Sunday, 21 September 2008

Where is Rickson?

Training this week has been more of the same and it’s going well – a couple of sessions this week just working hard on the principles we’ve been covering. Am I making progress? Yes, I think so – I may not have fluid, instinctive movement yet, but every so often I get something that feels great and works really effectively. My marker is that the frequency of such events is steadily on the increase week by week. I’m really enjoying myself at the moment.

For some reason, and I may have mentioned this already, my back is giving me a little trouble at the moment. Nothing like the “old” days, but I start out sessions a bit restricted then warm up into better movement during the session then it seizes up as I cool down. However, I’ve thought back to my time at the Osteopath’s and the hold/cold therapy that I was recommended so when I get in I’ve started using a hot water bottle and an ice pack alternately (always ending with ice) and it’s really helped – by morning I’m moving pretty freely. There must just be something that gets a little inflamed – I’m hoping that staying active, doing Yoga (my back always feels great after Yoga) and losing weight will gradually improve my back health.

On to the topic at hand. I thought I’d try and broaden the scope of the blog – mainly for interest but also as there are a lot of other things that surround BJJ – books, DVDs, news, products etc so I thought I’d try a few different pieces, reviews and so on. So today, I launch a pretty poor investigation into the question “Where is Rickson?”.

Rickson’s is a name that looms large in BJJ folklore and everyone’s got an opinion on him. To many, he’s a legend and an icon. Check any internet forum and there are many threads discussing how Rickson would fare against today’s MMA stars. It seems that as we approach the end of each year, rumours abound that “next year” Rickson is stepping into the ring for one last time, usually with the name of Sakuraba, “The Gracie Hunter” mentioned in connection. These rumours spark excitement, disbelief and their own speculations about who would win and how, and the inevitable discussion on Rickson’s age (he’s 49 at the time of writing) and whether he could still cut it in a professional Vale Tudo/NHB fight.

For an angle on this, we can look at a story from 2006, regarding Paulo Filho training with Rickson stating “I have trained with the toughest guys formed by Carlson Gracie. They were all great and I for sure don’t want to diminish anybody, but I have to say that no one ever did to me what Rickson Gracie has done during training these last days” suggesting that Rickson’s fitness and technique is as supreme as ever. And why wouldn’t it be? For sure, Rickson is genetically gifted, but why would anyone assume that he has stopped training, evolving, improving, just because he is no longer under the spotlights?

So where is he? Fitting with his legendary status, it seems that sightings of him and knowledge of his activities are fleeting. Every time he surfaces, there’s news or clips on the intranet and I guess there are two major things people want to know – is Rickson ever going to fight again and where/when and how can they train with him? It's a question that occupies my mind as a member of his association - especially since pretty much everyone else at my club has met Rickson and trained with him at least once...everyone except me!

Here are a few of the main sightings and rumours:

Rickson quits the US

According to this interview, Rickson has quit the US in favour of his Brazil homeland. Many observers speculate that the death of Rickson’s eldest son, Rockson back in 2001 in a Motorcycle accident (although rumours persist around the cause of death that I won’t grace with any mention here) prompted a retreat from public life for Rickson (and why wouldn’t it? The adage that no parent should ever have to bury a child springs to mind - take a look at this sympathetic interview which sheds light on Rickson's life straight after the death of Rockson). Rickson had this to say about his life in the US:

"There I feel that I am being sucked and I do not have a way to recycle that. "

I heard 2nd hand from someone that had spoken with Eddie Kone, who had trained in Brazil recently with Royler, that Rickson was at Royler’s Academy, just training and hanging out.

Rickson at the Mundials…

…and other assorted tournaments. Wherever Kron fights, Rickson’s usually around. Kron’s a big name. Not only is he Rickson’s son, but he’s also a pretty good BJJ prospect. OK, so after getting his black belt, he lost his first match at the Mundials. This created inevitable glee amongst far less talented people on internet forums all over with accusations of “sandbagging” at Brown Belt. From where I sit, these people conveniently miss the fact that Kron almost finished that fight by choke within the first two minutes but his opponent managed to tough that out – fair play, but it stands to some reason that a young guy (late teens) who’d been a Black Belt literally months, might lose out to an older guy with more experience. Kron isn’t Rickson, something that seems lost on detractors. I’m sure Kron will take lessons from the Mundials and return to dominate in future years. And Rickson will be there, coaching from the bleachers.

Rickson launches Budo Challenge

I think this was launched back in 2005 as a pilot with the prospect of more competitions to follow this foray. The notion behind the event was to promote Gi fighting with a rule set which encouraged submissions with core martial arts values such as honour and respect. This was seen as a rebuke by Rickson of competition Jiu Jitsu which allows competitors to play a tactical game of stalling and holding positions for points rather than seeking to end a fight by submission, which, ultimately, is Jiu Jitsu’s aim. It was also seen by many, with its production values, as an antedote to the rise of promotions such as the UFC, which many feel are now well removed from the core spirit of martial arts, something that Rickson quotes as his reasons for solely fighting in Japan during his “prime”. Take a look at this article which gives a pretty good overview of what Budo Challenge is all about.

I bought the DVD via the website and got pretty quick responses to emails to the producer, so there is an air of it not being completely dead, but almost three years on little else seems to have happened. I’ll review the DVD some other time, but suffice to say it’s a great spectacle for anyone that loves the Gi game.

Rickson joins Carlos Gracie Jr in Celebration

At the award of Carlos Gracie Jr’s Red and Black belt (8th Degree), in April 08, Rickson made an appearance as a guest speaker. This was a significant gathering of some of the best known names in BJJ and the promotion of a man who heads up the largest BJJ organisation in the world (Gracie Barra). Rickson’s presence was seen as significant by many because of a perceived “split” between those who believe that Carlos Gracie (Jr’s Father) is the true founder of BJJ and those that believe that Helio (Carlos’ brother and Rickson’s Father) forged what we now recognise to be BJJ. Such argument, if indeed any exists, is ultimately nonsense and was effectively buried by Rickson’s pesence at the ceremony, showing family unity between him and his cousins.

Rickson in Japan and launches the Jiu Jitsu Federation of Japan

Rickson holds a special status in Japan and has said in many articles he feels at home there amongst people who have a high appreciation of the martial arts. Because of his many Vale Tudo fights there in the 1990s, he is something of a celebrity in Japan and appears to spend a reasonable amount of time there.

Rickson has spent some time this year in Japan with one of his black belts, Takamasa Watanabe of Axis Jiu Jitsu running seminars with his son, Kron, which must be one of few, if not the only seminars or teaching he’s done recently.

Rickson (President) has also entered into a venture with Takamasa Watanabe (Director) called the Jiu Jitsu Federation of Japan. It seems that in addition to organising many tournaments, seminars and offering affiliation to clubs (for FREE and the list of current members is impressive), this organisation has, at it’s core, the desire to propagate the martial traditions that Rickson has spoken of many times and that are held in esteem in Japan, which is, afterall, where BJJ originated – almost a return to the roots.

Take a look at the website and you’ll get a better idea of what it’s about and here’s a little clip of Rickson talking about the federation:

Rickson slaps The Hulk!

Rickson makes a brief appearance in the 2008 film version of The Incredible Hulk, starring Ed Norton. In his short scene, Rickson plays a Martial Arts Instructor (a big stretch!) – confusingly labelled as “Aikido” in the end credits – teaching Bruce Banner a breathing method to control his anger. Quite how Rickson got this part (could be his famous breathing scenes in “Choke” caught someone’s eye), or whether this signals a wider interest in acting I do not know, but it’s still pretty cool that Rickson gets to slap the Hulk, thereby nullifying any arguments that he isn’t what he once was ;P LOL. Rickson beats the Hulk by Armbar! Here’s a clip (crumby quality but the only one I could find):

So there’s the best of what the internet has to offer…Still none the wiser, I decided to contact the Association Headquarters in LA and, as a member, ask simply “Where is Rickson?”.

I got this answer:

“Rickson pretty much living in Brazil, he spends only few times a year over here. He has a project for 2009 of seminars in the main cities of Brasil, US and some overseas. The Rickson Gracie Seminar Tour schedule is not available at the moment but we will post on the web. Rickson is not teaching in regular bases anymore or thus he has an academy in Brazil.” (sic)

I take the last part to mean that he doesn’t yet have an Academy in Brazil,
but may be wrong on this.

So there we go – there may well be more info out there or people that know stuff for certain, but this is what I’ve found. I’d be happy to hear from anyone that has factual information on where Rickson is and what he’s doing. Let’s see what happens in 2009 with the Seminar project. I’m planning a trip to the US in 09 anyway so if there’s a dovetailing of plans there that would be awesome, but we’ll see…

Rickson… where are you?!

1 comment:

slideyfoot said...

Nicely done! I look forward to more of these in the future: made for an interesting read.