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Why Rickson Gracie Doesn't Like Rubber-Guard

 By Roberto Pedreira

May  11, 2019 (JST)


In the early 90's Rickson Gracie marketed himself as Brazil's greatest vale tudo fighter, undefeated in ten years. (Helio, who did pretty much the same, did not take Rickson's PR seriously, but certainly understood why it was necessary. If you want people to pay to see you rolling around on the floor with another man, you have to give them feuds, back-story, and drama). It was not totally a phony story. There was a grain of truth to it. But it was grossly and deliberately misleading (see interview with Yori Nakamura). Gullible Americans (the types who read martial arts magazines, and some others, but not Brazilians) ate it up. In the process Rickson boxed himself in with his own subterfuge. He could not afford to risk losing for less than top dough (see interview with Morishita Naoto). Because if he lost he would forfeit his claim to fame and justification for top dough.1

That's not a criticism. Rickson had every right to chose that particular pricing strategy. Professional fighters are in it for monetary compensation (or valuable consideration, as the American IRS intimidatingly says). Their objective is to get as much as possible, adjusting for the risk of loss or injury (see George Foreman's wise words here). But if top dough is not forthcoming, who is going to pay the bills?

Rickson is older and wiser now, and fewer people care about Brazilian beach brawls and dojo sparring matches. More recently he has been making himself available for interviews. Where better to reach millions than on Joe Rogan's show? Where Joe rocks, Eddie Bravo will not be too far away (although their musical tastes seem at odds, Joe apparently favoring Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley, Eddie more on the Kiss/Alice in Chains side of the divide). 

Thus it came about that Rickson, looking somewhat ill-at-ease, encountered Eddie Bravo and found himself locked down in a "rubber-guard". The outcome was very different from when Royler met Eddie the first time (and second too, for that matter). The encounter was not a confrontation. It was friendly discussion. Eddie demonstrated his innovation and respectfully explained its evolution, history, and rationale.  

Rickson made it clear that he respected Eddie Bravo. He was equally clear that he didn't like rubber-guard. We know that from a comment he let slip: "Rubber-Guard: I don't like it." It would be hard to misinterpret that.2

Rickson explained his reasons: "I feel the position of rubber-guard is very vulnerable if the guy in it knows what he's doing. You're putting yourself in a very awkward position and expecting your opponent to get panicked to don't know what he's doing."

According to Eddie, "Rubber-Guard" was his adaptation of "high-guard" as used by Renzo in some of his Pride matches. High-Guard has been around forever, as Rickson knows very well, because he used it himself in 1983 against Zulu. In fact, Rickson's high-guard was indistinguishable from 10th Planet's Rubber-Guard (as you can verify by watching Gracies in Action 1). Rickson had a over-hook on Zulu's right arm, while holding his head down with his (Rickson's) right hand. Rickson's leg position varied from conventional to high, as circumstances required. Eddie might not have been inspired by Rickson vs. Zulu II but only if he didn't watch it or wasn't paying attention.

Rickson Gracie in Action, setting up Rubber Guard 

The narrator (Rorion Gracie) described Zulu as a "wild, unorthodox, unpredictable 220 lb brawler" and 40 lb heavier than Rickson (in reality, Zulu weighed 91.8 kg, while Rickson was 79-80 kg). According to Rorion, "Rickson is keeping his opponent very close so he can't develop distance for a powerful hit". Rorion added that keeping the opponent close was a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu technique that viewers could learn by taking Gracie Jiu-Jitsu lessons. So Rubber-Guard is really Gracie Jiu-Jitsu?

The concept of depriving the opponent of the space needed to generate punching power however was not invented by the Gracie family. In boxing it is known as clinching and was (we might guess) invented by boxers who wanted to avoid getting punched when other means failed (and still is used in this way today, attesting to its efficiency and scientific basis).

Wait. Rickson intimated that rubber-guard might be efficient if the guy gets panicked and doesn't know what he's doing. As Rorion correctly pointed out, Zulu was an unskilled brawler who didn't know what he was doing (or more logically, didn't know what to do). 

Unlike judo, which is based on brute force (according to Rorion and Helio Gracie), jiu-jitsu is based on scientific principles. One such principle is "leverage". The human spine is a lever. It is more efficient (less force needed to achieve a given effect) to control what is attached to the lever by manipulating it from the end. Where the head goes, the body will follow. It is more efficient to move the body by means of the head, than vice-versa. Thus, high-guard is more efficient for off-balancing an opponent and keeping him or her off-balance. In addition, the jiu-jitsu stylist's weapons (legs) are closer to the targets (arms and neck), which is more efficient in terms of time needed to cover distance. In this way, rubber guard is scientific, therefore it is jiu-jitsu.

So why doesn't Rickson like Rubber-Guard? It can't be because he doesn't use it. He does, or at least, he did when he needed it. 

Did Rickson's Rubber-Guard put him in a "vulnerable position"? It seems not. It might have if he had frozen there, but he aptly adjusted his position as the fight unfolded, in response to Zulu's actions and reactions. 

It can't be because it isn't efficient or scientific. It is, despite what Rickson may think to the contrary. Rickson conceded that it depends on what the opponent does (panics) or doesn't know (what he's doing). On one hand, that's true of every technique. On the other hand, rubber-guard should be reserved for situations where it is appropriate (as Rickson explicitly admitted). Don't exchange punches with a better striker, as Rorion has taught us many times. That doesn't mean you should not punch if you are the better striker. (It also doesn't mean you have to punch either, for example, if the gap between you and the guy's grappling is greater than the gap between your striking, which would give you a larger comparative overall advantage).

In other words, it depends.

The unavoidable conclusion seems to be use Rubber-Guard or don't, as the case may be, depending on how well you can apply it and how well the opponent can or can't defend it. But above all, keep talking about it.

Roberto's personal view, for what it's worth, is that it's useful and educational to explore all and any new techniques with an open mind, and then decide whether or not, or when and where, to use them, if at all.


Eddie in front of The Bomb Squad Gym [3]

There are literally thousands of rubber-guard videos on youtube and elsewhere. There are also literally several books including this one, which Roberto purchased at his own expense and read with an open mind. Because, while Roberto is not a rubber-guard player per se, he will gladly use rubber-guard concepts when circumstances allow, for example, (as Rickson puts it) when "the guy don't know what he's doing"). Because a lot of guys don't know what they are doing or can't do what they know, and also because Roberto don't want to be one of those guys who get caught because they "don't know what he's doing".

It is unlikely that anyone who isn't already a fan of Eddie Bravo will watch such things as the 2-hour plus documentary on the development of the pre-Rubber Guard half-guard theory. However Roberto did it, in order to avoid talking out of his hat. In so doing he concluded that there is a method to Eddie's apparent madness, while agreeing with Eddie that the Rubber-Guard system doesn't always work and isn't for everyone. Because you have to first break the guy out of his posture. If you can't do that, Rubber-Guard isn't going to work and the Grand System collapses. Maybe that's what Rickson meant. You aren't going to break Rickson's posture. But for other opponents, it might work. Royler Gracie can confirm it. Twice (2003 and 2014).

Therefore, Rickson is correct and so is Eddie. Rubber-Guard is inefficient and vulnerable, except when it's not, and vice-versa.

To paraphrase Edgar Varese's (French composer) advice to Dave Brubeck (jazz pianist), "travel the world and keep your mind open."4


More Rickson here:

Rickson with Yori Nakamura, 1994

Rickson Gracie, Interview 1994, first published 2002

Rickson Gracie, @1996

Rickson Gracie, 2000

Rickson Gracie, 2001

Rickson Gracie, 2001

Rickson Gracie, 2002

Rickson Gracie, 2005

Rickson Gracie, 2017

Rickson Gracie, 2017

Rickson Gracie: Jiu-jitsu is going to Drown, 2017

Rare, cool, classic interview with Eddie Bravo


1. Rickson's vale-tudo career prior to the 1994 Yori Nakamura interview, consisted of two fights (one in 1980, the other in 1983), with one strong and aggressive but minimally skilled opponent. (For details see Choque Vol. 3.) However, it was technically true that he was undefeated in ten years, if sambo competitions are excluded.

2. Rickson talks about Rubber-Guard: Original encounter with Eddie Bravo:

3. The picture is from a 2004 Inforest Mook (magazine book) called 柔術王 (King of Jiu-Jitsu). Eddie alludes to the interview in the 2007 video documentary mentioned above (here). The interview (in English translated from Japanese) is here.

4. Quoting from memory, from the documentary Jazz, by Ken Burns. Good advice in music as in martial arts.


Rubber-Guard Book (if you have an ad-blocker you might not see anything above)


 (c) 2019, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.





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