Rickson Gracie: The Jiu Jitsu Phenom Who Overcame All Odds

Rickson Gracie is the son of grandmaster Helio Gracie and a very well-known name in the BJJ community. According to legendary fighters Paulo Filho, Ricardo Arona, and Demian Maia, Rickson is the all-time most incredible dude to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

A fearless and innovative guy, Rickson Gracie put grappling to the map of martial arts by participating in many Vale Tudo tournaments in his native Brazil and Japan in the 1980s and 1990s.

With legendary submission victories over Rei Zulu, Nobuhiko Takada, Yuki Nakai, and Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Rickson demonstrated the true power of BJJ in the MMA ring.

Rickson is the man who did the most to popularize Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the world of mixed martial arts after Royce Gracie. Continue reading to learn more about Rickson’s contribution to jiu-jitsu and martial arts.

Rickson Gracie Early Life and Family

Rickson and Royce Gracie

Rickson Gracie is the third oldest son of grandmaster Helio Gracie (one of 9 sons), a brother of Rorion and Relson. Also, he’s a half-brother of other Gracie family legends: Royce, Rolker, Robin, and Royler.

His son Kron Gracie is a UFC fighter who competes in the featherweight (145 lbs) division. He also has two more children, Kauan, and Kaulin, while his son Rockson died from an overdose in 2000.

His father, Hélio, saw the son’s potential and prepared him to follow the BJJ path of his predecessors from the early stages of his life. His role models were his dad and cousins Carlson and Rolls Gracie.

Rickson has always considered himself a BJJ, not an MMA fighter, and he has never cross-trained in other martial arts to compete against the perfect fighters on the planet.

He got his black belt at 18, and in 2017, he met the requirements for the red belt, the highest BJJ ranking, but he turned it down due to a lack of IBJJF achievements.

Related: Rickson Gracie Breathing Technique: The Ultimate Guide!

Rickson Gracie’s Beginnings in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Rickson started training with his family in the early days of his life. He was a specialist in transitions and submission switches and was ahead of his time.

In childhood, the BJJ warrior participated in grappling competitions and showed tremendous potential.

The first massive fight of his career happened against Rei Zulu, a martial artist qualified in taracca, a wrestling style, when he was 20 years old. Rickson could survive on the ground despite being overweighed and submit his opponent with a nasty third-round rear-naked choke.

In the meantime, Rickson also won the Pan-American Sambo championship in 1980 in the -74 kg weight class.

The second fight with Rei Zulu happened in 1984 and ended in a controversial affair. One hour before the fight, Gracie demanded a rule change, banning soccer kicks and closed-fist strikes, and also accused his opponent of oiling with Vaseline before the fight.

Yes, Rickson won via rear-naked choke again, but Zulu tried to eye gouge him while Gracie unloaded an illegal low blow.

Rickson Gracie’s Fighting Record

Rickson Gracie’s grappling legacy is outstanding. He holds a record of 10-0 (confirmed fights), with notable victories over Sergio Penha, Rigan Machado, Murilo Sa, and Otavio Peixotinho.

The majority of his BJJ wins came via an armbar. But he was also an expert in a rear-naked choke and other choke submissions that cut the blood flow to the brain and force the opponent to pass out.

And how here comes the controversial side of the story. It is said that Rickson has an unbelievable record of 410 wins and 0 losses.

Yet, it is reported that Gracie lost to Dr. Ron Tripp in a Sambo tournament in the early 1990s in Oklahoma City. Also, the BJJ fighter from Brazil was criticized because many believed he failed to meet the current champs and high-level fighters.

Aside from that, Rickson Gracie is a fan of a BJJ philosophy that emphasizes efficiency, discipline, harmony, and humility. He is trying to follow these concepts in life, training, and fighting.

You will rarely see a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu fighter attempting a submission when the opponent is already on the way to slipping out of it. In that case, the Gracie fighter will probably try to switch positions and attack the other area of the opponent’s body.

Rickson Gracie’s Legacy and Impact on Jiu-Jitsu and MMA

Rickson took part in Vale Tudo 1994 in Japan, an 8-men MMA tournament in Japan. He defeated legendary Dave Levicki and Bud Smith via submission (strikes), forcing Yoshinori Nishi to tap out in the rear-naked choke.

As a tournament winner, he decided to travel to “The Land of Rising Sun” in 1995 again.

Again, three legends fell thanks to his rear-naked choke, which shows how dangerous Gracie BJJ fighters are when they take your back. He forced Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Koichiro Kimura, and even legendary Yuki Nakai to surrender when he wrapped both arms under their necks.

Following his two back-to-back armbar wins over Nobuhiko Takada in Pride FC 1 and Pride FC 4, he took part in the final fight against Masakatsu Funaki, scoring another dominant submission win for an incredible 11-0 MMA record.

But here is an exciting story. Takada called out Gracie to fight in Japan later. Still, Rickson didn’t accept the callout!

So, Takada’s student Yoji Anjo traveled to California, America, and brought a lot of media with him to try to claim the honor of his teacher back. But, then, Rickson accepted the combat but didn’t allow the press to record.

Anjo failed to lure a BJJ expert to the Japanese promotion, and the two participated in a battle behind closed doors in Gracie’s dojo.

Instead of submitting him, Gracie chose to batter Anjo, whose face looked horrible after the fight. But, the Gracie dojo has never allowed this bout to see the public eye.

His famous sentence from this fight will be remembered forever:

“If we fight for money, I’ll stop hitting you when you ask me to. If we fight for honor, I’ll stop hitting you when I feel like it.”

Rickson Gracie

Rickson did a lot in the world of BJJ, winning many tournaments and creating tons of great fighters.

Unfortunately, he retired from the scene when his son Rockson tragically passed away. However, he planned to square off against the popular “Gracie Hunter” Kazushi Sakuraba, a warrior who destroyed most Gracie fighters.

Yet, he appeared again in 2014 in “The Jiu-Jitsu Global Federation.” They aimed to restore BJJ to its fighting roots without the sports-specific aspect that significantly changed the sport in the last few years.

Rickson Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu Philosophy

In Rickson Gracie’s philosophy, there is no defeat. His most famous sentence is,

“losing is not the same as being defeated”.

For Gracie, defeat means “something where you assume you have no more chances.”

The word “indomitable” captures the essence of what Gracie’s philosophy is based about. It is the opposite of the word “dominate, ” meaning to “never accept defeat and maintain an unconquerable spirit.”

You can apply it to many other areas of your life too. For example, let’s say you’re trying to learn a new skill but constantly having difficulty doing it correctly, but you keep trying no matter what!

Or, let’s assume you’re trying to fix some exterior on your house. You will try a few times and go through hell due to failing attempts, but you will do a great job and be satisfied with the design. You keep trying no matter what happens because when you stop attempting, you will accept defeat. 

Let’s remember his first fights with Rei Zulu. Rickson was in a bad spot many times but refused to surrender despite being massively outweighed. However, he never stopped trying to take Zulu’s back, which finally paid out.

I hope you watched the UFC bout between Dan Severn and Royce Gracie, as Royce did the same. Even David can beat Goliath!

Rickson Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu Lessons

For Rickson, “passive” and “patience” are great for comparison. The two might look similar from the outside, as both are related to “the absence of action,” but they are pretty much different. 

The passive person will not take the opportunity due to bad timing or a lack of power. On the other hand, the patient will use his will’s ability to wait until getting the perfect chance or opportunity.

For Rickson, “patience is a virtue that helps the lion kill the zebra.” For him, PATIENCE MATTERS.

In life, you’ve got to be patient and wait for the perfect opportunity, then get the advantage of it.

For example, work hard, prove your values, and ignore haters until the new spot opens where you’ll earn more money (or you can patiently wait to get promoted). If you can’t progress, don’t fear testing your luck elsewhere.

Same with martial arts, learn your moves and repeat them countless times. The opponent will make a mistake sometime. You will take his back and win the fight.

Also, if you can attack from the back, you can pull out a successful sweep and end up on the top. Then, when you lose the fight, analyze your mistakes and try to fix them in your next outing. Simple as that.

Source: Tom Bilyeu


Rickson is a legend who did a lot to develop Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the martial arts scene. He proved its value in the MMA, said terrific quotes that will be remembered forever, and didn’t lose a single combat against the most important names on the planet.

He deserved the highest ranking in the legendary Brazilian martial art thanks to his extraordinary spiritual, physical, and mental influence. His son Kron Gracie is a very successful UFC fighter and a decorated BJJ champ who won ADCC tournament, which speaks about his coaching achievements.

Furthermore, his fighters are not bullies who abuse BJJ. Instead, he teaches people to be humble and get better at martial art but never go too far. The legacy of an undefeated BJJ God will live forever, even upon his death.

You can lose, but it doesn’t mean you will accept the defeat. There is always time and space for improvement as long as your spirit remains unconquerable.

Rickson created a new direction in grappling and mixed martial arts, a new generation of fighters ready to improve, learn from mistakes, and never lose their faith. The spirit of Rickson’s soldiers will remain unconquerable for life!

Scroll to Top