Rickson grew up admiring his brother Rolls. One important episode in the younger Gracie's evolution, mentioned in his memoir, Breathe, took place due to Rickson's desire to redeem himself after disappointing Rolls. Half a century later, we got to ask him about his memory of that day. Here's the first part of his answer:
"I was 12 years old, and I would practice after the classes with adults—just a little group class. And one particular guy, blue-belt, strong, got me in a headlock which, in the family we always say 'We never tap in headlocks; we have an escape for headlocks,' so headlocks are not something for you to feel like it's an armlock or choke from behind; it's completely different; it was more, like, doable, the escape.
"By knowing that, I felt like I was supposed not to tap; but the agony, the tiredness, the breathing, the gi on my face, and the [?], made me quit. And I feel very upset about quitting, knowing that I could resist. And that kind of sense of claustrophobic feeling was terrorizing me, because that's what made me tap—it was just the terror of being in a lack of air, a claustrophobic feeling.
"So, with this in my mind, I went back home trying to represent... because you're afraid of what you don't know. Once you become comfortable, once you know, the fear changes pattern. So I started to recognize I tapped not because the guy was the worst enemy, or he got me in a... I was tapping because somehow I was weakened in my mind, I got desperate, claustrophobic, I did not have the patience—something wrong with me that made me fall in that kind of pattern of quitting. So, based on that, I tried to represent in my mind the same feelings, as much as I could."