While most people think of chokes and armbars when they
hear of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the martial art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu is much more
than simple grappling. In addition to defensive counters to a variety
of kicks and punches, a genuine Jiu Jitsu course-of-study includes strikes from
a variety of positions and ranges.
Because all of these strikes are illegal in
modern, sport Jiu Jitsu competitions, many practitioners overlook them in their
training or are completely unaware that they are part of the full-spectrum of
Jiu Jitsu techniques.
One of the most effective and versatile strikes of Gracie
Jiu Jitsu is the “pisao”. This is a
quick, thrusting kick to the opponents lead leg with very little “telegraphing”
movements to maintain the element of surprise.
The “pisao” from Jiu Jitsu may appear at first glance similar to the
side-kick from other martial arts (the Brazilian art of Capoeira has a Pisao
kick) but its particular “stomping” motion is meant not only as a percussive attack
but also as a vehicle to facilitate a quick entry to the clinch range.
The Pisao is used primarily for two purposes:
Defensive: as a harrying attack to
maintain the opponent at a manageable distance and to intercept or thwart the
Offensive: to break the opponent’s fighting rhythm
and enable the defender to close the distance safely.
When trying to stop an opponent from advancing, the
kick can be used defensively to undermine any incoming attack (punches, kicks, clinch
attempts). When the opponent’s attack
is interrupted mid-action, the defender can use the break in rhythm to close
the gap and clinch.
Pisao can be used repeatedly to arrest the opponent’s attempts to attack and can cause
enough frustration to force an error from the attacker.
However, the most common and effective use of the
Pisao kick is to utilize it proactively to cover the distance between two
fighters. In countless MMA,
No-Holds-Barred and “challenge matches”, members of the Gracie family and their
representatives can be seen using this kick to cover distance, clinch and takedown their
As the kick is executed at the knee or legs, the
opponent responds to the threat by either retreating, stopping his forward
momentum or pulling back on the lead leg.
The opponent’s reaction pauses his attack and compromises his base which
allows the half-beat necessary to close the distance and develop a full-control clinch.
Jiu Jitsu's function is self-defense. There are many ways to train and develop the
attributes and techniques to increase their effectiveness, including sportive
competition, but never lose sight of the original intent of Jiu Jitsu!
In this very rare VHS video (of degraded quality) one
can catch a glimpse of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu system being demonstrated by
Granmestre Helio Gracie and his son Royler Gracie. These are a small sampling of the techniques
taught in the Gracie Jiu Jitsu Fundamentals classes which cover the
foundational positions and principles that are applicable not just for
self-defense but as building blocks to further study of advanced positions and
scenarios including sport-competition techniques.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu has its roots in the ancient samurai arts
of Jiu Jitsu. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu
(practiced as Judo) was introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil around 1914
by Esai Maeda, who was also known as Conde Koma. Maeda was a champion of
Jiu-Jitsu and a direct student of Kano, at the Kodokan in Japan.
Helio Gracie, the youngest son of Gastão and
Cesalina Gracie's eight children soon
realized that due to his frail physique, most of the techniques he had learned
from watching his brother Carlos Gracie teach were particularly difficult for
him to execute. Eager to make the techniques work for him, he began modifying
them to accommodate his weak body. Emphasizing the use of leverage and timing
over strength and speed, Helio modified virtually all of the techniques and,
through trial and error, created Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
View the footage here:
Helio Gracie Jiu Jitsu footage
The ‘Gracie Invitation’ (or "Gracie Challenge") actually dates back as far as the 1920’s when Carlos Gracie first introduced the idea, but the footage shown in this video took place in 1975, still many years before the birth of the UFC and the explosion of mixed martial arts as a sport.
For the purpose of this 1970's Gracie Challenge contest in Brazil, the bouts were set at 10 minutes, and curiously the Karate team had stipulated before-hand that the fights should take place on tiles since they believed that would make it easier for them to stop takedowns or deter the Jiu Jitsu fighters from "going to the ground".
As it turned out, the entire series of fights lasted less than 10 minutes, and no one from the Karate team was able to stay on their feet, or indeed avoid being submitted.
Remarkably, the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu competitor in the video was just 13 years old, yet he was fighting in a NHB match against a grown man.
Nevertheless, the young student was easily able to take down his opponent and submit him by rear-naked choke.
Click here for video:
Gracie Jiu Jitsu vs Karate School
That blueprint would continue throughout the remainder of the match-ups, which saw the likes of the video’s narrator, Rorion, Relson and Rolls Gracie all comfortably finish their opponents by submission.
One of the great legends of Jiu Jitsu, Rickson Gracie, has been promoted to Red Belt. A title and belt shared by only a select few in the world.
This now earns him the title of Grandmaster Rickson Gracie. He is the son of Helio Gracie and is known for being undefeated with 400+ wins in MMA, with 0 losses.
He was promoted by Rorion Gracie, the man who founded the UFC and helped poplularize Jiu JItsu in the USA and the world. Rorion Gracie is one of the few people in the world that can bestow such an honor.
The practice of Jiu Jitsu involves lots of physical contact and very intimate ranges. Whether you are just learning new techniques, drilling or “rolling” (sparring), Jiu Jitsu requires close-quarters contact with another human being. It is one of the reasons that personal hygiene and proper care of your training gear (gi, kneepads) is often a preoccupation of practitioners and coaches alike.
Sure to come up at some point in your Jiu-Jitsu/Grappling journey is the discussion or experience of skin-borne infections. Some of these can be down-right dangerous in addition to scary (MRSA, for example) but the most common and easily treated is “ringworm”. Though this is actually a simple fungus, it is intimidating mostly because of its contagious nature, being passed easily from person to person.
- How to identify Ringworm.
It strikes such emotion and fear in the hearts of grapplers that many years ago, a war cry of a particular grappling team was to yell “Give’em the worm” as their teammates competed on the mats; a sort of “psychological warfare” to off-balance the opponent and put them on the defensive.
How to treat Ringworm and keep it from spreading.
Ringworm is deceptively named because it has nothing to do with a worm but is actually a fungus of same type as “athlete’s foot”. Ringworm causes a round-shaped scaly, crusted rash that can take a “ring-shape” at various stages. It does not always itch and may first start out as a vague, round shape. A physician would be able to identify the fungus by using a black light to view the affected area. The fungus will fluoresce (glow) under black light.
- Please don’t come to train. Stay off the mats!
If you even suspect that a skin infection you may have is fungal, PLEASE stay off the mat. It may be hard to accept this small break in training but ringworm is very contagious and you will not only spread the infection but delay the eradication of your own condition. Fungal spores spread further than just where you can see the tell-tale ring pattern. Do NOT just cover up the ringworm lesion you can see and come to train. You will still spread the fungus.
- Treat the ringworm immediately
The longer you wait to begin treatment the longer it will take to get rid of it. Several very effective over-the-counter anti-fungal creams are available and even stronger ointments can be obtained with prescription.
Continue using the anti-fungal cream for at least one week after the actual ringworm pattern is gone. Even after the infection appears to be no longer visible, the spores can still be dormant.
How to “Ringworm Proof” yourself.
- Shower after EVERY training!
No matter how tired and spent you are after a hard training session, do not ever, under any circumstances, skip a shower! Use a good quality bodywash (see below) or tea-tree oil based soap. It is not uncommon for Jiu Jitsu friends to go and eat and be merry after training but at the very least, wash your hands, arms, face and neck with good soap until you can get to a proper full-body shower later.
- Change/Wash Clothes, Gi and Bedsheets
If you are not already washing your gi, rashguard, kneepads, etc. after every training session, then you are being part of the problem! But once you actually identify that you have ringworm, also wash all your bedsheets and make sure to not re-wear any clothing form one day to the next.
- Jiu Jitsu Body Wash
A little gem of folk-wisdom I picked up while training in Brazil: Training in Rio gets hot and sweaty quickly. In the early days of Jiu Jitsu, going “sim kimono” (no gi) meant shedding the gi-top and forgoing the now-ubiquitous rash-guard. I learned that fighters (especially those training two sessions a day) would shower immediately after coming off the mats using a mentholated dandruff shampoo (like Selsun Blue).
The post training routine involves using this medicated shampoo as a body and hair wash, then allowing it to dry for a few minutes in the shower, before washing it off. Though the process may seem unscientific at first, it is good to note that the fungus that causes dandruff (Malassezia globosa) and the ringworm fungus can be considered cousins sharing many of the same characteristics. Try this simple home-remedy bodywash as a preventive measure or to supplement another anti-fungal prescriptive regimen.
If Jiu Jitsu can be truly called the game of Human Chess, then the choke is the ultimate checkmate. On the chessboard, the Mata Leao Choke (or “Lion Killer”) would be, as the name implies, the King (or King Slayer). As the patriarch of the Gracie Family, Granmestre Helio Gracie once said “For the choke, there are no ‘tough guys’.. .with an arm lock he can be tough and resist the pain.. With the choke he just passes out, goes to sleep.”
The choke takes its name from the tale of Hercules and his battle with the Nemean Lion of the impenetrable skin. Having discovered that this gigantic lion was impervious to sword or arrow, Hercules grappled the lion and choked it by wrapping the beast’s neck in his mighty arms. Though some of the contemporary Greek art depicts the stranglehold as something more akin to a modern Guillotine Choke, many artifacts depict a choke from the rear of the colossal lion.
The choke is often called the “Rear Naked Choke” or RNC as a translation from the Japanese hadaka jime which means “naked choke” (i.e. a choke not requiring the gi or kimono). It is important to note that what makes this choke effective and relatively safe is that the pressure is applied to the carotid arteries and not to the windpipe. It is blood flow restriction and not airflow restriction that brings about the incapacitation.
Not unlike the scenario faced by the mythological hero, to be successful at applying this choke requires sound knowledge of both proper positioning of the arms and achievement of positional dominance. Once this choke is locked in, unconsciousness is inevitable for the recipient.
Law Enforcement will often use a modified standing version of the Mata Leao or RNC that deemphasizes the role of the secondary hand but can still use the same pressure to induce loss of consciousness by safely constricting blood flow to the brain (not by constricting air flow). The “Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint” used by law enforcement uses the same principles to reach SAFE incapacitation.
Every finishing attack (submission) requires, in simplest terms, two key elements:
- Positional Dominance: management of the opponent’s body to allow maximum amount of attack pressure (to pin or control) and deny space for defense.
- Submission: Pain or incapacitation via Leverage and/or Pressure at the Fulcrum/Point.
1) Whether done from standing or from the ground, the Back Mount position must be first achieved. If on the ground, both feet must be turned into hooks that engage and lock to your opponent’s inner thighs to monitor and control his movement as he tries to turn into, away or stand up from the control.
2) Whether from standing or on the ground the SEAT BELT must be achieved. The arms are locked around the opponent’s shoulder and underarm with your upper chest sealed tight to their upper back in a position called the “Seat Belt” (like a car seat belt that traverses from shoulder to under the arm). Your chin is locked over your opponents shoulder.
This differs from the Law Enforcement “Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint” which is often initiated from standing with the head locked behind the shoulder/head and is used to bring suspect down to the ground in a controlled and safe position.
You can choose to maintain the Seat Belt Control position and opt not to choke your opponent or develop another submission from this position (i.e. Sliding Collar Choke, which can also be applied on a jacket or coat).
Note: the lower arm (“Underarm Hand”) should grip the “Over-the-Shoulder Arm” and not vice-versa. This allows you to still develop the Mata Leao when the opponent rips down your lower arm.
The arm positioning is critical in creating an air-tight seal for your opponent’s neck. From the Seat Belt Grip the “Over-the-Shoulder Arm” wraps around to the opponents far shoulder (not, as is often incorrectly executed, with the hand to your own bicep). Once your elbow is lined up under your opponents chin and with the centerline of his face, the secondary hand (the “Underarm Hand”) comes behind the opponents head. At this point the hand that is wrapped around the neck can reach for your bicep or even better your shoulder.
The opponent’s head is pushed forward with your rear hand and head while the arm flexes to apply pressure to both SIDES of the neck (at the carotid arteries).
Unconsciousness is reached for most between 6-15 seconds. Most people revive safely on without assistance almost as soon as Mata Leao pressure is relaxed or within 30 seconds.
You know this choke is being applied correctly to you if you are not feeling pain at your trachea or Adams Apple and you will know you are executing it correctly when your opponent taps painlessly or goes to sleep in your arms.
The long and arduous path to a Jiu Jitsu Black Belt is often compared to the academic track of an advanced university degree. The level of commitment, dedication and stick-to-it-ness needed are equal to if not greater than someone completing their PhD or pursuing a medical profession.
But many drop off this vaunted track before reaching their goal, never understanding why they did not progress through each “degree” (academic or Jiu Jitsu rank) and not realizing they sabotaged themselves through their own ignorance.
If you are not progressing through the ranks at a pace that you expect (especially in a modern age of instant-gratification), then you should self-monitor these important aspects of both academic and martial arts degree graduations.
1) Class Attendance- this does NOT just mean time “enrolled” in the course (like wine aging in the bottle). It means come to class and doing what needs to be done. (example: if one person has attended class 160 times in the last 5 months, you should not expect the same results or “grade” with only 40 classes in the same time period). In all academic coursework (and public education) attendance requirements are stipulated and required.
2) Knowledge of Standards – there is no mystery as to what you are expected to know and understand. All good teachers and courses provide the standards and expectations from day one. “Cramming” the information at the last moment has been proven ineffective in all areas of study, so learn your curriculum progressively.
3) Assessment – this means knowing the standards and when/how to apply them. There are different levels of expectations for every grade, but you either know them or need to work on them. A good instructor tells you what areas need help but it’s your job to do the work.
4) Benchmarks – comprehensive assessments at periodic intervals (ie. trainings/seminars). Some courses (ie academies) only offer a high-stakes pass/fail final. Others have mid-terms, tests, quizzes, etc. You may personally prefer one or the other but you don’t get to just “skip” it because you don’t like it and expect to graduate.
5) Tuition does not equal graduation – unless it is what is referred to as a “for-profit university”, don’t expect to magically get your diploma just because your tuition check cleared. Quality schools expect quality work. (ie same for academies).
Before asking your professor (at university or the dojo) if you are ready for promotion/graduation, evaluate your own performance and progress using these criteria.
On Saturday Oct 11th, 2014 Mestre Royler Gracie conducted another great seminar at Gracie Humaita North Carolina in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. Prof. Armando Basulto had over 40 Jiu Jitsu devotees on the mats to learn from the master himself on his annual visit.
Among the promotions that Mestre Royler presided over that day was a very special one. Christine Basulto, Prof. Armando’s wife and student of over 15yrs, was awarded her Black Belt in front of all present. This makes her the only Gracie Humaita Female Black Belt in the state of North Carolina and one of the few women Black Belts in the world who were promoted directly by Mestre Royler Gracie.
Royler Gracie addressed the assembled students to comment on Christine’s long-time commitment through the years and challenges. Christine had maintained her training and discipline through the birth of twin boys, graduate school degrees, work-related responsibilities and all while administrating the Basulto Academy of Defense full-time.
It is said that the Thousand Mile Journey begins with one step. Christine began training with Prof. Basulto not long after they met and married 20 years ago. As a NYC inner-city schoolteacher who had to travel late-night alone through-out the city, she was motivated to learn an effective martial art. At the original Basulto Academy of Defense in New Jersey, she was the only woman on the mats for many of her formative Jiu Jitsu years.
Christine was a Silver Medalist at the 1999 Royler Gracie Championships and was also a competitive kick boxer, being a member of the 2002 USA Savate Team to fight in Belgium (coached by Prof. Armando). When the couple moved to North Carolina to raise their newborn twins, she continued to train as often as she could while the new academy was established.
Today at Gracie Humaita North Carolina, Christine has assumed a leadership role, helping to develop women’s participation in the “arte suave” and organizing Women’s Self-Defense Seminars and running specialized “Women’s Training Nights” at the academy. Now the academy boasts a range of women fighters ranging from yellow belts to purple belts, all taking their first steps on their personal Thousand Mile Journey.
To those uninitiated in martial arts or those uninformed about real-world combative skills, the seemingly inferior position of a Jiu Jitsu player fighting off his back using his legs to control, entrap, submit or reverse an attacker seems a baffling way to handle an opponent.
When the Gracie Family created the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) to showcase their art to the world, the general public watched with amazement as Royce Gracie fought, defeated and submitted several larger, stronger martial artists of various disciplines while fighting off of his back using a position called The Guard.
Master Carlos Gracie, Jr. explained the strategy and tactics of The Guard by using the analogy of a castle’s defensive walls:
“The Guard is like a fortress of a castle, a construction that gives security to Jiu Jitsu. He who has a solid wall to defend himself is better prepared for war. …From the top of the wall he can post his offensive arsenal.”
But The Guard is not intended as a place to simply hold and squeeze an opponent. In fact, letting the pace settle into a stalemate when an aggressive opponent is trying to attack will always leave the defender one step behind.
“But there is the possibility of lowering the drawbridge. You choose whether to fight with the bridge low or high. In a war the wisest path is to start the battle with the walls, completely blocking off your enemy.
"In the closed guard you are fighting with the opponent outside the walls. If the guy opens your guard, he lowers your bridge. It’s the threshold position, which obviously demands a new strategy."
"If he invades – that is, if he passes your guard and gets to the side – the battle starts developing inside your domain with you in a much more exposed position. It's gonna demand three times as much force to defend, but it doesn’t mean there’s no way out.”
One of the main tenets of Jiu Jitsu is becoming “comfortable in the uncomfortable.” Developing your Guard game, tactically and strategically, will take you past the level of mere survival and into the realm of victory.
Many years ago, while practicing a particularly complex move with a partner, the Master said to me, “One side will teach the other.” I assumed at first that he meant that my partner and I would help each other to learn the technique well. This was not the case at all. What the master was actually instructing me to do was to practice and internalize the technique on one side of my body before attempting to master it on the other side. The process of deconstructing a technique in order to learn it properly prepares the brain and body to review it and “teach” it to the other side of the brain/body.
There is very real proof of this phenomenon as documented by brain science studies and is referred to as Bilateral Skill Transfer. This refers broadly to the transfer of a skill learned on one side of the body to the other. For example, the acquisition of a particular skill involving the left side of the body (i.e. a Jiu Jitsu sweep, a boxing combination, etc) is accelerated if that skill set has already been mastered on the right side.
Think about the various ways that Bilateral Skill Transfer can be utilized in your training.
Apply this knowledge to avoid missing training due to injury; instead of completely exempting yourself from training, modify your practice to drilling and learning a skill on the “other side”. Forcing your brain/body to learn and practice a skill on the other (less dominant) side will actually benefit the injured side during the hiatus. Studies have even shown a transfer of strength bilaterally when training/practicing a skill on the uninjured side.
Tactically, mastering any combat skill bilaterally makes you an even more formidable opponent. Whether for competition or for self-defense, forcing your opponent to have to defend from completely different angles while maintaining your familiarity in defending from both sides gives a powerful strategic advantage. Since the majority of the population is right-side dominant and trained for mastery on that side, being able to attack as a “southpaw” is like having a secret weapon up your sleeve.
Since Lefties are so rare, opponents do not face them regularly and therefore have a very shallow "movement database" for reference. This gives southpaws what scientists call a “negative frequency dependent advantage”.
At the foil fencing competition in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the entire six man pool of fencers in the finals was left-handed. French scientists Charlotte Faure and Michel Raymond have analyzed and found that there are higher rates of left-handedness in native societies with more hand to hand combat. Their studies have hypothesized that natural selection preserves a certain amount of left handiness, particular in males, as a combat advantage.
Some skill sets have particularities that require adjustments when transferring a technique or tactic from the dominant side to the weak side. For example, a Jiu Jitsu sweep may require an adjustment in grips and a punching/kicking combination may require different angling when facing an opponent in an “unmatched lead”.
When learning a new technique it is always better to concentrate all your energy on perfecting the set of movements and make adjustments on your dominant side. As the technique begins to reach the proficiency of “thoughtless automaticity”, then you should begin the process of having your dominant side teach your weaker side the technique. You may be surprised, in fact, to discover that your “off side” ends up being smoother and more effective since it has benefited from the Bilateral Skills Transfer.