VIDEO: The Gracie Brothers Respond to New Year’s Eve Rape

Ryron and Rener Gracie address possible underlying reasons as to why “the jiu-jitsu community has reached an all-time low.”

For many in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) community, the integrity of the art was rocked when news broke that two students from Lloyd Irvin‘s BJJ academy in Washington D.C. allegedly raped a female Lloyd Irvin student.

People today often know of BJJ through its use in mixed martial arts, where its success has been proven time and again. But few know that as a martial art it is considered by many to be the gold standard when it comes to self-defense against rape. And perhaps even fewer know the history of the art form through the eyes of Grand Master Helio Gracie, the creator of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Helio, a frail and sickly young man, further shaped the art into something meant for safety and meant for a smaller, weaker opponent to be able to survive against one far larger and stronger. He achieved this by truly unraveling the science of the art. He studied body mechanics and principles of leverage and then tested his theories repeatedly and against some of the world’s best fighters, quite often at the expense of his health.

While the UFC can highlight jiu-jitsu’s effectiveness when it comes to choking people unconsciousness or breaking arms, those truly rooted in the art – like Ryron and Rener Gracie, the eldest grandsons of Helio – live and breathe the core values every day. Here’s their response to the alleged rape. There are insights here for any martial artist and any person, man or woman.

Also see BJJ blackbelt Ryan Hall’s Open Letter to the Martial Arts Community.

About Cameron Conaway

Cameron Conaway is a former MMA fighter, an award-winning poet and the 2014 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State Altoona. He is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet, Bonemeal: Poems, Until You Make the Shore and Malaria, Poems. Conaway is also on the Editorial Board at Slavery Today. Follow him on Google+ and on Twitter: @CameronConaway.


  1. John Anderson says:

    I read about that story and as a former martial artist that just pissed me off. We had to promise to respect our classmates and respect and defend women to be accepted into the dojang. She was one of their classmates and a woman. It makes me wonder what their teaching the kids these days.

    • Dear John,

      I was equally hurt. The issues here are deep and worthy of a book into themselves. One thought I keep mulling over:

      What does it mean when martial arts turn purely into sport? What happens when the martial arts are stripped of all other values save for their violence? While Rener and Ryron Gracie teach sport BJJ, they also keep self-defense and the moral component that MMA never maintained when it combined all the physical skill of the effective individual arts into one. As MMA has drawn more people than ever to the martial arts, we’ve got many hyper-aggressive/sport-minded “martial arts students” who aren’t just learning how to run fast or kick a ball, as in other sports, but how to choke and break limbs. Definitely something to think about it.

      Thanks for the thoughts here, John. I’m with you.


      • “What does it mean when martial arts turn purely into sport? What happens when the martial arts are stripped of all other values save for their violence?”

        Cameron, I’m in the exact opposite train of thought. I’ve seen far more damage done by “traditional” martial arts instructors with a megalomaniacal bent during my time. The big fish in small pond syndrome along with the cult of personality that follows is one of the greatest dangers of getting involved with traditional martial arts. Contrast this with every judo or boxing instructor I have had who is down to earth and is simply seeking to pass on their skills and knowledge.

        Have you read Ryan Hall’s recent “Open letter to the martial arts community”? He lays it all out pretty well there.

        I think the biggest mistake here is assuming that these guys have “used their power the wrong way” or however you want to put it. This incident had nothing to do with their bjj skills – they used the fact that there were two of them with a single woman that was heavily intoxicated. This is less to do about fighting skills and more to do with acting like predators, which they clearly did. The fact it happened with someone they knew and trained with, well, it’s sickening. I doubt trying to teach these guys morals ala traditional martial arts would have actually done anything.

        • Dear Pete,

          I couldn’t agree more and am glad you used the word “train of thought” rather than an and/or kind of thing. It’s all connected. I’ve been with those megalomaniacal instructors who have never been tested and have an unbelievable ego and I’ve watched students hurt themselves in crazy ways to impress such instructors. I’ve also watched and been part of gyms obsessed with sport where BJJ wasn’t much of an art at all but rather a “kill or be killed” atmosphere where you either sink or swim and if you swim well then you get to join the competition team, get praised and you advance faster in your belt rankings. Lastly, I’ve been part of schools that embrace the art, the sport and the science of it all and do so in a friendly environment and without pressure to veer towards one aspect or the other. Ryan Hall’s letter, in its own way, nailed many of the aspects we’re addressing here. And he did so both through the eyes of someone who is a martial artist AND a ferocious competitor, but above all a rational and empathetic human being.

          Your second paragraph…right on. Thanks for writing here, Pete!


        • John Anderson says:

          @ Pete

          I disagree with that assessment. I think your confusing the uniforms, terms and maybe some customs with traditional martial arts. I think a lot of the true traditional art was lost when it was commercialized to appeal to the masses. The megalomaniac instructors were probably the most commercially successful so they were copied. It shouldn’t take longer than a minute to beat your opponent crap.

          When we went looking for a school, our primary motivation was to learn how to fight. Something like you should be able to beat your opponent in a minute would appeal to us. When we settled on a school, it was partly because we wanted one that would double as a workout and taekwondo is such an areal and beautiful art. To be completely truthful, when Sa Bam Nim decided to move his school, we rejected going to Arlene Limas’s school because the master was female though she was probably the top women’s practitioner in the world.

          We noticed a general trend in the guys who wore the martial arts gear. The lower belts (white to orange) would wear it. The middle belts (green to blue) wouldn’t. Brown belts and up varied. We determined that it was because the lower belts didn’t realize how much they didn’t know. The middle belts understood this and the upper belts were confident in what they knew. One of the first things I did was buy a cool jacket with tigers down the sleeves and a tiger on the back. That’s why they sell them.

          Like a patient father, Sa Bam Nim knew we’d eventually outgrow it, but these are some of the things that goes through a guy’s mind when selecting a school.

          • Not sure what I am confusing here John? I have seen megalomaniac instructors in small traditional schools and in large traditional schools. I have trained in a naginata school with a 400 year lineage and I have trained in and visited a large number of your typical western “traditional” dojo (ie modern styles that go over the top with the tradition aspects), so I know I’m not confusing anything when I talk about traditional arts. The only thing we might not agree on is a bit of terminology.

            I’m really not sure what the rest of your comment is saying – it doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with what we’re talking about.

      • John Anderson says:

        “What does it mean when martial arts turn purely into sport?”

        When I was taking taekwondo there were one or two guys who would enter tournaments at a lower belt so they would be assured of getting a trophy. One of my closest childhood friends on the other hand was a natural talent. Sa Bam Nim said he could be world class, but he was a pacifist and never left comfortable in the limelight. He never liked tournaments. Sa Bam Nim gave him a temporary black belt when he was a blue belt so he could enter as a black belt. He was afraid, but he did it and he even won a few matches. I think a lot of that comes down to the purpose of the sportsman. Is it winning or competition?


  1. […] originally published here at The Good Men […]

Speak Your Mind