Old Video of Gracie Family Fighting Karateka

I love karate, but these fights are really beautiful. Notice the lack of protective equipment. In the first fight you can see the BJJ competitor using open hand slaps (as well as punches) to his opponent’s head. Toward the end of the video you will see a karate man receiving elbow and forearm strikes to the back of his head and neck. These do not immediately end the fight, the karate-ka continues until he is choked out (note that even powerful, well placed blows do not always result in your opponent being instantly incapacitated).

Rather than dismissing these fights out of hand, karate people should study them. No matter how powerful our punches and kicks are we should assume that we are likely to be closed on.  Even punchers like Jack Dempsey, and Mike Tyson threw many punches before landing the “one” punch that knocked out, or injured their opponent.  Karate people should not delude ourselves that our experience is going to be that different. It is really difficult to get in that one good, fight ending strike.

Training to both hit hard and deal with the press of a determined attacker who is likely to push beyond our striking range is essential. We should not be naive about ground fighting. At the very least we should  include enough of it that we have some chance of regaining our standing position if we are taken to the ground.

Put aside the rhetoric about the superiority of whatever fighting method you practice and watch these fights.


7 responses to “Old Video of Gracie Family Fighting Karateka

  1. This is old, old school Gracie. Since no traditional martial artist really understood how to grapple with the Gracies, they mostly trounced their competition.

    Back then their tactic was simply to throw some kicks to check their distance, then they would go to the clinch and topple their opponent and get them on the ground.

    Now all the good fighters know better- and now the old school Gracie style is useless in the ring.

    I still can’t understand why most of karate is backwards- oh well, maybe the Kuhnian paradigm shift theory applies here too I guess.

    Check out this article from a guy who has crisscrossed the world training martial arts in some far out locales on this topic-

    Traditional Martial Arts Versus Reality Fighting (and he has done both)

    His website

    Training rebels in Burma

  2. Tommy Pressimone

    The points raised in this article are excellent and should be noted by all. Unfortunately, the closed minded karate community (95% of it) won’t agree and if they do they will put there own inexperienced spin on it.

    You can see in these very early fights that there was no shooting so this was applicable to the streets, for those who say broken knees would be the result of shooting on pavement.
    What is important is that this was long before MMA but still contains the three phases of fighting/combat that is learned in MMA today. That of the open phase, the closed phase or clinch phase and then the ground phase. This holds true for street as well as ring or any fighting for that matter. What we see in the video is the importance of fighting in the clinch. It is very evident that the karateka here were caught in their one punch kill philosophy and had no concept of actually fighting with anyone dissimilar to what they do. Karateka, whether they believe it or not, get accustomed to fighting people like them. It all becomes very predictable and comfortable for them. A benefit of fighting other methods is diversity in defense and awareness. Not other karate styles, other things completely different to what you do. Boxers, Muay Thai, JJ, BJJ, wrestlers etc. This is one benefit of MMA. This is the point. A broader view allows better karate.

    In the video we can see that the karateka had no footwork, no distancing, no body shifting, no strategy, improper stance and center shifting and the list goes on. They were stuck in “wait.” Karate ni sente nashi? The misinterpretation fully exploited. This is why for me, MMA is a great learning tool and I saw that way back, long before the rivalry. I embrace it rather than being jealous of it or shunning it. I embrace it for what it has to offer as far as learning about fighting in a violent encounter but learning as safely as one can. The MMA format can be used as a platform for learning whatever it is you are into. Want to learn how to punch well and also defend and be able to withstand head shots? But at the same time do it safely? Go to a boxing gym right? Why wouldn’t anyone explore MMA or similar venues to better understand the “whole fight?” Do we only teach or do we also continue to learn and research in order that we teach better?

    For me, focusing on the three phases in MMA training helps to better see the big picture of even karate fighting and it sure would have helped these poor souls in the video. The Gracies may have seemed arrogant but a closer look may show that it was us who were arrogant. They had a point and they were willing to prove it by open challenges….not an easy thing to do. They were only trying to help progress all fighting arts. What did we do? “BAH! karate is superior….go away.” Without even a consideration of what they had to offer and so missed its validity. In looking at the early fights on this video it reminds me of what I saw in the early UFC matches in ’93 when the Gracies first televised this stuff. All the karate challengers had me saying “Noooo, don’t lead with a kick!” and Oh no….don’t do that, you are making it easy for him to grab you.” Not that I could have done better but I at least was able to see (because of my own experience with fighting in general) that they had no footwork or movement around the ring to avoid the takedown or clinch. No strategy, no awareness, and especially no familiarity with other fighting methods. Steeped in dogma. They all looked for the “karate blow” to win the day. So predictable.

    Yes, all disciplines should look to MMA as a learning tool to better understand the whole picture. Why do the small minded seek to remain separate and close their eyes to learning? If they don’t see it, it isn’t really there perhaps? I suppose it is easier to answer the question posed by the student: “Sensei what would you do against such a fighter?” From behind his desk: “Well, young man, that is sport and my karate is very dangerous. First I would…”

    Great video and article. Keep your minds open. Like I always say; I’m not a sport fighter but why shouldn’t my “fighting” be strong enough and diverse enough to fight one of them? A fight is a fight and either I can beat my opponent, no matter who or what he is, or I can’t.
    If you wanted to learn self defense or “how to fight” wouldn’t you want to learn from the winner? Does the excuse “that is sport and we don’t practice sport” hold up?
    Ok, so let’s see you fight him again and this time kill him!!!! Yea…right.

    I would have to disagree with “I am not Mr. Karate” (to a point). It may be old school but it is relevant to that particular time. As far as how standup has adapted to “that” BJJ “today”, yes it has come a long way in learning how to defend against it. I know, I am a standup fighter and I train in MMA. But that is in an MMA environment. Typical karate classes still gloss over such things. Also, even though today’s standup has advanced to, at times, win the day over these grappling methods, that does not discount the importance of diversity in training and taking these other methods into account. With no offense meant whatsoever, I find your view/attitude to be exactly what I discuss above.

    While I don’t disagree with the articles you linked to completely, I do see it as a “result of” what transpired in the videos provided by Mr Miller. Not as if that has how it always has been. That kills the argument IMO. Bruce Lee was ahead of his time, no doubt, and he may have been the first mixed martial artist but so can we point at many other innovators. However, no one was ever successful in changing the shape of fighting as we see it today as the Gracies were. Nor did anyone actually prove it as the Gracies did. No one gave any reason to come up with ways to defeat a new method, as you point out in your assessment that standup has caught up to BJJ or the old method. But even the old method has advanced so isn’t that a good thing? Techniques advance by advancement of defenses against them, and so on and so on. It is a circle that doesn’t have an end. Unlike karate which typically has boundaries and stagnation and doesn’t like to color outside the lines.

    I guess there was a reason to have to “catch up” then? Isn’t that the point? That our training was lacking and needs to be brought up to date and always refreshed? How many traditional styles do that?
    Where do we go from here? I think we have reached the top as far as arms and legs go when it comes to MMA. I think that is a result of what we see in this video.

  3. Gillian Russell

    Right on, Tommy, I miss your blog!

  4. Hello Tommy,

    btw my name is Adam,

    (the “I am not Mr. Karate” comes from this silly video :
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ld3XbUBOlTQ )

    I agree with what you are saying,

    the Gracies were indeed very revolutionary and can be truly seen as pioneers.
    This fight and other early fights have to be seen in the context of the late 80s/early 90s martial arts scene.

    Before the Gracies came to the forefront, few people trained “MMA” style (Jim Arvanitis, Tony Blauer, Sammy Franco, Jeet Kune Do stylists come to mind regarding that era). Karate in all of its incarnations (incl. taekwondo) was king.

    They had the guts to do what really no other stylist tried to do.

    Also there is really nobody in MMA that is a 100% striker with no grappling training. All the prominent fighters who are predominantly strikers train grappling, some fighters try to be well rounded. Brazilian jujutsu has expanded and updated itself, so now more grapplers train striking as well.
    The top MMA gyms in St. Louis now have coaches for striking disciplines (incl. those whose base art is Brazilian jujutsu).

    I know the importance of training in grappling- I have trained grappling before under a variety of instructors and also in striking disciplines for a while now.

    The Gracies and their many disciples (and other MMA and realitybased fighting paradigms) are constantly updating their fighting techniques – something that indeed can’t be said for many “traditional” schools.

    I am stil amazed by how many snake oil salesmen there are in martial arts, even though the UFC proved without a doubt that many “traditional” martial arts schools are teaching fantasy instead of reality.

    • Tommy Pressimone

      Hi Adam,

      I like to think that fighting techniques are very much like a circle (or should be). Seamless with no real beginning or end between offense and defense. This also gives us overlap, yin and yang if you will, a little white is in the black and a little black is in the white. Call it balance if you like. So yes, the strikers balance themselves with grappling and vise versa. This is how it should be and techniques should continue to evolve. If I develop a technique or at times even a method. Soon someone comes up with a counter. Now the original technique also gets tweaked to flow into defense against the newly devised counter. But is flows seamlessly like the circle. The offense becomes the defense and then the offense once again. I have had an ongoing argument with a closed minded left brain thinker (I am more of a free thinker…right brained) who insists that fighting doesn’t change. His reasoning is that all humans have two arms and two legs and this will never change. Thus, only a limited number of things we can do. Ok, I can give you that….to a point.

      But I say, look at the children to see where we are headed. Just as they mimic their heroes so do they change the course of many things sport or fight related. They mimic batting swings of their favorite baseball players or the finesse of their favorite quarterback. They adapted the Ali shuffle to their street boxing and later Bruce Lee. As these children age they take with them these new movements and they become the new way. The children become adults and know only what they have grown up doing.
      This is a change and it requires new strategies which requires alteration of techniques and perhaps distances. Somehow it always washes into the street. Staying current and progressive is a must.

      If you look around Youtube you will see all the MMA wannabees fighting in backyards and abandoned homes (three is a group of kids near me doing this in an abandoned home). By kids I mean in their 20’s. Very easily someone you might run into in a local bar. Or even end up fighting with over a parking space; we all know how these things happen. To me, that is a change in fighting. Twenty years ago you wouldn’t expect an attack like that. I don’t follow the path of logic that would state that an attack today would be the same as one 200 years ago. I choose to remain progressive. A step or two ahead of the next guy. We all know not to fight on the ground in the street but the argument is a silly one. The BJJ and MMA practitioners know this also. Just like a Kyokushin fighter knows not to avoid punching your head in, in the street just because there is no face punching in tournament. But learning how to deal with hitting the ground and then successfully get back up “and gain control” is important.

      This is why I do what I do. This is why I agree with the MMA fighter who, although he prefers to specialize in one area, he also learns what it is he will be defending and becomes adept in it and not just paying lip service.
      I don’t want to be one design on a huge quilt, I want to be part of the fabric. Not separate, and not a copy of what may be next to me. Part of the whole. Fighting is a whole; I can’t separate it into parts.

      I don’t separate sport fighting from self defense or street fighting. Sport fighting is just our way of safely testing our skill. How many times has the karate enthusiast said “MMA has rules, karate has no rules.” (?) Brilliant statement, isn’t it? They forget that those rules also hold the MMA fighter back. So they want to fight him with NO rules?

      I’m happy… I don’t belong anywhere. I have no boundaries. All I do is learn and do. I question and then I question the answer. I get beat and I learn why. Then I win…then I progress and yesterday becomes the past.
      To the traditionalist I’m a traitor or to the strict ones an A-hole.

      This isn’t a response to your post Adam. It is just me babbling. It’s a subject I have my own thoughts on and once you pull my string….well….


  5. Your babbling is great- I read your blog and it is great! The emperor has no clothes any more. If Karate is to survive, they should follow Daidojuku’s way.

    Even before the Gracies came to prominence many kids had exposure to boxing, football and wrestling (via school), and these attacks were common- so I am surprised the “traditional” schools have not made some attempt to counter this- but in book after book and video after video- I see “masters” still defending against lunge punches and unrealistic attacks.

    Almost every “reality based” system today, be it Krav Maga, MCMAP, Combat 56, Richard Dimitri’s Senshido, Tony Blauer’s SPEAR, Jim Wagner’s Reality Based, Hisardut, etc. all have the same basic techniques and they train it in more realistic scenarios- but their basic techniques are based on the techniques used in MMA. They all punch and kick and do footwork very similarly. Where they differ from MMA sport combat is only in their emphasis and focus on simulation street situations as closely
    as possible. I trained in a Krav Maga school, and in an MMA gym. No difference except training in gun and knife defense and other drills designed more for street applications than the ring.

    • Tommy Pressimone

      Thanks for the comments on my blog, Gillian too. Good to know at least some body read it…lol

      In a final note here, I’ll say this, and it dovetails into the closing of my blog. Looking at the videos provided and Mr. Millers’ article I “see” things. I get visions and I try to put at least some of it into words. I say some because the thoughts are so varied and tangled like a web that I can never fully explain my thinking. I came to a point long ago where I was training in opposition to what I was learning. But I kept going anyway being caught in the flow. “NOW” I am just doing, for myself. I’m free. I started my blog not as a right or wrong way or any form of instruction. I only wanted it to be a finger pointing at inconsistencies (that I saw) as it relates to traditional karate and fighting. Just a “hey, take a look at this….don’t you see it?” I said all I could say and I ended it. No need in going on.

      Long before that end I had already come to the point of no longer caring or worrying about what others are doing. Actually, if they aren’t doing what I am doing then that means another potential enemy has no insights into what I would use to beat them…lol. How cynical is that….yes, everyone is a potential enemy. Seriously though; looking at these videos and having a nice discussion reminds me of how I think and what guided me to be as I am. The road paved by early fights such as these which sparked hidden thoughts in my head. The wonderment at “why don’t others see it?” The debating and arguing with the closed minded. Watching the traditionalists continue to believe exaggerations of techniques and dogma. I have learned from what I feel I needed to learn from. The things I chose not to learn, for whatever reason doesn’t mean I don’t find them valid in some way. I have to prioritize.

      But I no longer worry about the things you mention in your above statements. People do what they do, I do what I do. I don’t set goals because they tend to signify and ending point. I only set a direction and head that general way. Then I see new paths and continue onward. I don’t want to be predictable and I don’t ever want to be concrete. I am in a constant state of flux. I could change tomorrow. This is why I didn’t write the book I started out to. After two chapters, I decided to turn my notes to a blog and then it just took off. A book, to me, would be too definitive. It would put my thoughts into words and become concrete. It would be a way. At least my blog was free to edit and update and change as I write new things or learn more.
      I don’t stay still long enough. I wrote in my blog that it would record my changes as I went. It evolved with me (although over only a short period). But I have changed more since ending it.

      I have certain principles that may be identifiable to me and fairly constant but I don’t have a set of rules or specific techniques. I’m pliable. For this reason I have no interest in trying to convince anyone of anything. I only concern myself with how I can beat the next guy. The people you speak of Adam, have long ago become only a distant source of amusement. They do what they do and I do what I do. I leave it at that.

      Should everyone do what I do? No, but I do think the general idea of how I learn is a friendlier and more productive and progressive method. But I like to be a lone soldier and I like to be rare. Otherwise everyone would be too equal of an opponent. Then again, I’m not very rare, there are a lot of people doing what I do. I know you guys here are diverse in your training and that is good. I also know you stick a little closer to the karate model than I do (kata) and that is fine also. I personally don’t believe in kata (but that’s an “in person discussion”) but done with a purpose I could live with it. Well….with someone else doing it….lol

      But we’ve gotten outside the realm of the original article and videos now haven’t we (I).

      This whole discussion and original article has all reminded me of the journey. It showed why karate stayed stagnant. A door opened and they refused to enter. The room was full of gold. Why should we care. Just move on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s