Posts Tagged ‘Helio Gracie’



Sunday, June 1st, 2014 the workshop that I have been wanting to do for years is finally coming to fruition. I can’t guarantee that your jiu-jitsu will rise to another level, but what I am sharing is the collection of what I consider to be the drills, insights and advice that has had the most impact in my jiu-jitsu life. Whether you are just starting out in the art or are a seasoned practitioner, the information in this workshop will benefit you, help you thrive or just get that plateau you might be on.

Date: Sunday, June 1st, 2014
Time: 1:00 – 3:00pm
Cost: $45
Instructor: Eli Knight

Register: Call: 270.519.3160 | Email: | Come by Three Rivers Martial Arts Academy


There’s always that question, particularly in Jiu-Jitsu, of whether the belt someone is awarded is legitimate. This question isn’t asked the same way in other arts because the criteria are different and in Jiu-Jitsu there is more of a hang up on who can tap who. Is it all about that? If you get that purple belt, should you be able to tap any blue belt? If you are a brown belt and can tap a black belt, do you automatically deserve your black? Does it depend on size or strength combined with technique? Is there a simpler answer?

Technique conquers all. I believe that. But the technique doesn’t guarantee victory. All things being equal, equal technique and experience, the bigger or stronger or faster opponent will typically come out on top. You shouldn’t be expected to best a 250 pound athlete of a purple belt if you are a 150 pound purple belt. So the performance basis of any martial art, Jiu-Jitsu included has a cap on it.

Furthermore, shouldn’t the “art” aspect be considered? The philosophy. The principles behind the technique and the knowledge you gain are benefits of the study and practice that potentially carry on further than even the techniques themselves. Just as in yoga, self-study or self-reflection is a premise of the journey, Jiu-Jitsu likewise should be approached with concern toward the character development of the practitioner. This hits closer to the heart of the questions posed in the beginning.

Here is what I have surmised as one of the most important considerations in progression in Jiu-Jitsu: it’s not a matter of are you better than anyone else, it is whether you are better than the you the you were. Can you tap the yesterday you? The last week or last month you? Do you have a more refined lens or approach to training than the previous you?

Can Buchecha tap Relson Gracie? I’m gonna say most likely. Maybe not, but I’d put my money on Buchecha. So why not give Buchecha the red belt? Let’s pose a different question. Who can teach the most people a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jiu-jitsu? Who can show someone the most versatile of movements for a multitude of situations to the most diverse individuals with varied levels of physical ability? Now my money goes on Relson.

So again, Jiu-Jitsu wins, because it’s not about just a few criteria. A true professor in my estimation, watches students closely and insightfully, considering many aspects of their ability and character. I understand that there are schools and teachers who only award rank based on performance in fights or tournaments. “You got a gold medal? Here’s your next stripe.” “You got a rear naked in your mma fight? Here’s your brown belt.” Sad to see.

I’d rather put a stripe on the belt of the kid who looked the bully in the eye for the first time in his academic life than on the belt of the kid who was already an athlete in five other sports and is now tearing up all the grappling tournaments. That guy who could barely tie his shoes because he was so overweight and now can roll for half an hour – that’s the guy I admire. Again, I admit, I love watching uber talented athletes do miraculous things on the mat or in the ring, but they are not half of the hero as the woman who stopped the sexual assault that was about to happen to her.

So while you have to be able to perform the techniques with understanding and appropriate proficiency, and you should be able to defend yourself easily with these techniques against your physical equal of an opponent, these are but partial criteria in considering ranking qualifications in Jiu-Jitsu. Personal growth and development, and as Grandmaster Helio said, the triumph of human intelligence over brute strength, these all should be considerations in determining rank.

This isn’t always the case. And these are my opinions. And these are my convictions.


Sometimes I want to shout at people, “Do you know how lucky you are?!” This is for several reasons, but as it applies here, about having a place and ability to train.

Not to sound like the curmudgeon old man saying “back in my day…” but really, that’s how I feel sometimes. Having traveled all over the country to train with anyone and everyone I could when first starting BJJ, I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have a huge academy with multiple black belts where Royce Gracie comes to visit! Yet, that is what our students have now at the academy where I and other Jiu-Jitsu brethren teach. Crazy.

But, other days I get it. If you don’t know anything about martial arts, and you hear that there is a black belt on every corner (in Karate or TKD or whathaveyou), you may not see the value. Or you may hear the price tag and think, “but I can join the health club down the road for like $40 a month! Why pay $100 or more for BJJ?” If you teach or even train at an academy that is worth anything at all, you feel my frustration with people for not understanding or appreciating what they have near them. So I will offer some ideas I have heard and come up with on my own over the years to combat ignorance.

First, let me address the price tag. For those who argue that lessons cost too much…compared to what? Seriously? If you haven’t trained, don’t know the benefits, you have no basis of comparison and therefore no grounds on which to argue. Second, look at what you currently spend your money on. If you skip a few fast food trips, cut out the overpriced coffee, get rid of an indulgent unhealthy habit or two, then you will easily come up with the $4 a day it takes to pay for BJJ training. I said $4 a day! Additionally, by cutting out those costly bad habits you doubly improve your health consciousness when you consider that you’ve replaced an unhealthy habit for a healthy lifestyle choice.

Next, the difference between training Jiu-Jitsu and training at McDojo’s Martial Arts Emporium down the road with their 50 black belts. Black belts are not easily acquired in BJJ. You can go into most Karate and Tae Kwon Do schools and sign a contract virtually guaranteeing you a black belt at the end of a length of time. Show up, memorize some forms and terminology, never having to test out your skills in any realistic capacity, you can still get a black belt…when you’re about 12 years old or younger.

I have never taken a test for a single belt or even stripe under Royce Gracie. If he felt like I had improved since last he saw me, he would tell me to put a stripe on my belt. Sometimes this would be a while. I never know when the rank is coming, so I am concerned only with training and improving for the sake of the art and my own benefit. I don’t disagree with those instructors who conduct tests for their students. I even see some value in it. Regardless or testing or not, you are guaranteed that you will have to improve, stay fit and able, and be sure you can make the techniques actually work. This makes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (particularly Gracie Jiu-Jitsu) one of the most realistic martial arts out there. I would say the most realistic, but I will concede that there are others possibly. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

What’s more, you may find those saying they are not very concerned with self-defense, that they stay fit and healthy on their own, and that they have other hobbies. That is all well and good. But, my friend, have you even tried Jiu-Jitsu? For so many, it is a lifestyle that makes you want to move and learn and eat well and live better in every conceivable way! Why not try something that has those potential effects? And you may need to remind these people of the idea that, while there may be no good reason in the world to fight, there is every reason in the world to know how to fight! Oh, you have a gun for self-defense you say? You got it on you right now? At every second of every day? Because that is how often I have my Jiu-Jitsu with me.

BJJ may not be for everyone (I believe everyone can benefit from it however), so I don’t go out proselytizing all over the place. But I do speak my mind and share my knowledge and passion where those seeking more information may find me. I hope the aforementioned ideas might help you convince someone to give training a chance too.


Firstly, this isn’t a religious post, except in the fact that jiu-jitsu is a deeply religious thing for me. Rather, I’m referring to having faith in the training, in the technique, in the realization that all will come when you are ready for it.

The first truly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique I ever learned was a half guard pass. I had virtually no context for it. It had never come up in a fight and I hadn’t realized what it was if it occurred in training prior to learning it. I repped it out and listened to the explanation for it but it wouldn’t be accessible to me for some time.

Finally, probably 2 or more years later I found the exact right scenario and that technique, which I thought I had forgotten by then, came to the surface. I was ready for it! Has this ever happened to you?

This is one of those beautiful jiu-jitsu epiphony, metaphorical moments of clarity, when it all makes sense again. When the roll speaks to you, you understand it to be the truth because it proves its inherent value in the moment perfectly. There are of course other moments in life when the pieces fall into place, but jiu-jitsu is so often times complex and chaotic yet formulaic and precise, that it seems to hold an equation up to the universe and say “See! This is how it works!”

Sorry for the philosophical rant, but that’s the nature of the thing. If you dismiss a move as not useful, either in itself or just for you, you miss out on the possibility that maybe you were simply not ready for it. It happens the other route as well. For example, the white belt who has “mastered” the upa escape and now only relies on the elbow escape because the upa is “too basic.” Or then there is the intermediate student who “needs another sweep” because everyone has caught on to his standard sweeps. It is simply a matter of readiness and appropriateness. So then the statement above could equally say, “If it isn’t happening for you, the situation isn’t appropriate for it.” Same meaning.

The answer, to me, is a matter of having faith that if the technique is trained enough, it will work for you when you are ready. Or that you will reach a moment when the situation is apporpriate and you were able to apply it to the situation. The only missing ingredients then, are a lens for determining if the technique is sound in itself (which comes with time), and the patience to stick it out and develop proficiency and ability with the technique (which takes faith.

Now go train!

If you want to understand something completely, study its inverse. This is the idea behind reverse engineering and can be seen in so many things we become proficient with, if even subconsciously. More simply put: if you want to be a good writer, read a lot. If you want to be good at winning, you have to be prepared to lose a lot.

Jiu-Jitsu is a beautiful illustration of this principle because the more you get caught in chokes and locks, the better you become at them. When you get caught in a certain choke 5, 10, 200 times, you tend to notice the patterns of what lead to it and what your opponent did to secure it. Next, you notice that you get caught less and less by that choke. Finally, you begin to notice where you have opportunities to set up the choke yourself. Eventually, you become proficient in the execution of that choke. Beautiful!

Many things work like this. I imagine that if I (with admittedly no mechanical inclination or aptitude) were to dissemble and reassemble a car enough times, I would be able to troubleshoot it issues with that car and take measures to improve its performance. So I could become a mechanic in that way. Or exchange “car” for “human” and I could in that way, given enough time and resources become a medical professional. With instruments, a musician; with paints, an artist, etc.

Why jiu-jitsu works as such a brilliant elucidation of this, however, is that there is a sense of urgency that makes your mind and body fire rapidly, enhancing this experience and fast-tracking the analysis process. The techniques and positions with which I am most proficient were all born out of necessity and repetition, whether voluntary or involuntary.

So what to do with this information? What I have learned to do is tap. If I want to get better at a move, I find someone who can do it and let them catch me, with me offering different levels of resistance or defense to the move. If I want to be adept at a move that no one around me is versed in then I have to go old school and rep it out, initially feeling my way in the dark with it. But then, I plant seeds. I show everyone I can my new pet move, let them play with it and return later to that person in hopes they will try to catch me with it. And when they try…I let them.

This is reason number 1 million, why ego is the biggest obstacle to progress in jiu-jitsu. But if you have learned to relinquish your ego, train selfishly and selflessly, and have a true desire to get deeper into the essence of the technique and not just ride the superficial wave of victory vs defeat, then maybe try this method if you haven’t already.



And now a poll…

Coming Home

Posted: March 28, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

When I first met Josh, I expected someone older based on the phone conversations we had before he came to train at the academy where I teach. He had served in the military, very recently back in the states, and was going to be the first student we ever had that the government allocated money for him to pursue training to become a martial arts instructor.  He was too young to have seen and done the things overseas that he had, but he had an affable personality when you spoke to him.

He loves martial arts. He had armor around him, and by this I mean he equated martial arts with warfare to a great extent, and I estimated that my personal approach to jiu-jitsu may be at odds with the violence he had come to assume was an essential ingredient of most disciplines. He trained in various martial arts over the years, finding a particular resonance with Krav Maga, known for its brutal and ferocious approach to conflict resolution. Needless to say, the gentle art was something that he was going to have to endure as part of our instructor training program, rather than enjoy immediately.

Training commenced and I enjoyed having him in class, because he laughed at my jokes and appreciated my teaching style.  He, like every individual I ever have the privilege to teach, represented a marvelous opportunity to me. I worked with him in group classes and in private lessons, showing him the self-defense of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and some of the sporty stuff for fun. When it came time to roll, I did notice a frustrated affect about him sometimes. Some of the subtleties of jiu-jitsu eluded him and other aspects downright irritated him.  But he kept with it.

Much of our initial lessons were discussion. I expressed to him that among the many things I love about jiu-jitsu, the ability to subdue and restrain someone is of paramount importance. Something that, whether he had ever considered this or not, he had never had a need to do this. He was a soldier, a warrior, and unfortunate but necessary as it was for him, a killer. Josh had been forced as part of his duty to turn off parts of himself that many of us take for granted in order to perform his job in the military. I cannot personally truly imagine what this would take, but I am thankful that there are men and women capable of rising to this ability in order to protect our freedoms.

Josh had at times shared with me the detrimental effects his time in the military had on his psyche, his emotions, and his soul. He experienced night terrors, panic attacks, and other ailments associated with Post Traumatic Stress. To him, fighting meant surviving and if the other person was severely injured or killed, it was in the name of self-preservation. But still, his jiu-jitsu training continued.

Flash forward. I rolled with Josh a week ago and he was flowing. His movement was continuous and he was going from position to position, defending and attacking appropriately, and letting things happen without unnecessary struggle or stress. He began to ask questions about positions, which by their very nature indicated to me that he was enjoying the training. And then today, we began our lesson, with talk about a guard pass that lands you in knee on belly position, when he stops me and shares a story that, in my near 20 years of martial arts experience, I have perhaps never heard a better testament to the transformative power of proper training.

Josh told me of a troubled friend. After a series of events lead him to become suspicious that his friend may be using drugs again, Josh drove to the house his friend had been frequenting in a less than desirable neighborhood.  Upon entering, it was apparent what had been going on: the coffee table in the empty living room contained aluminum foil, emptied out ballpoint pen shafts, lighters and residue from the previously and soon-to-be-used meth. Perfunctorily, Josh carried these items into the bathroom and flushed what would down the toilet. The flush alerted the friend, who had been in another room that someone was there and he cornered Josh in the bathroom doorway, snatching his shirt in two hands and pressing him into the wall, screaming at him for an explanation.

Josh reluctantly told me of his excitement at the opportunity this presented, having trained this exact scenario repeatedly in lessons. He wrapped his friend’s head and arm and threw him to the floor, pinning him heavily while the man struggled to fight and squirm out. Finally, after expending all the energy he cared to, he complied and got into the car with Josh to head back to Josh’s house.

Josh and I had spoken about how there is no superior martial art necessarily all of the time, but there is at a given time, paraphrasing Bruce Lee. And I had expressed to him how beautiful I thought it was that if strikes are all you have in your arsenal in a fight then you have to subdue a would-be attacker in a dark alley the same way you would a friend who has lost his way. This was not a moment to break a collar bone or gouge out eyes. This was a time for restraint and compliance, for compassionate negotiation. And Josh was as amazed with himself as I was with him that he responded perfectly to this moment.

The car ride back? How did that go? Josh’s friend asked him how he did what he did.

“Jiu-Jitsu” was Josh’s reply. “And how about instead of doing that shit you have been doing you come by and I can show you some techniques and we can train together?”

I considered this nothing short of a golden lining testament to the alchemical effect of jiu-jitsu. But Josh went on after this story to tell me what he had been noticing from jiu-jitsu training beyond just this dramatic incedent: How he can be out in a crowd now and not be jumpy or on edge, wondering if someone is going to attack at any second; how he and his fiancé can eat in a restaurant and he is ok with his back to a window now; how he has grown comfortable with things that you and I who have never been in military combat take for granted each day. Jiu-Jitsu helped Josh in a way that doctors with pills and therapy sessions couldn’t.

We trained a bit longer. We talked about some of this for the last few minutes too. I had to shake his hand and head to my next lesson when he told me of a conversation he had with his friend, also a combat vet, also suffering from PTSD. He told his friend of the accounts of these events, of the experiences he had been having of late and the adjustments jiu-jitsu has given him the ability to make. His friend simply said, “Welcome back. You finally came home.”

Welcome home, Josh.

Here we are having some fun in the academy. Jason Hawkins and I have been training together 16-17 years now.

“Do your practice and all is coming.”
~Pattabhi Jois, originator of Ashtanga Yoga~

I know little yoga, but I try to incorporate its principles and practice into my daily life. It affects me deeply and has offered to me a lens with which to understand the workings of life, just as Jiu Jitsu has. The following is my account of my introduction to yoga through Jiu Jitsu and the benefits of the practice I have become aware of:

In the late 90’s I attended a week-long camp in the Poconos on Gracie Jiu Jitsu. To say the experience was life-altering is a gross understatement and completely insufficient, but there are no words to describe with authentic emotion the profound impact it had on my existence. To describe the environment, I, along with my closest Jiu Jitsu family members, would wake up around 7am each day, have a clean and natural breakfast, go train in a large hangar-like enclosure for a few hours, break for lunch and recreation for two hours at midday, return for three more hours of training, and then nap briefly before dinner and gathering for discussion of Gracie Jiu Jitsu at evening. This is awesome enough, but I must tell you with whom I trained this week. The instruction for this week came from Helio Gracie, Rorian Gracie and Royce Gracie. Ryron and Rener were there but I believe they were around 12 and 13 years old, so they didn’t contribute much that week.

In addition, some other little-known people were present, such as Steve Maxwell and Phil Migliarese. It was Phil Migliarese that stood out to us among many others. Only a purple belt at the time (now one of the highest ranking American black belts in Gracie Jiu Jitsu), Phil’s expression of Jiu Jitsu seemed to embody exactly what the Gracie’s were trying to get through to us. In a word, he was equanimity. He was calm, fluid, patient, and relaxed. At a camp full of tense and muscle-bound martial arts practitioners from all disciplines, this relaxation stood in sharp contrast to many present. His Jiu Jitsu was effortless and beautiful and dangerous.

My best friend, Jared Jessup, rolled with Phil and was visibly shaken afterward. He had trouble describing the experience. We inquired as to “how he got so good,” and Phil, of course, accredited the superior instruction of the Gracies, but his first word was “yoga.” Yoga? Ashtanga Yoga to be more precise. Phil had studied yoga for longer than Jiu Jitsu, and he credited his relaxation and fluidity to his yoga practice. On a week in which we were having relaxation shoved down our throats in the form of flowing as slowly and effortlessly as we could, with no submissions, for hours at a time, and often in complete sensory deprivation, meeting him set us on a path of exploration into yoga.

Once at home, we procured some Bryan Kest instructional yoga tapes (yes, VHS), and incorporated our interpretation of Surya Namaskara into our warmup before our Jiu Jitsu practice. We went through peaks and valleys of the amount of yoga we incorporated into our practice. Some vacillating more than others, and all taking a very organic approach to it. It would be years before we saw the true benefits. But they would arrive. Oh, did they arrive.

This is yoga for me today: Centeredness rather than balance, but balance as well; Pliability rather than flexibility, but flexibility also; Power rather than strength, but strength too; and Equanimity rather than calmness. Calmness is simple.

~ Centeredness is balance internally and externally. Externally, an overall understanding of positioning and how each part of the body
is affected, contributes to centeredness. Internally, getting your physiological inner-workings to cooperate in order to allow your
body to perform your practice is what I mean by centeredness.

~ Pliability is maybe an arbitrary alternative word to illustrate something beyond flexibility, but I want to emphasize something far
beyond the physical application of flexibility. Being pliable insinuates yielding to external forces seeking to damage or influence you
in some uncontrollable way. Yielding to these forces, rather than resisting them is the way to overcome them. Resisting things
bigger and intangible is a certain way to create stress and damage. Allowing them to come, recognizing them for what they are,
and letting them run their course without feeding them benefits you much more. Holding a pose, melting into it, feeling the
vibration and hearing what your body is telling you; this is the path to pliability. Pliability is opening lines of communication
between your body and mind and breath.

~ Power is strength in its purest and most pervasive form. Power is not aggressive or tense; it is intelligent and active. The adage
states that “knowledge is power,” but in yoga, it seems that the corollary is true. Reverse the antimetabole and read it as “power
is knowledge” and you will get closer to the heart of power in yoga. Power comes in yoga in the form of energy properly placed in
the correct areas of the body, evenly distributed, and igniting the body from the foundation up. It comes from alignment,
structure, breathing, and clarity. It is a product of the yoking process.

~ One of my favorite words, equanimity, is perhaps the most immediately helpful benefits of yoga for the Jiu Jitsu practitioner. It is
balance + calmness. As I said before, calmness is simple. Put anyone in a calm situation, take away their problems, lay them down
on a soft surface, give them drugs, and anyone can be calm. A good measure of true calmness, though, is how much balance it
yields. This is something only the individual will be able to discern, and the ability to discern it comes from listening to oneself.
Equanimity is achieved not through the elimination of external stressors and tense situations, but amidst them. In yoga, the next
movement may be uncomfortable or the next inhalation may be difficult, but it is necessary nonetheless. Likewise, in Jiu Jitsu, the
next escape from the difficult position may be seemingly impossible, but it is necessary in order to survive and ultimately prevail.
Equanimity is achieved when the external forces acting upon you fail to thwart your advancement, and cease to deter your
practice. Things are just things. This bad thing happening to me is bad because I have labeled it so. Time spent in self-pity is
always wasted and never helpful. The truest calmness is not in running from the storm, but rather in the eye of it.

This is only what yoga means to me, and how it has benefited me in my life and enhanced my Jiu Jitsu. I am learning. I only wanted to share this with others, to share the beauty of it, in hopes that something I have said may reach someone and possibly help them with their journey, wherever they are headed. The God in me greets the God in you.