On July 6 2017 the Jiu-Jitsu world got to witness a truly spectacular moment in Martial Arts history.
The promotion of Rickson Gracie to Red Belt. The Red Belt is the highest rank and honor anyone can achieve in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and it can be argued that after Helio Gracie, no one has done more for the art of Jiu-Jitsu then Rickson.
Regarded by other family members as the Champion of the Gracie Family, he retired in 2000, undefeated in Jiu-Jitsu and MMA competition. Technically, I don’t think anyone would disagree on the scale and depth of Rickson’s knowledge in Jiu-Jitsu. He’s known by the best teachers as the Masters Master. I myself have seen him teach multiple time world champions how to do beginner level techniques more effectively and with so much precision it’s almost as if they had never seen the technique before. This happens with so much frequency that it’s common for many highly accomplished black belts to mention they felt like a white belt, like they were just a beginner in comparison to Rickson. Besides being a teacher and inspiration to many of the greats in Jiu-Jitsu, Rickson also produced such influential instructors as Marcelo Behring, Fabio Santos, Jorge Pereira and Pedro Sauer.
I’m sure most of the people that watched his promotion would agree with all the Black, Coral and Red belts that came out to surprise him and be present for the historical moment that no one deserves to wear the Red Belt more than Rickson.
It was definitely a joyous moment for me to see my instructor being acknowledged in such a way, surrounded by family friends and students, but something that I was even more proud of was seeing how in that moment Rickson epitomized the qualities of what it is to be a martial artist.
BEING IN SERVICE OF OTHERS
The humility that Rickson showed when being presented with the Red Belt was apparent to everyone watching. With all of his personal accomplishments in Jiu-Jitsu, he is considered by many, even to this day, to be the greatest Jiu-Jitsu practitioner of all time. What Roger Gracie did to Buchecha, I was fortunate enough to witness first hand Rickson doing the same to countless black belts and world champions, many of whom have given their own personal accounts. Yet he did not want the belt… He felt he was not yet ready to receive the honor even though many would agree that Rickson is a special case.
He said he did not want to be treated different than anybody else regardless of his lifelong dedication and by his count he was still a few years from being able to receive that honor.
In explaining his thoughts on receiving the belt, he spoke about the promotion system and how the system should be fair to all. He mentioned it would not be an issue for him to wear any belt including demoting or taking stripes off the belt he currently wears as long as it was an agreed upon standard that would treat everyone equally. This has been a big mission of his work with the federation he recently created, the JJGF or Jiu-Jitsu Global Federation. Creating a system of promotion with integrity so that all people who have dedicated their time to promoting, sharing and passing on the art of Jiu-Jitsu are treated equally.
To back up his reasoning for not wanting to accept the belt he mentioned he received his Black Belt in 1977 at the age of 18 and had been a Black Belt now for 40 years. After explaining the years necessary for each stripe he was honest and told all those present he felt the Red Belt was being presented to him 5 years prematurely.
The dedication he had and still has to representing, perfecting and passing on Jiu-Jitsu is without measure. Many times he has said to me he is willing to die to show and prove the effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu. This was his sole purpose for fighting, and he back up his words with Vale Tudo (no rules) fights in Brazil, tournaments in Japan where he would fight 3 opponents in one night regardless of weight and challenge matches at the Academy. Always willing to take on the toughest of challenges many times even while injured has left him chronically injured and in pain. Yet still his passion for sharing Jiu-Jitsu and helping others outweighs his own well being. You can see many times in the video footage Rickson being bent over in discomfort. Those not close to him may not know he suffers from such severe back pain that sometimes he stretches for up to 2 hour in the morning just to walk around and at his seminars many times he is limping around to help attendees. This is from years of putting his body on the line to prove the effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu. It’s amazing to me how he continues to dedicate his life to Jiu-Jitsu even when he’s already given so much.
Even though he felt he was not ready for the belt and it would not be right for him to accept it, he eventually gave into the persuasion and pressure from his brothers Royler and Rorion. The one undeniable thing all the brothers have in common is the great love and reverence for their father Helio, who many consider the largest contributor to the evolution of the traditional Japanese art of Jiu-Jitsu into Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Not only for his development of the techniques but more so for his philosophy and strategies of applying the techniques. This is one of the major differences between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and other grappling arts and why many practitioners consider Helio the founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Since Helio’s passing Rickson now recognizes Rorion as the head of the family and against his better judgment accepted Rorion’s decision out of respect for his family lineage. In the video Rorion tells Rickson he has to accept the belt because he says so (as head of the family) and also because if their father were there he would’ve wanted the same. You see Rickson give Rorion and Royler a kiss on the cheek and get emotional at the mention of their father. At the end Rickson says the decision to award him the belt is superior to his position and so he reluctantly accepts out of reverence for his father and Rorion’s position as head of the family.
In his closing speech Rickson became quite emotional, coming to tears when he spoke about restoring the self defense mentality to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. His mission and the purpose for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has always been to empower the weak. I’ve heard people ask many times, how come Rickson has not created world champions. Something Rickson always used to say to me was that was not his mission or purpose in teaching Jiu-Jitsu. He said to make a guy who’s already an athlete and tough into a champion is easy for him, it wouldn’t take much. His mission was always to help the small and the weak, like his father. If he could train a small weak guy to survive against a bigger stronger tougher opponent, then that would make him happy and fulfill him. This was always something important to Rickson, using Jiu-Jitsu as a tool to help others, being in service to those who are weaker. That message had a huge impact on me and the more I teach and train the more I see Jiu-Jitsu’s potential to help people. I believe this is a core principle of training Martial Arts, to help us become better human beings. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about spreading the art myself.
In closing I want to congratulate Rickson my teacher, although he doesn’t need it at all, but more importantly thank him for his dedication to Jiu-Jitsu, for being willing to die to test its effectiveness in combat, and for embodying and showing us all what it truly means to be a Martial Artist.