Notes & Quotes: Breathe by Rickson Gracie

 The following are my favorite quotes from Rickson Gracie's Breathe: A Life in Flow.

  1. My dad believed that if you mind and will are not strong, you'll spend your entire life getting carried away by your desires and weaknesses. You'll spend your whole life paying for things you don't want.
  2. From a very young age, it was drilled into us that there was no shame in losing but there was shame in quitting or not fighting.
  3. This experience taught me an important lesson about Jiu Jitsu: sometimes it's not about escaping but about finding whatever comfort you can in hell. Something as small as turning my rib cage slightly so I can breathe a little easier can be the difference between victory and defeat. This was less a technical revelation to me than it was a mental one.
  4. I was beginning to understand that money and social position defined some people, but I wanted to be defined by my merit.
  5. If I were to be the greatest Gracie, I had to take risks. Even though I experimented with different drugs and potentially dangerous lifestyles, I valued my freedom above all. I never wanted to be controlled by anything, especially a drug.
  6. I eventually learned that the capacity to accept anything, especially death, was the key to my physical, mental, and spiritual growth. All three of these elements must be balanced, because sometimes you don't break physically but emotionally. Sometimes you have the physicality and the emotional control but are spiritually unprepared. Without a spiritual connection to both life and death, you can't reach the next level of performance. Soon I would realize that if I were to dance on the razor's edge, I might fall off it and die. That was the price of admission.
  7. One of the most important muscles for high-performance athletes to develop in order to breathe more efficiently is the diaphragm.
  8. Once I could accept death and walk comfortably toward it, what was there to be afraid of? My biggest personal breakthrough came after realizing that my life was less important than my mission.
  9. Renzo [Gracie] was a born fighter who, rather than getting scared in dangerous situations, got focused.
  10. As Gracies, we were taught that there was no shame in being nervous or afraid; what mattered was what you did in the face of fear.
  11. While some people are impressive natural athletes, some have a never-say-die attitude that cannot be taught. The latter often go further in Jiu Jitsu and in life.
  12. I felt confident that if Royce [Gracie] stuck to the Gracie game plan of avoiding punches and taking the fight to the ground, he could win. During the week prior to the fight, I started to get his mind ready. I told him that winning was OK, losing was OK, and dying was OK. He should be happy to be in America representing the family.
  13. By pitting "villain" characters, like Kimo and Tank Abbott, against "hero" characters, like Royce and Ken Shamrock, the UFC was becoming more like professional wrestling--a stage on which to introduce heroes and heels. It is no coincidence that I only fought professionally in Japan, the home of the samurai and the Bushido code. Like the European knights' concept of chivalry, the Bushido code governed the conduct of Japan's samurai warriors. To them, being a warrior was not just an occupation but a way of life. The tenets of the code changed slightly over time, but they can generally be described as righteousness, courage, compassion, respect, honesty, honor, and loyalty.
  14. A couple of time a week, I would take a snorkel and submerge my entire body in a frozen river. First came the shock of the cold, following by searing pain and anxiety, but I got to a point where I was ready to surrender and die. If you can control your breathing, you can get past this point to where the cold disappears and the pain turns into pleasure. In order to go into water that cold, I had to control myself mentally and physically.
  15. On my last day in the mountains, I lit the big pile of wood and leaves that I collected during my stay. The flames spread upward quickly until the entire pile was engulfed. I didn't feed the fire but instead kept my eyes on it the entire time. I offered my thanks for the opportunity to be there and to represent Jiu Jitsu. In the thirty minutes it took for the fire to start and then burn itself out, I saw my entire life play out in front of me. By the time it went out, I had prayed, rid myself of any doubts or regrets, and accepted the cycle of life and death.
  16. On the morning of the Japan Vale Tudo Open, I got to the stadium early and took a nap in the locker room. When I woke up, I thanked God for life and then acknowledged that it was a perfect day to die because my life's mission was complete. I was representing my art and my family in the ring. My opponent would have to knock me out or kill me to win, for I was never going to tap. This was not a sport to me; it was my sacred honor.
  17. In three short bouts, I had won the Japan Open. I bowed to the crowd on the four sides of the ring but did not smile. The samurai did not celebrate victories, and neither would I. Why celebrate a victory? Your next fight might be your last. Battles are not parties. Win or lose, fights are sacred to me.
  18. After I learned to empty my mind, I had the confidence to be humble, and humility played a big role in my progress.
  19. The more time I spent in Japan, the more I liked it. I was amazed by the attention the Japanese paid to the tiniest details of the simplest things: the way the built a fence, the way they planted a garden, the way they turned buckwheat into soba noodles. There is beauty even in their approach to war. Not only do they uphold the values of honor, dignity, and respect, but their weapons, armor, and masks are all beautifully and meticulously constructed. Samurai swords from hundreds of years ago are still some of the finest knives ever made.
  20. I do not believe in luck or coincidence, to me, everything is a sign that it either positive or negative. I accept the fact that forces larger than me are in charge, and I look for spiritual clues in life. For example, if I find a hawk feather in my garden, I consider it a blessing and a good sign.
  21. I respected the Japanese relationship with food. It was not just the food; it was also the reverence they showed for their seasonal ingredients. The Japanese term washoku, which means "Japanese harmony of food," is based around Japan's four seasons and their harvests. For example, you might eat green peas and clams in the spring, shishito peppers and certain types of fish in the summer, mushrooms and eels in the fall, and greens and other types of fish in the winter. Even rice has a season: rice harvested in the early fall is considered the best. There are special plates and bowls for each season. The diner's senses and the overall experience are as important as the food. Every aspect of the meal is a celebration of both sustenance and the season. This attention to detail really humbled me.
  22. With kids, you have to respect the fact that you are not in control of their outcomes. You plant the seeds and nurture them as best you can, but at a certain point, you have to let go. No matter how much knowledge, love, money, or advice you give them, they will fly once their own wings are strong enough. Then they will chart their own courses through life. A father must accept his children for who they are, not who he would like them to be.
  23. I understood that there is no tomorrow, because life can change forever in the blink of an eye. I needed to do my best every day because it might be my last. I no longer had the luxury of wasted time!
  24. Happiness is not a static thing. You have to work at it by confronting and overcoming challenges.
  25. When money becomes more important than happiness, your life passes you by, because you can't lower your guard and enjoy yourself. Money is a tricky thing: it can bring you freedom and happiness, but it can also bring pain and anxiety.
  26. The overwhelming majority of my students are incredibly gracious and grateful for the opportunity to learn. Those with humility and innocent curiosity are the easiest to teach, because their minds are open to new things. It is difficult to teach people to relearn things they have been doing wrong for decades. But if the spirit is willing, the mind and body will follow.
  27. Big egos and closed minds usually come hand in hand. Occasionally, a student's shell will be so hard that I have to crack it first in order to teach them. To do this, I have to show them--not tell them--what I am teaching them works.
  28. While I respected the top Jiu Jitsu competitors as remarkable athletes, I did not consider them complete martial artists, because they ignored the self-defense aspect of the practice. Fights in real life are unpredictable, and often your only goal is survival.
  29. I don't care if a student is only interested in the sport of Jiu Jitsu; every blue belt needs to know how to block a punch, clinch, take someone to the ground and control them. Even more important, they need to know how to use the guard to defend against punches and head butts in the event of a real-life assault.
  30. I wanted everything in life--a conversation with a stranger, a new project, or a Jiu Jitsu seminar--to have meaning. I refused to waste time on things that I did not value, and I left other people's expectations behind.
  31. My cat reinforced my belief that the deeper my connections are, the more fulfilling life becomes. The Japanese have an expression, ichi-go ichi-e, which roughly translates to "once in a lifetime." It could refer to a gathering of friends, a special meal, an epic day of surf, but the idea is to savor the occasion, because it will never come again. I share this view and believe that if you see every moment in life as a unique opportunity, you live with much more intensity and precision because you are using 100 percent of your energy, your voice, and your senses. It is always important to remember that.
  32. Helping my students try to become better people, not just smashing-machines, is what motivates me. Jiu Jitsu is my philosophy, my sacred honor, and my family tradition. It has made me strong enough to forgive and confident enough to fight for my beliefs.