Coming Full Circle In Jiu-Jitsu – Kama Jiu-Jitsu Laguna NIguel | KamaJiuJitsu.com | Kama Jiu-Jitsu Dallas | BJJInDallas.com
by Ryan Young, Professor, Kama Jiu-Jitsu

We all have learned some Jiu-Jitsu from someone other than our regular professor. In fact, we have all learned from an online source (i.e. YouTube), buddies at other academies, a seminar by another academy’s professor, or from a DVD. In my case, we’d obtain bootleg copies of VHS tapes to “swipe” moves. We would obtain tapes with the “secret” Brazilian moves that no one was teaching here in the USA, hoping to get an edge on our training partners. Back then, at jiu-jitsu class, we would hoard/hide a new move we were working on, to spring on guys who were about as good as we were. We were always looking for that “edge” that would make us the best at our belt level. When I was at Relson’s (in Hawaii), Gracie Torrance, or Rickson’s (in L.A.), we were in competition with each other. Any edge was something we had on our team mates. I for one, would be getting tapes from my ex-training partners in HI with “secret” stuff I could use on my L.A. training partners.

That was my “edge.”

Enter the proliferation of Jiu-Jitsu in the USA. Prior to this, Jiu-Jitsu was concentrated in Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Orange County, CA. In the mid-late 90’s, a lot of non-Gracie black belts began their journey to the USA to make a name for themselves. Let’s also get it out there, that they were looking to make a quick buck teaching Jiu-Jitsu classes; it was difficult to make any money running a Jiu-Jitsu school in Brazil when there was an academy around every corner. And in the USA, the Gracies were the only game in town, and charging a lot of money for the privilege of learning Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Starving black belts from Brazil were happy to teach for half what the Gracies were charging.

Loss Of Gracie Control

With the “invasion” of non-Gracie black belts to the USA, came an exodus from the Gracie academies, to a certain degree. After all, with rates so high at a Gracie academy (I remember paying $80 for once a week at the Gracie Academy in 1992, the equivalent of $160/mo for 1x/wk), it would make sense to consider training somewhere else.

Where the Gracies also lost control, was in the curriculum. The Gracies always taught self-defense, takedowns, and ground grappling. Most of the non-Gracies taught primarily the ground grappling aspects of Jiu-Jitsu, since that was where the street fights the Gracies were famous for were largely finished.

After several years, it wasn’t surprising to see the level of ground grappling at other schools exceed the level presented at the Gracie Academy. This was made obvious in the late 90s when there was a Machado vs. Gracie Academy tournament at the Gracie Academy, where the Machado Academy won something like 18 of 20 total matches. Now of course, the Machados were also considered “Gracies,” since they were cousins of Carlos Sr’s kids (children of Carlos, Jr’s mother’s sister) and they grew up training with the Gracie family. The difference, is that the Machados chose a different teaching path from Helio’s sons; in their jiu-jitsu school, they focused on the ground stuff pretty exclusively, since their contention was that the “street effectiveness” of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu had already been proven and well documented.

To many (me included), it looked like the Gracies were in fact, holding techniques back from their students and that the non-Gracies were showing the techniques from Brazil the Gracies could no longer “hide” from the Americans. The thought among many vocal opponents of the Gracies was that they wanted to keep the level of the Americans down so that they could keep us from earning our black belts and “breaking off” and becoming competition to them like Craig Kukuk (the first American black belt) did in the early 90s.

I actually believed (stupidly in hindsight) it when someone once told me that Rorion Gracie had told his brothers to teach no one past the purple belt level. After all, that was the only way to explain how other black belts were teaching techniques I had never seen before. I was seeing the same stuff, over and over, at Helio’s sons’ academies.

It wasn’t until many years later, and after a series of events, that I came “full circle,” so to speak. Although I left “the ranch,” so to speak, in the late 90s (by leaving Rickson’s academy as a 2-stripe purple belt and going to Dirty Dozen member Ken Gabrielson’s academy).

I came back around to believing Helio’s sons “had it right” in the early to mid 2000s.

What changed my mind?

Frankly, it was learning more of those “new” techniques from Brazil.

The new techniques to me, were somewhat “screwy.” They depended a lot on tying up my opponent with his gi or mine to gain/maintain control. They depended a lot on this grip on the lapel, or that grip on the sleeve. Pistol grips, fingers-out grips, competition-legal this, competition-illegal that. I came to realize that grips and correct utilization of my opponent’s gi against him (other than the traditional use of body positioning, angles, or weight placement) were very important.

The concept of utilizing grips so pervasively was completely different from what I had learned up to that point, and I was quite uncomfortable with that.

Coming Full Circle In Jiu-Jitsu

Rickson Gracie has ALWAYS been the man to beat in Jiu-Jitsu.


He left Brazil in his 20s, and for the most part, stayed in the USA, where his family was being raised, and where he ran his jiu-jitsu schools. There was much “innovation” happening in Brazil with the then “world champions.” After Rickson and Relson left Brazil (and left without ever being defeated in competition or on the streets), many other good players back in Brazil became subsequent world champions. I realized later, that these world champions were simply “seat warmers” for the departed “real” world champions, as you’ll soon see.  The prevailing wisdom was that Helio’s sons who were in the USA (Rorion, Rickson, Relson, Royce) were missing out on all the innovation in Jiu-Jitsu and they were being “left behind.” Royler and Rolker however, who were still in Brazil (Royler was still an active competitor) teaching and training amongst the innovators. Everyone in the USA was looking to learn from the most recent “world champion” to come to our country (people still have this mentality). Anyone who competed from Gracie Barra, Gracie Humaita, or Carlson Gracie Team were put on pedestals higher than any of Helio’s sons’ students in the USA.

The G.O.A.T.

I remember specifically, hearing about one world champion, who was at the time, the “Absolute” champion; essentially, he was the “best” in the world at that time, in any weight class. He had a type of guard he played that was virtually impassable, hence the nickname “Spider.”

He made his way to Rickson’s jiu-jitsu school in West L.A. “for a private.” In other words, he specifically came to see if he could beat “The Man.” They start their match with him pulling guard on Rickson. Uh-oh, that’s where “Spider” was most effective, and how he became the Absolute world champion. So, here we are, current Absolute World Champ vs Former Absolute World Champ.

Guess what?

Rickson did what Rickson did to everyone else; he passed Spider’s (impassable) guard like it wasn’t there, mounted him, and then choked him out.

Just like that.

It supposedly happened in about 30 seconds.

So they decide to go again, and Rickson dealt the ultimate humiliation to him by telling him, “Let’s go again. But this time, you start mounted on me.”


The Next Generation Gracies

The next “trigger” event for me, happened years ago, when Ryron Gracie (Rorion Gracie’s eldest son, and eldest grandson of Helio) was still a brown belt. The chat boards were blowing up, talking about a new brown belt phenom being developed by Carlos Machado in Dallas. The prevailing chat board wisdom was that this student of Carlos’ was the best brown belt in America, Gracie or non-Gracie. He was literally mowing through the competition at the tournaments and garnering championship after championship for Carlos (As an older adult, years later, he’s still doing it. He’s legit.).

Somehow, a super fight was set up between Ryron and this other brown belt. That would be perfect! They were about the same size, about the same age, same belt level. Ryron represented the old style (and his father Rorion, who seems to be on everyone’s Jiu-Jitsu “hate” list). This other brown belt represented the new style as taught to him by his Gracie Barra instructor Carlos Machado.

I did see this match, and this is how it went. He pulled guard on Ryron. He was playing an effective open guard (spider, to hooks, to delariva, and back, with sleeve control), keeping Ryron from establishing a secure “base.” There were a couple successful sweep attempts, which happened quickly, before Ryron regained his footing. Try as he might, Ryron was having a difficult time passing his guard. This kid was good.

I thought, “Wow, Ryron doesn’t seem to have an answer to this type of open guard. Perhaps his father did do him a disservice by not allowing him to train much outside of the Gracie Academy.”

Then, Ryron PASSES his guard!

The next 30 seconds went just like I described Rickson’s match with Spider. Ryron passed. Ryron mounted. Ryron CHOKED HIM OUT!

It was over, just like that.

Ryron beat him just like Rorion, Rolls, Rickson, Royce, and Relson beat all those guys in the old “Gracie In Action” tapes I saw in the late 80s-early 90s.

There was nothing Ryron did in that match I had never seen before.

There was another match involving Ryron that happened after he earned his black belt. A super fight was arranged between Ryron and top Ralph Gracie black belt Cameron Earle. Cameron, like his training partners (Dave Camarillo, BJ Penn, Kurt Osiander, among others) were tearing it up on the competition circuit, basically beating all comers. Their match, under less restrictive rules more in line with the competitions in Brazil decades earlier, again pitted Old School against New School. In fact, here is the match, which shows how Jiu-Jitsu has strayed from its “martial” (fighting) roots with the New Style. It only takes about a minute and a half to see the stark contrast between the old traditional style and the new “innovative” style. Ryron is the taller one with large black patches on his pants.

Now don’t get me wrong. Ralph Gracie and his early black belts were all “street-ready.” I call Ralph’s academy a “porrada” jiu-jitsu school; which in Portuguese means that they fight in that academy.

Simply put, Ralph’s guys could fight.

The problem as I see it, was that with all their simultaneous competing in BJJ tournaments, they likely did two slightly different, but very distinct, training styles. When getting ready for a competition (and they competed a lot), they would simulate competition conditions, and would allow themselves to do techniques that would not necessarily work in the street, but allow for a possible advantage in competition. In Cameron’s case, he allowed his back to be picked up off the ground while playing guard, since it is illegal to slam someone while they are playing guard, or attempting a triangle from guard submission.

There is an expression that says we will “fight like we train.” If Cameron trained a lot for competitions, and allowed  himself to develop that false sense of security of not being slammed because it’s illegal in competition, he allowed himself to forget a cardinal rule of fighting from guard on the street, and subsequently, got badly hurt.

The Come To Jiu-Jitsu Moment

Come to find out, being the oldest grandson, Ryron was old enough to receive a lot of coaching from his grandfather Helio. Rumor has it, that when he was a 16 yr old purple belt, Helio would take him to local tournaments in Brazil, and enter him.

But he didn’t enter him as a purple belt; he entered Ryron as a BLACK belt! Ryron would step up to the mat, at which time, Helio would take his purple belt and put a black belt on him. Ryron would compete and (usually) win the match. Before he stepped off the mat, Helio would take off the black belt, put the purple belt back on, give him a hug, and they would walk off the mat together.

If Helio had that much of an influence on Ryron, you can bet he didn’t spend much time learning “modern” Jiu-Jitsu. In fact, as you watch Ryron on YouTube and hear him talk on camera and at seminars, his philosophy to Jiu-Jitsu sounds very similar to what I’d heard Helio’s philosophy was.

I came to realize after seeing Rickson and Ryron beat their opponents that it wasn’t the moves they weren’t teaching that was my problem.

My problem was that I didn’t take enough time to master the basics to the degree they mastered the basics. After all, when you really think about it, how did Rickson, Relson, Rorion, and Royce beat everyone? Basics. Ryron, Rener, and Kron are continuing the tradition. I don’t ever expect to have the basics mastered to the degree they do, but I can certainly keep striving to get an even better command of those very basics for myself and especially, our students.

These basic moves and principles were taught to me as a white belt, and reinforced during my brown belt.

My problem, and the problem of so many students today was that during my blue and purple belts, I wanted to learn TOO MUCH!

During my time as a brown belt, I was not only Coming Full Circle In Jiu-Jitsu, I was having a Come To Jiu-Jitsu moment!

I realized, most of what I was learning was actually contributing to a decline in my Jiu-Jitsu skills.

Yes, a decline.

I was learning more, but I was losing ability faster than I was gaining it. It took a professor like Dave Kama (and my close friend, black belt Tim Nakagawa) to explain to me what I was doing wrong, how to reverse my deterioration, and get me back on the path to the success that suited me.

The Results Of My Coming Full Circle In Jiu-Jitsu

Once I realized what my problem was, I changed my focus, and my Jiu-Jitsu literally took off. My understanding of the art completely opened up, and I understood what was happening around me. Best of all, I was quickly learning what I needed to do, when I needed to do it.

I had been teaching Jiu-Jitsu since 1995, when I was two or three degrees into my purple belt. However, I didn’t come into my own teaching until 2007, when I resumed teaching after a 10-year hiatus from teaching.

Since then, our students have flourished. I spend about 1/4 of the time of their lesson (group or private) talking.

Yes, talking.

We go over my philosophy in Jiu-Jitsu as I took it from Professor Dave and some of the many great instructors I had the privilege to learn under.

We give them a series of do’s and don’ts to train by. And as they progress, we change things up.

As a result, we’ve had enough of a “sample” of students who’ve done exactly as we’ve instructed make it to blue belt and to purple belt since we made the changes to 1) see consistency in their abilities on offense, defense, self-defense, 2) know with a high degree of confidence, that they’ll have no trouble taking care of themselves in almost any street altercation, and finally, 3) we know their jiu-jitsu is so “sound,” they are easily among the top 25% to top 10% of practitioners at their respective belts we’ve ever come across.

We’re always bringing in practitioners from other schools to train with them. It’s always good to have students get some mat time with other schools’ students from time to time. It enables all participants to better their skills, since other academy members will bring in different perspectives in training and philosophy.

Going forward, remember that it’s not important to learn more moves, more submissions, more grips, more tricks, etc. If someone you train with beats you with techniques you learned long ago, and does it in a manner that you see exactly what’s coming but can do nothing to stop it, you come to realize all those tips and tricks you learned on the sly did you absolutely no good.

Get back to basics.


Come Join Us For A Class in our jiu-jitsu schools in Tustin and Laguna Niguel. We’re literally right in the middle of Orange County and a Kama Jiu-Jitsu location is close to anywhere in the OC if the absolute best Brazilian jiu-jitsu is what you’re looking for.

See what we’re about. See what we expose our students to. Learn our philosophy.

You never know. Perhaps my Coming Full Circle In Jiu-Jitsu will benefit you, too!

At Kama Jiu-Jitsu, we are a jiu-jitsu school that teaches you the “mindset” of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, not just Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. We do this to protect us on the street; not to score points or gain an “advantage point” on our opponent. We teach you Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as we learned it from Helio’s sons (in particular, Relson, Royce, Rorion, and Rickson). Come join us for 1 WEEK of FREE jiu-jitsu classes, see how you like it!

Our jiu-jitsu school campuses in Orange County, CA service Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Lake Forest, Foothill Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita, Trabuco Canyon, Ladera Ranch, Irvine, Tustin, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, and Huntington Beach.

Kama Jiu-Jitsu, Laguna Niguel Campus
23500 Club House Drive
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

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Irvine, CA 92612

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Flower Mound, TX 75028
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