Keenan Cornelius On Helio & Rickson Gracie: ‘Their Level Was Probably Tough Purple Belt’

Keenan Cornelius On Helio & Rickson Gracie: ‘Their Level Was Probably Tough Purple Belt’

There are many stories of Rickson Gracie manhandling and submitting BJJ world champions when they came to visit him in his academy  during the 90’s.

One of the names that come up are bjj greats Fabio Gurgel, Roberto Traven, and Saulo and Xande Ribeiro.

Gurgel and Traven were interviewed and asked about their experience training with the master, and they were very humble about it:

Gurgel & Traven Describe Training with Rickson ‘It Was Very Humbling’

Coral belt Jean Jacques Machado went on in detail on the Joe Rogan podcast explaining about Rickson’s greatness and what sets him apart from the rest:

Jean Jacques Machado on Why Rickson Gracie Was So Good

On the recent Mat Burn podcast (check it out. It is excellent) Hosts Keenan Cornelius and Josh Hinger discuss Rickson Gracie and how Jiu-Jitsu practitioners seem to put the old school Masters on a pedestal.

Keenan was critical of this way of thinking as it goes against his principles.

Keenan stated:

BJJ is kinda like that (Turkmenistan- an autocratic country ruled by an egomaniac dictator). If you say anything about Helio or Rickson, like if you say that their Jiu-Jitsu wasn’t good. People will be like “are you kidding me? Rickson is the greatest black belt of all time”.

I get that you have to show respect to pioneers who came before you but their Jiu-Jitsu was definitely not as good as it is today. Their level was probably tough purple belt level…

It is not known if Keenan has ever trained with Rickson.

There has been a lot of criticism recently of BJJ legend Rickson Gracie. He was heavily criticised for harbouring 3 convicted sexual offenders in his Jiu-Jitsu global federation. They have since been exposed by BJJEE and expelled from the JJGF:

2 More Convicted Sexual Predators Are Members of Rickson Gracie’s JJGF Federation


In the midst of this controversy, Atos black belt and world No Gi champion black belt Josh Hinger wrote a pice on  flograppling arguing that Rickson views on sport Jiu-Jitsu and self defense were outdated:

It is well known that Rickson has made other negative statements about sport jiu-jitsu practitioners.

I have a problem with these statements and Rickson’s consistent belittlement of jiu-jitsu athletes who chose to exercise their skills in a tournament setting.

First of all, the sport-based branch of the activity does not negate the essence of a martial art…
Without rules, very few people would care to practice them, especially not children. If there were no rules, I would just bite every single person who tried to touch me.


Henry Akins, the third American to receive a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt from Rickson Gracie had to answer Hinger. Akins trained under Rickson Gracie for 15 years. Akins became the head instructor or “Professor” at the Rickson Gracie Academy from 2005 to 2008 before resigning due to a back injury.


There’s nothing wrong with competing or competitors. I think Rickson’s argument focuses on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu being advertised as a self defense art but being taught 100% from a competition perspective.

It’s pretty much common sense: If you train regularly with strikes your going to be be way more comfortable in a fight then someone who does not.

There’s a reason so many greats of BJJ who focused primarily on competition had a very difficult time transitioning to MMA. Marcelo Garcia, Saulo, Xande, Andre Galvao. These guys are the best of the best. Those that have transitioned and have had success like Roger Gracie and Damien Maia have stated publicly many times how much they had to change or alter their game to be able to be effective. Roger even mentioned only about 30% of his jiu-jitsu translated well for MMA.

Football and Rugby both help athletes to develop strength, speed, power, coordination and the ability to tackle or take someone down. All these attributes and abilities can also translate to fighting but you don’t do football and rugby drills when training for a fight.

I’m sure if you asked John Danaher how he trains his athletes who are getting ready to compete in the UFC vs Abu Dhabi, his methodology would be dramatically different.
If competition training is so effective for fighting why don’t you see all the UFC fighters doing gi competition training?

Again I think the distinction needs to be made. There’s nothing wrong with competing or competitors. Training 100% competition style jiu-jitsu is not ideal for someone who’s focus was learning jiu-jitsu as a self defense art. It’s better then no training at all but there is certainly a more effective way to train if the focus is to learn how to defend oneself.

Now when you take into consideration all the people out there who’s focus is not competition and only have 2-3 hours a week to train and are spending hours learning a “competition style” jiu-jitsu focused on using grips to control and how to score points and never being exposed to strikes or learning how to use strikes, that’s where the real problem lies.