Interview by Scott Ross
When he started taking jiu-jitsu lessons in 1994, inspired by Brazilian jiu-jitsu icon Royce Gracie’s dominance in the early years of the Ultimate Fighting Championships, Eddie Bravo was a guitar player just looking for a way to stay in shape so that he wouldn’t be a “fat rock star” when his band made it big.
The band broke up, but Bravo’s jiu-jitsu blew up. He started smoking marijuana, which he readily credits with helping him develop his radical style of jiu-jitsu in his second book, Mastering the Rubber Guard, which offers step-by-step instructions on Bravo’s favorite jiu-jitsu techniques, as well as a lengthy endorsement of marijuana use.
His style of jiu-jitsu is considered revolutionary and/or heretical, depending on whom you ask. He is notorious for his dismissive attitude towards the gi—the traditional uniform worn by the practitioners of most martial arts of Asian origin—as an “an ancient superhero outfit” that teaches students nothing more than bad habits.
Bravo proved the merit of his ideas at the 2003 Abu Dhabi World Submission Wrestling Championships, the pinnacle event of submission grappling, by prevailing against the legendary Royler Gracie—an archetype of the system that Bravo was rejecting—in a win that shocked the world. That victory legitimized Bravo’s theories, launching the 5-foot-8, 160-pound California native into the upper echelon of the martial-arts world.
Today, Bravo is a commentator for the UFC, with plans on competing only once more before retiring from the tournament circuit for good. He continues to spread his brand of jujitsu at Tenth Planet, his own Hollywood-based school, and with seminars across the globe. His third book will be released this summer. His techniques are constantly gaining in popularity, especially with notable MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters like Dean Lister and Japan’s Shinya Aoki, who demonstrate their effectiveness with wins at the highest levels of competition.
Bravo unabashedly recommends marijuana, saying that it will not only improve your jujitsu game, but also your life. His openness with regard to pot has been criticized by some: Isn’t Bravo aware that he’s a respected figure, that there are young people who look up to him, that’s he’s a role model?
Yes, he is, as a matter of fact. That’s the point.
How does jiu-jitsu with a gi differ from jiu-jitsu without a gi?
With gi jiu-jitsu, you use yanking and pulling to set everything up. You grab the collar and you yank and pull—it’s like a big tug of war. When you’re going no-gi, there’s no yanking and pulling, just clinching and squeezing. It takes a while to get it down.
People frequently describe your style of jiu-jitsu as “unorthodox.” What’s so different about your style?
If you concentrate just on no-gi jiu-jitsu, the game totally changes: the rubber guard, the twister set-ups, the half-guard stuff—even my mount is different. If you’re working both gi and no-gi, you’re not going to have enough time to develop a pure no-gi style.
The only reason I started focusing on no-gi was that if I ever lost my job, I might need to fight to make some money. At the time, I was DJing in a strip club, writing music and training jiu-jitsu. And if I was going to fight, I wanted my jiu-jitsu to be as mixed-martial-arts-ready as possible. MMA is dedicated to grappling and mixed martial arts; I wouldn’t have had enough time to catch up on my kickboxing and my wrestling if I were revamping my jiu-jitsu.
Luckily, I didn’t have to do MMA. Basically, tapping out Royler Gracie made it so I didn’t have to do MMA. It allowed me to just teach jiu-jitsu and concentrate on my music. If I had to go into MMA, it would have been a big blow to my music, because training for MMA is like training for the Olympics.