April 25, 1980 is an important date in the history of martial arts in general, and jiu-jitsu in particular. That was when Rickson Gracie, then a young man with talent for BJJ and a passion for surfing, owner of a pretty new black belt, tested himself for the first time in a no-rules duel in a ring in Brasília.
The lessons that 19-year-old was about to learn in the Brazilian capital would change his life forever, and would be branded on his mind as by a hot iron.
Rickson's opponent was heavier, stronger and more experienced. Casimiro Martins, known as Rei Zulu ('King Zulu'), was a colossus of 32 years, 1.9m, about 100kg and only one loss in his career of over 100 vale-tudo matches. Rickson was prepared for his biggest challenge. But how he would come down from the ring was a different story.
The fight lasted 11 minutes and 55 seconds. Rickson remembers: "Around the start of the fight, I threw a very powerful knee that caught him squarely in the face. I had never hit anybody that hard, and in that moment I thought, 'Bullseye -- I win'. It seemed impossible for someone to resist a big knee strike like that. But Zulu shook his cheeks, spat out a tooth and came charging."
Rickson ended the first ten-minute round exhausted, bereft of strength. He thought of giving up, but his father Helio and brother Rolls pushed him back in, with a bucket of ice to the head and some efficacious words. Rickson took a breath and returned.
"After going to his back and finishing, I learned perhaps the greatest lesson of my life. I realized that our biggest opponent, the most powerful enemy of all of us, is inside our mind. If it were up to me, I would have stayed seated on that stool in the break. And, starting that day, I promised that I would never feed enemies in my own head, and that I would never give up when my head ordered me to. And that dying would be more acceptable than retreating."
Learning became part of his essence, and nowadays Rickson endeavors to teach students a jiu-jitsu focused exactly on this: refusing to retreat or hesitate in the face of a great challenge. Creating enemies inside your mind means going against jiu-jitsu.
"To beat a great challenge, and they occur daily in the life of any person, it is mandatory that you not be divided in two -- that is, your heart ready to confront the problem and your mind in doubt, walking backwards,” he says. “Daily, with daily practice of good old jiu-jitsu, adequate breathing and good nutrition, you will see that your emotions and desires are in harmony, and you will be in control to make the best, and wisest, decision.”