Jiu-Jitsu… there’s nothing like… having the potential to transform the world over one life at a time
Location London, UK
Photo by: Renzo Gracie Academy
iu-Jitsu has seen an explosive expansion in the last 30 years, from the point of relative obscurity prior to UFC 1, to being practiced the world over – and Renzo Gracie has been on the frontline of this incredible journey.
“I’ve seen Jiu-Jitsu growing a lot; it has become a world passion; I travel the whole globe, and everywhere I go, people recognize me and connect me to Jiu-Jitsu, I see academies everywhere. Today there’s a program in the Emirates that I helped develop, Jiu-Jitsu is now mandatory in schools from kindergarten to college as well as in the military and the police force, they cannot go up in rank without having a purple belt let’s say, can’t go from Sargent to Lieutenant without a purple belt. Right now, about 12.5% of the population train Jiu-Jitsu. It’s amazing, even cultural-wise now with the new laws, they plan to have 25% of the whole country doing Jiu-Jitsu.”
The idea for this program came after a Sheik’s child began training Jiu-Jitsu. Renzo told us that “they saw such a huge improvement on this kid that they decided to implement it for the whole country. They said everyone in this country needs Jiu-Jitsu, and that’s exactly what they did”. There are currently around 1,000 Jiu-Jitsu instructors in the UAE, and they’re in the process of hiring an additional 600 to meet the demand of the new program. This level of state-sponsored support for Jiu-Jitsu is unprecedented anywhere else in the world and can only serve as fuel for Jiu-Jitsu’s continued expansion as it dramatically increases the exposure of the sport globally.
Jiu-Jitsu is also playing an essential role in breaking down cultural barriers. Renzo explained, “the last time I was at their Jiu-Jitsu arena, women normally have their hair covered, they keep just their faces out, but when I got there the training sessions were all mixed, young girls and boys… everyone training together. I saw all those girls with their hair loose, just like a ponytail or something like this, so I asked the Sheik ‘What happened? I’ve never seen a woman here with their hair exposed’ he said, ‘Renzo, Jiu-Jitsu is changing our culture, Jiu-Jitsu is changing us for better’. It was amazing.”
When chatting about the future of Jiu-Jitsu, Renzo shared that other countries are looking to follow the example being set in the Emirates. “I’m really good friends with the Brazilian president, and they’re looking to put Jiu-Jitsu in schools down there, to have Jiu-Jitsu as part of the curriculum. They’re going to begin in Brasilia and then spread it all over Brazil. The same is being talked about in Saudi Arabia, as well as in some other countries. I recently had a meeting with the president of the OAE (Organization of American States), who develops programs for law enforcement in 34 states in the Americas, and they plan to add Jiu-Jitsu to all law enforcement in the Americas. That’s their goal, and if I can help with that, I’ll help the most.”
With these incredible developments and Jiu-Jitsu continuing to grow at such a rapid rate, Renzo discussed the possibility of a world where everyone trained Jiu-Jitsu and what that would look like, “It would be a better place. Jiu-Jitsu is an amazing tool to change your personality, to give you confidence. People always say to me, you teach martial arts, you sell martial arts. No, I sell confidence. I sell you the ability to hug someone without fear, without restriction. Jiu-Jitsu allows you to be everything you could be; it’s just up to you.
It’s amazing how I’ve seen people change; I’ve seen kids arrive at the academy and insecure; they couldn’t even talk to a person. Today, these kids run their family business, have kids of their own, have confidence that has been brought into them, and I know Jiu-Jitsu has had a huge impact on changing that. I honestly believe if Jiu-Jitsu is everywhere, it would be a huge asset for the globe.”
However, to finish, Renzo left a warning for all the new people that will be introduced to the sport through these programs, “be very careful because training Jiu-Jitsu is like eating chocolate: once you begin, you can’t stop.”