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I think back to when it all started for me … in 1986.
BJJ was a great splash of colour in a martial arts landscape that, to me at least, was beginning to undertake a rather washed-out look.
But it was yet, an undiscovered country of sorts … at least to those living outside of Brazil. Consequently, training (apart form the single exception of the goings on in Rorion’s garage on Torrance) demanded a plane trip to Rio and a dive into a landscape unfamiliar in the extreme.
The sounds, smells, sights and kinaesthetic experiences of the mat were at once overwhelming and intoxicating. The trips up to Teresopolis to train at the farm with Carlos, Jean Jacques, Roger and Rigan and John Machado and their cousins Rilion, Crolin, Carlos and Renzo Gracie, were enlightening, amazing, and humbling in the extreme.
My crystal ball though, was apparently in a state of disrepair; it was either switched off or broken, for there was no way I could have foreseen the remarkable explosion of growth that BJJ has enjoyed, post UFC #1.
There weren’t as many BJJ academies back then (in Rio) but there were certainly enough to constitute a landscape big enough to evolve rivalries. My friend Rigan Machado took me around to visit some of the main clubs (Master Helio Gracie’s Academy, Carlson Gracie’s Academy, Jacare’s academy and one or two others). I soon discovered that, competitive rivalries aside, there was a real feeling of brotherhood between BJJ schools; the kind of mutual respect that we might imagine to have existed between kings of warring nations. I had never before seen the like of it, in any of my martial wanderings (which were numerable and wide-ranging).
BJJ, as we all can assuredly attest to, is a strange animal in the martial arts kingdom. We fight and struggle with each other and in doing so, build each other up. As someone stated recently, 'slap hands, fist-bump … simulate murder' ... after which, we hug, limp home with ego’s deflated and somehow summon the courage to return for more the very next day.
What a tribe we are …