Eddie Bravo: Formless Wisdom Pt. 1
By: Adisa Banjoko
Jiu Jitsu Innovator and UFC Commentator Eddie Bravo
Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the more flexible and adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it. - Lao Tzu
Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) first touched down in the United States in the late 80’s. At first, like everything else, it was ignored. But soon after its arrival, we saw suave speaking dudes with very little in the way of threatening physicality demolish men of brawn with ease. It made American martial artists rethink everything they had been doing all the years prior. Most American audiences left the first MMA matches confused, but respectful of what they did not understand. “What did that Royce dude do again?” was echoing across the plains. But then, eventually, the Americans caught on. Once we got bit by the Brazilian grapplin’ bug, we never let go.
Remember now, this is America. Love us or hate us, American’s are innovators who break rules and shun traditions. We do what we want, because we know we can. So when an unknown guy named Eddie Bravo began beating some of the top Brazilians with moves like The Twister- we saw things changing. Not long after that, we watched in awe as that same guy forced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu living legend Royler Gracie to tap out at the ADCC World Grappling Championships!
It was like Eddie was from another world! His approach was beyond what we had seen. Soon after, Eddie Bravo opened 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu. His system most known for the ever popular Rubber Guard, and his approaches to The Twister is one of the most genuine examples of American improvements on the Brazilian model. Eddie Bravo is the author of two books “Mastering the Rubber Guard” and “Mastering the Twister” as well as a 3 DVD series on his system. It’s undeniably powerful in style and approach. Eddie Bravo knows his system well and transfers the system effectively.
Eddie’s root approach to jiu jitsu exploits flexibility. By refining his use of flexibility, Bravo designed a new matrix of possibility of how someone can attack a man fighting from the bottom. This gives the practitioner new perspective on what it means to use formlessness in combat. Its refreshing to see in an MMA world where more and more we see weak, passive guards being the downfall of many BJJ “expert”. At the same time, critics argue that the 10th Planet deviate too far from traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. That it has some authentic applicable aspects, but an equal amount of weaknesses. One some argue, is that everybody will not, and cannot be extremely flexible. Besides, original BJJ was cool because you did not need a great deal of strength, speed or flexibility to be effective.
When Bruce Lee introduced Keet Kune Do many were sold on it be cause of how powerfully effective Bruce was with it. However, since his passing and the evolution of MMA into a mainstream American sport, JKD has all but disappeared. Some say its because Bruce was its only true innovator. They say no one was courageous enough to carry the torch for the system to help it advance. The 10th Planet system has some convincing up and coming grappling stars, like Denny Prokopos among others. But it may be some time before we have a clear understanding of the 10th Planet impact on ground fighting. There is one thing is for sure though, Eddie Bravo has changed the face of contemporary BJJ.
In this interview we have an in depth look at Eddies journey to becoming a jiu jitsu innovator, and how he has used jiu jitsu to further his true passion in life- music. Talk about a guy with a life strategy…
HHCF: How did 10th Plant Jiu Jitsu start? How was your jiu jitsu system born?
EB: Well, I got my black belt in jiu jitsu from Jean Jacques Machado in traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. But by the time I was a purple belt I was already morphing my style of jiu jitsu into a whole different style in itself. So when I decided to open my school, I was already thinking more about no-gi than the average jiu jitsu guy. I was a no-gi fanatic. I hated the gi. I hated training in a big bath robe. There was too much stalling. It was too slow.
So when I got my own school, I dropped the gi. No gi was more fun, and I wanted to have more fun. At Jean Jacques Friday nights were fun. I wanted every day to be fun. The head of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation, is Carlos Gracie Jr. He felt like I was dissing or betraying the gi, by not teaching in it. He thought I was a traitor.
I said “Well, I don’t need any of those Brazilian politics anway”. I decided to start my own school, with my own ranking system- and go off on my own.
HHCF: OK so Carlos Gracie Jr. was not a fan. Were there any other hurdles that you did not expect?
EB: First of all, this whole jiu jitsu thing was an accident. My whole goal since I was ten, was to produce music. Jiu jitus was just a way to stay in shape, so I wasn’t a fat rock star. I moved to Hollywood in ’91. Put together a band. I did not wanna be a fat rock star. So, I got into martial arts. I went from karate to jiu jitsu after I saw Royce Gracie beat all the karate guys. I got obsessed with the jiu jitsu.
But my plan was never to open up a school. It was like “If nothing else works out, I’ll have jiu jitsu”. It was a last resort. I thought the music was gonna blow up first. The jiu jitsu blew up first. Once I tapped out Royler Gracie that changed everything for me in the jiu jitsu world.
HHCF: Wait! You are moving too fast. That match really defined you as a fighter- would you say that?
EB: It made it possible to teach jiu jitsu and make a living off of it. I was working for The Man Show. I was a writer for The Man Show for one season. During that time, I knew the show was gonna get canceled- it was terrible. I thought, “What the hell am I gonna do? I’m probably gonna have to start taking some MMA fights. My dream was never to do MMA. The reason I got into no gi was because in the back of my mind it was like “If the music has not popped yet, and I have a choice…Between getting up at 5 AM in the blue collar days, or doing MMA- I’m gonna do MMA.
I wanted to open up a school in LA, but all the legends are here. Rickson is here, the Machado’s are here…Many Brazilians came to LA to set up shop and just crumbled. They have had to go to Wyoming, or Tenesse, or Virginia- then they are gods out there. ‘Cause there is no competition. Its so hard to get anything going in LA. So that was not an option for me as the man show was winding down.
I’m thinkin’, “I gotta fight man. I gotta fight! F***!!
But it was while at The Man Show, that I went to Brazil and tapped out Royler.
Eddie Bravo Vs. Royler Gracie at ADCC 2003 Grappling Championships
HHCF: I don’t wanna stop you. But I have to ask, what did you do to prepare mentally for the match against Royler Gracie?
EB: Mentally? Whew! I’d never been a professional athlete. I never competed. It was all for fun and just to test myself. It was more like “Lets go to the Abu Dhabi Trials and see what happens? Oh, I won? I’m going to Brazil? Maybe I should start weight lifting and doing the things that athletes do.”
Mentally, I did not prepare in any special way, the way Randy Couture does. I was nervous, but I felt confident that I could handle myself. There was a chance that I could do well. There was a chance that I could get smoked. It would not have surprised me to beat Royler. It wouldn’t have suprised me to get smashed.
But once that happened I was able to open up a jiu jitsu school in LA. Right away I was able to open a school and make a living. Im right here in LA right next to Rickson and Jean Jacqu. I’m not ballin’ outta control or anything. But I am making some money and I am able to work. The main thing was not going back to the blue collar life. I’m opening affiliates all over the world. I’m teaching seminars all over the world.
So now, all the money I made in jiu jitsu is funding my studio in Van Nuys, CA. I’m producing five different acts. I’m just using the jiu jitsu to blow my music up. Jiu jitsu was always an accident. I was just lucky enough to beat Royler Gracie. Thank God I don’t have to fight! I can teach jiu jitsu, make money and concentrate on our music.
HHCF: Do you remember what Royler said to you after the match?
EB: He didn’t say anything to me. He gave me a respectful hug. I was told after he did an interview on the sideline and said “I’m not a machine. I made a mistake. What are you gonna do”?
HHCF: Looking at the youtube videos you have on training, has revealed a lot to me. Mostly, about my own laziness. You’ve got students like Denny and an armada of fighters you are grooming. If you had some core advice for anyone about what they could do to improve- what would it be?
EB: I’m not an awesome strength and conditioning coach. All I’m good at, is teaching folks how to submit people without the gi. Thats what I’m good at. But my drills and classes and strategies- they work. But when it comes to training fighters to be champions? That comes from within. Like Denny, the guy you mentioned- he has a champions mind. He studies the fight game like a rookie quarter back studies a playbook. He’s always training and always thinking. You either got that or you dont. People know what Denny got. Still they try to be champions. But Denny just pushes further than others. I’m just guiding. Denny is doing the real work. I’m just steering.
HHCF: As amazing and innovative as your system is, there are critics. They say that you ignore the basics of the art. They say you rely too heavily on flexibility. Do you agree?
EB: Anyone who says I don’t teach the basics- they don’t come to my school. They have never seen me teach. I mix it all up. Also, consider that its hard to look at something new, and still consider it basic. If its valid, you look at it and you think of it as high tech. The rubber guard actually isn’t that hard. It just takes work. Like the open guard or any other aspect of jiu jitsu. You teach someone open guard its gonna take a while before they get really good at it. I already got guys that have been training for six months that are using mad rubber guard. See, thats basic at my school. Its just not basic to anybody else.
To say that my style relies on flexibility is like to say that Cro-Cop’s style relies on flexibility- because he kicks to the head. People think you need all of this crazy flexibility [to do the rubber guard]. Not many people have it. But nobody really used it ’cause no one really needed it. Its like the rubber guard is discovering that you can kick to the head and knock people out. But no ones been doing it. So no one can kick to the head. You gotta get flexible its part of your game. Its not like there are bones in your groin that keep you from being rubber guard flexible. You just gotta get off you a** and stretch.
I got plenty of guys that cant do rubber guard. They work on their stretching. They do yoga or whatever- stretch in their free time. To day that my style is all about flexibility is true. But at the same time anybody can have that flexibility.
HHCF: So for you, developing flexibility is just as important as cardio, strength or another aspect of fighting?
EB: Yes, explosiveness, cardio, all that. Its all the same. If you want dangerous head kicks you gotta stretch. You wanna do the rubber guard, you gotta stretch. Its just so new, that people don’t know how to take it.
You got instructers all over the planet. They’re not gonna teach it. Because they are not going to promote a system and style they cannot teach. They’re not flexible. So they are not gonna teach it. For an instructor who is not flexible and cant teach rubber guard- its GOOD for him to tell people it does not work. “Its a waste of time”…Thats good business for them.
Hardcore instruction by Eddie Bravo
HHCF: So thats how it all happened, huh?
EB: I am really, a music producer, whos ventures are being funded entirely from martial arts. Thats the real story. I moved to Hollywood in 91. I started training jiu jitsu in 1994. My friends who I grew up with…They are just finding out what this jiu jitsu thing is and cant believe it. They look at me as a wannabe rock star.
I got back from Abu Dhabi and my mom is like “How’d you do baby?” I’m like, “I lost the tournament but I beat Royler. Shes like, “Awwww, maybe next time”. She didn’t know what that meant! [laughs]. My uncles are like “I know a guy at work who does jiu jitsu and he does not believe that I know you. What’s going on? What did you do”?
I never really explained to my family what it meant. You talk to people that knew me, they’d be like “Eddie Bravo tapped out a Gracie? No way that guys is a p****. He’s writing books on the art of strangulation and joint manipulation. They remember me as a long haired dude moving to Hollywood trying to be a rock star.
Jiu Jitsu dudes are like “Awww, he’s trying to do music now. How is it possible that this guy is doing jiu jitsu and he’s good at music”? But I rammed it down their throats. I made music videos and sprinkled them in my instructional videos. Before it was like ten percent of my jiu jitsu fans liked my music. Now its in the eighty to nintey percent. Anybody can reach me by hittin me at www.myspace.com/thetwister !!