The Jiu-Jitsu Lifestyle Summit is an annual event taking place at the Marriott Hotel in Redondo Beach, California, drawing attendees from all over the world. This year’s summit in mid-March brought together 55 attendees all looking to incorporate the principles of jiu-jitsu into universal applications for everyday life. The seminars and workshops were emceed by Ryron Gracie as he introduced special guests with varying and diverse skill sets, much of it in a bilateral open forum format where attendees were encouraged to add to the conversation by asking questions and sharing their relevant personal experiences.
Jiu-jitsu camps are nothing new. Typically a getaway of the sort will include food, training, group activities, and special guest instructors in its normal agenda. What sets Ryron’s camp apart from others is the culture of connection instilled by putting an emphasis on developing life skills off the mat through lectures on diet, emotional self-awareness, movement training, yoga, business, Wim-Hof method cold therapy, and jiu-jitsu related medical discussions as well as group training sessions all wrapped up into a four-day weekend. The mission of the camp fits into the mold of the Helio Gracie mindset, establishing a common goal amongst attendees of sustainability and maintenance in order to preserve their jiu-jitsu journey for life.
Highlights of the camp:
The first no-gi session was led by none other than former UFC, ADCC, and IBJJF World Champion Fabricio Werdum. Werdum, being busy as a professional fighter, is not known to be particularly active on the seminar circuit, so there was a collective buzz of excitement as attendees realized that their first teacher of the weekend would be a rare sighting. Ryron mentioned how he was particularly looking forward to this workshop since he himself had never learned from Werdum. Werdum shared a preferred standup technique not unlike a standard Muay Thai clinch, adding a few subtle details of footwork, pummeling, and elbow positioning to create a reaction that allows for a strike, a rear clinch, or a single/double leg takedown — a concept that he uses exhaustively in his MMA fights. He further discussed side control pressure, emphasizing grabbing underneath the far armpit and shifting one’s body weight in a particular way to force his opponent to expose their back, arm, or neck. The back-and-forth between Ryron and Werdum added tremendous value to the seminar as it opened up discussion from two different mindsets, both high-level.
After a communal breakfast buffet, the attendees reconvened for a group discussion workshop focusing on emotional self-awareness with Victoria Gracie, a head instructor of the Women Empowered program at the Gracie University. The discussion focused on understanding triggers for certain individuals and being sensitive to their needs — no example more real than a female jiu-jitsu practitioner who is a survivor of sexual assault doing jiu-jitsu for the first time and having flashbacks of the event due to the intimate closeness necessary to drill in the art. Understanding and acknowledging the insecurities is the first step in establishing a mutual understanding; a mistake people often make is trying to fix the problem or offer solutions before they fully understand the magnitude of the issue at hand.
After the lecture, we broke up into small groups to discuss many of our own insecurities in a nonjudgmental communal conversation. It was a cathartic experience for me, as I admitted that the early part of my journey was fueled by a competitive spirit, a desire to prove my toughness and embrace the unnecessary physical abuse I would endure without argument from higher ranked training partners. Nearly seven years and three surgeries later, I understand the value of diplomatically communicating with training partners that I have issues within training and not being afraid to turn down rolls with those that make me feel uncomfortable. This may lie counter to the idea of becoming a premier competitor, accepting every roll thrown at you. As a full-time graduate student, however, I am coming to terms with my goals in jiu-jitsu, the short of it being that I’d like to maintain a consistent regimen and ultimately train jiu-jitsu for life rather than being debilitated as I approach middle age.
Following an early afternoon break, the group reconvened for a yoga workshop focusing on harnessing rubber balls on the soles of the feet to open up fascial connections. I was surprised at how my hip range of motion improved without even addressing that specific area. Ryron followed up by giving a gi seminar discussing all positions brought about by attendees. A rolling session followed where Ryron stressed teamwork amongst all who chose to spar, emphasizing cooperative exchanges of positions in an effort to encourage healthy and fun rolls between men and women of varying sizes and skill levels.
Later, Miami-based black belt Pedro Valente discussed the history of jiu-jitsu, citing his personal experience with Helio Gracie as a jumping off point. It was fascinating to hear that he is in possession of countless articles handed down to him from Helio Gracie that had been collected over the course of Helio’s life, thus qualifying him as much as anyone to speak on the topic. The talk gave greater insight into the meaning of the origins and definition of jiu-jitsu (originally spelled ju-jitsu) — a discussion that traced back to Ancient Greece all the way through mid 19th century Japan. The term “ju-jitsu”, meaning the gentle art, was renamed to “ju-do,” meaning the gentle way, after one Japanese jiu-jitsu master believed it was necessary to rebrand the term as “ju-jitsu” had been receiving bad press being associated with thugs and hooligans. While the entire history of the art is beyond the scope of a written Jiu-Jitsu Times piece, anyone interested in learning more about the history of BJJ from a credible source is encouraged to seek out Professor Valente for his knowledge on the topic.
The following morning, the group gathered for a communal ice bath: a plunge that incorporated breathing exercises from a Wim Hof trained specialist in ice therapy. A technique was practiced beforehand of how to properly draw in a full breath, incorporating maximal lung capacity to keep a warm core temperature as we took the plunge. Attendees were baffled at their ability to maintain their composure for two minutes in near freezing water. The experience was followed by a movement and postural correction workshop by King Sports International, putting an emphasis on stretching for everyday life and beyond. A strong point was made that given how much time we spend in flexion as jiu-jitsu practitioners, we must make efforts to unwind and uncoil our bodies by doing exercises in the opposite direction of where we spend most of our time. An example would be spending time on our phone, constantly flexing our necks forward. It would benefit us to do neck extension exercises throughout the day to counteract the overuse we are inducing on our body in a unilateral direction. Coupled with a business lecture that evening, a nutritional lecture the following morning, as well as an orthopedic surgeon’s take on jiu-jitsu injuries the following evening, there lies tremendous value in this type of event for aspiring lifelong jiu-jitsu practitioners. The topics ranged beyond what would help you on the mat, using jiu-jitsu principles as a way to draw parallels and create strategies for having more fulfillment in everyday life situations.
A personal highlight for me came from a short discussion I had with fifth-degree black belt Steve Maxwell, who happened to be in attendance all weekend teaching his trademarked mobility seminars each morning. During one of the open forum jiu-jitsu technique discussions, one attendee shared his variation to the classic flower sweep from closed guard. After we drilled it, I added to the conversation by incorporating a half-guard sweep I often use off of a flower sweep counter where the opponent steps over the leg into half-guard. Professor Maxwell approached me excitedly showing me an armlock he learned in that exact position from Saulo Ribeiro, spending some time drilling it with me. Unbeknownst to me, the sweep also happened to be a favorite of Saulo’s. Learning this armlock variation has to be one of the highlights of my journey up to this point, let alone the weekend. It was one of those warm fuzzy moments in one’s journey where they learn some absolute gold in a situation they often find themselves in, as if I were Indiana Jones unearthing the rare relic I had been searching long and hard for.
Living the jiu-jitsu lifestyle and being an elite competitor are not to be viewed as mutually exclusive. Any serious competitor understands the importance of stretching, mobility, yoga, proper diet, hot and cold therapy, and physical rehabilitation in maintaining a high level of performance. Simply put, the more you train, the more you must make an effort to take care of your body. As a purple belt, I trained twice a day every day without a proper warm-up or cool-down. This resulted in me getting disc surgery in January 2017 to allow me to walk again. The surgery was fortunately successful, but it admittedly did make me reevaluate how I was approaching my training from the mindset of physical preparation. Whereas my training may have tapered down a bit today, I feel stronger, healthier, and more effective as I incorporate other physical modalities into my everyday regimen. Whatever it is you seek to accomplish in your jiu-jitsu quest, do not neglect the proper mindsets and lifestyle modifications that can help you not only avoid injury, but reach your goals faster and with more confidence.