Rickson Gracie can finally breathe out and hopes that others can take a deep breath, too.
At the age of 62, after decades of forcing his opponents to tap, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu icon now spends his mornings practicing a mindfulness ritual of meditation and yoga, followed by surfing the waves of the Pacific. Since injuries caused him to cut back on his own practice, Gracie proudly takes on the role of teacher and global ambassador. He shares his expertise in rear-naked chokes and other tap-out classics – moves made famous during his reign as arguably BJJ's greatest athlete – to his legions of students through his online academy.
Through the experiences he recorded in his recently published New York Times bestseller Breathe: A Life in Flow, a new generation can learn the art of being comfortable in uncomfortable moments.
“Breathing has always been my invisible asset, whether it's fighting, surfing heavy waves, enduring cold water, or just getting things done,” he says.
Today Gracie admits he spends more time in the kitchen these days too – he says he can make a chicken casserole or a variety of desserts based on the recipes his mother made for him and his brothers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil . In his prime, Gracie would whip the doubters who line up to test him and the legacy of Gracie Jiujitsu, created by his father Hélio. Every challenge came up with the same result: Gracie would subdue any enemy with brutal precision.
This also applied to his professional career. Seven of Gracie's 11 professional MMA victories, mostly held in Japan in the 1990s, ended with rear-naked choke submissions – the other four were armbar and face slaps.
But even for the good of BJJ, since his hand was always raised in victory, the pit of his stomach was filled with fear and doubt during his early fights. But when you learned how to "breathe" from a teacher, things slowly started to click. His first fight was three 10-minute rounds against an undefeated gigantic opponent – "King Zulu" who was 50 pounds heavier and more than a decade older than 19-year-old Gracie.
“I was dead tired,” he recalls. “I asked my father to end the fight because I was completely exhausted. He didn't even listen to me. He told me that (Zulu) was exhausted and now it was time to hit him. Then, just before the bell rings, my brother throws a bucket filled with ice water over my head. I finished it off with a rear-naked choke within three minutes. "
Courtesy Rickson Gracie
One theme of his teaching is that through a combination of mindset and breathing work it is possible to overcome most uncomfortable moments, regardless of the size of the situation or the adversary: “My worst enemy was my own brain that told me to stop. From that point on I decided never to let my thoughts work against me. "
His memoirs (co-authored by Peter Maguire) share Gracie-Jiujitsu's roots, the struggles he fought in protecting the honor of the Gracie surname, and the highs and lows – including his son's tragic death – of being a Jiujitsu icon shaped and transformed it today.
Gracie shares in this week's winning strategy how taking a deep breath can help you overcome fears, share your knowledge with the next generation, and develop your spirit at any age.
"Humans can see obstacles and ways to escape and work towards happiness," says Gracie. “Of course I feel a little naked because everyone knows about my intimacy, but on the other hand, I hope I can share with people some examples of what I've done to reinvent myself in some difficult and uncomfortable situations to survive."