With jiu-jitsu’s exponential rise in popularity over recent years, demand has never been higher for BJJ academies. One academy in particular has consistently been at the forefront of BJJ world-wide. Most practitioners are familiar with the name Gracie-Barra (GB) and many of them are probably a student of their gyms. Without a doubt, GB are the most widespread and well-respected affiliation in the game today. The academy is, of course, of the Gracie family who are the pioneers of modern jiu-jitsu. Below, I’ll be looking at their history and how the affiliation operates on such a large scale.
History – Gracie Barra
The first Gracie Barra gym was founded in an affluent neighborhood in Rio. The academy was founded by Carlos Gracie, Jr. The gym opened its doors in 1986 and centered on the principles of Gracie jiu-jitsu. It’s important to note, during this time, that the Gracies were essentially the gospel of jiu-jitsu. There were very little, if any jiu-jitsu gyms and certainly none at the level of the Gracies. Soon the academy, and the sport, spread to California where the current GB headquarters are situated. Today, there are over 800 GB schools on 6 continents. They have awarded an estimated 600 black belts which is a staggering number for one academy affiliation. The first black belt under GB was awarded to Rigan Machado of the legendary Machado family.
The GB culture is based around 3 pillars: Brotherhood, Integrity, and Development. Brotherhood is a call to the original Gracie family of boys. It is also a symbol of the global GB family throughout all of their academies. Integrity refers to the intent of keeping BJJ alive in all forms. This is achieved through regular training and spreading the love of the sport. Development concerns the progression of all students in their personal progression in BJJ. At GB it is about achieving your own potential. In their own words, the GB affiliation seeks to be a vehicle for individual development and strengthening of spirit.
Being the largest affiliation in world BJJ, it is important that there is consistency throughout academies. There are set structures to the lessons in GB gyms comprising essentially of specific drill work on systems followed by rolling. In order to streamline this process, there is a hierarchy of management in GB gyms. Basic teachers are instructors. More advanced and respected instructors are referred to as Professors. When a student/instructor has achieved their 7th degree red and black belt, their are considered Masters. These employees may oversee one or a few gyms. GB also utilizes Regional Directors who superintend a specific area containing a number of academies. It is the responsibility of these groups to maintain the GB structure in each individual gym and then on a larger scale as is necessary.
In addition to harmonious teaching, GB gyms also require GB uniforms. Students are required to wear GB kimonos as well as GB rash guards under those kimonos. This is stated in the overarching rules for each GB academy. Although exceptions may be made for visiting students, the rule is often firmly enforced. The idea behind identical teaching methods and identical uniforms is that students can travel from one GB gym to another and feel comfortable in the new environment. If all students are running to the same beat, theoretically, they should be of a similar standard be it in California or Paris.
Controversy Despite being one of the most respected names in BJJ worldwide, the GB affiliation has not been without controversy. The core of this criticism stems from the large-scale commercialization of the sport through GB academies. The rigid structure of the GB framework forces all students to learn the same and look the same in their uniform. Affiliate gyms must pay a franchise fee in order to use the GB name. Affiliates must also follow all GB rules as prescribed. It is difficult to look at these practices and not see a product being sold rather than a “vehicle for individual development”. Per the GB mantra of integrity, surely the goal is to spread the love of BJJ rather than make as much money as possible. Regardless of the criticism, the GB academies continue to produce the highest level of BJJ throughout the world. Their name and their reputation is both revered and feared throughout the world.