Since starting to read a dictionary late 2019, I have had little time for any
other reading. Out of the four books borrowed early June (including one
re-read), I haven't even finished one. Over the last weekend, however, I
purused twice Rickson Gracie's new book "Breathe: A Life In Flow" and I also
listened to the audio version.
A matter-of-fact biography in about 250 pages, it was an easy read. Quite a few
stories (mostly of his fights) were already familiar to me but I greatly enjoyed
the details of his life out of the ring. He was a son, a brother, a friend, a
father, a husband, and an American immigrant. The book pictured a real and
down-to-earth person that I could relate to. I didn't have to fight in MMA
to agree with him on parenting, or to disagree with him on managing personal
Showing the human side of the living legend sure makes it harder to worship.
Rickson himself, however, seems comfortable with being a mere mortal like everybody
else. He observes in the book: "I realized at a very early age the value of
interacting with people from all walks of life." This sounds like my kind of hero.
Rickson repeatedly regarded the Gracie diet as one of the pillars of his
family's protocol. The three typical meals, fruit, starch, and salad were
almost exactly what I heard from Maxwell. The specifics were nonetheless
impressive when they came directly from the master, e.g.,
Sweets to us were not cookies and ice cream. They were papayas, mangoes,
figs, or watermelon juice. Sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and coffee were
all strictly prohibited. I grew up thinking that eating chocolate was like
drinking rat poison! Coca-Cola? Poison! Cake and cookies? Poison! As kids,
we were amazed by how much longer uncle Carlos took to finish his meals; he
would chew each bite for over a minute, and it would take him more than an
hour to eat a small plate of food.
I have already suspected it, but his following observation about a figher
confirmed that Jiu Jitsu should be as much a life style as it is a fighting
What I noticed most about him was that although his Jiu-Jitsu was
technically excellent, he could not apply it to his life off the mat. This
fighter took drugs instead of finding a more hollistic way to balance
himself, which only left him more uncentered. He was a superficial warrior
who lacked the spiritual component.
I can also relate to his experiences as an immigrant to America.
[Compared with Brazil,] America had a much more idealistic constitution and
grew into a more orderly society--literally. People here did things that I
had never seen before: They stood in line, stopped for traffic lights, and
mostly obeyed the law.
People here live according to what they can prove and explain. If they can't
explain something, they deem it unacceptable and unbelievable. However,
rationality has its limits; not everything can be explained on paper.
Created by Helio Gracie for self-defense, BJJ has exploded globally with the
UFC, an event launched by the Gracies to showcase the effectiveness of their
family martial art style. Since then, however, competitions have attracted the
most attention, and Jiu-Jitsu has become to many people a sport. That is what
most schools teach 90% of the time these days. The situation reminds me of the
second chapter of the Tao De Jing, which basically says that when everyone thinks
something's good, it ceases to be good anymore.
Rickson, however, has always been passionate about bringing back the
self-defense element, what Gracie Jiu Jitsu was originally created for, to help
the average guy instead of just the athlete. After failing to unite the
established organizations to achieve this goal, he now is content with sharing
his knowledge through seminars and online courses.
Of course, his mission of empowering the weak through Jiu Jitsu sits well with
me, an aging Chinese immigrant in the storm of Asian Hate. My training is not
about the belt-level and neither do I care about competing. My goals are health,
self-defense, and community. I am grateful to the master for his humility and
service. Half-way through the book, I subscribed to Rickson's academy.