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Jiujitsu and the art of dealing with grief, by Rickson Gracie

On Sunday, August 7, the jiujitsu community woke up disoriented, with the brutal death of the sweet and victorious Leandro Lo, a black-belt who won medals and friends in equal measures. 

In an interview with Pedro Bial, a Brazilian journalist and TV host, Master Rickson Gracie had taught a true lesson in losing, grieving and missing a loved one, when he spoke of the death of his son Rockson, in December 2000. 

Both holding back tears, Rickson and Bial talked about the art of living after a tragic loss. Rickson then said:

“It was definitely the biggest loss of my life. Losing my son Rockson later gave me a different light and the ability to recover my happiness. When you lose somebody really important, you die with them."

According to Rickson, the death of a loved one drives away any possibility of being rational, of facing that fact with righteousness and balance. After all, your heart is in pieces. 

"These days, however, I think of Rockson and I don't cry. I think of Rockson and laugh. Because he left me great messages about life," Rickson said. "I lived in enormous grief for about five years, with no desire to fight and train. It was the time I had to cancel a fight for millions of dollars with Sakuraba. One day, when I was meditating in my garden in California, I remembered an old piece of advice from my dad, Helio Gracie. He used to say that nothing, in all of life, is totally bad, and nothing is totally good. And I set out to try to find what could be microscopically positive about Rockson's departure."

It took time, but the master then learned what lesson he could extract from the void inside him.

"In my reflections, I realized that before my son's departure I had a good life, perfect family, status, health and money, and because of that I thought I owned the world. Whenever something unpredictable happened or someone called me, I'd ask for some time, would go surfing and then I'd decide how to deal with it. With Rockson's departure I learned that I wasn't the master of my time."

Starting with that reflection, therefore, Rickson never again left anything for tomorrow. Whatever one of his daughters or friends needed from him, whether a phone call or request, immediately became a priority, and the superfluous stuff got postponed.

"Until that moment, I had never valued time, I always thought I could put off talking to my son until tomorrow, leave a trip or a class for later, that time was just a matter of adaptation in my appointment book. I missed out on doing many things thinking I would have other chances. With Rockson's departure, I understood that tomorrow does not exist."

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How to prevent jiujitsu white-belts from getting injured

A member of our team had the misfortune to know from experience the feeling of being an excited white-belt and having their progress suddenly come to a brutal halt. 

But this is rarely just inevitable bad luck. For a white-belt to get injured in jiujitsu practice, something usually has to go wrong—meaning that there's probably something wrong about the very teaching structure at the gym. Here are Rickson's thoughts on never letting this happen.

How to prevent jiujitsu white-belts from getting injured

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Use your guard to defend yourself

Even though you cannot use strikes in jiu-jitsu competitions, we must learn how to combine them with the guard to protect ourselves in unpredictable situations. 

In the following video, master Rickson will show how to position yourself and use your legs when facing an aggressor from the bottom.  

"If you feel I am approaching, you want to hit me. Good. From here, for example, I can hit you. Kick. You can't. So, you don't want to wait for me in that situation where I can hit you, and you cannot hit me."

"Bring your legs closer to you, closer, closer. Yes! Because now, in order for me, don't move! To hit, she already has the distance to hit me back. So she can hit me ahead of me."

"So, if you keep your arms and legs closer to you, every time I come to hit, you have the opportunity to hit me first. Okay? So the time is in your favor when your legs are tight on you. Good. So I have no distance, yes! Teeter totter, put your hands on the floor to help, yes. Stop! Bring your, yes. Good."
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How not to lose the mount

We like short headlines, but this class is way beyond keeping the mount. 

Here, master Rickson Gracie teaches a drill to develop the skill, from the top mount, of giving enough room for the training partner to roll without falling. 

This way, you will interchange the full mount with the back mount and understand where to stay to use your feet as hooks when the foe tries to stand up.

How not to lose the mount

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Has jiujitsu ever saved your life?

John Danaher, I believe, once told Graciemag that he could point to four clear times jiujitsu had saved his life. Of course, working as a bouncer, that's easy enough to imagine. 

But jiujitsu can save you in ways other than the obvious one. Rickson Gracie, for example, tells in his memoir of the time he lost his surfboard and had to swim for hours to get back to shore. Would he have made it without his skills developed by and for jiujitsu?

Do you have a story of being saved by jiujitsu? We'd love to hear it.

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Latest Comments

maximus1969ad Avatar
maximus1969ad commented:

I seriously believe Jiu jitsu helped me beat cancer in 2014
in many different ways..... Im hoping to finish a book on the subject someday!

August 18, 2022 07:45 PM

Joe Mendoza  Avatar
Joe Mendoza commented:

God bless you brother! And thank you for sharing. May you continue to have peace and joy when you remember your boy.

August 18, 2022 04:33 PM

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