in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: August 29, 2023

Podcast #921: How to Use the Principles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to Overcome Obstacles in Business and Life

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there are certain principles like timing, leverage, and positioning that practitioners must master to successfully overcome an opponent. My guest has found that these same principles that allow someone to be successful on the mat, also apply to being successful off of it.

Rener Gracie is the co-owner and head instructor of Gracie University and the author of The 32 Principles: Harnessing the Power of Jiu-Jitsu to Succeed in Business, Relationships, and Life. Today on the show, Rener shares how he’s used some of the core teachings of jiu-jitsu, like the Pyramid Principle and the River Principle, in his business, and how you can use them to grapple with all kinds of obstacles in life.

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, there are certain principles, like timing, leverage, and positioning, that practitioners must master to successfully overcome an opponent. My guest has found that these same principles that allow someone to be successful on the mat also apply to being successful off of it. Rener Gracie is the co-owner and head instructor of Gracie University and the author of The 32 Principles: Harnessing the Power of Jiu-Jitsu to Succeed in Business, Relationships, and Life. Today in the show, Rener shares how he’s used some of the core teachings of jiu-jitsu, like the Pyramid Principle and the River Principle, in his business, and how you can use them to grapple with all kinds of obstacles in life. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at

All right. Rener Gracie, welcome back to the show.

Rener Gracie: What a pleasure, bro? How long has it been?

Brett McKay: I think the last one was 2018, maybe?

Rener Gracie: I don’t Know. Maybe that was the podcast. But then we did those awesome videos like over 10 years ago now, right?

Brett McKay: Yeah. Yeah, that was… Yeah, that’s a blast from the past. Our audience who followed us on YouTube, they probably are aware of your Brazilian jiu-jitsu videos we did with you.

Rener Gracie: Yeah. In fact, those were probably… Like, for people getting into jiu-jitsu, the number of people that have met me and cited those videos as the videos that they watched that got them to step foot on the mat. Like, literally, it never stops happening, and it never ceases to amaze me that, “Yo, I saw the Art of Manliness introductory video you did to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Got me excited. I wanna do jiu-jitsu now. Now I’ve been training at some school out in the middle of nowhere.” It’s just amazing to see how long-lasting that video has been and still remains timeless as just a genuine introduction to jiu-jitsu. So thanks to you and the team for putting that together, and we’ve benefited greatly from that. So thanks a lot.

Brett McKay: Well, thank you for being a part of those videos. ‘Cause we’ve benefited a lot from those videos as well. Well, so you are the co-founder and CEO of Gracie University. It’s a global Brazilian jiu-jitsu organization that teaches students both in person and online. And like I said, people are, I’m sure, aware of you and your family and your legacy with BJJ. But for those who aren’t familiar with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, how does it differ from other martial arts, say like karate or judo?

Rener Gracie: Sure. Joe Rogan said it best. Jiu-jitsu is the first martial art that delivers what it promises. And what that really means is every martial art claims to give the little person the chance to defeat and defend against a larger attacker. That’s the only reason we learn martial arts, right? To defend ourselves against a larger, more athletic physical threat. And jiu-jitsu for the last 100 years, really, this thing started in 1925, so we’re nearing 100 years here, has proven time and time again that a smaller person equipped with the jiu-jitsu can defend against and can overcome a larger adversary who doesn’t know jiu-jitsu. It’s that simple. And it was proven in Brazil in the early 1900s. My father brought the art to America as a first… The oldest son of nine siblings of my grandfather, the grandmaster. When my father brought it to America, he started teaching out of his garage. Every person he met, he invited for a free class. Every one of those friends that came for a free class told their friends, who told their friends. And the thing blew up here in a garage in Hermosa Beach, California.

In 1993, my father co-created the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship, with the simple objective of putting all the different martial arts on display, on pay-per-view television, so that spectators around the world could see what really works and what doesn’t work when it comes to a real fight. My uncle, Hoist Gracie, was chosen as the family representative in UFC 1 and was intentionally much smaller than all the other participants in the tournament, the fighting tournament. It was an eight-man tournament. You had to win three fights in the same night in order to win the championship. And there was no weight classes, no time limits, and essentially, no rules in terms of what you could do in the octagon. There was no gloves, even. People didn’t have to wear gloves like they do today in mixed martial arts.

So when my uncle Hoist went in there as the smallest person and defeated these giants in UFC 1, 2, and then again, in UFC 4, the world was put on notice. All of a sudden, they go, “Wow, this is crazy. This little guy, who looks like he’s gonna get pummeled, is defending himself and overcoming these giants with this beautiful, nonviolent techniques of jiu-jitsu.” So basically, it was a big infomercial for jiu-jitsu, and it was successful. At that point, the whole world is realizing if they’re gonna learn anything, you might as well learn what the little guy is doing because that’s gonna give you the best chance of success in a violent, physical altercation against someone who outweighs you or is stronger or younger or more athletic, faster, better endurance. All of those physical traits can be overcome with the right amount of technique. And the crazy part, Brett, it doesn’t take that long. We’re talking months, not years and years and years and years to learn a level of skill that will help you stay safe against a larger opponent in a real fight.

So that’s jiu-jitsu. It’s been amazing family to be born into. I’ve been learning this stuff from day one. I didn’t have a choice. In this family, you’re born on the mat, basically. Growing up, started teaching as a 13-year-old child. So I had my first private class student as a child. His name was Robert Mendoza Jr. 5-year-old kid who was getting bullied. And I started teaching Robert, you know, $10 for a class. And before you know it, I’m leading kids’ classes, then I’m teaching adults by 16, 17. By 18, I’m in North Carolina teaching the special forces with my dad, like, leading the class with my father, teaching these guys of the highest military operatives. And that was just the beginning.

And then before you know it, at 19 years old, my brother and I, my brother was 20, 21, I was 19, we were thrust into leadership roles when my uncle, Hoist, branched off to do his own thing and left the school. So now we’re running the Gracie Academy as… Essentially, I was a teenager, and we had leadership roles of head instructorship and really managing the entire operation of the school. And that started as a kid, basically. And now we’re charged with growing this thing and figuring out how to run this business by our father. And we did just that. And here we are today. Fast forward… What was that? 2002? So yeah, 20 years, I’ve been running the show here. And now we’re a global organization with 350,000 online students learning all over the world, 250 locations worldwide teaching our proprietary programs, essentially, licensed certified training centers. And we’re the preeminent organization when it comes to teaching law enforcement in America, jiu-jitsu based defensive tactics and nonviolent control tactics.

So jiu-jitsu is the craze right now… Kinda circling back to where I started with this long-winded answer, jiu-jitsu is the craze right now for one reason. It actually works. And everyone who has a good introduction to the art by a well-qualified teacher falls head over heels in love with it because it teaches you to do things with your body that you never imagined were possible, not in a strenuous, physical demanding way, but in a resourcefulness way. You realize that your body is capable of so much more than you ever imagined when you teach it, some technique, when you give it the proper leverage, the positioning, the timing, and of course, all the principles that jiu-jitsu entails.

Brett McKay: Well, speaking of principles, you got a new book out called The 32 Principles: Harnessing the Power of Jiu-Jitsu to Succeed in Business, Relationships, and Life. And in this, you lay out what you call the alphabet of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When did you realize in all the 20 years you’ve been doing this that jiu-jitsu has these 32 principles of this alphabet?

Rener Gracie: Sure. I mean, all my life, I’ve learned thousands of techniques in jiu-jitsu. And to this day, we continue to invent new techniques. So it’s literally an endless martial art in terms of the individual techniques to solve unique and specific problems in combat. But what has always been known to any lifelong practitioner of jiu-jitsu is that even though there are thousands of techniques and there are always evolving, there are a set number of principles that make all of those techniques possible. You just knew that there might be technique 1, 17, 36 and 47, but all of them have some common themes and principles that are utilized in those techniques.

And even though we knew generally that there were some timing, energy, efficiency, leverage, control, these are some macro principles that are thrown around loosely in jiu-jitsu as something that is constantly present and always happening, what we realized is that during COVID, in fact, when our school got shut down… So we have this huge brick and mortar jiu-jitsu business, and we are completely shut down for no in-person classes. So we did some Zoom classes, but we had a lot of free time during this period. That’s when my brother and I decided to dig in on the creation of a course in jiu-jitsu, an instructional video course for jiu-jitsu that would aim to extrapolate and identify the core principles, the micro principles that every technique in jiu-jitsu relies on. So we went for it, and we studied for several months and kind of extrapolating and going over several concepts and really identifying every move has different steps and different technique components, but all of them rely on the same 32 core principles. Once we realized and we’ve identified, we named them, we classified all of them, then we decided, “Let’s film a video course in which we teach these principles.”

If you’re a beginner, this is helpful to know because from the get-go, you’re learning how to think jiu-jitsu rather than learning how to do jiu-jitsu. If you’re an advanced practitioner, this course would help you make sense of the thousands of techniques you’ve already learned and can often be so overwhelming. That simple, the sheer number of techniques that you’ve learned over the years, it’s often overwhelming and discouraging, to some extent, for advanced practitioners. But once they understood the 32 principles, it would be a way of distilling their vast catalogs of techniques down to these 32 core principles. So you learn that, essentially, if you forget a technique, but you still retain the principles that make that technique possible, then when the situation changes, you can still call on the principles, even when you forget the technique. That was the idea. And as we were doing the extrapolation process of identifying what these principles were, it made me realize, as I was going over and recording these for jiu-jitsu purposes only, the extent to which these same 32 principles were the ones that I had been leaning on. Even though I had not named them and classified them and organized them into a curriculum, the principles themselves had always been there, and I had been leaning on them, not just in jiu-jitsu, but in every aspect of my life.

So when I replay my life’s milestones, the most significant achievements, the biggest failures, the biggest lost opportunities, the biggest breakthroughs in entrepreneurial successes, family successes, family problems and challenges that I faced, I realized that my entire operating system as a human being, both personally and professionally, was based on these 32 principles that jiu-jitsu had instilled in me over a lifelong practice of the art.

Brett McKay: Yeah. So you doing jiu-jitsu changed the way you think and approach the world?

Rener Gracie: Well, think about this, Brett. Everyone has an operating system. You have an operating system. And your operating system is a function of what? Your schooling, your experiences, your parenting, the way that you were parented, the way that you were brought up, the community that you were brought up in. All of your life’s experiences shape the operating system that is you. And then whatever your operating system is will determine how you react and respond to different indicators, challenges, threats, opportunities, different stimuli in your life. All of those will be responded to based on the conditioning of your operating system. The computer is only as good as its operating system, as is true for a human being.

And what jiu-jitsu does for us, Brett, is every single day we step on the mat, jiu-jitsu presents us with the most robust and the widest array of challenges, opportunities, struggles, adversities, obstacles that you can possibly imagine. So it’s like doing jiu-jitsu every single day teaches me how to face every challenge you can imagine in a fight. But the metaphorical connection between these obstacles and adversities that we face in a fight to the obstacles that we face in everyday life could not be any clearer. When people are faced with a high-stress situation in life, they respond in panic, they respond with anxiety, uncertainty, if they’re not conditioned to deal with high-stress encounters in a more technical, proficient and a strategic way.

So in jiu-jitsu, the line goes like this. If I can get caught in a headlock from a 200-pound man and not stress out and technically, efficiently strategize my escape, make my escape happen, and then turn that liability into an opportunity. If that’s what my body and my brain are conditioned to do every single time I step on the mat, imagine how my brain is gonna respond and how my operating system will perform when I’m at work and I’ve struggled with an interaction with a colleague, or I get spoken to by my boss in a way that was less than favorable, or I’m at home with my wife and we’re struggling to come to an agreement on something that we should do as parents with regards to how we’re parenting our child. All of these are just challenges. It’s all about dealing with adversity, overcoming problems and adversity and obstacles in our life. So when you dive head first into the regular practice of jiu-jitsu, you become these principles. You become this operating system that is so comfortable dealing with adversity and dealing with the struggles and challenges that are presented in a fight, that when you apply those same ideologies into everyday life, everything just kind of is easy.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about some of these principles and how they have application beyond the mat. And the first principle you start off with is connection. What role does connection have in jiu-jitsu?

Rener Gracie: Well, thanks for asking. The number one thing that I try to explain to people who are doing jiu-jitsu for the first time is that your body is an incredible tool or weapon, however you wanna do it. Whatever connotation you want to give it. It’s much more capable than anything you’ve ever imagined. It’s like, imagine if you had a Swiss army knife, which has 17 different utility applications on that little Swiss army knife. But all this time, Brett, you’ve only been using the knife. And then someone told you, “Brett, there are 16 other tools on this little contraption that you can use to improve life, solve problems, and overcome challenges.” You would say, “Holy cow. There’s scissors? There’s a magnifying glass? There’s a toothpick? There’s tweezers? There’s a nail file? Oh my gosh.” You would lose your mind if you had been living 25, 30, 50 years thinking that a Swiss army knife was only a knife, to only then find out that you were just barely scratching the surface.

So in jiu-jitsu, people use their bodies to connect to their adversary in ways that you would never imagine connecting to another person. So when you think of connecting, you think of grappling, you think of using your hands to grab, maybe your feet to push or kick, and that’s about it, right? Maybe your arms to hug. But what you learn in jiu-jitsu is every single surface on your body serves a distinct and uniquely effective purpose in the overall context of a fight. So when you talk about your foot, yes, there’s just a foot. There’s a sole of your foot that you would push with. When you do jiu-jitsu, we have the bottom of the foot, the sole, we have the top of the foot, the instep. We have the ankle, the bend of the ankle, which is used for hooking. The instep is used for sliding, the toes are used for digging under someone. So I can flex my toes up and use them for digging. My heel is used for piercing. The Achilles behind my heel is used for hooking like a spur on a cowboy’s boot. I can hook someone’s body and connect to them that way.

So just with my foot alone, you’ve learned five connections that you might not have otherwise known your foot was capable of, if not for the practice of jiu-jitsu. So what you learn through the practice of jiu-jitsu is how to use your body in ways you never imagined possible. And then all you say to yourself after a little bit of practice, you go, “Wow. How crazy that I was operating all that time just with the knife, when in fact, my body was capable of all 17 applications that I never knew were possible?” And it’s a very enlightening, empowering experience for a human being to go through after so many years of thinking their body was capable of walking, running, jumping, and dancing. That’s what feet are for. That’s it? No, that’s just the beginning. There’s so much more.

So when I talk about the life and business application of this connection principle, what that translates to is really diversifying and constantly improving and increasing the tools and tactics that you’re using to connect with the world. So as someone who’s trying to share jiu-jitsu with the world, when I injured my back at 19 years old, 18 years old, I had a back injury, lower back injury, I suffered a herniated disc during a training accident. I was training much crazier back then. So the accident happened. And now I’m much more intelligent about how I train and how we teach our students so this doesn’t happen. But it happened then had a surgery, I was out for 10 months. During that 10-month hiatus, I thought to myself, “Wow, what if I can never do jiu-jitsu again? What if I get hurt again when I’m 25, 27, 35, 39? What if it gets to the point where I can’t teach jiu-jitsu for the rest of my life? My tool, my body, I can’t use it. How do I share this art with the world? That feeling of frustration and uncertainty led to the birth of Gracie University, an interactive online learning center in which we upload videos of every one of our unique programs so that anyone anywhere in the world could learn everything that we’ve learned, my brother and I, in order that would optimize retention and progress. So lesson one leads into lesson two.

Lesson two. Builds on lesson one, lesson three builds on one and two, it’s the only linear interactive online learning center for martial arts in the world, where every single lesson is built on every single previous lesson. And as a result, students from all over the world are able to learn everything we’ve learned, everything we know in jiu-jitsu linearly from their living rooms. So when we talk about connection, this was a situation where we enhance the way that we’re connecting with the students. And we took it one step further. Some people complain that they didn’t have a training partner in their garage, their wife didn’t wanna do it with them, or their husband or their son, or parents, so they’re on their own. So we created a new classification of training center called a Gracie Garage to pay homage to my father’s days in the garage in the early 1970s and ’80s.

So a Gracie Garage, Brett, is a classification on Gracie University of someone who wants to make their home a unofficial at home training center so that, basically, they list themselves on the website and they say, “Hey, this is my home. And if you’re interested, please message me through the system here and let’s talk. And if your vibe is right and my vibe vibes with yours, well, happy to invite you over to the house for a training session. And the number of friendships and connections that have been made amongst training partners all over the world, Brett, because of Gracie University online learning, and because of this garage classification of an unofficial at home training center. Thousands and thousands and thousands of networks have been made and connections have been made with each other, students with each other. And then it goes one step further. These students become so in love with jiu-jitsu from home, that they then grow their skills and develop to effective enough, proficient enough level that they eventually aspired to become instructors.

So they come to Torrance here at headquarters in California, get certified, then they go home. And what was a Gracie Garage of 10 buddies training in the neighborhood becomes a certified training center at a commercial location where they’re now running an actual business. And this has happened all over the world. People started learning online, and they end up opening commercial for-profit schools, and now they run successful businesses with hundreds of students, and they’ve quit their careers to now teach jiu-jitsu full-time. All of this was because when I hurt my back at 19 years old, when I had my surgery and spent that 10 months off, I was able to think of the connection principle and really broaden the ways in which we were connecting with and sharing jiu-jitsu with the world.

So that’s just one example of how this connection principle can really change your effectiveness, whether it’s entrepreneurial or if it’s personal. We talk about family dynamics. In terms of how you’re connecting with your children or your spouse. Are you connecting in ways that are meaningful for you only, or are you going one step further and finding connecting ways that are meaningful for your family members so that those connections and that time together is even more meaningful and impactful for your family. So really, connection is about, are you being creative, and how you’re connecting with the people in the world around you.

Brett McKay: Well, my daughter, Scout, she does jiu-jitsu at Gracie Tulsa here. And the head guy…

Rener Gracie: With Robert? Is that with Robert Davenport?

Brett McKay: Robert Davenport. Yeah.

Rener Gracie: Oh my gosh, bro. That’s crazy, because you haven’t told me that she was training. I didn’t know that… I know that you are intrigued with jiu-jitsu because of all this Art of Manliness stuff you’ve done with us, but that’s amazing. And you couldn’t be in better hands. Robert is in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s a black belt. And crazy enough, he started in a Gracie Garage of his own, learning online through our university, Gracie University online, learning from home with a bunch of buddies. They eventually became certified instructors. They opened their school, and then Robert had a successful technology job. Quit his job after he reached, I don’t know, 300, 400 students, and now he runs one of our most successful schools. I can’t believe that your daughter is at that school. That’s so crazy, dude.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Well, I know you… Because you broke your back, my daughter’s doing jiu-jitsu.

Rener Gracie: There you go. Because I broke my back, your daughter’s doing jiu-jitsu with the most awesome instructor and team of instructors there, and there you go. So this is the whole point. And we never know, Brett, how far the impact of a new connection will take us. That’s the beautiful part. When you explore the full potential of your connection to the world, you never know where you’re gonna end up, and that’s what I love about that principle.

Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.

And now back to the show. I was moved to another principle, and one is the Pyramid Principle. So I’ve noticed the logo on Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. There’s a triangle. So that’s pretty key. So how does the Pyramid Principle give you the upper hand in a fight?

Rener Gracie: Sure. Yeah. So in jiu-jitsu, base is a very important concept. And if you look at a pyramid structure, with its solid foundation, it’s the most stable structure. It’s not gonna get tipped over in any direction. This is what we aim to accomplish in jiu-jitsu as well. No matter what position we’re in, we always wanna spread out our base points, typically three or four points of contact with the surface or the person that we’re opposing, and constantly stable. If you have… Talk about if you have… Let’s say someone standing on two feet, they’re very pushable and forward or backwards. They might be stable from side to side if you spread your base out, but you’re pushable… You’re off balance forward to back. Where when you add a third base point, let’s say, you put your hand down like a center in a football game, that he has his hand on the ground and 2 feet on the ground. That person is more connected and more ground. Has a stronger foundation. Been someone who is standing upright. Same is true, if you put two hands on the ground. Now you’re even more stable. So the Pyramid Principle essentially translates to life in business in reminding us and encouraging us to build a strong foundation in whatever we’re gonna do.

Brett McKay: And you give a lot of examples in the book of how people can create that firm foundation. You talk about developing qualities like your resilience, confidence, a strong moral compass. ‘Cause those things, they can serve you well no matter the situation you find yourself in. But creating from foundation could be something like developing an emergency fund. So you’ll be ready for whatever financial curveball life throws at you. And you also talk about applying the Pyramid Principle in your career or in your business by developing new skills, or if you own a business, developing another revenue stream. It’s like adding those new skills or those new revenue streams, it’s like putting that third contact point on the map.

Rener Gracie: There you go. And just a general concept of having a strong foundation, there are no shortage of analogies and hypotheticals and examples that illustrate the importance of that in every industry you can imagine. But it’s just… Again, in jiu-jitsu, it’s critical, and in life and business, those who develop the strongest foundations often have the highest levels and longest lasting success.

Brett McKay: Now, I’ve seen this in real life. So sometimes my daughter will wanna grapple with me, just show me what she’s learning. And I’m impressed like, this little 9-year-old girl will put me in this position like a mountain position. And I can’t move her. I’m just a 200-pound dude who power lifts, and I can’t move ’cause she’s done something where I… And it’s because she’s got these different contact points to the ground that gives her the strong foundations. It’s legit.

Rener Gracie: Its legit. Yeah, it’s amazing what a little body can do with the right leverage, and that’s the beauty of jiu-jitsu.

Brett McKay: Another principle, or two principles about timing, it’s velocity and clock. And I like the clock principle. We had this great story that goes along with it, applies outside the mat. But how do you use timing in jiu-jitsu in a fight on the mat?

Rener Gracie: Well, what we always say, Brett, is the right move at the wrong time is the wrong move. So it’s one thing to learn the steps of a technique, right? You know the right answer, you know the move, you know the steps, you know the technique. Applying that at the wrong time is as good as applying the wrong technique. So timing is literally everything when it comes to jiu-jitsu. I think the same could be said about life, whether you have a product or service, when you’re bringing something to market, timing matters.

And then just in terms of personal relationships, when you choose to have a certain conversation with your significant other or your child, how is their energy? Where is it during the day? So the right conversation at the right time is euphoric. The right conversation at the wrong time is an absolute disaster. We’ve all been guilty of trying to have the right conversation, but doing it at the wrong time and then paying the price. So I have one extreme example of that, I think illustrates this principle beautifully. We have a student here who’s a psychologist, and she said, “Rener, I have a student… I have a client, rather, that suffers from a very severe case of social anxiety. He’s a teenage boy named Shane. And the kid suffer some severe social anxiety, such that any time he’s gonna be in a social situation that he’s nervous about, he vomits profusely before going into school or before going anywhere, where there’s gonna be people. He just suffers from that.” “I think jiu-jitsu would be great for him,” the doctor said. And I said, “Well, great. Bring him in. Send him in.” “Okay, I’ll set you up with the mom.”

I talked to the mom. She’s gonna bring him on a Thursday. I purposely set it up at a time where there’s no one in the building so it’d be less intimidating for him. And at Thursday classes at 4 o’clock, I think it was like 4:05, 4:10, 4:15, I get a call from the mom. “Sorry, Rener, we’re not gonna make it.” I’m like, “What?” In my mind, I’m thinking, number one, it’s already after 4 o’clock. Number two, why not? I’m thinking in my mind. So I say, “Oh, what’s going on?’ She says, “Well, we’re outside in the parking lot, but Shane’s not coming in.” And I said, “You’re outside our building right now?” She said, “Yep.” And I said, “Okay, can I come out and say hi?” She said, “Yes.” So I walk out and I get to the car. Mom is standing outside the car, and he’s sitting inside the backseat on the passenger side, crying profusely like the most aggressive abdominal cry you’ve ever heard, and he’s bending over. Every time he cries, he’s bending over like hysterical, crying. And I say to the mom, “Can I go inside the… ” I mouth it to her. “Can I go inside?” And she says, “Yeah, go ahead.” She’s outside the car, standing on the curb, on the sidewalk.

I go around the driver’s side, I get in the car and I sit down. He’s crying, most aggressive cry I’ve ever heard, and he does this for 20-30 minutes. I don’t say a word. Just sitting there waiting. Depletion principle. Letting him burn it out. Nothing’s happening. Just relax, just watching. Chilling. No judgment. And he finally sits up. He ran out of energy, ran out of steam. He sits up quietly, breathing normal. And I say, “What’s up, Shane? I’m Rener. What do you like to do for fun?” A little off-guard by the question, he goes, “Video games.” I say, “Cool. Tell me more.” We talk about video games for 15 minutes. And I don’t play video games, so I’m just talking about his life. “Life is good. Video games. Tell me everything.” Finally, we’re having a conversation, and it’s totally normal, how we’re talking. Everything’s fine, as if we know each other. We’re talking in a very casual, relaxed way. And I feel that, “Wow, there’s a connection here now. We’re cool. We’re okay. He’s here, he’s present, and he’s safe, and he knows he’s safe.” Then I say to him, I said, “Hey, bro. I know it was hard getting here, but I would like to give you a tour of the facility, if you’d let me. Would you come inside with me so I can show you around?” “Yes.”

So he gets out of the car. We get out the car. Mom is following us. We go in the building. And in my mind, Brett, all I’m thinking is, “If I do not do jiu-jitsu with this guy today, like do a technique, get him on the mat, I’ll never get him back. But if I do get him on the mat and we do do jiu-jitsu, we’re gonna get him for life. He’s in.” So I’m giving him this tour and all that’s crossing my mind is, “How am I gonna get this guy to do jiu-jitsu?” ‘Cause if I ask him, “Hey, do you wanna do jiu-jitsu?” what’s he gonna say? “No,” and run out of the building. Hysterical, probably. It’s gonna be a lot for him. So we’re walking around and we pass by one of the private training rooms, the personal training rooms, which is just an empty room 12 x 12 feet with mats on all the walls. And I open the door and I step in and I step on the mats without my shoes on, barefeet, I’m stepping on the mat, and I say, “Shane, check this out. These mats are so soft. Take off your shoes and come check it out. See for yourself.” Told his mom, “Come on in too, Mom.” She came in, he took off his shoes, he walks in. I closed the door. We’re on the mat.

I say, “Hey, have a seat. Let’s talk for a sec.” I sit him down. I lay him down on his back. I get on top of him, with his permission, and I say, “Hey, bro, how would you escape if someone was on top of you like this?” He tries a couple of different things, doesn’t work. I switch roles. “Okay, now let me try with you.” He gets on top of me, I escape rather easily. He’s like blown away, like, “Wow.” I’m like, “You do it now.” He does the move. He’s successful. “Wow, that was awesome. Let’s go again.” He does it again, again. One hour passes. I showed him six or seven different techniques. His mom is sitting in the corner of the room with tears coming down her eyes, not saying a word. And him and I are just enjoying jiu-jitsu together, full connection. Clock principle perfectly applied.

Patient’s in the car, no rush. And velocity, in the school, as I was walking through, when I opened the room and I had my one chance, I took it. “Hey, come on in. See how soft these mats are.” Got him. Once I got him in the room, got him down… With all the love in my heart, got him down, showed him a technique. I knew he would love it, ’cause I’ve been doing this forever. He falls in love with jiu-jitsu. He continues to be a student of ours. The next time he came back to the school, it only took me 15 minutes to get him out of the car. And the third time, it only took seven minutes. On the second or third visit, he got out of the car, he went to the bathroom, he threw up and then came out, got his gi on and went to the class. You see what I’m saying? But he made it. He pushed through. Got him involved with another instructor here, who became his main instructor for several years. He started doing group classes with other students, which was totally unexpected by his mom and his father. And then he ended up graduating high school, moved away, went to college, lived a normal life. Clock principle, timing is everything.

Brett McKay: Right. So you gotta know when to be patient, but then also, like you said, find those moments where you have to speed things up and take advantage of the moment.

Rener Gracie: Yes, bro. 100%. When it’s time to go, go. You gotta go. And this is a trait that pretty much every successful entrepreneur has, is this balance between knowing when to wait and knowing when to fire. If you’re successful as an entrepreneur, you’ve had so many encounters where you’ve had to be careful in your timing. And same goes applied for me, 100%, both as a jiu-jitsu teacher, but also my other business, is timing is everything. And the jiu-jitsu teaches us that every day you come to class. When a move doesn’t work, when a technique fails in deployment, a physical technique, it’s either because you did the move wrong, or you did it at the wrong time. It’s one or the other. And it’s usually very easy to identify which of those two it was. And with that, guess what’s happening every time you’re doing jiu-jitsu? You’re increasing your respect and appreciation for timing in a fight and in life.

Brett McKay: Now, I love what you said, that the right move at the wrong time is the wrong move. I think that’s great. Plus, has all sorts of applications.

Rener Gracie: There we go.

Brett McKay: Another principle is the Kuzushi Principle. What does that look like on the mat and outside the mat?

Rener Gracie: Sure. Yeah. Kuzushi is the literal breaking of someone’s balance. That’s what it means, literally in Japanese. So the implications in jiu-jitsu are, I guess self-explanatory. We’re always trying to break the balance. If someone has a Pyramid Principle, they’re trying to maintain their balance. Kuzushi is the process of trying to destabilize someone else’s pyramid, if that makes sense. Now, one thing to understand about the Kuzushi principle is that you can’t break the balance without understanding the balance, if that makes sense. So you must first understand what makes something structurally sound to then be able to efficiently craft a counter-attack or a balance-breaking maneuver that would overcome their sound balance. That’s essentially the prerequisite. You can’t break the balance that you do not understand.

So the Kuzushi principle for me, as I consider its life application, I think of all the times where I sought first to understand, then to be understood, whether it’s business negotiations, whether it’s damage control with the customer service, whether it’s marriage or relationship with your parent, child, spouse. If you wanna be understood and win someone over to your way of thinking, you must first understand where are they? What constitutes their position right now, their balance, their base? What is the structure on which they’re standing? What is the ideas and the core beliefs on which their position has been taken? That’s really important. Otherwise, if you don’t know where they’re currently positioned, then your attempt to essentially break their balance, and not even in a negative way, even in a positive way, to guide their mentality and guide their beliefs towards one that more effectively relate to yours, you can’t do that unless you know where they’re at.

And we had a situation here where a mom named Myra, and her daughter, Miranda. Myra brought her daughter in for class. She was, I think 4 or 5 years old, young daughter. First day, first class in jiu-jitsu, and she had a terrible experience. The daughter came in. Nobody noticed that it was her first day, so she got paired up with another girl who wasn’t a great partner, and the mom was sweating bullets on the sidelines and was very frustrated that no one was there. And basically, everything we could have done wrong that first day, we did wrong. And I can say that confidently because we don’t do those mistakes anymore, and we actually run an incredible business and kids program. It’s one of our most successful programs. But that day, the instructor who was teaching let the ball drop, and as a result, this new little girl who was in the class, Miranda, had a negative experience. The mom went on Yelp and just shredded us with a one-star Yelp review.

So when I see this Yelp… I wasn’t in the class. I didn’t know the class was happening, I didn’t know she was in it, I didn’t know anything about it. I just saw the review. So when I saw that, I said, “Hey, I need to call this mom.” So I got the phone number from our reception staff, I called the mom and I said, “Myra, this is Rener from Gracie University.” We had never even met, because it was after her first class and I wasn’t there. I said, “I understand that you had a less than favorable introductory experience for your daughter, and I’d like to know about what happened from your perspective.” “Well, well. Well, thank you for calling. Well, I didn’t expect someone to call me, but yeah, I’m happy to share my experience.” Already, she was caught off-guard by my approach and by the fact that I truly wanted to understand where she was at before proposing any solutions or resolution to this. Forget all of that. “Where are you? And what happened? And how do you feel about it?” Started with her. And I’ll tell you, Brett, she opened up big time on her feelings, on what she perceived to be wrong with how the class was administered. Everything you could imagine, she shared with me.

And when she was done spilling everything… And she was not sharing this stuff with anger in her voice, she was sharing it as a concerned mother and someone who really wanted to provide profound feedback so that this wouldn’t happen to other families, and I really appreciated that perspective. And I think her energy was matching of mine. I was inquisitive because I wanted to learn and grow from this.

So at the end, I said, “Myra, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to share your thoughts on this experience. And because you’re sharing it, this will never happen to any other kid ever. Already after reading this, I’ve gotten ideas for how I wanna change how classes are administered so this never happens again.” I said, “But more importantly for right now, I feel like because of our mistakes, your daughter, who you wanted to empower with jiu-jitsu, didn’t get the introduction to jiu-jitsu that she deserved, and that’s the saddest part of all of this. What I propose, if you’ll accept it, is that I would like to give your daughter a one-on-one personal introduction to jiu-jitsu so that she can get the introduction she deserves and that you wanted for her. We can do that. And if you would like to join her in the class, you’re absolutely permitted to do that. I would be the one teaching the class, so I would love to have both there, if you would be willing.”

And she said, “Rener, I can’t believe it. This is so kind. I appreciate it. Of course, we would love that. In fact, the reason I brought my daughter is because I always wanted to do jiu-jitsu, but I never was able to when I was younger. So now that I’m a mom and I can afford to bring her, I’m bringing her because I was never able to. So I would love to do the class, and that’s amazing. You’re so kind.” So we did the class, and I brought one of my assistant instructors, Bobby, a female instructor of ours, into the class with me. So we taught two of us with two of them, had the best time, and at the end of the class, I said, “You guys, how did you like it?” “Oh my God, this was amazing. We wanna keep going. This is amazing.” I said, “Here’s what I’d like to do, I would like to sponsor your month, a full month of private classes with Bobby so that you guys can get off on the right start here and build a solid foundation of the basics in a personal one-on-one setting. And then after that, if you wanna go back and do the group classes with all the changes we’ve implemented, you’re gonna love them, you’re gonna do great. But I think classes with Bobby would be a great start.” They did that. They loved it. And they continued training, and life went on. And it turned a one-star Yelp review into a five-star Yelp review, and they turned into lifelong customers.

Brett McKay: So you threw that mom off balance by responding, and you did it… You responded really positively, or politely to her, to her negative review. ‘Cause nobody expects to have their negative review responded to, let alone responded to in such a positive manner. So you threw her expectations off. And then in doing so, you managed to turn something negative for your business, and for this person, into something positive. As you’re describing that, it seems like you did the Kuzushi principle with Shane as well. He had a foundation, and it might have been maladaptive, but it was working for him. And you had to figure out like, “Where is this guy at?” so that you could put him off balance in a positive way and get him on the mat. And it seems like this Kuzushi principle and the clock principle are connected. I imagine in jiu-jitsu, you have to maybe spend some time to figure out, “What’s this guy doing? Where is he at? What’s he got going on in this space so that I can put him off balance?” And that happens in life too. Sometimes… With this mother and daughter, it took some time. You had to use that clock principle so that you could get her off balance.

Rener Gracie: Yes, 100%. And you’re totally right in that many of these principles, they co-exist and they’re applied side by side. And sometimes, one technique will have four or five principles applied to it. That’s important to understand. Principles aren’t techniques. Techniques are techniques. Principles are principles. And one technique may consist of three, five principles in the same exact technique. And you’re totally right that there may be some degree of Kuzushi in dealing with Shane, and there may be some degree of the clock and velocity principle in how I dealt with Myra and Miranda. Totally, 100%. And there’s many of these stories in the book where we kinda highlight the main principle. But yes, just like you’re doing now, automatically, you start making your own connections and going, “Wow, that story also included sprinkled elements of these three other principles.” And when you start thinking about it in that way, you’ve become the principles of jiu-jitsu.

Brett McKay: All right, so let’s talk about one more principle, and that’s the River Principle. What does this look like?

Rener Gracie: Sure. Yeah, the River Principle is great. When the water is flowing down the river and the rock presents itself, the water doesn’t bother with where the rock is, it simply flows where the rock is not. In jiu-jitsu, this is so important, because so often, Brett, precisely what you have planned to do to your opponent is neutralized by the fact that they see it coming and they change their behavior to prevent your technique from being effective. And when that obstacle is presented, you have two choices; one is to confront that obstacle head on, clashing with it and try to overcome it with brute force, which is inefficient and easily preventable. Or when the obstacle presents itself, the immediate question should surface of, “Okay, great. One door closes, the other one opens. Where is the opportunity in adversity right now?” That’s it.

And if you think about people, organizations, nations, why is it that some people struggle and drown when faced with adversity, when we talk about a personal obstacle, an organizational setback, or a national health crisis, like COVID. Why is that some organizations suffer and drown while other organizations flourish and thrive when presented with the very same obstacle? Why is that the case? Because the individuals and organizations and nations that thrive tend to focus on what is the opportunity in that adversity, instead of focusing on the obstacle in that adversity. In jiu-jitsu, this is something I do every single day. When something doesn’t work, right away, my first question is, “Well, what opportunity is now available as a result of this previous opportunity no longer being available?” That’s it. That’s the first question. And it’s not even a conscious question, it’s a subconscious response to an obstacle. So what a beautiful concept to have learned and to reinforce in every day of practice on the mat, but even more so for life and business.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I think we’ve all experienced the River Principle in our lives at some point. I know I have. Like, when I… I think there’s moments where I hit some obstacle or challenge, and my initial response was just to like bang my head against the thing over and over again, thinking that my increased efforts will solve the problem. But I just ended up just beating myself down. And when I learned how to adapt to the obstacle, that’s when I started making progress again. And an example from my own life here is, I used to be really serious about powerlifting. It was my passion. I was supremely dedicated to it. But a few years ago, I started having some injuries, just from getting old and things like that. And my initial response was, I had to figure out how to make my regular powerlifting routine work. And I tried and I tried, and I just ended up… Caused me to just be frustrated. I eventually realized I gotta adapt to my new circumstance. So I’ve modified my training. I’m doing different lifts, but I’m still training for overall strength.

Well, Rener Gracie, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?

Rener Gracie: So the book, it publishes on August 22nd, and is available everywhere books are sold. If you wanna watch the introduction to the book, you can go to a website,, 32 spelt out as a number, not with the words or the letters. And you’ll see the video. You can watch the introduction. You can read the foreword. Jocko Willink, the Navy SEAL, former Navy SEAL and entrepreneur, author, extraordinaire, was kind enough to do the foreword for the book as a avid jiu-jitsu practitioner himself. And then of course, there’s links there to all the different platforms where you can easily purchase the book. And I love it, you guys. I appreciate the opportunity to come on here, Brett. Congrats on all the success over all these years. Been great to watch you guys grow as well. So thank you for the opportunity, Brett.

Brett McKay: Well, Rener Gracie, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Rener Gracie: My pleasure.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Rener Gracie. He’s the author of the book, The 32 Principles. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about the book at the website, Also check out our show notes at You can find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM Podcast. Make sure to check out our website at, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you can take one minute to give us a review on our podcast or Spotify. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing this show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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