Choke, the documentary chronicling Rickson Gracie’s triumph at the Vale Tudo Japan 1995 NHB tournament, probably had as much to do with fashioning Rickson’s mythology as his purportedly undefeated fighting record. Against a field that included shoot fighters, leg lockers, tough guys, and at least one future bobsled silver medalist, Gracie left each deflated and beaten through that staple of jiu-jitsu staples: the rear-naked choke. The film shows hidden moments as well—Gracie playing chess, talking about pre-fight celibacy, running to the bathroom and subsequently delaying his fight entrance.
And anyone who’s seen Choke remembers one scene in particular, as much as they might try to forget it. After doing a few basic yoga exercises, Rickson sits in a lotus position, takes several rapid and staccato breaths, looks to his right, exhales deeply, and sends his stomach into a flutter. The muscles of his abdominal wall full under his rib cage, from side to side and back out again, flapping haphazardly like a sail in the breeze. Throughout, Mr. Gracie maintains a facial expression that looks like he mistakenly ate a piece of salmon left sitting on a kitchen counter all afternoon. It induces a feeling that’s not describable with words that exist. It’s not quite awe. Not horror. Certainly not jealousy. Maybe you could call it “can’t-look-away-ness.”
Yesterday, Lyoto Machida, the heir apparent to Vitor Belfort’s mislaid middleweight contendership in a world detoxified of sanctioned testosterone, stirred memories of that documentary when he posted a short clip to Instagram in which he performed the same esoteric exercise.
Apparently, it’s called Nauli, and according to Yoga Journal, the protocol is outlined in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an ancient Sanskrit yoga manual. By expanding and contracting different parts of the abdomen, “Nauli stimulates the digestive fire, thereby removing toxins, indigestions, and constipation … It also claims that it destroys all diseases and increases the bodily fire.” Not sure if that’s been verified in a peer-reviewed journal.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.