By Lindenberg Junior
Celebrating almost 17 years of existence, the Ultimate Fighting Championship completed the hundredth edition (2016) as the biggest championship promoting Mixed Martial Arts. As the fastest growing sport in the world and arising interest with its commercial nature, the events involving the sport have attracted important brands such as Harley Davidson and Bud Light.
Credit should be given to the current organizers, however, we cannot forget about Rorion and Royce Gracie, sons of Hélio Gracie, who left Brazil to brand the United States with a new style of martial arts. They not only were pioneers in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but also recognized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a necessary tactic to the athletes of the MMA.
The UFC was formally released in the United States in 1993 as a televised competition where everything was allowed (Vale-Tudo). Rorion Gracie and his student Art Davie produced the event, which consisted of a visual show in an octagonal rink surrounded by nets creating a fence to keep scared fighters from escaping. The objective was to internationally promote the superiority of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, posing challenges to the fighters of other modalities and continuing the tradition started by Carlos and his son, Hélio Gracie in Brazil.
Rorion put his brother Royce in charge of representing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This strategy contributed to the association of the Gracie family to Jiu-Jitsu through his ability to win over stronger opponents who practiced other martial arts. Their strategy propelled the competition to becoming a serious martial arts technique. Royce won the first six editions of the championship, and from then on, Brazilian jiu-jitsu became well known in the United States.
Together with his brother Rickson, Royce modified the perspective Americans had over this type of martial arts, which recognized Kung Fu seen in Bruce Lee films as the highest expression of martial arts, whose tactic was to mobilize the adversary through traumatic moves: punches, kicks, or the use of the elbow applied from a certain distance. In the Gracie method, the fighter takes the fight to the ground, with the intent to paralyze the adversary through fast repetitive movements that if used systematically will give the fighter an advantage, allowing him to defend himself in any type of combat.
As time went by, the championship developed into something bigger and the fighters became more specialized. They realized the main difference in the technique was the surprise element for the adversary, and began to research more about the cross-training technique. Then, with the participation of athletes that were more qualified UFC began shifting to a championship of mixed martial arts, like the MMA. The importance of Brazilian jiu-jitsu to this change is huge and is widely recognized in the combat arena.
The athletes come from diverse backgrounds, such as kickboxing, judo, Roman fighting and even sumo. However, if they do not master the tactics of “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” they will hardly be the best in the rink.
Marco Ruas, the Brazilian who became an international legend through the Brazilian championships (Vale-Tudo), and subsequently through the MMA, says “physical preparation and emotional control are key for the athlete competing in the MMA, but if he doesn’t master the ground technique (grappling), taught in jiu-jitsu, he won’t win. It’s important to remember the fighter begins standing up but ends on the ground.”
However, the influence of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the UFC is not only in the preparation of the athlete. Behind training, combat and the technique, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a philosophy, which prioritizes healthy living and well being of each individual. This is one of the reasons that jiu-jitsu is a way to make the fighters more tolerant, respectful and self-confident individuals.
Grand Master Joe Moreira, 8º Dan, orange belt recently acquired. Living in California for 16 years, Joe followed the rise of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the United States. He prepared athletes for international competitions, such as the MMA, UFC and the Pride in Japan. In addition to that, he won UFC 14 against Uri Vaulin and had a following in his gyms in California and Maine. Besides being a fighter, Joe is also a teacher concerned with the quality of teaching and the results the student will achieve, and this is why he has admirers all over the world. According to his perspective, jiu-jitsu is in the athlete’s head just as much as it is the athlete’s body. “Emotional balance, dedication, and moral values are part of the teachings of jiu-jitsu, and are the characteristics of a champion,” says teacher Moreira.
UFC and the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu have certainly walked hand-in-hand in the last 15 years. On the other hand, the evolution of the fight has also caused friction. Marcelo Carvalho, 4th Dan of jiu-jitsu and owner of the jiu-jitsu gym Global in Costa Mesa, California, remembers the danger of the popularity of the art of jiu-jitsu. Carvalho says, “The popularity of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu not only as a sport, but inside the gyms, has contributed to the proliferation of non-qualified teachers, who put the students well-being at risk as well as the reputation of the Brazilian martial art.”
Carvalho goes on to say that “It’s critical for the international federation to establish rigid guidelines in order to become a jiu-jitsu instructor, and that championships such as the MMA promote this style with responsibility, stressing the tradition of technique and serious training involved in the practice of jiu-jitsu.”
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training gives the fighter an advantage in the UFC arenas, which is a tremendous achievement in the international martial arts scene and cannot be tinted by the lack of training of irresponsible young teachers, who see the fight as a street gang sport. Therefore, since we don’t have new guidelines, we hope that each enthusiastic fan promote the true spirit of jiu-jitsu, which is that of an art, where it’s not necessary to use physical strength and allows a weak fighter to defend himself and win over a stronger and heavier fighter – meant to be used as a self-defense technique.