Some Thoughts on Opening Closed Guard

Opening Closed Guard by Robert Drysdale attempts to shed light on the figures left out of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu's official origin story and to answer some questions about its history. The book follows the making of a documentary film on this subject by IBJJF and ADCC champion, Robert Drysdale. I am here to let you know that this book asks the right questions and ends up delivering some really interesting answers!

Though the story of Gracie / Brazilian Jiu Jitsu's creation has changed depending on who is telling the story, the basic broadly accepted narrative is that the father of Carlos and Helio Gracie (among others) once did a favour for traveling Jiu Jitsu / Judo fighter, Mitsuyo Maeda. Carlos then studied Jiu Jitsu under Maeda while his sickly and frail brother Helio watched on the side. One day somebody came to their school looking for lessons from Carlos, but only Helio was there. Helio was then able to teach this person Jiu-Jitsu from what he learned watching Carlos train. The accomplishment being all the greater because of Helio's sickly (and frail!) nature. Did this happen? No, but buy the book if you want to get at the actual story. It's really cool!

Most of the book is made up of interviews done around the world in Brazil, Japan, and the United States of America. Modern(ish) BJJ figures such as Chris Haueter and Royce Gracie are interviewed along with grand master's such as Armando Wriedt. The production of the film even takes us to Japan as they get interviews with figures important to Judo / BJJ such as Yuki Nakai.

Interspersed with the interviews are Drysdale's thoughts on the making of the documentary. As I'm sure the final product of the documentary will show, this was not an attempt to tear anybody down, but an effort to include important people that were left out of history until now.

Now to nitpick! On page 52 of the book Drysdale writes that Bruce Lee was, "a man who was certainly ahead of his time in terms of his understanding of true combat". As discussed in this article by Ant Evans, Bruce Lee is similar to Helio Gracie in that his greatest accomplishment was something he did that is not talked about much. Though Bruce was not a great martial artist / philosopher it was his time as a role-model for the Asian-American and Chinese community that was his accomplishment. In a similar way, although Helio did not add "leverage" to the ancient techniques of Japanese Jiu Jitsu his efforts to create something outside of Judo would wind up being a great accomplishment all its own.

I am unsure of Drysdale's claim on page 164 that Judo, "is infinitely more in tune with a moral, ethical, and just society". It is a nice thought that a martial arts instructor should be a warrior-philosopher type. However, in really I think most people people who are good at BJJ / Judo are people that should be acknowledged for their skills but their morals are a separate issue. Also the idea (also on page 164) that if there was no BJJ, "we would all be doing Judo today" seems suspect to me. Without Royce Gracie winning in the early UFCs and that organization's rise in popularity the majority of BJJ practitioners (including myself) would almost certainly have never even thought to do any martial art.

Minor nitpicks aside Opening Closed Guard is a fantastic look at the history of Jiu Jitsu in Brazil that I would recommend to all practitioners. I'm really looking forward to the release of the documentary as well!

This is my day 41 post for #100daystooffload

This work by Thomas Lloyd is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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