In the 1980s, when people signed up for a martial art, they probably joined a karate or taekwondo school. Today? They’re probably signing up for a roll on the mat in a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class. And the Gracie family has played a central role in this martial art’s precipitous rise. My guest today is a member of the Gracie family, the head instructor of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, and the co-creator of Gracie University, an online jiu-jitsu program. His name is Rener Gracie, and you may have seen the videos we made with him on our YouTube Channel a few years ago.
Today, Rener walks us through the origins of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, beginning with his grandfather Helio, and how a martial art born in Japan ended up being reshaped in Brazil. He then shares how his father helped develop the UFC as a way to promote the efficacy of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but why there’s a big difference between sport BJJ and self-defense BJJ, and why BJJ is such an effective real world martial art. We end by talking about the mindset shift that occurs when you learn how to defend yourself, and how the confidence you gain from learning jiu-jitsu carries over into other aspects of life.
- The Gracie family and the origins of jiu-jitsu and UFC
- What separates Brazilian jiu-jitsu from other martial arts
- Is BJJ more for sport or self-defense?
- How learning violence can actually make you kinder
- Why you should do all you can to avoid real-world fights
- The dangers of overreacting (and those people prone to do so)
- How the benefits of BJJ carry over into other areas of your life
- How BJJ has changed Vince Vaughn’s life
- What a typical BJJ class looks like
- Why BJJ is perfect for men who are smaller and perhaps weaker to begin with
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Our jiu-jitsu videos with Rener
- Helio Gracie
- My interview with Matthew Polly about the life of Bruce Lee
- Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)
- UFC 1
- You Have to Be a Man, Before You Can Be a Gentleman
- When Violence Is the Answer
- Developing Real-World Situational Awareness
- Where to Hit Someone to Inflict the Most Damage
- The Legal Consequences of Self-Defense
- Gracie BullyProof
- Why Every Man Should Be Strong
- Quikflip Apparel
Connect With Rener and the Gracie Academy
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. In the 1980s when people signed up for martial art they probably joined a karate or Taekwondo school. Today, they’re probably signing up for a role on the mat in a Brazilian Jujitsu class and the Gracie family has played a central role in this martial arts precipitous rise. My guest today is a member of the Gracie family, the head instructor of the Gracie Jujitsu Academy and the co-creator Gracie University, an online to ditsy program. His name is Rener Gracie and you may have seen the videos we’ve made with him on our youtube channel a couple of years ago. If you haven’t, go check them out.
Today, Rener walks through the origins of Brazilian Jitsu, beginning with his grandfather Helios, and how a martial art born in Japan ended up being reshaped in Brazil. He then shares how his father helped develop USC as a way to promote the efficacy of Brazilian Jujitsu, but why there’s a big difference between sport Brazilian Jujitsu in self defense, Brazilian Jujitsu, and why Brazilian Jujitsu is such an effective real world martial arts when by talking to them about the mindset shift that occurs when you learn how to defend yourself and how the confidence you gain from learning Jujitsu carries over to other aspects of life. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/Gracie.
All right, Rener Gracie, welcome to the show.
Rener Gracie: Honored man, thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: A few years ago we collaborated on some videos on YouTube about Brazilian Jujitsu, had Jordan Crowder go out there and film you and talk about Brazilian Jujitsu and some basic moves but I’d love to get you on the podcast to talk about this as well. Let’s first talk about your role at Gracie Jujitsu. Your last name is Gracie so you’re obviously part of the family, but what do you do there with the business of Brazilian Jujitsu? With the Gracie family?
Rener Gracie: I’m going to assume some of our viewers or some of the listeners I should say don’t know much about the Gracie family and maybe haven’t even seen the awesome videos that you guys produced, kind of taking it back to the history. My family is kind of credited with the development and creation of Brazilian Jujitsu, my grandfather being kind of the pioneer there. Him and his brother learned Japanese Jujitsu and then over several years made modifications that really increased the effectiveness and that’s the birth of Brazilian Jujitsu. So, it’s kind of like an evolution of the predecessor Japanese Jujitsu and to test the effectiveness they started fighting everyone they could possibly get their hands on in Brazil.
So there were these challenge matches that happened in the early 1900s starting around 1920, 1925 and they were defeating these giants. Much larger, stronger opponents because my grandfather particularly was a much weaker smaller guy, 145 pounds, 150 pounds, and by defeating these giants he really prove the effectiveness of Jujitsu and started creating quite a following for himself in Brazil and became somewhat of a national sports icon there at the time.
That happened and through all these challenges, match really built a reputation for Jujitsu and for the Gracie family there. Other members of the family were practicing as well under there under his guidance. And then my father was born into it in 1952. He was the one who learned in Brazil and then eventually brought the art to America in 1978. He landed here in Hermosa Beach, California and began teaching classes out of his garage. Fast forward 11 years of classes in the garage and several challenge matches I should say during that period, a lot of challenge matches were like karate masters, Taekwondo, Kung Fu because everyone here in the states was kind of in the Bruce Lee mode so he would fight these guys in the garage.
Time after time, people would come in and they would get choked out in like 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes, and they were completely kind of dumbfounded by the simple effectiveness of Jujitsu that we practiced. Then after so many years of those garage teachings in challenge matches, he opened the first official Gracie school here called the Gracie Jujitsu Academy here in Torrance, California, and that’s kind of where the real kind of established school began in America, the first official school. Then four years later he created the UFC in 1993, which is basically a big platform to demonstrate the effectiveness of Jujitsu in real fights amongst professionals on television. The thought being that we had done these challenge matches for 80 years at the time in the garage and in the Dojos and whatnot, and to do it on TV would really expose a lot of people to the shortcomings of other martial arts.
A martial art where it teaches punching and kicking might look nice, but when it comes down to actual effectiveness, the second they get taken to the ground, they’re like fish out of water, the fight is over. Whoever was more comfortable on the ground proved to be the most efficient fighting system and that’s where Jujitsu became Gracie Jujitsu but our family in particular became known worldwide, that was 1993. Soon after we get special forces, army rangers learning Jujitsu and then it hasn’t stopped since. It’s the fastest growing martial art because it works. And today my brother and I are the co-head instructors of our current … We’ve moved two since 1989, since our first school.
We’ve expanded over the last several years or 20 plus years so we’ve moved to locations. We just expanded to a 30,000 square foot Super Jujitsu center here in southern California, still in Torrance and my father’s retired. My brother and I run the business of teaching Jujitsu to the world and the organization is now called Gracie University and it’s both has a brick and mortar presence here in Torrance and we oversee 150 schools around the world and growing every year in terms of licensing, licensed certified training centers that teach our curriculum of Jujitsu and we have an online university with almost 200,000 members learning Jujitsu through the Internet streaming video curriculum at home and that’s been a huge, huge part of our business to be able to teach any people anywhere in the world.
Brett McKay: All right. There’s a lot of impact there. For those who aren’t familiar with Jujitsu, what separates it from other martial arts say like karate or Taekwondo?
Rener Gracie: That was something that we really … I’m just going to keep referencing to it because maybe you don’t know this, but the videos that you guys produced on Jujitsu with Jordan’s help and for Art of Manliness, were probably two of the most insightful introductory to Jujitsu. We did multiple videos, but a couple of those there have a couple of million views I think serve as the most effective introduction to the principles and the techniques of Jujitsu. I’ve never done an intro like that with the mindset of keeping it short, but really just demonstrating techniques that literally and entirely demonstrate why Jujitsu is more reliable than other martial arts and that’s not from a cocky or boastful perspective. It’s coming from a purely technical leverage based, a distance management perspective.
It’s just a better odds to engage in a fight when you know Jujitsu than when you engage in a fight and are relying on karate, Taekwondo, Kung Fu, boxing, kickboxing. Any art that relies on knocking someone out relies really heavily on a perfectly positioned and perfectly thrown punch or kick, meaning the distance has to be perfect. I have to stand in front of you one arm length away, I have to take my hand, and I have to crack you in the jaw, it has to hit very nicely and sometimes it hits and it doesn’t work. Other times it hits and it drops the person, but more often than not, it doesn’t knock them out on the first shot and we stand in front of each other and we trade blows until someone gets knocked out, someone gets the better hand.
When you have a martial art like karate or Taekwondo where both practitioners agree that they’re supposed to stand in front of each other and kick and punch until someone gets the better half of the equation and is effective in knocking at the person out or winning the match, that’s an agreement. They have an agreement that they’re not going to grab onto each other as boxers. The first thing you do when you start getting punched, overwhelmingly, what does a boxer do? He clenches the person who’s hitting him, he grabs him, if you think back to any fight. Even Mayweather and Conor McGregor when they had that that circus of a boxing match which everyone watched, what do they do? As soon as Mayweather starts getting racked up a little bit in the first couple of rounds, he would grab on and clench Conor and hold him.
What Jujitsu does, is it goes right to that point in the fight. Instead of saying, we’re going to trade punches until I start losing, and then I’m going to grab you, it just says, Yo, you’re not going to punch me. When you think you’re going to punch me, I’m just going to grab you I’m not going to agree to stand there in front of you. Then once we grab a hold of our subject in that situation, we find a way to grab and drag that person into a ground fight and the reason is standing up two people … If you’re six inches taller than me, standing up, that makes a big difference. But once we’re on the ground, we’re all the same height.
Not only that, once we go to the ground, I have four appendages if I know Jujitsu. I have four appendages, four limbs that I can use to my advantage to essentially trap you, grab you, control you, submit you, defend punches, and the person who does not know Jujitsu, when they fall to the ground, they only have two limbs. They only have two hands to operate with whereas a Jujitsu master or practitioner has four, so you literally take the equation. Let’s assume that two people who don’t know how to fight really when they’re standing up, it’s two against two, right? So two limbs against two limbs. The second we hit the ground, if neither one of them knows how to fight what you see on youtube all the time, crazy brawls, it’s still two limbs against two limbs, but the second you see someone with … I’m talking months, not even years. I’m talking six months, eight months of Jujitsu training like very limited that learns about 30 to 40 techniques, the bare minimum of Jujitsu knowledge gets into a fight.
When he goes to the ground, you see an application of their lower body and their legs to entangle the opponent that you’ll never see between two untrained people. You can show me any number of street fights and just by watching them I can tell you if at all, and if so, how much experience that Jujitsu person has based purely on their ability to utilize their legs to essentially control and then eventually defeat their opponent on a ground fight. So it’s literally a cheating equation because we have four limbs and they have two.
Brett McKay: It’s more about grappling, submission holds, that’s how it’s unlike karate or Taekwondo. What about judo? How is it different from judo?
Rener Gracie: Good questions. Judo and Jujitsu have the same origin of the Japanese Jujitsu. They both come from the same place and in the early 1900s or even pre 1900s, judo was developed as the kind of sport of branch of Japanese Jujitsu. It was developed and much more as a recreational mind, body, spirit, and you learn these techniques and it became much more of an art of practice compared to what the original Japanese Jujitsu was, which was much more focused on survival, life or death, fight for your life. What happened was Jigoro Kano, the judo grandmaster and top figure, Jigoro Kano said, “Okay, let’s create a form of judo that can be practiced by kids in schools throughout the country, has a much more of a curriculum driven,” and it became much more of a sport where they became much more of a confined set of rules where if you’re scanning and you throw each other and the person’s back hits the ground, the fights over. So even in a sport of judo match, once you get a one good throw, the fight is over.
That’s judo but it has the origin of Japanese Jujitsu, which there are submissions that are grappling techniques. It just became kind of a branch off of the original Japanese Jujitsu that really limited its street fight applicability because it was practiced almost entirely for its sportive practice. Now, not to say that judo techniques would not have an application in a real fight, some of those techniques can be devastating but the core purpose for its practice was not to prepare its students for a fight, but rather to create a recreational sport that included these grapplings and submission and throwing techniques that made it for an effective sport and something that kids could do from the ground up. So it became much more supportive based.
The Brazilian Jujitsu is much more closely related to the original form of Japanese Jujitsu, which had no confines of sport consideration. All we said was if we get in a fight, we’re going to have to survive against someone much bigger than us, we’ve got to do whatever it takes. So Jujitsu, as practiced by my family in the early 1900s and evolved since, has been much more focused on actual street fight against a larger opponent, no rules punches included which judo does not include. We include striking techniques not only as can be used by us against our opponent in particular situations where we’re not at risk of getting struck back, but it also factors in heavily the defense against someone who’s trying to knock you out and that simply isn’t something covered in judo or even talked about because it’s not a priority for them.
They have similar origins, but today the practice and the rule set really determines everything and Gracie or Brazilian Jujitsu has a much more direct street fight application because in the gym we’re not practicing to a rule set that would limit its applicability in a real fight.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. So that’s a good point to bring up. Brazilian Jujitsu, people are often familiar with it because they see it in mixed martial arts fights, but this was originally not designed to be a sport. martial art, it was originally designed for self defense.
Rener Gracie: 100% for self defense and today what you have happening is like happened very similarly, history repeats itself. The same way Japanese Jujitsu existed in a rough form way back then, and then judo essentially came about as the sport of branch of Japanese Jujitsu, if you think back to every martial art Brett, it’s the same thing. Taekwondo wasn’t created and I don’t know much about the history about Taekwondo, but it wasn’t created way back when. It was because of the aspiration to have a sport where we can kick each other and earn points through throwing kicks, that wasn’t why it started.
It started for survival and effectiveness on the battlefield, let’s just say, where they’re surviving and you know in times of civil war, way back when and people having to defend themselves and protect their families and life or death, it started for a survival. Every martial art has a survival fight for your life origin, and then what happens is as practice of that art becomes common throughout a country or a region of the world, what happens is they have to agree upon a rule set that we’re going to follow so that we can practice this and then eventually what happens is the practice for the agreed upon rule set essentially overtakes the practice for its original purpose and then the sport, like Taekwondo that was once a fighting system for survival now is almost exclusively referred to as an Olympic sport where you kick each other, score points if your foot touches my body, and then if you win a gold medal, this is awesome.
But no one says, oh yeah. If you wanna learn how to fight for real, learn Taekwondo. That’s not really where the association is anymore because so much of its practice is geared entirely towards effectiveness in a realm where we both agree to stand in front of each other and adhere to a distance and a rule set that we didn’t create, but we simply have been practicing for the last 15 years so let’s fight based on those circumstances. And what’s happening is even in Jujitsu today, that deviation is happening where there’s enough people that have started Jujitsu and are practicing so they can go win a gold metal in a point based Jujitsu tournament.
Forget even MMA, but I’m talking purely Jujitsu where today there exist essentially to families in the Jujitsu tree, which is sport Brazilian Jujitsu, where if you were to show up at a school on the first day that you show up to class, they’re going to say, “Okay, Brett, welcome to BJJ. Today we’re going to learn a sweep that gets you two points, we’re going to learn a submission that would win you the fight, and we’re going to learn how to pass the guard, which might get you three points.” People are literally learning from their first day the Jujitsu that will be useful in a sport of engagement, but may have very limited applicability in a real fight because like these other martial arts I reference, once you start focusing on that as your victory, you really start to disregard all of the elements that made Brazilian Jujitsu famous to begin with, which is those real fights, survival elements.
So it’s actually a very contentious point in Jujitsu and one that … my brother and I are kind of at the helm in terms of making a claim or at least the public aware, that not all Jujitsu is created equally and that in many cases a student wants to learn how to defend themselves, shows up at a BJJ school and what’s being taught there has no resemblance to anything that you would ever see in a real fight. And it’s confusing to them because their initial desire to learn Jujitsu came from seeing it being used effectively in real fights. If it was UFC one where hoist fight those giants where there was no rules, no time limits, no weight classes, the original UFC is where some of the best demonstration of Jujitsu in its raw and most effective form. Today there is that divide in Jujitsu and we remain 100% committed as an organization, Gracie university to teaching it in its self defense form and people are becoming more and more aware of the separation.
Brett McKay: So you teach for self defense, but I imagine even that self defense type of Jujitsu carries over to sport.
Rener Gracie: Yeah, absolutely and that’s where it all began. Everything that you learn, not everything I should say because there are some techniques, for example, how to defend against someone punching you in the face. It’s the simplest way to explain this, if you were to start a fight and we were to stand up and you were to disagree with me or you did something disrespectful and we had to fight, the fight doesn’t start with shaking hands and grabbing onto each other’s jackets, which is how a Jujitsu match begins. The fight would start with both of us upright and you would swing for my face and then once we’re on the ground you will be trying to eye gouge and punch me in the face and I would have to be able to manage the distance in order to prevent those attacks from being effective against me.
Things like that, the simplest concepts, don’t directly apply but there are other techniques of leverage and submissions that, yeah, if I get you in a choke hold and a sportive match or get you going to choke hold in a street fight, you’re going to sleep no matter what, in both of those cases you’re going out. But a lot of times what I see, like I had a student come visit us from Australia last week and he had been training for a good three years so he wasn’t like novice, novice, he was just not an advanced practitioner, but definitely had experience, came and trained with us and on Wednesdays we put on gloves. So we spar in Jujitsu, we grapple but we’re wearing gloves like MMA gloves so we can be reaching for each other’s faces and we can be, not even knocking each other out, nothing crazy, I’m talking like 10, 20% touching someone to show them where they need to block punches from during the Jujitsu grapple.
This guy from Australia who I was grappling with had never done this before in his life, which means the school that he trained at in Australia … And I asked him this, I says, “Hey, have you ever sparred Jujitsu with someone reaching for your face? Even going through the motion of going for a punch just so you can see and manage that from a different distance?” And he says, “Henry, we’ve never done this once.” And he says, “Doing it with you right now, I felt like I forgot all of my Jujitsu because I was so flustered by the prospect of getting punched in the nose. So everything I’ve ever learned was gone because the threat in front of me was so real and was so unmanageable based on my skill set that I was overwhelmed.”
So he kind of explained this to me and I go, wow, this is crazy. There’s Jujitsu out there today where you can train for three years, five years, 10 years, and no one ever tells you like, “Hey, if you’re laying down and someone’s on top of you in the guard and they try to punch you, here’s how you manage the distance and control their strike so that their strike won’t be effective against you.” And it’s actually very easy to learn. We teach it to beginners in six months, so it’s not hard to learn this, but if you don’t focus on it because you have other priorities in your training, it’s very easy for this train to go off the rails and suddenly you have lots of experience, but no effectiveness in a real fight.
Brett McKay: Gosh, that’s another difference between sport Jujitsu and self defense is I guess in sport there’s no striking.
Rener Gracie: Zero, not even a simulation. When we train with gloves here, it’s very light because we have 1,000 students or more, 1,200 students here at this school and most of them are not professional fighters they just want to go to work tomorrow morning. We have developed the best beginner programs and even in the advanced programs when we’re training with some strike positioning and strike and going through the motions, no one’s getting black eyes are bloody noses. We did it … What’s today? Thursday? We did it last night already, so just recently. It was very calm, light touch, everything’s just super safe but nonetheless, you’re being reminded that Yo, in a real fight, this hand that I’m touching you with very softly, it’s gonna come at you full speed and you better be ready from this angle to manage that.
But if that angle of threat has never been contemplated or even practiced, whenever it does happen, you’re like, wait a minute, that’s not supposed to be a threat. I’m only used to, you know, these Jujitsu sport moves. I’m not used to the threats that could arrive at my face at anytime, so absolutely. It’s a difference and it’s a serious problem because the Gracie family is responsible for making Jujitsu famous to the world and the creation of the UFC and much of that, but my uncles ancestors, my dad, and demonstrating the effectiveness and most people who start learning Jujitsu, who say, “I want to go learn Jujitsu. I see it in the UFC, I hear it’s effective martial arts self defense, I want to go learn it.”
90% of people who walk into a school, what are they looking for? They’re looking to be able to defend themselves against someone who wants to take something from them; take their dignity, take their property, take their kid. If someone wants to threaten you, you should be able to defend yourself and not get hurt. Even if they’re bigger than you are, you should be able to do that because someone will try to take something from you, even if it’s your dignity and disrespecting you in a situation and you have to be able to stand up for yourself. Your ability to stand up for yourself is rooted at core in your certainty that if that person were to violently attack you, you would be safe, you would not be injured by them.
I have that certainty. With every interaction that I have on the daily basis, I never am fearful for what someone can do to me physically. Because of that, I can engage with people in a confident, calm demeanor that usually and almost entirely prevents them from ever attacking me. I learned how to fight, so I never have to. The problem is when people sign up for a BJJ school and they don’t know what they’re going to get and they show up and what they get there is an entirely supportive practice of the art, several years go by before they realize, “Wow, I never really got here what I originally signed up for, which was that self protection certainty and that safety guarantee. I don’t feel like I have that because if throws a punch,” like this kid from Australia who came over, “If someone throws a punch, my Jujitsu goes out the window, so how certain I am that I’m safe during an engagement or an altercation with someone over a parking spot.”
He can’t be certain and that’s our biggest concern with current president Jujitsu state today is that there is that divide, but there isn’t clarity to the public on every level that what they’re getting in many cases is not going to give them the certainty that Jujitsu can give them and that they originally came looking for.
Brett McKay: You made an interesting point there that I want to flush out some more. This idea that by learning to do violence, which is what you’re doing when you practice self defense Jujitsu, you become like kinder, which is counterintuitive. When people think of you think, well, if you learn how to be really violent, you’re going to be in A-hole and jerk and looking for fights, but in your experience, and I’ve noticed this as well, whenever I deal with people who practice, who are like advanced level Jujitsu guys or even like special operators in the military. They’re usually the kindest, nicest guys but I know that they could kill me if they wanted to.
Rener Gracie: I think the people who are most likely to get into a fight in society are the people who are least prepared to get into a fight and the people who are most prepared to get into a fight for their life are the people who are least likely to get into a fight and I think this is a result of two things. Number one, is that I feel like by training the way I have my whole life every single day, by being put to the grinder, by having highs and lows, by learning, discovering, by losing to my older brother for so many years, getting tapped out by him and him being you know better than me and having so many amazing students and training partners, I know exactly where I stand on the totem pole of self defense, Jujitsu effectiveness.
I have no doubts about it, I know where I stand. I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m not capable of, so I don’t need to get into a fight to prove myself to anyone or even to myself. Whereas I think a lot of people out there, especially when you put a little bit of alcohol in them and you have a little ego and you have some friends watching, a lot of people who think they’re tougher than they are, feel the really strong desire to prove to the surrounding audience and to themselves that they are as tough as they think they are.
Now, ironically they usually aren’t. Usually they’re probably 10 or 20% as capable people, that’s a general thing. People tend to overestimate their fighting capability, that’s one thing I know for sure is that by and large, especially, men tend to overestimate their ability to prevail in a physical fight for their life. They think they know and are capable of more than they are, they’re not. If you don’t know how to fight, you have no idea how to fight, and so I think that the likelihood of fighting being higher for untrained people is really rooted in that. They need that certainty, they need to prove to themselves, whereas our students are coming to class every day and they’re proving it to themselves on the mat. They know exactly what they know, they learn quickly what they don’t know, and then they start to build on that and they don’t have any questions about it.
The other aspect of it is I think that the more you become familiar with the possibilities in a real fight or an altercation, the more you accept the dangerous circumstances of a real fight. You realize that even with all the training that I have, I don’t want to get into a street fight ever, ever because it’s too unpredictable. Even though I’m confident that if I had to fight for my life, I’m going to win, I know that … there are variables that people often don’t think about. I might win the fight, but because I took him to the ground and I hit my elbow on the mat, now my elbow’s cut open so even though I submitted him with a gentle arm bar or choke hold, I’m going to the hospital to get stitches and that’s something I have to deal with.
If I win the fight … I might win the fight, but in the course of the fight, he hits his head on the ground and now either he’s injured permanently or he was bleeding now and bleeding on me and I don’t know what he has, diseases, who knows? I don’t want to deal with that. In the context of the fight, we live in a very litigious society so I might win the fight and get sued. Self defense doesn’t just mean protecting yourself from getting punched by the other guy, self defense means avoiding the fight at all costs because of the possible variables that could come into the fight that you could’ve never predicted could be the ones ultimately to defeat you when you don’t normally think about that. You think of losing to the opponent, no, you lose to the circumstance.
You lose to the environment, you lose to the bystander who kicks you in the head because it’s his friend that you’re fighting and you didn’t see them. There’s so many variables that learning Jujitsu and building confidence to be able to interact with someone confidently, the best part about that is that my likelihood of engaging in an actual fight drops so low because I respect the engagement so much. I respect the possibility of unpredictability in a fight so much that I don’t want to get into a fight ever, with anyone. And by and large, my ability to interact with someone in a threatening situation, in a calm, confident, objective, demeanor and manner, that is largely why I never have to fight anyone.
If I didn’t have the Jujitsu that I have Brett, if I didn’t have the confidence that I have, what would happen is in a moment of tense disagreement or high combative energy between me and another subject, in that moment of intensity conversation or a buildup before the fight, people who don’t know how to defend themselves tend to overreact in those situations because they’re so scared of the interaction and of the possibility of a fight that they overcompensate. The problem is that overcompensation is a sign of weakness and it’s very obvious to the opponent and they realize that you’re just pumping. You’re just faking it here and that you’re weak and as a result you’re a better target for them. So isn’t it interesting how it kind of all cycles back, and for me, I just want to make sure that whoever I’m dealing with knows that I’m 100% prepared. I don’t want to fight you, but if we have to get down, let’s do it. Say Go.
Brett McKay: By becoming more dangerous, you actually become less dangerous.
Rener Gracie: To yourself and to other people, you’re absolutely right. I know of a guy who’s an uncle of mine who is not a Gracie uncle on the other side of the family, who was at a sporting game and an incident happened where some guy was sitting in front of them and was very loud language, very inappropriate language and was just talking and cussing and cheering, one of those fans who are just out of control. Then this man in this situation, he’s married to a relative of mine, but he’s not a Jujitsu master and has no training, he didn’t really kind of adopt that lifestyle. He’s married to a Gracie, but he’s not a Gracie and he in response to this inappropriate behavior up to the man in front of him, he got up and he just went freaking ape wild in terms of yelling and just … way beyond the reasonable threshold of interaction and what became clear and fortunately my family member who was with him calmed him down and brought him back to and just kind of intervened and stopped anything from boiling over but he went freaking nuts.
Later, the family member confided in me said, “Rener, he was scared and he was … He doesn’t know how to fight so he just went so wild with his words that he felt that that would prevent the fight from ever happening.” I can see how someone can think that, by overreacting and being acting crazy but the subject on the other side of that, if it was uninterrupted they would’ve fought. And the subject on the other side would have been offended by his over aggression and would have seen that his over aggression was up front and you can tell, it’s very simple. Because everyone knows what you said, which is the most deadly navy seals and Delta force operators never overreact to anything and the most deadly MMA fighters never overreact to anything and the most deadly Jujitsu black belts never overreact to anything because they’re not scared.
People who overreact are scared and this is not private, confidential information, the public knows this. So when you flip out, the guy at the baseball game, he’s going to know. This guy is freaking hollow, he’s faking it and he’s hollow. There’s nothing inside, he’s putting on a front. Versus another situation where I had where I was with my now wife, then girlfriend, EVE at House of Blues, Anaheim, watching our good friends, Orzo Motley perform. There was a guy who was next to us in the crowd, great dancing music, very fun Latin alternative band and this guy is dancing, but it wasn’t even like a punk rock engagement, but this guy is in his own mind, his own mosh pit dancing, loosely arm swinging, just bouncing around in the crowd where everyone else was kind of keeping to themselves.
I happened to be next to him so when he was dancing around crazy he would occasionally bump into myself and obviously I put myself towards his side so that Eve was on my left and he was on my right so he wouldn’t be touching her, but he would just shoulder bump, shoulder bump, shoulder bump. It just got to the point where it was affecting my enjoyment of the night so … I suspect I could have just moved out of the way and walked somewhere else, but I knew that what he was doing was unpleasant, not just for me but for everyone around him because he was just not following the vibe of the room.
So instead what I did was I took my right hand and I grabbed him behind his neck with my right hand. Just like sometimes you put your hand around your friend and you like put your hand over his shoulder like hey bro, like a little half bro Hug over the shoulder. But instead of over the shoulder, I actually grabbed with my thumb and my forefingers, I grabbed the back of his neck with a little bit of pressure and I stopped him right where he was standing. I stood behind him at a kind of a 45 degree angles so that he wouldn’t have a punching angle on me and literally … imagine someone standing behind you and to your left with their hand on your neck and I whispered to him I said, “Hey, my friend. I can see you having a really good time, but you’re bumping into us, so do me a favor, calm it down just a little bit and we should be good to go.”
Just right to his ear, no one else even heard. And it was very objective, it was very clear and I was not raising my voice and with the clarity of the message he peeked over his left shoulder and looked at me and I was a little bit taller than him, but he looked at me and he just kind of moved to the right and that was the end of the mosh pit, it was done. I don’t know what would happen if someone else you know, overreacted in that situation. Would the guy have fought or not? I don’t even know, but what I do know is that guy felt, that guy felt based on my C clamp on his neck and the calmness of my voice that I was ready to engage if I had to and my willingness to engage and my calmness meant that I didn’t have to.
But before I grabbed his neck, do you think I contemplated the possibility of having to fight this guy? Yes. I contemplated it and I said, “Okay, I don’t think it’s going to happen, but if it does, I can handle it.” So because I have the ability and the willingness, not the eagerness to engage, that’s the big difference, but the preparedness to engage safely, I didn’t have to.
I wouldn’t recommend the same strategy for everyone obviously, but what I will say is that a calm, clear demeanor, calm, assertive, confident demeanor goes a long way but the problem is a lot of the listeners are listening right now and saying, “Well, that sounds great and I’d love to be able to have that.” You can’t have that without the internal technique, that’s the challenge. It’s like teaching a kid bully proof. We have an amazing kids program called bully proof and it’s the best kids program to teach kids how to defend against bullies in a school yard scenario. What we tell the parents and the kids and say, “Guys, kids target kids who don’t know how to stand up for themselves or who won’t stand up for themselves. You have to set boundaries and you have to stand up for yourself or you’re going to get bullied for the rest of your life, it’s that simple.”
Here’s the challenge, setting the boundary relies on you knowing that if you were to be attacked by the bully, you’re not going to get hurt, and that’s why we learn Jujitsu, to avoid injury in the case of an attack and to control the bully without violence, nonviolent control tactics for the bully or for the defendants against the bully. Once you learn Jujitsu, then you can speak to the bully in a way where they won’t bother you anymore but the Jujitsu comes first even though the fight may never happen. That breakthrough has prevented so many fights for adult kids, women, everyone. That’s what we do.
Brett McKay: This is interesting. I’m curious if you’ve seen in your experience teaching BJJ to people that confidence that comes, that they know how to defend themselves in a situation, if that carries over to other aspects of their life. Do you see people becoming more assertive in their work and take more of a leadership role in their families?
Rener Gracie: Every single person, every single person who does Jujitsu, they start for self defense, they stay for life. And the best example is one of our recent blue belts, Vince Vaughn, the actor who is one of our most dedicated students, his daughter started … He started his daughter in the bully proof program … He lives here in the South Bay. We have thousands of people who are doing bully proof at home with their parents, for our listeners, you can do it at your house. We have it on DVD, we have it on streaming video through gracieuniversity.com. There are parents who are actually learning bully proof at home with their kids on the living room floor and then periodically they send in a video every eight to 12 months of their child’s performance and knowledge of the techniques and the kid can actually earn belt promotions from a distance or they can come to one of our schools and test in person, but there are families who are doing this at home.
Vince lives right here 10 minutes away from our school, so he brings his daughter to bully proof class after seeing some of our bully proof videos on the Internet. He loved the concept, he had tried another Jujitsu school before coming here and it was very sportive Jujitsu and he says, and he’s pretty public about this, he was like, “Yeah, the things they were learning, I could not see the applicability to a bullying encounter that my daughter would encounter. It didn’t even make sense to me what they were doing and I’m an adult.” Then he saw more of our videos and that’s when he came to our school and every single class, every single move we do, is directly extrapolated from a realistic contemplated bullying situation. We’re talking role playing, we’re talking pure pressure, we’re talking a kid comes up to another kid and says, “Hey, if you don’t throw this rock at that window, you’re not my friend anymore.”
When does a child to set boundaries with their own friends about inappropriate behavior, drugs and alcohol, things like that, who teaches them that? Nobody. School will tell them don’t do drugs, the parents will tell them, stand up for yourself but that’s a very vague piece of advice. What we do is we actually role play every single one of those scenarios in the classes that we do. Then if things go south and they have to defend themselves if the bully attacks them, we teach them how to defend that as well, nonviolently. So Vince’s daughter is in class having a blast, loving the classes. He’s watching her for several months, not doing classes and of course everyone’s like, all right, well Vince doesn’t want to do Jujitsu. Then one day I told the receptionist here, I said, “Hey, next time Vince comes in, tell him, ask him if he wants to try a Jujitsu class for himself?”
And very glad to hear, he was super stoked about the idea. He was like, “Yeah, I’d love to.” So I pulled them in for a private class, first class is free for everybody, so I said, come on in, Vince and I do a class and this guy freaking loves it. One class, he’s like, “Rener, schedule’s very busy but how often can I get in here? How often can you teach me?” And I might. Hold on, hold on, hold on. I’m busy too man. So I want to find some guys. So we found a panel of instructors. He’s doing private training classes at least three days a week now.
He’s doing private personal training in Jujitsu on top of everything else he does, producing and acting and he is the most outspoken about Rener, the Jujitsu techniques, self defense, great, but he’s like 6’5″, 6’4″, 220 pounds, he’s a big guy and he says, “Rener, the Jujitsu self defense, I love it. For my daughter, amazing and for me at least I know I can defend myself now against crazy fans or people who say stupid things to celebrities, which a lot of people do. At least I know I can defend myself without hurting another person. Meaning if someone were to come up and threaten me or attack me or throw some bottle at me, I don’t know, I can neutralize them and not have to punch him in the face. So from a liability perspective as a celebrity, this is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
He loves it in that sense but he said, “I’ll tell you what, the bigger benefit is how it’s changing my interaction with my family, my wife, in terms of how it’s changing my interaction professionally. I’m calmer, I’m more a more technical in my approach to life overall.” I think by and large, that’s the number one benefit of Jujitsu that people realize essentially after they’ve done it for a little while, is that it has nothing to do with fighting. We’re learning how to solve problems in the most technical, leveraged based way every single day.
If you were to come to my class today, Brett, I would say, “Okay guys, welcome to class. Here’s a headlock, how would you get out of this headlock?” And then you would say, “I don’t know.” And you would try a little bit, fail, fail, fail, and then I’d say, “Watch this,” and I’d show you the solution and you will be mind blown by the simple effectiveness of the solution. And when you see that solution on day one and then day two different hold, different escape, day three, different threat, different escape, day four punching situation, neutralize the punches the easiest way possible.
Every single day you’re being presented with seemingly impossible threat scenarios and then you’re being given the key, the secret to being able to escape that threat in a very easy manner. Think about what that does to your confidence when you encounter a challenge or a difficulty that is not related to Jujitsu. Think about how that affects your ability to interact with that threat scenario or life problem in a way where you know now that impossibilities are just techniques waiting to be discovered, and that’s the greatest benefit of practicing Jujitsu beyond self defense.
Brett McKay: It’s money. That’s my Vince Vaughn swingers referenced there, it’s money baby. Let’s walk that through. Say someone is listening to this and is like, I want to do Brazilian Jujitsu and they find there’s a Gracie place just right down the street from my place that just opened up here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They show up, what does a typical class look like, what are they going to expect? Is it they’re just going to be working on a move, is there warmups, what is that like?
Rener Gracie: Great question, let me walk you through that. Here’s the thing, I have to start by saying that not all Gracie schools are created equally. A lot of people have the perception that there’s one Gracie organization and that’s it. No, we have ours, Gracie University, Gracie university.com, and we have about 150 certified locations where that we’ve personally, my brother and I being at the helm here, have personally certified those instructors to teach the curriculum 100% the same as if you were learning with me here in Torrance, California.
We’ve been able to maintain a quality standard at these schools that no other organization has been able to, largely because of our use of the Internet and technology. We have eyes on the ground everywhere and we can see the quality on a regular basis and we have a truly remarkable kind of quality assurance system in place. But in the Gracie family there are over 50 members of the family who do Jujitsu professionally and each one of those might have five schools. One guy might have 20 schools, one guy might have 50 schools, so they’re all different. So, even in the Gracie family, it’s like we’re all growing the same fruits so to speak, with different variations in sport emphasis. It’s like all these different trees in the same orchard, we’re all pushing Jujitsu, but each one has their own tree and each tree has its own branches.
On our branch tree we have 150 branches all over the world that I said follow these exact same curriculums that we … most other organizations, whether they’re Gracie or not, the different schools in an organization have no, how do I say, curriculum structuring the teachings at the school, meaning you might go to school one and it’s different than school two and two is different than three and four and each of these individually owned martial arts schools are teaching something completely different than the next in these different organizations.
That was something that we figured out very early on how to maintain that quality and that’s the reason for our growth and why we’re the leaders in the industry is because of that quality control. So if you go to a school or you drive by and you see Gracie’s X, Y, Z, don’t just think that A, there’s a Gracie there, and B, even if they are associated with the Gracie family member that the teachings in that school are in any way resemblant of what the master Gracie tree trunk would be teaching you if he were there in person I should say.
Now some schools do it … some organizations do it better than others and by the way, this is in the Gracie family and outside the Gracie family, just Jujitsu. There’s a lot of different affiliations that are called and each one has their own way of trying to maintain some kind of order, but it actually is a madhouse or by and large it’s crazy. So, what I say to people is this, never just trust the name, never just trust the name on the storefront at a martial arts school. Go to the school and don’t discredit them because of a name and don’t credit them because of the name, even if it says Gracie. Go to the school, look at the school and make sure it’s the right fit for you by watching several classes, by looking around, seeing if the vibe is right. So by and large, let the experience outweigh any name on any storefront.
Now that said, of our schools that we’ve personally certified, same thing. The fact that I’ve stamped it and I can tell you exactly what they’re teaching in their class today in Tulsa, Oklahoma, if I just were to look at … do some research, I can tell you exactly what’s being taught at our school in Tulsa, still you have to go there and make sure the vibe is right for you. But here’s how it works. You would typically call in or schedule an introductory class, in which case you’ll go to a class. It’ll be a beginner class, our beginner program is called Gracie combatives and that’s a 36 technique program just for beginners, zero to 12 months experience. And Gracie combatives is a distillation of over 600 techniques down to the core 36 that we have been teaching the US Army for about the last 25 years.
Basically the mindset of that program is, you might not be able to commit 10 years to Jujitsu, but if you can commit six months, eight months, 12 months, every single technique that you learn during that 12 month period is going to be something that you absolutely can’t live without. Like literally these are the nuts and bolts of Jujitsu and oftentimes schools don’t have a beginner program at all. You might show up to our BJJ school and they say, “Okay, come on in to class,” and you’re in a class with brown and black belts and you’re a white belt. And obviously in that case they’re going to be teaching, tailoring it to the more advanced students, so you just become a grappling dummy. That’s why so many people have tried Jujitsu and had negative experiences is because schools don’t do a good job of creating entry level beginner programs that have no intensity, no sparring, no fighting. They’re literally just learning the pieces of the puzzle. They’re learning the alphabet in those beginner 36 techniques, 23 classes.
Once you go to that program, and here’s the cool part, it’s a 23 lesson, 36 techniques, 23 one hour lessons. It’s a cyclic program so if today’s class number 12, tomorrow’s 13, and then 14 and it goes through the entire month like that. And the best part is this program that we created and that all of our schools teach, I can only speak on behalf of ours, that program … you can start at any time in the cycle and you can complete the 23 lessons in any order. This is where the kind of the real genius of the curriculum is, is that a beginner can show up literally on class number 12, have zero experience ever doing Jujitsu, do that class and not feel overwhelmed or confused or like they’re missing pieces of the puzzle because we teach every single lesson in the Gracie combatives program as if every student is there for their first time.
That you can imagine for a beginner is very important because otherwise you’re always feeling like you’re missing pieces of the puzzle and why don’t I know the moves that they’re referencing and what are they talking about and the language being used is so confusing, that never happens in our program. You come in and you’re taking care of every single class and then what you do is you keep swimming in this pond, this Gracie combatives pond for like I said, eight to 12 months. Once you graduate, you take a test on all those 36 techniques demonstrating high proficiency, fluidity, muscle memory and once you have those core concepts understood, then you go into another program and it’s like now you’re in the ocean of Jujitsu.
But you don’t go into the ocean until you can swim in a pond or a pool and that’s the analogy and that’s the situation we’ve built and why our schools are growing at a rate that few others are, is because we capture and keep the beginners so safely and so effectively. You engage in Jujitsu in a way that they can actually learn and be proficient from day one. It’s like going to surfing school and literally the first day you go to surf, you’re standing up and you’re riding waves and every day after that you’re riding waves. You’re riding waves, you’re riding waves. We’ve figured that out for Jujitsu whereas most other schools, you show up to surf camp and they say, “Here’s a board, there’s the waves, go out there, figure it out.” And you’re struggling for the first six months. You’ll eventually learn how to surf but it sucks for the first six months to a year. Then finally you poke your head up and you go, “Okay, I know how to surf.”
But the question is, how many people even last six months swimming in the ocean with the board and the crashing waves. Most people quit, 90% of people quit before they ever catch their first wave in most schools.
Brett McKay: Is Brazilian Jujitsu something you need to be in decent shape for, or is it just a young man’s game or did they … Can you just do it?
Rener Gracie: Here’s the thing, if you’re going to … It’s the same as the surfing analogy. If the surf instructor sucks and the ocean is crazy, yes, you’re going to show up on day one and you’re gonna say, man, my cardio is not good enough to get up on this board because I’m suffering getting slammed by these waves so much. In the survival of the fittest framework that a lot of schools promote and have, a lot of schools are like this. It’s sad to see that they even survive as businesses, but in that survival of the fittest environment, you absolutely have to be a great athlete, you have to be incredibly dedicated and you have to make up your mind that there’s nothing that will make you quit because everything will try to make you quit.
In our schools, our thought is the opposite. Our thought is no, Jujitsu was developed by the grand master, my grandfather, specifically for the unathletic, smaller, weaker men and women of society so if we don’t create a beginner entry level program that caters to that audience we’re literally wasting our existence away. What the heck are we doing here if everyone doesn’t feel welcome in the programs that we create and have for beginners? So, it’s a completely school-by-school approach but in our case, in order to be a certified Gracie Jujitsu training center and appear on our website, gracieuniversity.com, you absolutely have to A, get certified to teach the program and B, uphold the program and if we hear it for one second that a school is deviating or not teaching the program in the safe structured format that it should be taught in, which has happened in rare occasions, then we call them up and if it’s not fixed immediately we pull the plug and they’re no longer our certified training center.
That level of consistency and quality control doesn’t really exist in Jujitsu and it’s something that it’s been essentially … my biggest contribution to Jujitsu has been the structuring of it for the easy onboarding of beginners who want to learn the art.
Brett McKay: This is fantastic, so people can go to gracieuniversity.com to find all this stuff?
Rener Gracie: Yes, gracieuniversity.com is where you go A, to find a school near you. If you have a CTC within 10, 15 miles, absolutely you should go in and if you tell them Rener sent you, that you heard Rener on the Art of Manliness Podcast, then you will get 10 days free. They’ll sign you up for a 10 day free trial, nothing, no pay. Just go in there and just train for 10 days, all you can eat and you’re going to love it. After 10 days you’re going to say, wow, why have I waited so long to do this? What was I thinking? And then you have options to sign up after the fact. If you don’t have a CTC, go to Gracie university, create a free student profile and you’ll have access to the first four lessons in Gracie combatives and then some lessons in our Gracie bully proof program which is also available online and you have free access to women empowered our women’s program to defend against sexual assault, which my wife Eve is the head instructor of.
So we have programs for every demographic, GST, Gracie Survival Tactics is for law enforcement, all of these have free samples online and then you can learn more about them, buy them online or go to a school where they teach the program. That’s definitely where you want to go for everything Jujitsu is gracieuniversity.com.
Brett McKay: Just to make things clear, you guys have a whole online program where you can train at home, get feedback on your progress and meet up with other training partners in your area. So if you don’t live by a training center, you’re not out of luck. In addition to Jujitsu, you’ve got another side business going on, right?
Rener Gracie: The other business that I just started right now that you’re just kind of wildfire going crazy in every direction and very exciting, is this quick flip apparel. I’m at the park with my son one day, and I’m not an apparel guy, I’m at the park with my son, I’m frustrated because it’s hot and I’m wearing a hoodie, it was actually one of my Jujitsu hoodies and I take off my hoodie and I throw it over my shoulder because I don’t want to tie it around my waist. I throw it over my shoulder and then I’m walking after my son and I go to pick him up, he’s only two, and I go to scoop him up to go home and the hoodie slides off my shoulder and it lands on the grass and the grass was still wet from the night before because it was a little bit … It had rained the night before.
The hoodie hits the wet grass and I’m like, I’m a frustrated. You know that little moment of frustration you have at points in your life when things don’t go exactly as planned? I pick up the hoodie with that … I start sweating a little bit because I’m so frustrated, I pick up the hoodie and I think this is ridiculous. There has to be a better way to carry a sweatshirt or hoodie that you’re not wearing. Tying it around your waist is not only fashionably unacceptable, but tying it around your waist if you sit down on a bench, your hoodie’s going to get wet. If you’re riding a bike, your hoodie can get stuck in the wheel of the bicycle, it stretches out the sleeves, and if you don’t want to do that, you are limited.
You put it over your shoulder, it’s not secure, it’s not on you, if you tied around your neck you can get choked and it looks like you belong to a European yacht club. There’s many options but none of them are really that efficient, so I went home frustrated by this problem and what did I do? Gracie Jujitsu on the hoodie. I get home and I’m like, this is ridiculous. We got to figure this out. So with shoestrings, paperclips, duct tape and scissors. Within 30 minutes I create a functioning prototype of a hoodie that converts into a functional backpack, in my house just like that.
Fast forward six months, 15 iterations later of the prototype, modified, modified, modified lot of R&D, brought in professionals to help me construct the garment, we’re going to production. We launched quick flip apparel and this hoodie is called the hero hoodie and now we’re fricking selling tons of them and this is a new business that came out of nowhere and I’m patenting three patents on the technology to convert a Hoodie into a backpack. We’re going through that process right now and it’s the only hoodie that converts into a fully functional backpack and it’s actually the most comfortable and best fitting hoodie you’ll ever own. So now I’m in the hoodie business and people love it.
Brett McKay: There you go. Well Rener, it has been a great conversation. Thanks for coming on man.
Rener Gracie: Awesome, man. Congratulations on all the great work and thank you for the support and all those listeners out there, it’s just a matter of time before you try your first Jujitsu lesson and when you do it, you’re going to regret not doing it when I first told you to do it.
Brett McKay: Thanks man. Thanks brother. My guest today was Rener Gracie, he’s the head instructor of the Gracie Jujitsu Academy and the co-creator of Gracie University. You can find out more information about that at gracieuniversity.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/Gracie where you can find links to notes, or you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. And if you enjoyed this show, I’d appreciate it if you’d gave us review on iTunes or Stitcher, helps out a lot and if you’d done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think can get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.