Striking arts get a lot of the attention on highlight reels and in the movies. But watching a Jiu-Jitsu match between two highly skilled competitors is one of the most beautiful things you can witness in martial arts. The fact that so much can be built from the simple concepts of balance, weight distribution and leverage have made me a fan of this discipline even before I knew what it was. So when I received an invitation recently to cover a seminar featuring Rickson (pronounced Hickson) Gracie at the grand opening of Pedro Sauer Academy: One Spirit Martial Arts, I was pretty excited to make the trip out to Herndon, VA to visit the academy. I would be meeting not just one of the premier practitioners of BJJ, but really one of the most legendary fighters of all time, Rickson Gracie. But I'll come back to Rickson.
Pedro Sauer was a name I recognized from being a fan and student of martial arts. You can't spend any length of time reviewing fights and fight footage on-line without eventually coming across Pedro Sauer's accepted challenge in 1994 against bodybuilder, Lance Batchelor (Mr. Utah). Check it out here.
I also knew that Sauer was very close to the Gracie family (otherwise known as the royal family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Sauer befriended Rickson Gracie when they were boys growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and it was this friendship that would lead to the beginning of his jiu-jitsu training at age 15. Sauer received his black belt from Helio and Rickson Gracie in 1985. Today, Master Sauer is an 8th degree Red/Black belt in BJJ and is considered one of the pioneers in developing BJJ in the United States.
Master Sauer came to the United States in 1990 spending 6 months living and training in California before making his way to Salt Lake City, Utah where he spent the next 16 years. "I knew nothing about Utah, says Sauer. I knew nothing about Mormons, we went there to teach." Master Sauer eventually made his way to the Washington D.C. area in 2006. He began teaching at One Spirit Martial Arts, starting with about 20 students before he eventually bought the studio and reopened it this past weekend under the Pedro Sauer Academy brand. Master Sauer holds the distinction of being one of the most sought after martial arts instructors of any kind in the country. Over the years he has produced his own high-level instructors and has a vast network of centers and academies across the world that have been influenced by his teachings. In the U.S., Master Sauer works with various law enforcement and military groups in Virginia and has also trained FBI and CIA agents as well as members of the U.S. Navy Seals. The location of his academy just outside of Washington D.C. is a hotbed for government and military professionals seeking instruction. The academy currently has over 300 students and all of them appeared to have showed up Saturday afternoon. There was an air of excitement when I pushed off my shoes and joined everyone on the mat to hear from legendary Master Rickson Gracie.
Master Gracie is a powerful looking man. Even at the age of 57, he has the presence of someone whom you might let take the parking space you were waiting for at the mall. Now for the uninitiated reader, the Gracie family name is synonymous with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, often known as Gracie Jiu Jitsu. The history of the family lineage is wrapped in GIs, black belts and challenge competitions and Rickson is arguably considered not only the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioner in the family but perhaps in the world. The history of his combat exploits read like a Paul Bunyan tale except there is video proof of many of his conquests and live witness accounts to relay the stories of his achievements. A master at submissions, Rickson developed his fight resume in the 80' and 90's and has defeated such fighters as Japanese Daido Juku champion Yoshinori Nishi, kick boxing champion Bud Smith, Pankration champion Masakatsu Funaki, and Japanese wrestling champion Nobuhiko Takada. In 1980, Rickson's notoriety developed by defeating famed vale tudo fighter Rei Zulu, who previously had a record of 140-0. Some years later he drew a wider following after the release of the 1999 documentary, Choke. The film follows Rickson Gracie and 2 other fighters as they prepared to compete in Vale Tudo 1995, an annual mixed martial arts competition held Japan. Rickson Gracie won the event in 1994 and 1995.
While his brother, Royce is noted for bringing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to center stage at UFC 1. It is well accepted that Royce was tasked with representing the family in the tournament to prove the point that the Gracie family form of jiu-jitsu was superior to all other fighting techniques and they could send one of their smallest in stature family members to underscore their belief in the system.
Masters Sauer and Gracie share the belief that the sport of martial art should not take away the self-defense characteristics that are at the origin of the teachings of jiu-jitsu. So while they support tournament engagement, they teach their craft with an eye to technique and real world application.
I couldn't help but be a little envious of the students that day. Day to day they receive instruction from a world renowned master, who brings over his buddy, a living legend to help with class. All in a day's work at the Pedro Sauer Academy.
For more informaton One Spririt Martial Arts go to http://www.virginiabjj.com.
About the Author:
Darryl Keeton is an avid striking, grappling and wrestling fan living in Upper Marlboro, MD. He holds a black belt in Taekwondo and is also a practitioner of Combat Jujutsu, Boxing and Muay Thai.