Gracie University is our attempt to empower as many people as possible with the jiu-jitsu techniques developed by Helio Gracie. The Grandmaster’s vision was to give the gift of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the world. To achieve this vision my father, Rorion, started by teaching as many people as possible in our garage in Southern California. When he outgrew the garage, he moved to a large commercial location, and recently we moved again to accommodate the ever-increasing popularity of the art. Even with jiu-jitsu schools in every major city around the globe, the worldwide demand for the Grandmaster’s art is not being met. Today, we believe the powers of the internet and media technology make this possible.
In the past, we presented video lessons, computer-based training, and online techniques in an effort to provide supplemental knowledge to people who already trained at a school of martial arts. All of these venues provided superior instruction in various segments of the curriculum but lacked a feedback mechanism through which we could monitor the student’s progress. In fact, this lack of a feedback mechanism – the ability to truly interact with a student – has been the major shortcoming of all media-based martial arts instruction to date. To address this critical requirement for feedback and evaluation, we developed GracieUniversity.com.
The launch of Gracie University has drawn criticism and skepticism from conservative jiu-jitsu practitioners. We anticipated this reaction as it is normal for humans to resist change – especially when that change takes them out of their comfort zone. Every major advance in the last twenty years, from calculators to online college courses, has met with resistance from those who only saw the limitations of these advances. Over time, each has become an accepted part of our lives, as we have come to recognize the benefits of the new way and embrace it.
The keys to successful online instruction are clear and simple lessons, high quality production and presentation, logical linkage between lessons, and a mechanism for evaluating student mastery of the techniques. When my brother and I produced the Gracie Combatives instructional video series, we sought to present the information so effectively that any student, regardless of their age or athletic ability, could master the techniques without ever attending classes at the Gracie Academy. Accordingly, we created comprehensive lessons that included essential details, most common mistakes, and frequently occurring variations of each technique in the course. Then, we showed how to combine the techniques through a series of dynamic reflex development drills. We found that the video lessons and the streaming video format provided four unexpected benefits: 1) it allowed us to present more detail than we could pack into a live class at the Gracie Academy, 2) it enabled us to present all the techniques in the most logical order, 3) it allowed students to access the lessons at any time, and 4) it made it possible for them to learn as fast or as slow as they desire without the pressure of keeping pace with a live class full of other students of various skill levels.
Beyond teaching all the techniques of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, through Gracie University we also seek to provide our students with the tools for self-discovery and further exploration of the art. As Helio Gracie proved decades ago, when he modified the traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu techniques to accomodate his frail physique, it’s not the quality of your instructor, the method of instruction, or the name of your school that determines the rate of progress – it’s the student’s commitment to learning that ultimately determines the level of achievement. We don’t just teach them what to learn, we teach them how to learn so that they can ultimately take responsibility for their progress.
A key component of the Gracie University learning system is the video evaluation process. It is the essential quality control mechanism that is missing from all other media-based approaches to jiu-jitsu instruction and what finally enabled us to export the complete curriculum with confidence. Upon completing each segment of the curriculum, a Gracie Academy instructor will evaluate a student’s digitally recorded test performance for technical accuracy, efficiency, and proper reflexes in the execution of the newly learned techniques. If they pass the test, we will promote them to the next level and grant them access to the next segment of the curriculum.
To be sure, a hands-on test is indeed the best way to evaluate a student’s ability, because it allows the instructor to feel the technique. But, we simply can’t produce enough instructors to test everyone in this manner. We have found that digitally recorded videos provide a valid means of assessing ability. Our carefully designed belt qualification tests are lengthy and exacting. Students are required to demonstrate all the techniques individually and in combination with one another, and the tests become progressively more challenging as the students climb through the ranks. While we can’t see every angle, the recorded performance is in some ways even more demanding than a live test because we can replay, freeze frame, and “slow view” every move – there is no argument or doubt about the quality of the performance. Moreover, we routinely have more than one instructor independently evaluate the performance to ensure that we maintain a high standard. Admittedly, the video evaluation process is slightly less reliable than an in-person evaluation here at the Gracie Academy. But, we believe that expanded access to the life-changing benefits associated with the practice of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, enabled by this instructional format, outweighs the minimal qualitative differences in a live versus video evaluation.
Note that promotion to black belt -- the symbol of jiu-jitsu mastery -- still requires passing a five-day, live evaluation, at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy during which we will ensure that the candidate is not only technically perfect, but also understands the Gracie diet, history, and philosophy and is committed to upholding the family commitment to high personal standards and a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
I assure you that we have not taken the task of sharing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu with the world lightly. We have ruthlessly upheld the Grandmaster’s high standard for jiu-jitsu instruction and technical excellence since the founding of the Academy. In fact, the major criticism of the Academy in the past was that we were too stingy with the instruction, promoted students too slowly, and only recognized our own students as qualified instructors. Ironically, we are now subject to criticism for spreading our knowledge as widely as possible, promoting more students, and certifying more instructors. We would only do this if we were certain that it could be accomplished without compromising the art. No one is more committed to sustaining the Grandmaster’s legacy than the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy. We are equally committed to achieving his vision of bringing jiu-jitsu to the world, and we believe that Gracie University is an important step in that direction.