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Part 1: Jean Jacques Machado’s Left Hand and Lineage
Jean Jacques Machado was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1968 as a member of Jiu-Jitsu royalty. Related to the legendary Gracie family because his mother was sisters with Carlos Gracie Sr.’s wife, Jean Jacques was entrenched in the very beginnings of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) from a young age due to Carlos Sr. and his brother Helio being largely credited as the founders of modern BJJ as we recognize it today.
Machado was born with a Jiu-Jitsu head start. Not only Carlos Gracie Jr.’s cousin, but pupil as well, he grew up learning with and from the son of the man who helped to invent BJJ. But being gifted in family name did not prevent certain setbacks from birth which his fighting style would have to overcome. Jean Jacques was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, and as a result he has no fingers on his left hand.
But that didn’t stop him from becoming one of Carlos Gracie Jr.’s top students in the 1980’s. At the time Jiu-Jitsu practice relied heavily on grabbing and gripping the gi, so Jean Jacques had to work around his inability to do so with his left hand. He developed and adapted a Jiu-Jitsu style that could work for him, one that revolved around over-hooks, under-hooks, and grips around the body. Machado became proficient enough that Carlos Jr. made him a fellow coach upon opening his world-famous Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Academy.
After Jean Jacques had been promoted to black belt he joined his older brother Rigan in the United States in order to help him run his small BJJ academy. The Machado brothers received much ill will in the circles of the BJJ elite and their fellow trainers, most of which at the time were members of the Gracie family. The main reason for this scrutiny was that the Machado’s began teaching real Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to any non-Brazilian who walked into their academy – more specifically to any non-Gracie.
At that point in time in North America, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu schools were much more common than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools, and even if you were able to find a genuine Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academy to teach you BJJ, the Gracie’s restricted the teaching of their most advanced and effective techniques to within their own family. The Machado’s were giving away the secrets that helped them stay ahead competitively in sports, as well as on top business-wise as the faces of BJJ. Not to mention, some in Brazil regarded BJJ as cultural property, and the Machado’s were taking it and selling it abroad.
As far as the Gracie’s were concerned those secrets were used to help them win competitions, which in turn helped them market the sale of the Gracie system in their schools. The more dominant they could stay thanks, in part, to those secrets, the more money they stood to make off of their BJJ system. But the Machado’s were simply making Jiu-Jitsu more accessible, which was a tenant at the very heart of the art’s origin.
Jiu-Jitsu was originally created in Japan by the Samurai over the span of hundreds of years. The art was then a mixture of strikes, throws, and submissions, which were to be utilized when Samurai were forced to engage in combat without a weapon. What is left of these practices is what is known as Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.
In the late 1800s, even though Jiu-Jitsu had become more accessible to people who weren’t Samurai, the techniques were not even close to being as refined as they are today, and still required a large amount of physical power to perform many of the techniques effectively. This prevented people like Kanō Jigorō, and his small body frame, from achieving the success in the art that he obsessed over.
Jigorō couldn’t stand that his stature was holding him back from his passion, and to get any possible advantage over his opponents that he could, he studied all the grappling arts he could find. Through years of trial and error he accumulated a collection of effective techniques, which he then organized into a martial art system known today as “Judo.” Jigorō proceeded to open the first Judo dojo in 1882.
A pupil of Jogorō’s, Mitsuyo Maeda travelled the world after learning Judo and studied various other martial arts before ending up in Brazil in 1914. There he was introduced to both Carlos Gracie Sr. and Helio Gracie through their father. With Maeda’s teaching, Carlos Sr., and Helio especially, would become the founders of modern BJJ.
Helio was much smaller than his siblings due to having a terrible sickness as an infant which stunted his growth. Due to being much smaller than everyone around him, just like Kanō Jigorō, Helio had to refine the art of Judo even more. He emphasized efficient trips and takedowns instead of high amplitude throws, and engaging with your opponent primarily on the ground to help negate their explosiveness and power. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was born.
Carlos Gracie Jr. learned from both founders of BJJ, and still carries on both Carlos Sr. and Helio’s lineage. Carlos Jr. was able to take Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and merge it with the rougher and much more physically aggressive techniques of another precursor to MMA: Luta Livre, or “Freestyle Fighting.” This helped the techniques become more effective for situations that more closely resembled a real fight.
Carlos Jr. was the main professor Jean Jacques Machado studied under, meaning Jean Jacques can trace his lineage directly back to the origin of BJJ. Despite Machado’s birth defect he was still able to develop his own style of BJJ, which worked without the need to grip the gi. He went on to win 1st place at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC), came in 2nd twice, became one of the best BJJ practitioners in the world, and has one of the most direct lineages to the invention of BJJ to back it all up.
Part 2: Eddie Bravo’s Compulsion to Evolve
Eddie Bravo had been living in Hollywood for a few years while trying to make it as a professional musician in a heavy metal rap fusion band. After wrestling most of his life and being inspired to continue martial arts due to the messages of Bruce Lee, he had taken up Karate while trying to get his band to take off. In 1993, however, his relationship with martial arts went through a crisis when he saw Royce Gracie dominate the first-ever UFC event using his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The message sent to Bravo by the significantly smaller Royce, confronted him with BJJ’s effectiveness to such a degree that it overtook his mind and launched him into an obsession with Jiu-Jitsu that changed submission grappling forever.
Bravo dropped Karate and went looking for the nearest Jiu-Jitsu academy. He almost signed up for a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu class, before the instructor pointed him towards a school nearby. One that taught real Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Jean Jacques Machado became Eddie’s coach, and Bravo began training under a man who had adapted his style to not having a hand that could grab onto the thick and sturdy gi. Bravo became influenced by Machado’s style and by BJJ’s effectiveness in the budding MMA landscape. Bravo was particularly infatuated by the potential ability to defend oneself without the use of a weapon, something he shared with Jiu Jitsu’s Samurai inventors hundreds of years before him.
Perhaps because of the influence of his teacher, Bravo noticed that when practicing BJJ in the gi, the people on the bottom would rely heavily on gripping the collar and sleeve of the gi as if sleeve and collar control was a sort of fight stance while on the ground. Because the UFC originally pushed Bravo towards Jiu-Jitsu, he was always concerned with how BJJ techniques would translate to MMA.
In the beginning, when Royce Gracie steamrolled through everyone at UFC 1, most of his opponents had never heard of BJJ. Once people knew what was being done to them and the basics of how to defend it, BJJ specialists became less dominant in the meta game of MMA. Bravo believed that part of the reason for BJJ’s downfall in MMA was the specialists getting smashed while on the bottom, due to an over-reliance on gripping the gi in BJJ practice.
Bravo emphasized that latching onto the sleeve and collar had become a lazy habit, which made BJJ less effective in an MMA fight, a real fight, or any situation where the other person is not wearing a gi. It gave BJJ practitioners a false sense of security that there would always be something to hold onto, only for them to look like a fish out of water while getting punched in the face.
Bravo thought it was an issue that no one was truly dangerous off their back, or even had a system to navigate it. They would just latch on, retain guard, and hold on for dear life.
This observation and his passion for BJJ being at the forefront of MMA drove Bravo to develop a new system of Jiu-Jitsu. Inspired by his mentor Jean Jacques Machado, Bravo focused exclusively on techniques that would be effective when neither party was wearing a gi to grip. In the end he had crafted a style focused on not being hit, having sweeping and submission options from positions that are defensive to strikes, and setting up submissions from the back and clinch. Most importantly it was not trained in the gi.
Bravo originally made waves in the BJJ community in his historic match in 2003, in which he defeated Royler Gracie by triangle choke off his back, helping to legitimize the new style to his contemporaries. After the match, Jean Jacques Machado gave Eddie the black belt off of his waist. Out of all of Machado’s pupils, Eddie got the honour of receiving the very belt that was given to Machado by Carlos Gracie Jr.
Bravo took his new belt and opened his own school where they trained without the gi and emphasized finishing your opponent with a submission. Bravo called his new system 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu.
Unfortunately, just like his predecessor, Bravo was a magnate for controversy in the elite and traditional BJJ community. At that point the gi had become a uniform for BJJ. It was a part of sacred tradition and most importantly a part of the Gracie brand, which had historically helped to separate it from competitors.
Bravo was outcast as a blasphemer from the one thing he was most passionate about, but his victory over a legendary Gracie and the continued success of his Jiu Jitsu system and techniques in the cage eventually won him back the respect and good graces of the BJJ community and even the Gracie’s. Today he is even revered as the inventor of one of the most entertaining rulesets for BJJ competition with his “open source” Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) submission grappling rules.
With a piece of BJJ history around his waist, Bravo continued to expand his schools and spread the word to aspiring MMA fighters of his adapted system, ultimately looking for the student who could come along and prove Eddie’s hard work where it all started: inside the octagon.
Part 3: El Cucuy
Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson seems like he could be the student to make Eddie Bravo’s dreams come true, and in the process etch his name in history as one of the greatest lightweight fighters of all time. With Bravo as his Jiu Jitsu coach, Ferguson has strung together a record setting 12 fight winning streak in the UFC’s deepest division, picking up 5 Performance of the Night and 5 Fight of the Night bonuses along the way – a feat rivalled only by the division’s champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who currently sits at an 11 fight win streak.
Ferguson’s 10th Planet training shines through in his nearly unmatched ability to deal damage from disadvantageous positions. On his back he can dodge strikes and take away the opponent’s space to throw them, while fluidly slicing them with elbows or threatening submissions. His specialty is snapping down his foes neck out of the clinch and into various front headlock chokes, a style he has labelled on social media as #SnapJitsu, but has its roots in the beginnings of 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu. He is essentially a prototype created to deal with crushing top-pressure wrestlers who secure dominant positions in order to win fights.
His creative ability to do damage from any position, mixed with a weaponized pace that increases as the fight progresses, was an inevitable recipe for championship material. To accentuate the fact that Ferguson’s record-setting style is the culmination of hundreds of years of Jiu-Jitsu advancement. Tony submitted Kevin Lee in 2017 to win the UFC Interim Lightweight Title at UFC 216. Just like his coach’s iconic win 14 years before, it was off his back and it was a triangle choke. And to put even more of a stamp on it, Tony earned his BJJ black belt after winning his UFC belt, and Eddie handed down Jean Jacques Machado’s very own black belt. Now “El Cucuy” carries that little piece of Jiu-Jitsu history with him into the cage every time he makes the walk.