Jiu-Jitsu: A powerful tool to empower kids and women.
By: Claudia Repsold
In Brazil, the Gracie family and jiu-jitsu are so intertwined in the collective imagination that you can’t mention one without the other immediately coming to mind. Jiu-jitsu is the middle name of every Gracie. I truly suspect that they begin to practice the sport while still in the womb.
Rener Gracie is the fourth generation of the family; he is a grandson of the legendary Helio Gracie, and his father is none other than Rorion Gracie — the founder of UFC. However, when you look at Rener Gracie, the energy that you feel is more Buddhist than brawler.
This young generation of Gracies is transforming jiu-jitsu into a powerful tool of empowerment for kids and women. Their education programs, such as Gracie Bullyproof and Gracie Women Empowering, have been praised for boosting self-esteem.
Rener and his brother Ryron are pioneers in bringing Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the technological age. They founded Gracie University, the first online, interactive distance-learning center for Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Today, the university has more than 70,000 students scattered over 196 countries.
Rener teaches at his father’s school in Torrance, California, and many of his students are Hollywood celebrities. He caught up with Brazil & U.S. Biz between classes to chat about what he knows best: jiu-jitsu.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: You come from the Gracie family, where jiu-jitsu is the core of your heritage. How do you think jiu-jitsu helped shape the person that you are today?
Rener Gracie: Jiu-jitsu is in my blood and it exists in every aspect of my life. From business to personal [situations], on the mat and off the mat, I always aim to overcome life’s challenges with maximum efficiency, and I learned this from jiu-jitsu.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: What are the lessons you’ve learned from jiu-jitsu and your family that you would like to share?
Gracie: Challenges are techniques waiting to be discovered. No matter how tough a situation might seem on the surface, there is ALWAYS a technique to help you overcome the obstacle. It’s up to us to discover the techniques, but without question, they are there.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: What is the gentle side of jiu-jitsu?
Gracie: Jiu-jitsu is a martial art that incorporates chokes and joint locks, but the core purpose of jiu-jitsu is self-defense. This [implies] that we are not learning these techniques to seek altercations with individuals, but instead, to neutralize any threatening attacks against us. With this in mind, the gentle side of jiu-jitsu is exposed when practitioners have the ability to complete an aggressive choke or joint lock on their opponent, but instead, can be victorious in a fight by simply neutralizing the aggression of the opponent nonviolently.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: How can jiu-jitsu improve someone’s health (both mind and body)?
Gracie: It would be very difficult to find a fitness routine as complete as jiu-jitsu. 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. Not to mention, you are learning a skill that can save your life. Additionally, jiu-jitsu practitioners are often so motivated to progress in the art that they begin making major life changes off the mat to accommodate their jiu-jitsu growth, such as quitting drugs/alcohol or adopting healthier eating habits. 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.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: You and Ryron created the Gracie Bullyproof course. In what ways can jiu-jitsu boost kids’ self-esteem and help them fight bullies in a nonviolent way?
Gracie: At the root of any child’s inability to deal with a bully is the child’s fear for their own personal safety. 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.
We give children techniques to use against most types of behavior and attacks on the playground. Once they 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. In other words, we teach them how to fight so they never have to.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: What has been the best feedback you’ve gotten from kids, women, and other participants in your empowerment programs?
Gracie: The best feedback we receive from our students is their newfound confidence. There are many times when kids or adults are timid when they step through our door for the first time. But after they spend time learning the fundamental self-defense techniques, their entire aura changes — it’s amazing! Occasionally, a student will report an incident where they successfully used the techniques in a real-life altercation, and we are always delighted to hear how well they were able to apply what they’ve learned. The most recent incident was an 8-year-old kid, Ignacio, who stepped in to save his friend, who was getting bullied by two 10-year-old kids. We were extremely proud!
Brazil & U.S. Biz: What are some of the challenges of teaching jiu-jitsu via distance learning? How do you address those challenges?
Gracie: With the explosive growth of the UFC, people everywhere are falling in love with MMA and jiu-jitsu, but there are so few qualified training centers around the world for people to learn. We created GracieUniversity.com so that any person could log on and learn Gracie jiu-jitsu from anywhere in the world. 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. Gracie University was launched in 2008, and two months ago, we surpassed 100,000 students in 196 countries. Anyone who is interested should log on and check it out. It’s free, and the first three lessons are available for instant viewing at GracieUniversity.com.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: Our publication has a special focus on tech and innovation. Do you mind sharing with us what apps you use most on your cell?
Gracie: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Gracie360.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: What is your personal motto?
Gracie: Help enough people get what they want, and you can have ANYTHING you want!
Claudia Repsold is the Editor-in-Chief of Brazil & USA Biz. She is a Brazilian international award- winning journalist with twenty years of experience in editing, research, coordination, production and reporting news on Brazil and U.S.
Gracie Bullyproof: Prepare Your Kid for Life