Last Saturday night I was backstage at Metamoris III, shooting photos when Eddie Bravo entered the warm-up room, visibly upset. He’d just dominated Royler Gracie in their long-awaited rematch. But he wasn’t celebrating. Wide-eyed and holding the table for support, he recounted to our small group how Royce Gracie just accosted him outside the tent, threatening to beat his ass.
What the fuck?
The long-brewing feud culminated not on the mat, as we all believed, but outside, in the staging lot, while Bravo puked on the asphalt due to a post-fight adrenaline dump.
The backstory: in 2003, at the prestigious ADCC no-gi submission grappling tournament, Bravo faced the much-decorated Royler. This wasn’t just a jiu jitsu match, this was David vs. Goliath. Bravo, the unknown brown belt versus Royler, the three-time ADCC and four-time World BJJ legend. Stepping onto the mat, the Brazilian fans cheered for their hero. Eleven minutes later, Bravo submitted Royler with a brutal triangle choke, and the crowd sat murmuring.
“After I stood up, I remember this stone silence, and there’s [Joe] Rogan on the side of the mat screaming,” Bravo told me.
Many (in my experience, most) Brazilians dismissed the victory: ‘Shit, Leo Vierra dominated Bravo in the next round…’ and ‘… everyone gets lucky, he never competed after that tournament…’ and ‘… if his no-gi techniques are so great, why hasn’t a single 10th Planet grappler won ADCC?’
What these critics really wanted was a chance, justa chance, for Royler to avenge the loss. Eleven years they waited.
Until Metamoris III.
Metamoris, a professional submission-grappling tournament, is the brainchild of Ralek Gracie. Ralek, nephew of Royler, nephew of Royce, brother of Rener and Ryron, and grandson of Helio.
I know that’s old testament convoluted, but understanding the Gracie family tree is critical to understanding jiu jitsu. In short: during the 1920s Carlos Gracie learned the art from Otavio Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese businessman, and in-turn Carlos taught his many brothers. Come 1951, Helio, the weakest of the clan, gained national fame by challenging Masahiko Kimura, one of the greatest judoka of all time, to a submission-only match before 20,000 Brazilian fans. Helio lost via arm-lock, but so incredible was his performance against this much-larger opponent, that it cemented his family’s modernization of Japanese jujutsu as the system to learn.
Following Royce’s domination of the initial UFC tournament (brainchild of Rorion Gracie, son of Helio, father of Ralek), Brazilian jiu jitsu upended the worldwide martial arts community. Forget kenpo, tae kwon do, shotokan, aikido—it was time to crown BJJ as the new king. And also time to crown the Gracies as the most influential martial arts family. Ever.
Once in the veins, like any hardy virus, jiu jitsu continued to mutate and evolve. Non-Gracies contributed notable techniques that dominate the art today: spider guard, De La Riva guard, the berimbolo. Different academies focused on self-defense jiu jitsu, or sport jiu jitsu.
Eddie returned to the United States and opened 10th Planet jiu jitsu, a school based on his unorthodox brand of no-gi grappling. Over the ensuing years he conceived an entire system of interlocking moves, all designed to improve jiu jitsu for MMA. His laid-back stoner approach resonated with those resistant to training in ‘pajamas.’ The schools multiplied, and today the cult of 10th Planet boasts nearly fifty locations. However, success invites resentment, especially from entrenched power. You can guess the rest.
Last night I dropped by 10th Planet Headquarters in Los Angeles, and I rolled with Eddie. He showed me the Vaporizer—the technique that nearly finished Royler during their Metamoris match. Lying on his back, he entwined my leg in a calf-slicer that tweaked my knee, my ankle, my whole goddamn lower body, into the most painful pretzel. I’ve got no shame in tapping to leg attacks (watch my grappling match versus Joe Lauzon). ACL surgery is at least an eight-month ordeal.
During their match, Eddie secured the Vaporizer and Royler’s knee popped. Eddie paused and asked if he was okay. ‘Yeah, it always does that,’ Royler responded. So Eddie torqued harder, and the knee popped again, and again, and again, yet Royler endured.
As per the rules, the match was declared a draw. No matter who you cheered for, all viewers agreed—Royler is a beast! One of the greatest grapplers to ever live. But Eddie dominated the entire twenty minutes. Sweeping. Threatening submission after submission. No, he didn’t win per the established rules, but so incredible was his performance that most fans, and critics, left with a newfound appreciation of his 10th Planet system.
How ironic, that history repeats, eh?
Of course, in times of crisis, all good families circle the wagons—and God bless them for it, I'm sure I’d have done the same for my brother. Following the match, the official Metamoris Instagram account posted a photo of Royler atop Eddie, with the declaration:
@roylergracie was poised and methodical in some of the most uncomfortable positions ever seen on the mat. Escaping two crotch rippers, passing Bravo’s guard and coming up with a smile! Even Eddie’s strongest submission attempt did not finish Gracie… Royler!!!
After widespread backlash, the post was deleted.
And Royce, he owned the attack by claiming that he confronted Bravo over disparaging statements he’d made years past. Bravo told him, no, I’ve always praised the Gracies—just read my book published in 2005.Royce says Bravo pointed his finger and raised his voice. I didn’t witness the altercation, so I only know the confrontation escalated until Jean Jacques Machado(Bravo’s jiu jitsu professor, and Royce’s cousin), intervened.
Many in the jiu jitsu community, not just the Gracies, feel tasked with protecting the sport’s legacy. That’s an admirable sentiment, but grappling doesn’t belong to a single family, or team, or nation. Nor does it belong to the Japanese monks who learned it from the Chinese, who learned it from the Indians, who learned it on the trade routes from the Greeks. Peruse the ancient Lascaux cave paintings from 15,000 BC, and you’ll see that grappling is the oldest sport in the world. It belongs to all of us. American wrestlers. Russian Sambo fighters. Japanese judoka. And Brazilian jiu jitsu players the world over.
End of story.
So as Bravo stood in the warm-up tent, rattled and trying to make sense of the confrontation, gone was his post-fight elation. I felt terrible for him. Finally, Andre Galvao, a Brazilian multi-time ADCC and World BJJ champion, placed his hand on Bravo’s shoulder and told to him forget the dust-up. He’d proven himself and his jiu jitsu, and he deserved to celebrate. “Now it’s time we all learn from each other,” Andre said.
After a moment Eddie nodded, and finally he smiled.
DISCLAIMER: I train with Rafa & Gui Mendes at their Art of Jiu Jitsu Academy, which is affiliated with ATOS, Andre Galvao’s academy. This is why I was backstage in the warm-up tent with Eddie—the non-Gracie’s were, for obvious reasons, segregated. Further, I know all the parties (sans Royler) involved, so I’m not trying to cast blame, as blame is a childish fucking concept—instead, as with most conflicts, this incident can serve as an opportunity to heal rifts and reach a new understanding. As the Grandmaster Carlson Gracie would say (as per the ancient samurai): ‘OSSSSS!’
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