Drawing on her family legacy, Rose Gracie is on a mission to return tournament jiu-jitsu back to its purest roots, with submission only wins and random drug testing.
Rose, tell us about your background in Jiu-Jitsu as a Gracie family member.
I always knew of jiu jitsu being part of our lives. I don’t think I realized until I was much older the impact and the greatness behind it. My dad (Rorion) moved to the US when I was very young with the goal of bringing Jiu-Jitsu to America. Because my dad was always gone I was able to spend a great deal of time with my grandpa Helio. I remember he would tell me bedtime stories where he would always somehow be the superhero with jiu-jitsu powers. There was one particular story that was my favorite and it was about how he had jumped off a boat into the ocean to save a man and several sharks came to attack him and one by one he would armlock choke or triangle them and one by one he would defeat those sharks by using his jiu-jitsu “powers”. He would give me very specific details of the moves. That was my first jiu-jitsu “lesson”.
I began to learn the moves from a very young age and we would play jiu-jitsu. I grew up going to the academy and helping my grandpa with the washing of the gi’s on the weekends. But I would also go to the competitions and help out at those events too. I ate, slept and lived jiu-jitsu. I had a very happy childhood and I consider myself very lucky to be part of such a complex and amazing family.
How have you seen Jiu jitsu change over the years? What do you think your Grandfather would have to say about where jiu-jitsu is at today?
I am not sure what is going on today with jiu-jitsu but this is not what my Grandfather envisioned . My grandfather had expressed his dissatisfaction while he was alive by changing his belt from red to blue. Some people have somehow transformed the art and philosophies of jiujitsu into a commercialized product that is so far beyond it’s original application and intent that jiu-jitsu today is unrecognizable in comparison to its predecessor. People need to stop complicating jiu-jitsu. With the “evolution” of Jiu-Jitsu they have created so many guards like the 50/50, the spider guard and its all stupid and it does not work in a real fight! I mean, they put out a DVD series on how to pass the spider guard , or the secrets of the spider guard and spider guard concepts….. For real? People are training jiu-jitsu to score points on a competition, so competition is the focus and they may not even teach their students how to defend a heel hook because it’s not an allowed technique in a competition. Lots of what works to win tournaments would not work well in the streets. Jiu-Jitsu is a simple form of self-defense. Men, women and children can all benefit from it. It gives you confidence and it changes your life.
Tell us about The Gracie Nationals:
I have done this competition for the last 4 years with a steady growth on the number of competitors, last year we had 735. I wanted to put on an event that has meaning, an event that keeps the art true to its roots. One day I was talking to one of my Grandpa’s black belts and my personal confidant Pedro Valente from Gracie Miami where he follows my Grandfather’s philosophies like no one else, and somehow he told me what I needed to do. It was like someone had opened a window of possibilities for me. It was surreal. The fact that I could potentially bring my Grandfather’s jiu-jitsu back to life was very inspiring and I never looked back.
People forget that I am only running these events once a year so our tournament is still young and every year it gets better. There is so much going on. It’s so complex and intense all the work and preparation but I would not change it for the world. Aside from the almost “parental” support I receive from the Los Angeles Fitness Expo Staff, I have a growing team that I could do nothing without and I am very happy with our direction.
We took a good look at the current Jiu-Jitsu and grappling competitions. We picked out our likes and dislikes and recreated this event with our vision in mind. It was imperative to me that the outcome of the match was entirely up to the athlete himself and I definitely did not want to use points because the competitors mindset is completely different when points are involved. I would rather see guys that want to test themselves under these rules and have some fun with it.
Since I took points away, I am allowing a lot more submissions depending on their belt level and for the black belts everything goes from slamming to heel hooks but I doubt that many of them, if any, will sign up.
This year we are paying homage to Grandmaster Francisco Mansur and it is the first time that a person with the last name Gracie is not headlining our event. Mansur is considered as part of my family, an uncle to so many of us. He is a 9th degree red belt and one of my grandpa’s black belts and close friends. It is interesting that Mansur was one of the pioneers on writing the rules that are in place right now – rules that have gone too far. He is a figure in this sport that many people don’t know about but absolutely should for his contribution to jiu-jitsu. I am very pleased and honored to be able to introduce him to so many people that will get to meet him at the Los Angeles Fitness Expo (January 28-29, 2012 at the Los Angeles Convention Center).
The Gracie Kids World Championships format has also been completely re-designed. The goal is that no kids leave the tournament with any sense of defeat. I saw an event that Pedro Valente ran in his school in Miami. All kids get out of there as winners and no one “looses”. We both agree that kids 14 and under should not experience that feeling so all kids get to compete against each other and get out of there with more experience than any other competitions. My grandfather’s belief was that as an instructor you should never put your student in a “bad situation”. It is a lot of pressure for these kids to go in and experience defeat in front of thousands of people and their families. I am certain that some of the people that don’t understand what my goals are in here will probably not have the interest in competing but I think that I will get a lot of kids that never compete coming in. It will be a big fun day for all of them so I am ok with it. My girls Railey and Raifa will compete for the first time this year and this will be amazing!
You are pioneering drug testing at your tournament. Please tell us about that.
A couple of years ago Caio Terra told me about competitors juicing for tournaments and I felt like someone had punched me right in the stomach. Apparently it has been going on for a while and I was literally the last to get the “memo” on it.
I am hoping to run random tests for performance enhancing drugs and right now I haven’t decided if I will use a lab to do it on the week before the event (that is why I am closing registration the week before) or if I will do on the spot urine sampling. I am more inclined to do it the week before so I can disqualify the abuser before he even steps on the mat. I am hoping that with me enforcing these rules, other promoters will follow and do the right thing and hopefully it will take this ugly cloud away from our sport. Or at least help manage it.
What advice do you give students as they prepare for a tournament?
Usually I tell them “Just play the game… You’re not getting hit in the face so it’s not that bad!” Stick to the game plan and most important HAVE FUN! The fact of the matter is that the only two things that can happen are either you will win, or you will learn. For the kids I just tell them to go have fun and make a new friend.
Where can JiuJitsuMania.com fans go to find out more information about your tournament?