The Gracie family uses Brazilian jiu-jitsu to tackle bullies.
By: Lianna Patch
“Oh yeah? Well, I know jiu-jitsu!”
This is the schoolyard taunt of many a cocky kid — usually uttered with hands raised, teetering on one foot. (Replace “jiu-jitsu” with “karate” or “kung fu” as needed, depending on where you are in the world and what movies kids are watching these days.)
While the kid claiming to be a martial arts expert generally isn’t, the specter of chokeholds, vicious kicks, and threats of swift unconsciousness can be intimidating all the same. These are the brutally effective moves we associate with martial arts, after all.
But jiu-jitsu (also spelled jujitsu and jujutsu) has a gentler side, too. In fact, jū in Japanese literally translates to “gentleness,” while jutsu means “art”. And while this martial art can seem anything but gentle when you’re watching two UFC fighters duke it out — or when you’re facing down a schoolyard bully — it’s also a valuable tool for conflict resolution.
Rener and Ryron Gracie, of Brazil’s famous Gracie martial arts family, decided to adapt their family’s jiu-jitsu expertise to serve bullied kids. Bullying, which includes verbal intimidation as well as physical abuse, has gotten more attention from the mainstream media in recent years. However, it’s still an epidemic. In 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics found that nearly 1 in 3 students reported being bullied that year — and many kids don’t report their bullies for fear of retaliation.
“At the root of any child’s inability to deal with a bully is the child’s fear for their own personal safety,” Rener Gracie says. “They hold in any kind of defense because they feel if they respond, even verbally, it might trigger a violent reaction from the bully. If they knew their assertiveness wouldn’t cause them injury, they’d respond much more readily.”
So the brothers created Gracie Bullyproof, a weeklong class taught at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance, California and at Gracie Certified Training Centers worldwide. The program includes mental and verbal defense mechanisms as well as physical training. “Jiu-jitsu is a martial art that incorporates chokes and joint locks, but the core purpose of jiu-jitsu is self-defense,” Rener Gracie explains. “This [implies] that we are not learning these techniques to seek altercations with individuals, but instead, to neutralize any threatening attacks against us.”
Judicious use of force is a core tenet of jiu-jitsu. Often, a fighter will have the opportunity to complete a joint lock or a choke, but will choose to simply neutralize their opponent. These neutralizing techniques are the backbone of the Bullyproof program, which focuses on defensive tactics in lieu of strikes or other aggressive moves. “Once [kids] realize they have the tools they need to physically stay safe, then they can implement the verbal strategies we teach to prevent the violence from the onset,” Gracie says. “In other words, we teach them how to fight so they never have to.”
Testimonials from confident kids who have graduated from the program (and their relieved parents) are scattered across YouTube, including this video of Gracie Bullyproof student Austin McDaniel before and after his “transformation”.
Jiu-jitsu for all
Those who don’t live near a certified Gracie Training Center can still learn jiu-jitsu online. In 2008, Rener and Ryron founded GracieUniversity.com, which offers streaming classes and private video evaluations so that anyone with Internet access can study jiu-jitsu at home. “For the first time ever, my brother and I are cataloging all of jiu-jitsu, from white to black belt, to be made available to the world via online streaming video, so students can learn all of the techniques in the order that is designed for optimal retention,” Rener Gracie says.
The Gracies have also created a program called Women Empowered, which endows women with self-defense techniques to fight back against attackers, even when the attacker is larger or stronger. For some students, simple confidence makes all the difference. “There are many times when kids or adults are timid when they step through our door for the first time,” Gracie says. “But after they spend time learning the fundamental self-defense techniques, their entire aura changes — it’s amazing!”
Because jiu-jitsu involves critical thinking, its benefits extend beyond physical fitness. “Not only are you getting a full-body workout every time you hit the mat, but the mental stimulation of challenging yourself against another human being is incomparable,” Gracie says. “Many students compare jiu-jitsu to kinetic chess and are drawn to the critical thinking involved in putting the pieces of the jiu-jitsu puzzle together, and thus, it can become a great stress reliever for men and women of all ages.”
And, of course, it can save your life when you need it most.
Lianna Patch is a writer and editor from New Orleans, LA, whose portfolio spans copywriting, cultural publications, and literary journals.
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