A Day with Rener Gracie

This past Sunday I spent the day attending a Rener Gracie seminar and it changed my perception of how to approach jiu jitsu.

I’ve been practicing for over 6 years and have experienced a love/hate relationship with the practice. Attending the seminar I was impressed with Rener’s energy and analysis of the art.

Below is a writeup that is also on MMA Payout.

Rener Gracie visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time in over three years as he conducted an all-day Seminar on Sunday, June 4th in Seattle and then another smaller seminar at the Gracie Academy in Issaquah, WA on Tuesday, June 6th. For the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner, Rener’s seminars are amazing and an introduction to the philosophy and mind of one of the best in the world.

The Gracie name is royalty in the realm of the martial art of jiu jitsu. Grandmaster Helio Gracie, along with his brother, Carlos Gracie, founded the martial art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Jujutsu was a Japanese martial art and a method of close combat for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon or just a short weapon. It was introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil around 1914 by Esai Maeda. According to the family history, Gastao Gracie befriended Maeda and taught his oldest son, Carlos Gracie the art of jujutsu, which became jiu-jitsu. Helio learned soon thereafter and due to his frail physique, he modified the techniques to accommodate his strength and used leverage and timing. As a result, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was born.

The 33-year-old Rener is the grandson of Helio and carries on Gracie Jiu Jitsu along with his brother Ryron oversee the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California. There are over 100 Gracie Certified Training Centers on 6 continents around the world. As vast as the Gracie reach, Rener conducts seminars across the globe and followers flock to them to experience Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in person.

This sunny Sunday in Seattle (technically Burien), people flew in from various states and drove from Vancouver, B.C. and Vancouver, Washington to learn from Rener. In fact, Rener acknowledged that one of his students from Torrance flew up from California to attend. The reason, as his student explained to Rener, was that the seminars provide vast details that are can rarely be covered in a 1 hour class. A huge percentage of those in attendance were serious about this seminar as well as many took copious notes and filmed themselves doing the techniques so that they would not forget.

The seminar was set up by Craig Hanaumi, a Bellevue Police Officer and Purple Belt under the Gracie Academy. It took place at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. There was a lot of mat space as it was the gymnasium where officers train.

Rener is a tall, unassuming young man that is very passionate about teaching and the art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. While jiu jitsu is taught by many schools and academies in many different ways it’s easy to understand the appeal of the Gracie philosophy. Rener mixes traditional teachings with a mix of new school terminology which you can suspect is from his southern California roots. He mixes in a “dope” and encouraging “come on bro” every now and then when walking around the mat inspecting moves. One of the techniques he dubbed was, “Weak Side For Life” which is a reminder to the practitioner which way to go when taking someone’s back. He not only teaches white and blue belts with mastering moves but also helped out brown and black belts tweak their techniques. Rener would provide subtle advice to the black belt that he would demonstrate moves with to perfect the technique for those watching and the black belt he was working with.

Rener emphasized that “mindset” was the greatest contribution that his grandfather provided to the art of jiu jitsu. He deconstructed the mindset of most of the participants in the room when he explored different positions and identified areas of strength in positions where the perception is an area of weakness.

Instead of giving maximum effort in the practice of jiu jistu Rener preached muscle conservation. Assuming that you will practice jiu jitsu the rest of your life, Rener suggests this preserves longevity. He’s seen burnout among fighters and BJJ practitioner’s due to the fact they expend all of their energy when they were young. “By the time that you’re 50, you will feel like you aren’t who you were supposed to be and you should quit.”

“Start dedicating 10–20% of your time today to rolling like you are 70-year-old black belt,” Rener advised those in attendance in order to continue practicing into your golden years. Despite the perception that this is absurd, it falls in line with the philosophy and mindset. Going through the day-long seminar and learning the techniques, you realize that with repetition and practice, the Gracie Jiu Jitsu philosophy is an effective way to practice the martial art.

The all-day seminar was broken down into 4 2-hour sessions. Many people stayed the whole day while others that could not make the over 8-hour time commitment took in as many sessions as they could.

There were 8 “slices” to each two-hour session in which Rener discussed a move that he would go over and then the participants broke off to attempt the maneuver with Rener going around and helping out. He embraced all types of questions. He explained that there were no questions about the technique that were out of line as it was his responsibility to teach and the questions helped him dissect what he needed to focus on with the individual to facilitate the learning.

The first two sessions encompassed escaping from side mount and passing the guard. These two sessions were a good primer for those starting in jiu jitsu as many will find themselves here. The sessions helped with answering the basic question of “how do you get someone off of you?”

“You don’t want to be one step away from misery,” Rener explained about dealing with an opponent that is on top of you in side mount. He added, “[y]ou want to be at least two.”

Rener provided the thesis statement that the person in control in side mount is the person on the bottom as opposed to the one on top. The reason, explained Rener, was that it is on the person on top to make an affirmative move to improve their position whereas the person on the bottom has the ability to counter the movement.

The philosophy is contrary to jiu jitsu competitions due to the time constraints where points are essential in a matchup to win. Rather than a competitive mindset and the use of force and incessant pressure to force oneself out of a bad position, Rener preached to focus on making the best out of the position.

Water was used throughout the day as analogy for how to flow in jiu jitsu. “He chooses where to put the rocks, the water always finds the way,” explained Rener about the flow in jiu jitsu. It explains the fluidity of the art and the ability to think and move when presented with an obstacle. The art is supposed to provide advantages for the smaller and less strong practitioner. Flowing like water is an acknowledgment that there will be strong opposition, but like water, it continues to come forward finding ways to pass.

After a lunch break, the last two afternoon sessions were dedicated to more offensive maneuvers with mastering the triangle and “triple threat” mastery which involves getting the back of an opponent.

Again, the two afternoon sessions provided different ways of approaching standard issues in jiu jitsu. The first afternoon session looked at positioning your opponent so you can submit them with a triangle choke. The second afternoon session evaluated the methods of submitting someone when having their back. Each technique during the afternoon session included Rener’s emphasis on the setup as much as the finish.

Throughout the day, Rener’s energy never wavered. Like a scientist, he analyzed, dissected and deconstructed every move and made it easy to follow while patiently answering questions. I was impressed at how he was able to articulate the moves and provide finite detail as if the human limbs were a jigsaw puzzle.

Jiu Jitsu is an acquired taste. Many have a love/hate relationship with the martial art as it is difficult to start, tough to master, takes a long time to get promoted in rank, but easy to quit. Yet, there are so many devotees to the sport. I met several individuals who only picked up the sport within 3 months and were already interested enough to sacrifice a weekend day to learn at a seminar.

Overall, it was a productive Sunday to learn more about jiu jitsu and the philosophy of Rener Gracie. There was an overload of information but no one seemed to complain. For those dedicated to their own journey in the martial art, it was a valuable experience.