, people that have known each other for a long time and we all came together and developed this partnership in order to build a stronger team. Not just for competition but also to spread the real message of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
TXMMA: Are you happy with the way Jiu-Jitsu has evolved from what you learned as a child?
RG: When the jiu-jitsu scene was smaller there was a much better control on everything. When jiu-jitsu came to the United States, which is a country I believe that has great influence in world trends, it exploded in popularity. When it became known there was a repercussion and many people left Brazil, a developing nation, looking for riches. Once jiu-jitsu came to the U.S. finally the world could see the art that was hidden in my home country. All the efficiency of the system we developed so that made it grow very much and with everything that grows too quick, you will have good professionals and bad professionals too.
TXMMA: When you say “Bad Professionals” what exactly do you mean?
RG: There is a lot of people that want to use the sport just to make money, these people don’t respect the grading system created by my father. This is all happening today and it is very hard to control. We still have very good professionals that keep following the traditions and the grading system, people of strong character, good morals, who are respectful and do not want to take advantage of the situation and just deceive people. This is a problem that I see happening more often, fighters who are black belts, who are promoting themselves without putting in the time that merits their new rank.
RG: There are published photographs of a black belt in Miami who was posing next to me when I was already a black belt and this kid was a yellow belt at the time and today we both have the same grading.
We are both sixth degree black belts. I don’t find it ethical to say the person’s name, but I ask, What was the criteria? This kind of person that has 12-15 years less of training experience than me, studying this art every day; how does that happen? That is what I would like to know, the belt ranking system is still the same. I don’t know exactly how they count the years but if I followed their example I would be a black belt 12 degrees, I’d have passed my father who is a 10th degree red belt. So I ask if that would be correct to ignore the ranking system? Where are we going with that? It is dishonest, should I deceive all my students, all my friends, myself and disrespect all the professionals that have done this art right? This is something I see happening a lot in the U.S. that I view as a negative. I don’t know why people are doing this, maybe it is a weak ego or if they think that by putting more stripes on their belt they will receive more respect. It is very difficult for me to understand why people would want to fake this because it is so easy to disprove.
I personally think you need to respect yourself and your own quality as an instructor and your legacy. I believe there is a series of things that you do in your life that build how you will be remembered. So to those people who don’t respect the graduation time that has been long-standing I will say that by disobeying it in the long term what will happen is their reputation will be tarnished in our jiu-jitsu community and the good things they did accomplish will be overshadowed by this disrespect to the art itself.