The Rickson Gracie Cup in Albany, New York, came and went this weekend after two days of non-stop jiu-jitsu action, and after experiencing it firsthand while covering it live for the Jiu-Jitsu Times, I can say without any doubt that it’s the coolest BJJ event I’ve ever attended.
The RGC was split up into two days, with the first day featuring a kids’ tournament and a seminar by none other than Rickson Gracie himself. The kids were little savages, and their division ran smoothly, finishing up by about 2:00 in the afternoon. Throughout the day, there were also vendors that stood by to demonstrate their products and services, so while the kids were competing, the adults had things to do as well.
After the kids’ division had wrapped up, Mike Parisi of Power Yoga New York put on an impromptu yoga demonstration, which tons of people (including me) were happy to jump in on. As a yoga newbie, it was a blast, and even though I almost fell on my face a few times, I could easily see how a workout like that could improve my athleticism and balance in jiu-jitsu.
Shortly thereafter, the Rickson Gracie seminar began. The majority of the three-hour event was him speaking about broad concepts and jiu-jitsu philosophy, including self-defense, his breathing technique, and connecting with your partner or opponent to help your base. Participants were also able to practice a few of the concepts he described, and at the end, he held a very long Q&A session and made sure to answer just about everyone who raised their hand. This was also a rare opportunity because it marked the first time that he allowed photos and video of one of his seminars, so we were able to put just about the entire event up live on the Jiu-Jitsu Times Facebook page.
Day two of the RGC kicked off with a self-defense demo involving master Pedro Sauer, which phased into a mock self-defense tournament (featuring one of the first U.S. black belts, Chris Haueter, as the referee) that will be implemented into the Cup in 2018.
Competitors in the adults’ division of the tournament then gathered together for a brief rules meeting. While many aspects of the point system for the RGC were similar to those that the IBJJF has in place, there were a few differences. The most significant ones were that advantages weren’t awarded, and guard-pulling was penalized and could potentially result in the offender’s opponent receiving points. Stalling was also penalized, and back triangles were worth four points.
With the rules in mind, the adults’ tournament kicked off. I had the privilege of competing (and being choked out by former blue belt world champion Alex My Nguyen) at the event, and as a habitual and proud guard puller, I felt very out of my element… in a good way. The ruleset forced me out of my comfort zone and made me acknowledge that while my game may often work in my favor at other competitions, it wasn’t very practical and definitely put me at a disadvantage at the RGC. I went home with a “participation medal” and the realization that, yep, it’s time to suck it up and work my takedowns more.
While the tournament was managed very efficiently, especially for its first run, there were a few minor issues caused by the computerized system and either the competitors or the referees misunderstanding the rules. However, promoter Eddie Fyvie worked quickly to resolve the problems at hand and was constantly running around to make sure everything was going as smoothly as possible. He and the rest of the staff were really on top of things, and while no tournament is perfect on the first try, this one was pretty darn close thanks to his tireless efforts.
The tournament also featured a great match between local black belt Matt Secor and Pedro Sauer black belt standout David Porter, plus a demo of Dr. LeRoy Perry’s Spinal Decompressor, which was later raffled off to a lucky winner.
As the tournament drew to a close, lots of happy competitors left with their medals or simply the satisfaction of knowing they competed in the presence of Rickson Gracie himself. I overheard many attendees describing the Cup as “unforgettable” or “one of the greatest weekends of their life”, and I share their sentiments. While I’m not sure if this event will necessarily change the course of jiu-jitsu competition, it certainly provides a much-needed option for those who want to embrace their competitive side while applying the more practical aspects of the art.
As the Jiu-Jitsu Global Federation sets its sights on expanding the event internationally to locations that include Australia and Scotland, the Rickson Gracie Cup looks like it has the potential to be as highly anticipated as ADCC or the major IBJJF events. Its inaugural event in Albany was an experience I’ll never forget, and given that JJGF CEO Alex Pannai described it as a “test”, there’s no telling how it’ll grow even from this year to the next. But what is certain is that if you can make it out to the 2018 event, you should do everything in your power to do so.