Dan “TrumpetDan” Lukehart is the owner and head instructor at Brea Jiu-Jitsu. Dan has been training Jiu-Jitsu since January of 2006 and is a black belt under Beneil Dariush.
Dan wrote a post on his Facebook denouncing the Gracie Academy’s controversial way of doing things: Pink belts, online belt testing, certified training centers, no rolling for students until blue belt, brainwashing their students about what is the ‘Real Jiu-Jitsu’.
His thoughts are very similar to what Renzo Gracie said a few years back when he was interviewed on the fightworks podcasttime and talked about the time two of his students from NYC passed by the Gracie Academy in Torrance and were told by Rener Gracie that they had not been learning the ‘Real Jiu-Jitsu’ all along :
Dan Lukehart’s post:
“I started BJJ at the Torrance Gracie Academy in 2006. Before going in, I consumed everything Gracie Academy for an entire year. The message they instilled in me was that you were drinking straight from the source of BJJ: Helio Gracie. He was the founder of the art and modified all of the techniques of Meada to a now perfect unchanging art form. Other gyms only taught watered down versions of the art. The actual metaphor of “pure water” was being used always in their examples.
Not only was this message repeated as canon, I heard him repeat this message several times over in the introduction classes held on Saturdays for perspective members which I begged to be apart of. I did not stay long at the academy due to life circumstances – not by choice. As a new white belt, my experience there was positive. After I left, I even started the 2nd Gracie Garage.
Life led me to Ralph Gracie Black Belt Brad Jackson who took me under his wing. He had a background at Gracie Academy, Rickson Gracie, Rodrigo Gracie and Ralph Gracie. Very old school style with a flair for studying the new game too. He would incessantly tell me how brainwashed I was – pointing out the various different approaches and mindsets that Helio, Carlson and others had. I would only do a technique a certain way because that was the way that Helio did it – or that I didnt feel it was “street certified” in my wonderful white belt silent judgement.
I remember how horrified I was when I saw a trap and roll escape shown with a different grip on the arm. If I can describe the feeling I had, it would be imagining somebody suggesting a different interpretation of a religion that you have strong convictions about at a dinner party where you are supposed to be polite. Embarrassing as that is now, thats the type of mentality they instilled. This must be the watered down Jiu-Jitsu they were talking about! Everything needed to be spoon fed. No creativity. No individuality. No variation. No independent thought. Rener and Ryron have become more progressive since that time, but they were repeating the words that had probably been repeated to them since birth at that point.
It was only slowly as my experience in Jiu-Jitsu progressed where my perspective changed and my memory soured.
As a 2 stripe white belt when I left, I was fully convinced that I could defeat a division 1 wrestler in a street fight. Why? I was naive, but it also was hammered into me from day 1 of my 2x daily sessions. Wrestling was a game. Not a fight. My Jiu-Jitsu was a fight. My questions about strong wrestlers posing a threat were always reassured with borderline delusional confidence and references to what Royce did in UFC 1 up on the small TV by the juice bar.
Reality came crashing down when I trained with my first division 1 wrestler. It was after a wrestling practice at Cal State Fullerton. It was the first time I had ever had somebody use a leg drag to pass my guard. He was so freaking fast, coordinated and precise….he killed me. It wasnt close. How on earth could somebody lead me down the path that would make me believe I could beat somebody like this? He had so little submission grappling knowledge too! On a interesting note, the wrestler was TJ Dillashaw.
It wasn’t just a random future UFC champion that started to put me in my place. Here I am in Brad Jackson’s garage pontificating about how I was only learning street certified techniques, and Sean Roberts is strangling me helplessly from mount – and all the other white belts too. It didnt matter what I knew. He was going to do whatever he wanted to me at any moment of choice.
It wasnt just this type of on the mat exchange. It was what I was observing from the outside as well.
They would gradually shift their message from 2005 as the facts suited at that particular moment. Something I found out from old forums that they had been doing for quite a while. For example, they used to profess that their Jiu-Jitsu was the best for both Jiu-Jitsu tournaments and self defense, but they would challenge other academies to tournaments to show their pure Jiu-Jitsu and lose – badly. They would shift the message as a result that their Jiu-Jitsu wasnt for tournaments, it was for fighting only.
I remember when they announced UFC 60 how the message was that Royce was going to show the world how Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was still the only necessary martial art for MMA competition. Shortly after Matt Hughes used his superior wrestling and submission grappling to remove any shadow of a doubt, the Gracie Academy declared a moral victory because Matt had used Jiu-Jitsu against him. They pivoted again saying their techniques are best used against untrained attackers and that skilled opponents have different reactions. After that you can learn the sport of BJJ. After all, they HAD been really emphasizing the importance of building reactions against untrained attackers. Eliminate skilled attackers all together was the answer.
More things started to make my Gracie Jiu-Jitsu loving self wake up: Pink belts, ultra fast scheduled promotions, online belt testing, certified training centers, no rolling for students until blue belt. I watched Rener almost become a caricature of himself. He was a tamer version of his fathers salesman qualities – more likable but just as thirsty in his zeal for a buck.
Intermittently I would go back and roll. Two times at blue belt. Once at purple. I was shocked – SHOCKED – at the extremely low level of competence on the mat by many of the students. Don’t get me wrong. There are some tough guys that train there, but not a single one I rolled with in my visits. Ryron and Rener would always take the time to roll with me…and they are as legit as it gets…. BUT… The average level was so low that it was difficult to even get in a workout. It was such a shame, because they were indeed great teachers with good techniques and information. What was wrong I asked myself? Recent rationalizations from videos about their promotion justifications are so strange albeit well articulated. I can see new people buying the fact that worse quality is better. Its impressive if you think about it really. An admirable goal of bringing as many people into BJJ as possible cleverly cloaked in their rather extreme viewpoint and financial motivation.
When Renzo gave the interview in this video, I listened to Rener’s response in his own interview. I listened to him tell flat out lies based in half truths. I knew this, because I had heard him say the exact same thing he said to Renzo’s student – even though Renzo only partially articulated what he exactly said. Rener said it both to myself and to trial class students with no consequence because nobody of note was listening. Only perspective students. This was the moment that I realized how much of a self serving person he was when it came to ideology of his specific brand of Jiu-Jitsu.
As a black belt, reflecting back I now mostly resent my time there. It killed off my creative thinking. It made me delusional. It made me closed minded. I do feel it made me very detail oriented and formed the foundation of a more analytical mind but overall, my progress was greatly hindered over taking classes virtually anywhere else. I cant stress how much I needlessly struggled now that I teach new white belts daily and how possible it is to be quite decent at white belt with no crazy tricks. There a really good places for learning self defense Jiu-Jitsu – some of which are offshoots of the Gracie Academy who apply the lessons of the past 23 years – but this isnt one. I suspect a few students of the school will read this. Please, if you are white-purple visit another school just once and try not to rationalize the experience away. Any school. If you are in Torrance, go to Cobrinhas. Its pretty darn “sport” there. Try Kings MMA if you are more interested in fighting.
I probably would be fine with keeping my opinions to myself, but I had one of their money grabs – A Level III Certified Training Center (TM) – open up next to my academy. I take a deep breath as they boast that myself, Checkmat HQ and CSW teach the great unwashed Jiu-Jitsu. Checkmat is home of the finest black belts in the world. CSW is a top MMA team consistently producing UFC fighters. At my academy you roll with judo black belts, division 1 wrestlers and dedicated practitioners who are both skilled, knowledgeable and friendly students of the game. You might even find Checkmat and CSW guys on the mat because we all share a common bond in the pursuit of excellence. We welcome them and visitors from all walks.
They tell people who walk through their door that other academies are just out to hurt you. Let me tell you this: the only people that get hurt at almost every academy are the people that come in with bad attitudes. Be a normal person there to learn and you are fine at most places! At our gym, we even extend grace to people who are pressing all the wrong buttons! We have those wrestlers showing you how do make a stance as Omar did tonight to our brand new white belt. I worked with him teaching him how to defend punches from the guard and get a double leg vs an overhand right.
Just as they did when I was a beginner, they make their straw man case for what other “sport” academies are like…and we are as sport as it gets. Berimbolo, worm…I teach it at a high level of detail. Its offensive.
Honestly, I can even see them doing a Gracie Breakdown of this post for damage control. They will make the same tired arguments they have always made, that their goal is to reach out to people and provide a safe atmosphere where its all about self defense. See what I did there? Thats calling setting expectations. It makes you, the reader, slightly less receptive to their message and criticisms. This is exactly the same tactic they use with their jiu-jitsu philosophy. Set exceptions of criticism by the BJJ community to make you less receptive to what they are saying. Expect criticism, but YOU are on the correct path and they are all wrong! Hard to reason with people who have that train of thought.
Instead of helping the new student rise up to the occasion of Jiu-Jitsu, they bring Jiu-Jitsu down to the student. ”