author: Maynard Keenan
A conversation with Gracie Jiu Jitsu Master Rickson Gracie and TOOL
singer/songwriter, Maynard James Keenan.
Balance. This simple concept seems to be the underlying answer to all
questions posed by Steve and I to Rickson Gracie (pronounced
Hickson) this morning. Rickson, a native of Brazil, is one of the
older brothers or Royce Gracie (three time champion of the popular pay
per view event “The Ultimate Fighting Championship”) and, with a
record of far more than four hundred straight wins, is considered to
be the most formidable of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu practitioners. Steve
and I asked at great length what, in his opinion, made it possible for
him to achieve such a status. Much to my pleasure, it had nothing to
do with being a three hundred pound hairy ape on steroids. It had
nothing to do with lifting weights till you achieve stretch marks or
eating any and everything all day long. Nor did it have anything to do
with hatred, psychosis, or whateveraphobia. It did, however have
everything to do with balance.
Rickson: Jiu Jitsu is like a philosophy. It helps me learn how to face
Maynard: In what way?
Rickson: In every way. To understand our society, to relate myself to
people, to compete in an actual self defense tournament, to feel
confident to walk on the street and to be able to help people, to be
strong enough to forgive…
——-Balancing the Scales of Justice——
Maynard: Do you think it is better to avoid a fight rather than to
provoke a fight?
Rickson: I believe that you must do what you believe you have to do.
If I don’t believe I should fight, I’m not gonna fight. My decision
is based more on my personal honor than it is on who I’m channeling my
anger towards. For example, if I see a guy smacking an old lady I’m
going to do something about that. I don’t care who it is. It’s a
moral concern. I cannot live with this on my mind without taking
action just because I don’t know who it is. In cases like this my
honor, my dignity, and my moral code is much more important than my
——Balancing Aggressive Nature with Physical Limitations——
Steve: Do you think that Gracie Jiu Jitsu has something for the person
who doesn’t have a natural talent?
Rickson: Definitely. I can’t think of any one with less physical
ability than my father, Helio Gracie. When my father was twelve the
doctor said that he couldn’t do any exercise because of vertigo. If he
ran 200 yards in a sprint, he would pass out. But he is a very short
tempered, tough guy. So with the impossibility of using power while
training with his uncle in Jiu Jitsu, he was forced to develop his
own technique thus balancing his inability. We like to say that
Einstein was to mathematics what Helio Gracie is to Jiu Jitsu. He
totally invented 80 percent of the Jiu Jitsu we have today. Leverage
and sensitivity and using the opponent’s energy against himself are
basic to Jiu Jitsu, but the application of these principles was never
done in the way my father developed them. My father broke the mold. He
initiated a different perspective. It used to be that when someone
told you, “hey, there’s a tough guy coming here to kick your ass,” you
imagine this big guy with and ugly face. He’s 280 pounds and has big
fists. You don’t imagine a guy who weighs 135 pounds.
——Balancing Wants and Needs——
Maynard: I don’t know if you realize how significant it is but, seeing
your whole family showing up in support of Royce at the UFCs is a very
moving image for many people. It seems that you don’t see that kind of
family love and pride much anymore.
Rickson: Especially in the big cities. People don’t make the time to
give to each other. I think that’s just a sign of our times. Smart are
the ones who try to preserve those old elements. People today just
want to make money. I understand that and respect that but… I find
myself in a very fortunate position because I love what I’m doing and
I’m good at it. So I make a living.
Maynard: It seems that here in the states, people are more concerned
with doing something to make money than they are with doing what it is
that they love to do. They decide that money is the goal and then
begin to figure out what they’ve got to do to get it. They forget to
listen to themselves to find out what it is they really are not only
best suited for but are passionate about as well.
Rickson: Yes. I think exactly the opposite. You need to make money but
it should never be the priority. What you like to do is what you
should try your best at doing. The money is gonna come. That’s the way
people really get rich, you know? They just enjoy what they do and the
money comes in some way. It’s the same with the work out. Some people
think that the workout is to increase heartbeats or flexibility or
endurance or coordination. So they make up exercises to improve one of
more of these areas. When I’m doing exercise, what I’m trying to do is
meditate. Get in a state that I feel a balance between body, mind, and
spirit. It’s just enjoyment. When I train in Jiu Jitsu I don’t have a
clock in mind. I’m just feeling and flowing. When playing or surfing
or hiking there are no timings or special rules. If you love it you
just get into it with your whole body. You don’t care that it’s
Maynard: …and the endurance comes.
Rickson: I can’t imagine going on a stair master or lifting weights or
whatever to get in shape.
——Balancing the Diet——
Maynard: I heard that the Gracies also follow a specific diet.
Rickson: Yes. It doesn’t have as much to do with what or how much you
eat as it does with how you combine your foods. You can eat
vegetables, fruit, rice, beans, meat, or whatever. But the most
important thing is the food combinations. The digestive process is the
biggest workout your body does on a daily basis. You use energy to
digest. You can save energy by choosing foods that digest better in
certain combinations, and you can absorb more nutrients and gain more
energy by choosing food that use compatible enzymes to digest.
Maynard: So in the reverse…if you eat something that is difficult to
digest and has no nutritional value…
Rickson: Exactly. You waste even more energy. We are not cows. We
don’t have to eat all day long to maintain. We eat, digest, absorb,
then rest. For me, I think three meals a day is enough. I spend at
least four hours in between without anything but water.
Maynard: A very traditional Brazilian dish is black beans and rice,
but in your diet this is a bad combo.
Rickson: That’s right. What you really want to fight in your body is
the fermentation process. Fermentation basically is a bad combination
between acids you produce to digest your food. For example, when you
eat rice, your mouth produces specific acids to break down the rice so
your stomach can begin the digestive process. When you eat ice cream,
or an apple, or watermelon juice, your mouth produces completely
different acids. And that can create a bad chemical reaction in your
body. You feel heavy or sluggish which is not good. It’s not only
uncomfortable, it’s counter productive.
——Balancing Perspective/Points of View——
Rickson: I believe that you should have an evolutionary point of view.
You must meditate, you must pray, you must be thankful, you must give.
I think those things are very important spiritually for you to be at
peace with yourself. Once you’ve tried to improve spiritually,
physically, and mentally your are in a good way. Even if I lost my two
legs now I don’t think that it would make me lose the sense of life.
Of course I’m not gonna be a fighter anymore, but I’m able to allow
myself to do other things. I’m gonna try to swim. I’m gonna try to
surf. I don’t know what else, but I’m definitely going to still be in
love with life and learning. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play
the piano, but I’ve never had the time. Or play the guitar. So many
things. Some people have legs and they don’t use them because they’ve
focused on something else. I think every bad thing has a good way to
look at it. Of course I love to do what I’m doing, but if I get
sick…understand? The mind is so beautiful and so wild and you can
have so many different things. There’s always a good side to
everything. Nothing is totally desperate. Like “Oh…I lost my job.”
You lost your job? Go to the beach, man. Get some waves.
Maynard: If you have a clear mind like that, and if you have
confidence in life and in yourself you’re going to get fed.
Rickson: Definitely. You can’t be negative all the time.
Maynard: You can, but don’t expect for things to come to you very