Very fascinating read. Kept me glued in front of the monitor for a while there.
Can't wait to go back to the mats!
BJJ Black Belt
As i walked out through the customs gate in arrivals at LAX Airport i saw a
short black guy,wearing a suit holding a card with my name.
He was about 28 years old,5ft 6 and 250 pounds.
Maybe he did some jiu jitsu..............maybe not.I greeted him and we walked out of the airport to the car park,i squinted,the bright sunshine burning my eyes.I looked around me.Yes,this was the place.The place i'd been dreaming about since Steve Austin 6 million Dollar man at 5 years old,and then with the BMX boom in 1980 at 10 years old.By the time E.T. screened in 1982 at 12 it was a done deal.I wanted to live in LA.
As 14 approached and ICE T was rapping about the 'West Side' and Dr Dre was saying
'Fuck the Police' i was immersed in west coast culture.
So here i was,finally,at 40 years old in the land of my dreams walking towards a blacked out limousine that would take me anywhere i wanted to go in la la land.
My driver said,"buddy,most people that come out of the airport want to go and eat straight away,can i recommend 'in and out burger'?".
My reply was simple,i hadn't planned it,i think i was a bit freaked out by how surreal my surroundings and the situation were.I looked in his eyes,in the mirror of the limo and these were the words that came out of my mouth-
"Take me to Rickson Gracie"
BJJ Black Belt
"Rickson Gracie?" the limo driver replied,"where is that?" i realised this guy didn't do jiu jitsu,didn't watch MMA or he would know.He would just KNOW
who i was talking about.My illusion was shattered and i began to google the addresss of Rickson's academy which i had already checked was right in the heart
of Westwood,in the same street as my hotel,Wilshire Boulevard.I told the driver the address and said "Just take me there,i want to visualise how far it actually is from my hotel.As we drove through Inglewood i recognised the streets i'd been hearing Dre rap about for the last 20 years.i seemed to be feel at home in the strange place that i'd never been to before.We drove throught the run down streets and slowly as we drove the houses got bigger and the cars got newer.
We ended up driving towards Hollywood on Wilshire Boulevard and the driver said 'we are almost at you address'.I looked around,this was an upmarket part of town.
The equivelant of Kensington High Street in London.I wondered how Rickson could afford the rent here.
I have been reading for the last 10 years about the fact that Rickson was hardly ever in the academy,and even more rumours in the last 3 years that he had moved
back to Brazil leaving his Son Kron running things in LA with his mother Kim.I didn't care if i didn't meet Rickson,all i knew was i needed an academy really close to the hotel so i could get there regularly.I had packed my plain white Mizuno Judo Gi in anticipation.Stories always came back from Rickson's that students from out of town were not allowed to wear patches on their Gi's and were asked to buy Rickson Gracie Gi's.I wondered how much of this was true and how much was internet bluff and rumour.I had also heard mutterings that people who turned up were asked not to wear the belts they'd been awarded because the only belts recognised in the academy were belts Rickson himself or his father Helio had awarded.I made up my mind,i'd wear whatever Gi they asked me to wear,and if they wanted me to buy a new Gi that would be OK,but if anyone asked me not to wear my belt i would take that as a huge sign of disrespect.It would be a deal a breaker.
A man must have a limit and asking me to remove my belt would be stepping over a line.As i thought about all of this as we drove towards the academy
i felt the familar feeling of my heart starting to beat faster,and the tell tale sign of sweaty palms that would give away my anxiety to my opponents at a hand shake.
Is that why Jiu Jitsu guys just touch fists i found myself wondering as we drove at 10mph through the traffic in the sunshine of the second mecca of BJJ...........
Awesome Simon. Can't wait for the next installment!
BJJ Black Belt
My thought process was broken by the driver who said "This is the place" and i looked over and saw the sign,those words "RICKSON GRACIE BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU"
and i said "OK,i'm just going to go and check it out,wait here i'll be back in 10 minutes" and with that i got out of the limo".
As i walked across the pavement i wondered how they could keep an academy going in such a great location,it was surrounded by jewellers and up market clothes shops.As i got closer i looked through the floor to ceiling glass shop front and realised the academy was closed.
I started to notice that most of the newer signs said 'KRON GRACIE' not 'RICKSON' and the inside looked a little run down.Don't get me wrong,it was very nice
but kind of at odds with the retail outlets that surrounded it at this incredible location.Hanging in the window were beautiful 'Kron Gracie' plain white Gi's with that famous triangle emblem and an inner label saying 'on the mat'...........so,they weren't selling those almost legendary Mizuno Rickson Kimonos anymore.
I saw lots of posters of Kron and his father and something that really struck me deep was the samurai swords displayed in the window.I knew where they were from.
I knew that story,that tale was one of the early reason's i began this sport,this way of life.
Legend has it that a famous Japanese turned up one day at Rickson's,he'd travelled from Japan with his manager and some press with the plan that he would
ambush Rickson in his own academy and ask the master to take part in the 'Gracie Challenge',a challenge that could not be turned down,no matter what and had stood since Rickson's Uncle Carlos had placed the challenge in a Rio Newspaper in the 1920's with the immortal words "If you would like your face well and truly smashed in and your arms broken come and visit Carlos Gracie".
First Carlos had defended the family honour,then his brother (Rickson's father Helio).When Helio was passed his prime the responsibility was awarded to a 17 year old Carlson,whose father Carlos and Uncle Helio despaired as the teenager literally punished challengers with his fists from the mount rather than finishing them easily with a quick submission.As Carlson's time came to an end it was Rickson's big Brother Roll's turn until,as Roll's life was cut short with a fatal hang gliding accident the family honour and defending was placed in Rickson's lap.
BJJ Black Belt
So back to the Samuarai Swords being proudly displayed right before my eyes in the window of the academy.The Japanese fighter had turned up unnannounced
at Rickson's and i believe one of Rickson's black belts was taking the class that day because Rickson was sick at home with flu.
The BB was Luis Herida who now runs a successful academy in Hawaii.As he explained that Rickson was sick and he didn't know if the challenge could take place,
young Rockson (RIP) Rickson's oldest son was already out of the academy door and on his way home at speed to get his dad.Rockson already realised what it meant
to be a Gracie and he was infuriated that the Japanese had the disrepect to turn up unanounced at his fathers gym.
Rumour has it that Rickson,who was in bed and poorly immediately left the house when the impending news arrived via Rockson that he turned up at the Academy
half dressed and in bare feet to meet his challengers.
BJJ Black Belt
The usual 'waiver' was signed and the press were told they could not watch the closed door match,but that the contract entitled whoever wins the match
to keep the video that one of Rickson's students would film of the vale tudo fight.
The Japanese fighter was defeated once easily without too much damage being done as was usual in these situations.He then made the mistake
of demanding to fight again.This time Rickson was not so kind and behaved in the same Carlson had done all those years earlier and punished
the challenger for his insolence by pounding him until both his eyes were closed from the beating.
The next day,legend has it,the Japanese Challenger,a man of honour,a man whose cultural identity was formed by how he behaves in defeat turned up
at the academy with his manager and the samurai swords,to give Rickson the greatest present a Japanese can bestow on a foreigner.
The swords being a symbolic gesture of respect.
So,having grown up reading about this challenge on various now defunct forums,here i was gazing at those very swords with my own eyes.
I felt something as i looked at them.I know something of what it is like to have to be able to perform against anyone that walks into the acadamey
at any time,and the responsibility of the belt and what that means.That it didn't matter if you were feeling under the weather or a bit out of shape.
And my experience is only with Jiu Jitsu.Vale Tudo against some of the toughest challengers in the world where a mistake could change your life
was a completely different matter.And to jump out of bed and go to the academy in bare feet and meet a challenger in front of your son and your students
and hand out an incredible beating that,if a mistake is made could ruin your reputation is something that i respect.
As i looked at those swords,that is what i felt= Respect.
BJJ Black Belt
So,the academy door was locked but i saw a sign on the door saying 'If you do not arrive before the bow in,you may not attend a class'.
At that point i started thinking about my job,what i was really in LA to do,and whether this was the right place for me.I knew i'd almost always be late
for the evening class and i started to think perhaps i'd better work on a back up plan and get an introduction to Kron before i turned up for a class.
I got back in the limo and drove to the hotel.One mile away in the same street.The location was definately right for me,but was the club?
I am a Carlson Gracie Black Belt,how would they feel about me training there? I could turn up without my team patches and t-shirts but
i could not remove the bulldog and the words 'Carlson Gracie' on my arm,tattooed on a Budapest Council Estate in 2007 as a mark of brotherhood
with Mihaly the coach in Hungary.
BJJ Black Belt
I realised i would need an proper introduction and so as i got into my hotel room i formulated a plan.I looked out of my suite on the 19th floor at
the view of the Hollywood Hills and marvelled at the hot tub.This was a long way from my last serious training trip abroad as a Brown Belt in 2007
visiting Morocco.No,this was different,i was in luxury but i had a belt to defend.The stakes had got higher,and as a 40 year old now,the odds had
got slimmer.This wasn't a time to dwell on such matters though.It was a time to believe in myself,grow some balls and go and fight.
BJJ Black Belt
I punched the numbers in my cell phone and called Todd.A close protection specialist and Black belt who could be anywhere in the world.
I needed his help,he knows Rickson having spent many years training at the academy.Todd was my first BJJ Instructor and still someone
i have a deep respect for,a mentor to me.
As his answer machine beeped i spoke "Hey Todd this is Purple (my nickname) i'm in LA and i wanna go and train at Rickson's.I realise he won't
be there.Could you please contact Kron and introduce me".
At that point i hung up.It was 7pm LA time,but 3am UK time.It had been a long day and i decided if i was going to have a scrap tommorrow
i'd better get some rest.I set my alarm for 6.30 am.YES, 11.5 hrs sleep,an extremely rare occurence.Just knowing i could sleep,wake up,sleep again
for hours and hours gave me hope i would have some gas in my tank for the next day....................