June 27, 2012

Machado Brazilian Jiu Jitsu History

Still recovering from the John Will hangover, I found a little gem on the world wide inter tube... a two part interview conducted by Dan Djurdjevic over at "The Way of Least Resistance."  Amongst many a topic the history of John learning BJJ is discussed and subtly one can read between the lines and see just how much the Machado family influenced BJJ, though we rarely read nor hear about any of the brothers regarding modern BJJ.

Although I have heard John and Rigan regale many with this story, it never gets old:

JJ Machado defeats Fabio Santos 1996
DD: I believe you were one of the original “dirty dozen” - the first twelve westerners, or non-Brazilians, to achieve black belt status in BJJ.

JW: I think I was number 8. Something... I think I was number 8. Yeah, I started back... it was ’87 I think when I first kicked off on it. And that was five years before the UFC or something like that. Going to Brazil, over in America and then going to Brazil. I befriended Rigan Machado, who was great. I went to Rorion Gracie’s over in Los Angeles for my first lesson. He was charging US$100 for half an hour - that was in 1987! I only had $500 to my name, so that’s 5 lessons and my life savings was gone. So I rocked up and had lessons one, two, three and four with him in his garage at that time. He was only teaching out of his garage. The fifth lesson, he couldn’t do it because he was going to take his kids to Disneyland. He said: “I’ve got my cousin here - he’ll do it.” 

   So Rigan Machado was there. Couldn’t speak a word of English. And I had the fifth lesson with Rigan who was paying $2 an hour. So Rigan was working for peanuts, just barely making enough to feed himself. And at the end of the lesson - which was by far the best lesson I’d had - because I’d run out of money I took of my jacket, took off my jumper, anything with Australia on it, you know a kangaroo and a couple of hats or something, and gave him some Australian paraphernalia - a bag with a kangaroo on it - and just gave it to him. Then I went back home. 

   I saved up for six months with the intention of not doing that again, but going there for one lesson which I could pay for, getting the information where I could train in Brazil. Because I figured “Brazil, it’s got to be free - it’s a third world country”. It’s not true, but that was my perception. So went back over there, rocked up and said: “Here’s my one lesson, and by the way, I want to go down to Brazil so maybe you could give me an address - an address down there to train.” Rorion said: “Come on out, no problem.” I come out there, he said to me: “Sorry I can’t train today, I got to take my kids to Disneyland again,” or whatever. “But my cousin’s still here and he took a few lessons last time - remember? You want to do it with him?” I go: “Sure.” 

   I come to Rigan. By this time he’s learned the rudiments of the English language. He says “My friend! From Australia!” I went: “Wow, he remembers me!” He’s still wearing the cap I gave him. [Laughs] So, you know, be kind to world Brazilian jujitsu champions. He took me in there, taught me a great lesson, and I said: “I want to go to Brazil.” He leaned across the mat, he said: “Listen, don’t stay here, these people know nothing. Get with me, go to Brazil, that’s the place to learn.” I said: “I want to go.” He says”: “I’m going tomorrow - come with me.” So we went together.

   I didn’t know who he was. I just knew he was really good. We went to Brazil, started training down there, I walk into a place called “Barra Gracie”. At that time that was the capital of the Gracie thing. That was owned by three of the Machado brothers and Carlos Gracie junior - all partners. So I walk in there and I do a lesson. I did a week of training and Rigan was teaching classes and I thought “Geez, an academy whatever, he’s pretty good. 

   I’m sitting over the side one night and all these legends walk in - apparently they were Brazilian national champions. And Renzo Gracie was sitting next to me. And he could speak English - he was about the only guy who could. And he said: “Look at all these legends walking in; this guy’s this champion, he’s that champion.” And I go: “Why are they coming here - is there something special on?” And he goes: “They’ve come to train with him.” And Rigan’s sitting next to me. I looked past Rigan. “With who?” I’m looking down the hall. “With him - with Rigan!” says Renzo. I go: “With this goofy guy?” Rigan’s just my goofy mate. He says: “Don’t you know who he is?” And I go: “I dunno - his name’s Rigan.” He says: “John, he’s been undefeated in Brazil for twelve years, blah, blah, blah, he’s the best guy in the country.” I go: “This goofy guy?” [Laughs]

Here are the links to part's one and two:
Click Here to Read Part One!

Click Here to Read Part Two!

And just in case you all needed a refresher of just who these Machado cats are, here is some competition footage from over the years.  Pay special attention to the hook game, and the "always attacking" nature that Jean Jacques plays here against Rogerinho at the Mundial's in Brazil:

In this clip brothers John and Jean Jacques fight Franginha (Jeff Glover's teacher) and James Boran, respectively, at Joe Moreira's Nationals in 1997.  Notice again the ever attacking nature.  No one stalling out, no one counting points and holding out for the win by two advantages.  None of the silly shit we so often see now days, just basic principles of control and superior positioning coupled with an ever attacking game and look at the submissions that are collected!

Not sure if I have shared this one before, but here is the man himself Rigan fighting in a Judo tournament in 1993.  Once again note the aggressive game, but due diligence with position and control.  Listen carefully and you can here David Meyer coaching Rigan in the last match.  

Their is a lot of history that is often glossed over by those more interested in promoting their own agenda and marketing ploys.  I hope this post has opened up your eyes to a rather unknown element in BJJ; the Machado influence.




  1. Awesome Stuff....

    It is so cool to hear John Will talk about the early years

    1. He is a great guy who has lived more lives then anyone I know!
      Thanks for reading!

    2. I gave you a "shoutout" in my recent blog...