The legendary grandmaster Ricardo Murgel and I go back a long time. When I first met him, I was a journalist. We went to Brazil together on assignment back in 2008. Back then, BJJ was beginning to make waves in the United States but was still poorly understood by most people. The purpose of the trip was for Master Murgel to help me understand the true roots of BJJ as a martial art. While in Rio we traveled to the school of Great Grandmaster Álvaro Baretto, one of the few BJJ instructors in the world who is senior to Murgel. At Grandmaster Alvaro’s Rio dojo we had a fascinating discussion, the highlights of which I chronicled for FIGHT! Magazine. Toward the end of our talk, I asked him to explain the essence of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“You must understand that Jiu-Jitsu is really four things,” he explained. “One: it is a philosophy that can be summed up by the statement ‘Give to Win’. For example, if you make strength with your arms then you give a point of leverage for your opponent to use against you. If you stay loose, then you deprive your opponent of that. So, by appearing to be weak you gain strength. Second, it is a system of teaching. It gives access to proper rules of human behavior, self-respect, honor, discipline, courage, and so on. Third, it is a therapy. If a man is too aggressive, it will calm him. Is he too weak or passive? It will make him stronger. And finally, it is a fighting system.”
Alvaro commented that many newly minted Jiu-Jitsu aficionados, perhaps attracted by the rising popularity of the UFC were concentrating just on the fourth aspect and ignoring the first three. He told me this missed much of the value of the art. “Jiu-Jitsu is not an end,” he summed up. “It is a tool for creating a better life.”
In the years after that trip, I went on the cover martial arts on four continents and meet many of the world’s most prominent martial artists, coaches, and instructors, but to this day, Grandmaster Alvaro’s is the best explanation of the essence of BJJ that I’ve ever heard.