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Fall from Gracie

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By Sensei Alberto Rodriguez, Jujutsu

For many years now, I have trained in the close combat method known as Japanese Jujutsu. Over time, I have attained my Black Belt and, having a few students of my own, now I even have some teaching experience too. The insights gained from teaching martial arts have provided me with much joy and always reinvigorates myself with an ongoing desire to continue learning more and more. The more I gain, the more I remain a humble student willing to have my cup refilled.

Grappling is my true passion as I am rather stocky with short arms and legs, I am not truly built to be much of a boxer. I discovered this long ago while Wrestling in high school. As a wrestler, I advanced and did well in many sporting competitions, but I've never had an actual street-fight. I am thankful for this.

In recent times, I had begun to seek out more knowledge on the various grappling arts. So, I decided to seek out some reputable schools around my area and I've attended some seminars too. Seminars are great because you generally get a chance to become more exposed to other artists in various styles and systems, all in one shot.

The best of which was conducted by a Judo and (Russian) Sambo Master named Sensei Gokor Chivichyan. Gokor proved to be completely amazing! He is a World Champion in more than one division and a very highly respected prime associate of the great "Judo" Gene LeBell. His fantastic seminar got me all fired up to learn more from him. However, his dojo was too far away from my home for it to become practical on a weekly basis. I did purchase his DVD's though, and I readily consumed them all.

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Next, after visiting a few more local places, I decided to try one of those Gracie-Barra locations that had recently opened up nearby. Of course, I knew well about the reputation of the great Gracie family mainly from watching Royce Gracie's many wins on early Ultimate Fighting Championships. Their style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became very popular within the last decade, and it seemed like a good idea for me to learn more and give it a fair try. So, I made an appointment with a friendly voice over the phone and soon went in for a training session there.

Without asking, I attended that class in my own standard Gi, which immediately seemed to draw some negative attention from the younger staff members. I did not mean for this to happen, I was only there to try out a class and not to rush right into joining their school upon my initial visit. One instructor's muted comment seemed to imply something was wrong with my attire and he presented an uncomfortable attitude.

Barring that, the first class I attended was definately meant for beginner's. Outlined information was given to us and some basics were taught. It was a standard introduction to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) that any instructor might give to their new students. No problem, I may have done the same to my own students the first time.

Still wanting to explore more BJJ, I did arrange to pay to return for a month worth of classes. My hopes were to garner more specifics and to make some comparisons to what I already knew of the arts. It was research to me.

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During the second hour-long class there, we were instructed to perform about 30 minutes of cardio fitness warm up exercises. Being a big-eater, I didn't mind sweating a bit. However, I was in ok condition for my age so this wasn't really my focus for being there...I was there to learn new techniques. During that class, I recall not really learning anything that I hadn't already been taught elsewhere in the past.

I still returned for more and soon completed my first full week of training in Gracie BJJ at this location.

Near the end of the month, I realized that even the main instructor at the dojo had much less overall experience in any martial arts than I actually did. This Sensei lacked deep personal insights and seemed to have some rather under developed skillsets in areas even though he had his Black-Belt in Gracie BJJ.

Once, in class I asked him a simple question about some particular bio-mechanical reasons for a submission set up that got lost on him, which then told me something about his ability was lacking. A more knowledgable instructor in these arts would have instantly picked it up and had an answer. At that point, I felt he didn't appreciate being somewhat exposed in front of the other students and I could sense his subtle disdain for me.

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That is when I began looking around in there less for specific training insights and more into the actual quality of the training staff itself. No one there appeared to have more than fours years of experience in any martial arts system. It also seemed strange to find so many much younger kids running the place. Even the main instructor must have only been in his mid-twenty's. To me, that really seemed way to be way too young to be teaching! I tend to always give respect where it is deserved, but this place aroused my suspicions. So, I took an even closer look into the Gracie-Barra BJJ organization online. This helped to answer some of my questions and gave rise to my growing first-hand opinons on what they may represent to the martial arts community.

I found numerous negative ratings were posted on many of the Gracie-Barra locations around the USA.

After more research and reflections, I then realized that their fast growing franchise was simply a well-organized money machine of sorts. Here was a standard commercialized business intentially designed for large profit and not neccessarily to provide a service of extreme quality. Like McDonalds, they were not all about building a better burger...their business plan was to open up as many locations as possible, they were franchising McDojos!

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I'm sure that only a few members of the extended Gracie family get directly involved in the day-to-day class instructions at any of these remote independant locations. I imagined that corporate business might be controlled by them though, not many of these dojos seemed to be run by anyone actually personally taught by a prominent Gracie Sensei. Definitely not anyone who was at the particular location I had attended anyway.

Now, I suppose in some cases this shouldn't really matter, however, when it affects the actual quality of whatever services are being offered to paying customers...it definately does make a difference! People should get exactly what they intend to pay for, nothing more or less. Much controversy and complaints have often occured from businesses trying to short-change their clients. You see, honestly and integrity is a big thing in martial arts.

While I do not think this is 100% intentional with the entire Gracie-Barra organization, I do believe it's a prime example of a capitalistic occurance. Widespread growth can often produce the same results. This has happened numerous times in nearly all of the overly franchised commercialized services-related industries in America.

I wonder if their main headquarters is even aware of what seems to be happening to the quality of materials being taught in many of their chain of dojos? It may seem as though tight quality control is not so apparent.

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With this in mind, I certainly hope that they do and aim to better monitor what transpires at these individual schools in order to push towards reform.

After all, they must have concern for their reputation.

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