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Lessons from a Grand Master: Rorion Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu Seminar in Canada

If Jiu-Jitsu has religious qualities, then Rorion Gracie is one of its strongest prophetic voices. So when I noticed, a little too late, that he was offering one-day seminars in Timmins and Woodbridge, I immediately looked at a map to see how far away both academies were from downtown Toronto. Unlike Timmins, Woodbridge was a mere 20 minutes north…but they were sold out. Regardless, I emailed the academy and offered to attend both parts of the seminar [jiu-jitsu and Gravie Diet] if anyone cancelled at the last second. I knew my chances were slim to nil, but nothing ventured is nothing gained. I found out a few days before that a spot had opened up and that I would be able to attend.

Seminars are a strange option for jiu-jitsu players. Usually gyms are required to  bring in their affilate’s representatives yearly at their own expense to meet affiliation conditions. Sometimes it is a well-known black belt, but other times it might simply be a teacher who can observe belt tests for a lower-ranked instructor’s school. Small towns may have small schools where the lead instructor is a purple or even blue belt who is teaching and building a school for the future. This particular seminar did not appear to have any belt tests connected to the visit; Rorion Gracie was on site to Spread the word about the Gracie Diet and maybe connect with the flock by sharing “tricks” to perfect three foundational moves: the cross collar choke, upa escape from mount and a headlock escape via framing.

For competitive athletes and acrobatic superstars, such lessons might sound like a complete waste of time. Many students are looking for their fix of avant-garde Porcupine Guard or the latest Flying Ninja Kimura; I am not looking for any such thing. What I hoped for was exactly was the master offered: time spent on exactly how to improve positions that might be glossed over in a standard class at our own academies because these moves seemed pretty basic and for beginners. However, what Rorion was able to clearly demonstrate was that while we “think we know the move,” we really only know its general form. As white belt, then blue, then purple, then brown belts tried to escape a basic mount position via the upa bridge in slow motion, Rorion Gracie demonstrated just how much their move was based on speed or strength versus technique. No one escaped…until he illuminated the principles of the position and leverage for the 50 odd students. It brought an completely different dimension to jiu-jitsu that I had never felt before.

The cross-collar choke. This is perhaps one of the most effective chokes that is readily available for both self-defence and competition. I first learned it at my home academy and then relearned it at Gracie PEI this summer. If I can catch it while rolling is is both a miracle and deadly, but I tend to miss or fail to make it work. Grand Master Gracie was able to take the move, speak about its steps in form and metaphor until the components became absolutely clear. I can honestly say that the choke took on a whole new lustre; I could feel the difference and the technique no longer depend on strength at all. I had had “mastered” the pieces of the whole, and with a lot of drilling at home I will be able to make it my strongest submission.

Beyond the transformation of how I “felt” concepts like leverage and connection, Rorion was in Ontario to promote the Gracie Diet. While some might groan, I actually was especially interested in the second part of the day. At age 43, I need to keep improving my diet; health fades and unlike many men my age I am not content to decline into obesity and chronic pain. If the Gracie’s had any wisdom to impart, then I was more than willing to listen.

The diet makes sense to me. I already “knew” many of these ideas, but what I valued about Rorion’s presentation was the reasons to make diet personal and a lifestyle change. So many other parts of my life have changed so that I can improve the way I function in my “jiu-jitsu lifestyle” that this only makes sense. I will not go into the details of the diet other than to suggest that it is based on combinations and a few eliminations versus starvation of the body for appearance. I will start the “white belt” level of the diet this week to see how if operates and will update readers as I make progress.

Overall, the day was inspiring and well worth the cost of admission. I came away feeling more confident in my training progress and feeling like I belonged to a bigger community: I belonged in the room, and jiu-jitsu can take a year or more before that comfort can finally take hold. 

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