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Words: Callum Medcraft Pictures: Andy Douglas

This interview was first published inside Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine on May 3rd 2013.

Though not the model portrait you’d expect of a jiu jitsu icon, there is a weed smoking, gi hating, wannabe rock star that has played a huge role in the history of BJJ.

Eddie Bravo may have his haters, but he also has his share of fans. Within minutes of making his curtain call at a packed seminar in London, Bravo captured everyone’s attention with his witty humour and larger than life personality.

So why have so many people parted with their hard-earned cash to train with this guy, a guy who has never won a major title on the competition scene? Quite simple, he’s a man who thinks outside the box.

Eddie’s 10th Planet jiu jitsu system is unique in that the curriculum focuses solely on nogi training. Walk in to one of over forty 10th Planet schools all around the world and you won’t find a kimono in sight. This unorthodox approach seems stranger still when you consider Bravo’s direct exposure to jiu jitsu since the 90’s.

“When I first decided I wanted to learn jiu jitsu I hunted down the Machados, but originally I decided it was too expensive,” said Bravo on his first exposure to the art. “I found that there was a Jeet Kune Do school close by that was really cheap, so I went there two days a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then I got better shifts in the strip club I worked at and started jiu jitsu one day a week, which cost me $80 a month. That was the start for me.”

Despite training under the great John Jacques Machado, Bravo’s love affair with the kimono never took off. A self-proclaimed ‘fight fanatic’, Bravo – like many of us – was drawn to the art of jiu jitsu via the early UFC events, with the application of jiu jitsu within MMA quickly becoming his focus.

Eddie stated: “So before there were ever any nogi classes, I was questioning why are we yanking and pulling at jackets? How would this work in MMA or in a real fight? I saw the gi as an ancient Japanese outfit that the Brazilians just kept. I saw it as a tug of war match. Off the back of the ADCC forming there was more people interested in doing nogi, so Thursday night at John Jacques’ place became nogi night.”

Thursday night nogi was soon to blossom into something much bigger for Bravo, who would eventually form his own system of nogi grappling based around effectiveness for MMA. As a system, 10th Planet jiu jitsu boasts a number of non-traditional innovations such as the rubber guard and twister side control, as well as a whole host of elaborately named positions such as the ‘gangsta lean’ or ‘mission control’.

Sceptics will place the 10th Planet system’s reliance on flexibility and effectiveness under the spectrum of jiu jitsu. But, there can be no doubt that many of Eddie’s innovations have been tried and tested within the realm of MMA, with top-level fighters showcasing his style of grappling on the biggest stages.

“My mission has always been to create the most comprehensive, legit and powerful nogi system that I possibly can,” said Bravo on 10th Planet jiu jitsu. “That’s all about me and my team of affiliates sharing the best techniques we can, whether a Brazilian, Russian or whoever came up with it. We’re on a quest to find the most comprehensive nogi system out there, which includes all styles.

“When I was a blue belt and a purple belt, there were no nogi classes at the jiu jitsu schools, only in the MMA gyms. Pure jiu jitsu, without the gi, was just so rare. I’ve always been attracted to the nogi, because it was MMA that got me into jiu jitsu and I want to create something that works well in MMA.”

Whether you are a fan of the 10th Planet system or not, perhaps we can all learn from Eddie’s credo of keeping an open mind to what the other grappling arts also have to offer.

So how did a man of limited competition success build such a wide spread endorsement of his unique nogi grappling system? Rewind back to 2003 and you will find your answer. While many fighters shape a reputation over a number of years, Bravo did it in nine minutes against the legendary Royler Gracie at the ADCC.

Coming into the tournament as a qualifier, Bravo did the unthinkable and submitted Gracie with a triangle, a victory out of nowhere that raised the Latin American’s profile beyond belief. Bravo still holds victory over Gracie in high esteem, stating that: “Beating Royler was the biggest thing I have accomplished.”

A rematch with Royler was touted in 2011 for the ADCC in England, but the fight never came to fruition. “When it came to the rematch, Royler just wanted too much money,” stated Bravo on the fight falling through. “He agreed initially, he was down. But then out of the blue he turned around and said that he would only do it for $50,000 show money. He knows that no-one gets to negotiate with the Sheikh, he knows that – I guess he just didn’t want to do it.”

The 2003 victory over Royler Gracie, paired with the unheard of ethos of his 10th Planet system, shot Eddie’s profile into overdrive. Soon enough the UFC came knocking and Bravo found himself working as a commentator and advisor for the prestigious company.

You don’t have to be a fan of MMA to appreciate just how important its rise in popularity has been for the jiu jitsu boom. However, people may not realise that Eddie Bravo, along with his 10th Planet black belt student and UFC lead commentator, Joe Rogan, have also played their part in marketing BJJ to the world.

As fans, practitioners and ambassadors, Bravo and Rogan’s documentation of jiu jitsu within the grappling elements of UFC action has been crucial. “If Joe Rogan wasn’t the lead commentator for the UFC, and let’s say Josh Barnett was, catch wrestling would be much more popular because he would be referring to everything via catch wrestling,” said Bravo. “The fact that Joe is the main commentator, and is talking about all the groundwork with reference to jiu jitsu, is hugely important. Every jiu jitsu academy owner has made money off of Joe’s references to jiu jitsu in the UFC.”

Despite the constant references to jiu jitsu within mixed martial arts, there is still an obvious stigma for many MMA fighters surrounding the idea of training in the gi. As the creator of a gi-less jiu jitsu system, it’s safe to assume that Bravo won’t be endorsing the ethos that gi training improves your nogi performance.

Though not a fan of pulling on the kimono, Bravo reveals that he believes jiu jitsu’s true potential in MMA is some way from hitting a peak:

“I think the level of jiu jitsu in the UFC still need lots of improvement, there’s lots more work to be done. The problem is that you have to change so many different aspects in MMA that people neglect. I think fighters don’t drill their jiu jitsu like they drill their striking. The fact that you can’t spar hard all the time in striking forces you to drill more and I think that’s why the level of striking in MMA is really high. It used to be that there were only a few standout guys like Dwaine Ludwig or Victor Belfort, but now everyone has great footwork. Watch the guys in the prelims; they look like professional strikers because they all drill. In striking you are forced to drill, in jiu jitsu you just roll and I believe that’s why the level is not where it could be. If every MMA fighter trained jiu jitsu like they train their striking, you’d see a whole different game.”

With life as a UFC representative now behind him, Eddie is still looking to push jiu jitsu into the mainstream as a spectator sport. Historically, grappling has been a hard sell when it comes to publicity on TV. Olympic disciplines such as judo and wrestling have gone through countless rule amends to try and make them more ‘exciting’ for viewers with limited knowledge.

Bravo points to the current unified ruling of the IBJJF as a possible reason for the lack of mainstream media appeal: “Sport jiu jitsu has been around now in the States since 1996 – but it’s still not on TV. The foundation of MMA is still not on TV, yet dog Frisbee is and poker is - which sucks. MMA is the hottest sport in the world, yet the basics behind it are not being shown on TV. It’s because of the points system. I’m sure TV executives have been pitched the idea of BJJ, but jiu jitsu guys don’t even want to watch it at the moment! Unless you are watching a teammate, or a super star like Rafa Mendes, most people are not interested in watching jiu jitsu.”

The conception of the Submission Only World Championships is evidence that Bravo is willing to put his money where his mouth is on this subject. With the premier event set to take place later this year, Bravo’s aim is to turn jiu jitsu into a high octane spectacle using the ethos of ‘submission only’ and – importantly – no points scoring.

‘The problems are the points system, stalling and grabbing the sleeves and just holding on,” said Bravo on IBJJF rules that could affect the spectacle. “Jiu jitsu is not on TV at the moment and it’s because of stuff like this. I want to try and make it as exciting as possible for the fans. We should be thinking of the fans as the number one priority, not the teammates or coaches. You’ve got to make it like a game show and the Sub Only Worlds is like a game show – the last guy standing gets all the money.”

The Submission Only Worlds was set to launch early this year, only for it to be postponed after investor capital fell through. Cautious not to postpone the event again, Bravo is yet to announce a definitive date for the premier showing.

Eddie explained: “It looks like we now have it all figured out and new investors are involved. I can’t really make any announcements until I have control of the money though, as I really can’t postpone this twice. I mean, the money is for the fighters anyway, I want to be able to pay the winners some good cash.”

As a former ADCC competitor and pioneer behind the 10th Planet system, you’d be excused for expecting Bravo’s training to have started in early life. However, it was the gleaming lights of musical stardom that formed the focus of the would-be grappler.

“I started jiu jitsu late in life, so when people in jiu jitsu hear about my music they think that producing is just a hobby that I got involved with later,” said Bravo. “But, really music is what I started out with early in life. It’s kind of a double-edged sword, the fame that I got from jiu jitsu. It gave me a big audience, but generally that audience doesn’t want to give my music a chance. Slowly but surely people are turning around and saying ‘oh shit, his music’s legit’.”

The birth of Bravo’s first son has put a hold on activity with his current band, Smoke Serpent. Attention has turned instead to remixing previous works via his sound cloud (soundcloud.com/eddie-bravo).

With two prominent passions in life, Bravo has worked continuously towards integrating jiu jitsu and music. A number of previous band members have studied BJJ and many of the tracks credited as Eddie’s work incorporate lyrical references to grappling. However, the concept seems to be a hard sell:

“The weird thing about jiu jitsu and music is that the world doesn’t want to see athletes make it in the world of music. For some reason if you are an athlete the world doesn’t want to open up and give their music a chance. I guess I’m famous for being an athlete, but I’m not an athlete – I started jiu jitsu when I was 24. Everybody that I grew up with knows me as a musician, when I tell them about the whole jiu jitsu thing, they don’t even get it. It’s always been like that with my friends and family; they all see me as a musician and don’t really get the jiu jitsu side of things.”

Even if he hasn’t hit the musical heights he has been looking for since he was a kid, Bravo’s life as a jiu jitsu icon has helped him rub shoulders with many of his idols.

“My idol and favorite singer of all time is Peter Murphy,” said Bravo with some conviction. “He was the godfather of goth and was in the first goth band ever, Bauhaus, then he had a solo career later. His voice is amazing and I’ve followed his entire career. Because of my involvement with the UFC, which came via my involvement with jiu jitsu, I met Daniel Lowe from Nine Inch Nails, and he’s really good friends with Peter Murphy.

“One night I hung out with them all night and Peter was playing all my favourite songs right in front of me, explaining what all the lyrics are about. I’m video taping it all like, ‘what the f*** is going on!’ I guess in terms of a fan-boy, rock star moment, I can’t have a better experience than that – and it all came through jiu jitsu and MMA.”

Not known to shy away when voicing his opinion, the 10th Planet founder hosts a very popular podcast titled ‘Eddie Bravo Radio’. Through creating his own media platform Bravo has often discussed his thoughts on MMA, BJJ, music and marijuana.

If you don’t know by now (and we are sure you do) Eddie is famous for endorsing the idea of smoking weed to enhance your perceptions of life, as well as your skills as a grappler. Though a seasoned weed user now, Bravo is also a self confessed former ‘weed Nazi’.

“When I was a kid, I was more than just someone who didn’t smoke weed, I was a weed Nazi,” explained Bravo. “I thought that smoking weed was just for idiots and would always make fun of stoners. If my band mates f***ed up during practice I’d blame it on the weed and stuff like that.

“Then, in 1998 when I was a purple belt in jiu jitsu, I met this chick from the strip club who was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen up to that point. Anyway, one night she pulls out this joint and I was like ‘I’m not smoking any damn weed’. In the end we smoked the weed and laughed all night long like mental patients. The next morning I couldn’t understand how I’d had such an amazing time on weed. That shit used to make me crazy and paranoid.

“I tried smoking it again the next night and it was just as awesome, so after that every night I couldn’t wait to get home and smoke some weed. We were all brought up with that bullshit propaganda that one joint is worse than a pack of cigarettes and I used to believe that too. But it’s not true. It’s just not true. Marijuana is definitely a major factor in my success, in my music and my jiu jitsu – absolutely.”

Just in case this music minded, marijuana using, grappling trendsetter needed something else to catch the community’s eye, he is also a famed conspiracy theorist. Tune in to Eddie Bravo Radio and you will find many a conversation geared towards government cover-ups and proposed global misconceptions (such as Eddie’s views on marijuana use). When quizzed on one of the biggest cover-ups that we should all be aware of, Bravo quickly steamed into conversation:

“In the 40s, 50s and 60s governments all over the world got busted for testing airborne bacteria. This is all documented, so I guess it’s not really a conspiracy theory, it actually happened.

“Now over the last ten years you see all these military jets creating clouds over the sky. Most people look up and think ‘that’s just commercial airliners, that’s just contrail’. The thing is people don’t know the difference between the natural contrails that fade in 30 seconds and the ones where they cover the whole sky. The thing that’s frustrating is how dumb people are, because it’s happening right above them. Like I said it happened before and they got busted, but now no-one even questions it. I hope it’s just nothing, but there’s something fishy going on. Governments are known criminals, f***ing the people constantly and you don’t think there’s something fishy going on?

“There’s millions of pictures and documented proof that they are spraying toxic levels of barium and aluminum and other stuff into the air. But, people just look up and think, ‘oh no, the government say it’s just regular contrails on their website’. Yeah, criminal website. I don’t believe it; I’m suspicious of everything.”

Bravo’s suspicions have already led to him opinionating on the future of sport jiu jitsu and his perceived limitations surrounding the rules. However, as a creative man himself, it’s great to hear he is keeping an eye on modern technique innovations all the time.

“You have to keep an open mind, never close yourself off to other techniques,” said Bravo on the subject of continuous evolution. “I think stuff like the berimbolo is amazing, that stuff’s awesome. Whether or not that transcends well into MMA is another question. I think if you look at deep half guard, which has been proven to work in MMA as long as you are fast, it’s an example of how stuff can be adapted. I think spiral and de la Riva guard have their place in MMA too, we just haven’t seen it yet.”

Gold medals aside, Bravo’s accomplishments and achievements within the BJJ and MMA community deserve recognition. It’s refreshing to hear that sharing knowledge and experience is a key part of the 10th Planet ethos, and perhaps there is something to be learned from Eddie’s willingness to push boundaries and challenge the norms.

This willingness to challenge and innovate hasn’t always resulted in glowing appeal for Eddie. The conception of parody character ‘Renato Laranja’ – the 27-time World Champion – was perhaps Bravo’s way of expressing thoughts on his negative experiences towards 10th Planet and him personally. Have a brief surf around Laranja’s website and you can get a feel of the stereotype Bravo is trying to portray, and the effort that he is willing to put in to do so.

“You have some Armenian guys who do some leglocks, but that’s not jiu jitsu. That’s a different thing. Maybe that’s why you call it 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu because it’s come from another planet.” – Renato Laranja.

“There’s a lot of great people in the jiu jitsu community and lots of great people involved with the IBJJF,” said Bravo on his intentions with Renato Laranja. “But, there are some people who are closed minded and perhaps negative about a bunch of stuff too. Renato Laranja represents all these negative people, wrapped into one.”

Bravo’s love affair with jiu jitsu has led him to many interesting places, alongside many interesting people. The 10th Planet system’s popularity cannot be denied, and even sceptics can take positives from its promotion of jiu jitsu through MMA. But what’s next for the man himself? The failed ADCC return in 2011 was met with much disappointment, but Bravo admits that one last gig resonates well in his mind.

“I just want to keep doing my thing,” said Bravo on his plans for the future. “I’m trying to stay healthy man, my back is a mess at the moment. I met a new chiropractor in the UK who I think is going to sort it out though. I just want to stay healthy and raise my son as best I can. If I could get 100% healthy I’d love to do something like Metamoris Pro – something submission only.”


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September 25, 2014 — Jiu Jitsu Style