Nine out of ten self-help books and successful coaches teach: to live wisely and intelligently is to learn from the bamboo. You have to put down strong roots without forgetting to be flexible. Bending down so as not to break, with humility and endurance in the stormy days. Indeed, it was this power of adaptation, crucial for professionals in any area, that Master Rickson Gracie learned from his childhood on the mat.
This power of improvisation and malleability has been used by Rickson for decades almost daily in his training, but it all occurred almost in the realm of the invisible, with minimal technical details that not everyone could notice.
There was, however, a day when this power of his became evident, visible and clear to the eyes of all his fans. It was in April 1995, when the now-jiujitsu master was at his peak, with an undefeated career that included five professional fights in the ring.
In front of thousands and thousands of fans, Gracie entered the Japanese stadium for a kind of rematch between clans. His opponent would be the big Yoshihisa Yamamoto, an old student of Master Masahiko Kimura, the man who defeated Helio Gracie in Brazil. The fight started with a calm Rickson, but soon came the unexpected. An unforeseen event that made the fight last 18 minutes, a much longer duration than Rickson was used to in previous fights.
Without any desire to be taken to the ground by the Brazilian, Yamamoto held on as best he could: he clung, tied to the ropes of the Japanese ring, and not even cold water could make him get out of there. Rickson, on the attack and in the clinch, sought the takedown, but without success. And so the first round ended. And also the second.
And there was no point in complaining to the referee, because the rules did not provide for punishment for this, shall we say, fearful tactic. In fact, it was an old-fashioned resource of Japanese pro-wrestling athletes, but the Gracie entourage had not considered it.
What to do? If he wanted to leave with the victory—and with the finish—Rickson would need to change course for the third round. And so it was done.
After a brief conversation with his brother Royler in the corner, the new strategy was outlined. Rickson then abandoned the idea of insisting on the clinch and fighting glued to the ropes. Instead, he masterfully lured the 98kg Japanese fighter to the center of the ring.
Then it was all quick: Gracie took down Yamamoto, passed his half-guard, took his back, and put his opponent down for a nap on that memorable night in Tokyo.
All as smooth as the bamboo swaying in harmony with the breeze.