Updated: Jun 1
In this blog we are going to talk about the most influential BJJ practitioners in/from America. The criteria being judged is their part in the growth of awareness of BJJ, education of the sport to the layman, effect on Jiu Jitsu culture and growth of BJJ opportunities. To be clear for all you haters out there, this is not a list of the best practitioners.
First on the Mountain is Rorion Gracie. Admittedly, to know Rorion’s name you have to be balls deep in Jiu Jitsu already. There are much more famous Gracie’s like Helio, Royce, and the G in a Gi Ralek. That said, nobody has done more for Jiu Jitsu in America than Rorion. He was the first in the Gracie family to move to the U.S. back in 1978. He started doing private lessons and opened a school not long after that. That makes him one of the first BJJ instructors in America.
He created an opportunity for his family to move here and made it easier to do so. While this may have been enough to cut his likeness into rock by itself, it isn’t the biggest thing that he did for the sport in America. Rorion Gracie started the ultimate Gracie challenge which he named the UFC. The UFC has been the single biggest introduction to BJJ for the American public.
Everybody of a certain age remembers Royce Gracie winning the first 2 UFC’s being undersized and wearing a gi (a feat that could have alone put him on this list). As the UFC grew so did the opportunities to “train UFC”. BJJ in the beginning was how you won fights. If you didn’t know BJJ you were going to lose. Seeing its effectiveness coupled with the entertainment value the live show puts on has gotten 10’s of thousands of people across the country into the sport we love.
For being one of the first instructors in America, making a home for the Gracies, and starting the UFC, Rorion Gracie gets the first head on the BJJ Mount Rushmore.
Next on the BJJ mount Rushmore is Joe Rogan. Joe has been anything but average in the martial arts community. He is essentially a lifelong true martial artist. What makes him special is the amount of fame he has amassed while actively practicing those martial arts. Joe has two black belts in BJJ. One from Jean Jaque Machado and one from Eddie Bravo (who we might hear from later in this blog).
Joe is a stand up comedian who has referenced BJJ in his sets and a commentator for the UFC. His narration of fights makes the fight enjoyable for the layman without losing the credibility with the hardcore fans and practitioners. Joe hosts the largest podcast in the world and talks about Jiu Jitsu and fighting so much on it that he needed to start a separate branch of the show for all his guests that were BJJ or fighting experts. Joe talking about what Joe loves has exposed more people to the term Brazilian Jiu Jitsu than anyone in the world.
For Joe’s congruent commitment to martial arts and sharing it on his massive platforms Joe Rogan has earned his spot on the mount Rushmore of American Jiu JItsu.
The next face you would see on our mount rushmore is a younger man named Gordon Ryan. Before Gordon Ryan’s entry into the BJJ community it was unheard of for a competitor to get paid. High caliber athletes would pay $100 bucks to compete for a $2 medal and the right to say they are world champions. In a short time, and because of this man, this model is being turned on its head.
Promoters will only pay athletes based on what they bring to the table. The more eyes on the event or the more people that buy tickets the more money they have to give. Nobody in the history of the sport even comes close to Gordon Ryan. There are many reasons you can state for these eyes being on him but any reason you want to come up with doesn’t change this relevance. It is because of him that in the near future you may be able to make a living as a professional BJJ athlete. Love him or hate him, people pay attention to him and his high tide is raising other athletes' ships.
Additionally, and almost as a side note, he is the best no gi grappler in the world. His record since 2016 is 90-5 with only 1 submission loss. He is one of those rare guys who talks the talk and walks the walk. For this reason, and for leading the charge for professional BJJ athletes he is a head on our mount rushmore.
Last but not least, we come to Eddie Bravo. Eddie is not a man who is comfortable with the status quo. After receiving his black belt from Jean Jauqe Machado he opened his first school in Los Angeles in 2003. Over 19 years later he has affiliation of over 100 schools. That is impressive in itself, however it is only the tip of the iceberg.
Eddie didn’t accept the traditional nomenclature for techniques. He instead developed his own language for his schools. This language developed into a counter culture for Jiu Jitsu practitioners. In the 2010’s if you were a 10th planet guy you were a minority and almost viewed as an outcast by traditional dojo’s. A stigma that most 10th planet folks seem to relish in.
Eddie’s game was different as well. Coining rubber guard, using the twister unlike people had seen, and extensive use of leg locks was just the beginning of the creativity that has come from his students. He didn’t just teach things in his schools, he made a community for safe exploration of concepts and ideas.
As impressive as all that is, the icing on the cake for me was his live events. He is always thinking of how to showcase the sport in an exciting way for the viewer balanced with highlighting the functionality of the sport. From EBI and its overtime rules to declare winners to Combat Jiu Jitsu showing that everybody has a plan until they get bitch slapped. He is not afraid to try new and exciting ideas to push forward the sport.
For his affiliations, his counter culture, and his live events and personal platform Eddie Bravo is on the mount rushmore for American BJJ.
Who is on your list?
John Danaher. John Danaher revolutionized the sport with how he teaches. His approach to learning and applying knowledge from all martial arts is second to none. He deep dives into concepts creating angles of knowledge that only he could see. He applies that knowledge with the wisdom of Uncle Iroh. His students are consistently among the best in the world and most of them are home grown. You could go out and find super athletes to coach up and find success, instead John coaches to the abilities of his students. John’s reach has been amplified by many orders of magnitude through instructionals on BJJ Fanatics. Everybody that trains knows of John Danaher and the Danaher death squad! This overly long paragraph is in honor of his IG.
Christian didn’t make the American Jiu Jitsu list only because he is not American! Graugart is the founder of BJJ Globetrotters. The Globetrotters is an organization with over 750 affiliations globally with many in America. The globetrotters also put on camps which 1000’s of people participate in each year including many Americans. The globetrotters organization has a fundamental emphasis on promoting a non-political approach to Jiu Jitsu and treating everyone equal, on and off the mats.
While this is a great accomplishment, equally impressive is Graugart's newer project of BJJ Beltchecker. It is a practitioner database & community based belt verification for BrazilianJiu Jitsu. Bjj Belt checker currently has 22,953 registered and verified practitioners. This project is becoming a decentralized hub for Jiu Jitsu not only in the states but all over the world. How cool would Christians hair look carved into rock?
~Joshua Janis Gentle Art Lifestyle coach