#80 Rolls Gracie Recollections from Bob Anderson

Rolls Gracie

The term “legend” is likely over-applied in sports like ours. Great competitors come and go, and some truly stand out. But all Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners who hear the name Rolls Gracie would agree that “legend” is an apt way to describe him.

Rolls Gracie’s name is brought up often in our interviews with Brazilian jiu-jitsu classics Carlos Valente, Fabio Santos, and Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti, all of whom attest to Rolls Gracie’s historic role in the development of Brazilian jiu-jitsu at a crucial point in its early history. Despite a premature death due to a hang-gliding accident in 1982, his willingness to integrate grappling techniques that were not a part of Brazilian jiu-jitsu opened the door to a new era in the sport, an effect that some say prevented the sport from sliding into stagnation.

Last week here on The FightWorks Podcast, cohost Dan and I discussed nutrition with wrestling legend and nutrition expert Bob Anderson. Bob stayed on the line with Dan and I and was kind enough to share his experiences of training with Rolls Gracie in the mid- to late 1970’s. As you’ll hear, the two met rather coincidentally and the exchange of ideas that took place between them had an impact on the sport we know today as Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

And before we shut the show down, we’ll have an installment of The Black Belt Corner. We’ll speak with none other than Carlos Gracie Jr.! Carlos, also known as “Carlinhos”, is the creator of the International Federation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-jitsu which run the largest BJJ tournaments in the world: the Mundials, Pan American and European Championships.

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FightWorks Podcast: Talk to us about your involvement with the Gracies down there.

Bob Anderson: Ok, when I got involved, I was supposed to be down there to teach wrestling techniques. I’m waiting at the airport for maybe two and a half hours: nobody is coming to get me. I keep asking around, I ask this porter and that, and this guy says “I’ll call somebody, I know somebody in wrestling that can help,” or something. I said, “Ok, thanks”.

And Rolls Gracie came with one of his uncles. They picked me up, and kinda in broken English, they talked to me, and said “yeah, we’re supposed to be picking you up, sorry we’re late,” and all stuff. So I said “no big deal.”

I had my surf board with me and all that stuff, we went down there. So I’m staying at his house, I didn’t think anything of it. We’re there, and he keeps taking me to these practices, and these guys have got jackets on!

I said, “I’m supposed to be teaching these guys wrestling.”

“Yeah,” he says, “we want to learn wrestling, but we do jiu jitsu.”

I said, “what’s that?” I didn’t know jiu jitsu at the time.

He just talked to me a little about it, and he says, “we want to learn, and I want to learn, wrestling. We’re trying to make the Pan American Games team, so I want you to help.”

So, I’m training, and I’m showing him. He’s the kind of guy that was very open-minded. I don’t mean to be harsh, or mean in any way, but a lot of the Brazilians now have got a system, they’ve been very successful, and they keep that system, but Rolls wasn’t that way. He said, “I want to learn certain things from you and apply it, put it into my jiu jitsu.”

So I said “ok,” and we’d have, like, Renaissance guys. We’d be brainstorming, and he’d say “ok, if you took the guy down, you did this, and you ended up in this position, and the guy was covering up this way. What would you do?”

And I would say, “this is how we take the arm, and do it this way.”

He’d go, “oh, I like that!” Then he’d say, “what if they did this,” and then I’d show them this – it ended up that I showed them a lot of different techniques. But I didn’t come down there and go ‘ok, I’m going to show you the Americana armbar and I’m the guy that invented it’, it just grew out of what I knew and what he liked, and then he later – I didn’t even know – he called it the Americana because I was the American wrestler that came down and showed him the move and that’s how the Americana armbar got started.

There were other silly things we’d do. His wife, Angela, who thought he walked on water and was the toughest person in the world – and he’s probably pretty tough, I mean, he was close! She was a very Brazilian woman type, and you know how athletes, we tend to tease one another. Especially if we like each other, we tend to tease one another and say things.

I used to say, “oh man,” and I’d tell her – right in front of her – “I don’t he can beat a wrestler. You’re just a skinny little 160 pounder, I don’t know.” She would get outraged with that, we’d go back and forth like that.

One time he took me to this bazaar, and we were walking around and everything, and I was pretty big back then, I was about 215lbs. I was really muscular, I was doing leg presses with 1000lbs. I could do fifteen of them. Not squats, but leg presses, where I’m laying on my back. I was pretty powerful still, at the end of my career, so I’m walking around there and all of a sudden, I ask this girl about something, and he interprets for me.

Then he starts talking to this girl who is a salesperson. I look over at some other item, and all of a sudden she says something to somebody else, and all of a sudden there are twenty people, thirty, then like fifty people, following me around. I’m going, I’m getting a little nervous [laughs], I’m going “what’s going on here?”

FightWorks Podcast: “Hey, what’s up?”

Bob Anderson: Yeah, “what’s up?”

And he’s like, “yeah, don’t worry about it.”

So I said, “why are these people following me around?”

And he says, “oh, I just told them you were the Hulk, like on television, and they believed me.” Then out of the crowd, I heard people going, ‘Hulky! Hulky!’ [laughs] He was just laughing his head off, had a great time.

Another time, he said, “if you want to learn about Brazilian driving, you’ve just got to ride with this guy.” We’re going to a Brazil and Argentina soccer match, it’s the big thing for the year there, at the biggest stadium in the world, I think. So he’s late, and that’s typical Brazilian, right?

FightWorks Podcast: Never heard of a Brazilian being late.

Bob Anderson: So he decides to drive on the sidewalk, because it is bumper to bumper traffic going there. We’re going on the side walk for like five, six, maybe more miles, about thirty-five miles an hour [laughs], in his little car, flying down there. Then he jumps back on the freeway and we get on the off-ramp and it bends round, and there are a couple of cars parked there. He sees that there is no parking there, so he just parks on the side of the off-ramp and we get out.

He was also a policeman, down there. There is no room, the stadium is full. He goes to the back gate and shows his badge, and we end up watching the soccer match on the stairs, along with many other people. The place was completely full. That’s one of the more exciting things, driving in Brazil, that I had.

The other thing is, there are other guys that I trained, that were there, but they were young guys. I don’t know, they remember me a little bit, Royce Gracie and those guys were there. He was teaching them, he was their teacher. Machado though, Rigan Machado was there, he remembered me.

Rigan came back up to the United States and trained with Danny and the guys that I had, did his training with me for about a year, wrestling and stuff. They basically consider me, in Brazil, the guy that basically started wrestling for them, in Brazil, and helped them in some of their techniques, on their feet and down, in the Brazilian style of jiu jitsu.

FightWorks Podcast: That’s quite an honour.

Bob Anderson: Yeah. Then, of course, we hadn’t let it go, his wife still had to have a match. He says, “why don’t we just have a match,” and I said, “I didn’t come down here to do that,” and he says, “this is just a friendly match.”

So I put on the jacket and everything, I’m used to the SAMBO jacket, so it wasn’t too bad. But those jackets, it was so hot down there. We fought, and at this time I didn’t know anything about the guard or the triangle or anything. So he says, “let’s start down, in this area,” and he puts his leg around me, and I say “ok.”

I figure it’s fair, I’m 215lbs, he’s 160, and I’m the wrestler, I’m good on my feet. So we start in that thing, and we fought, and fought for at least twenty-five, thirty-five minutes, until I was just too hot and sweaty. He didn’t get me with anything, I didn’t get him with anything, we just fought like two cats, just rolling around and trying to do things.

Finally I get up and I get pissed off. I take off the jacket and pull off the thing, and I said “man, let’s fight like real men! I can’t fight with this thing on, I’m gonna die in this jacket. Too hot and sweaty here in Brazil!” So I throw the jacket off.

He say’s “ok, fine,” and takes his jacket off. I think we started the first ever no-gi Brazilian jiu jitsu match [laughs]. We went back into the guard, and we fought for another twenty-five, thirty minutes. I was exhausted, and finally, he caught me in a heel hook, and it was over. I was kinda glad!

FightWorks Podcast: Those are some crazy memories. I don’t think a lot of people will know, unless they’ve read some of the history of the Gracie family, like The Gracie Way etcetera, Rolls was a student of the grappling game as a whole, he wasn’t just a jiu jitsu guy. He was into a lot of different parts.

Bob Anderson: And that’s what made him so good, and that’s why they got good, because of that. I think some of them have lost a little bit of that, I would call it, ‘Renaissance Man’ type attitude, and got a system – which is a very good system, and works very well – but they’ve lost some of that openness, and I think they need to get back to that. That’s just my opinion, it’s not meant meanly, or with any malice or anything.

I work with Rigan, a lot of times. I would come in and show some things on the feet. There’s a lot of things that you can do, that you can pass the guard and stuff from your feet, til you’re down, before he even gets you, to be in side mount and different things, that you can learn very easily.

When you’ve got guys who are really tough and evenly matched – I went and watched the Pan American Games, and it’s all down on the ground. Here is a world champion black belt Brazilian, really tough, and then here was a guy that was a judo guy, that really understood Brazilian jiu jitsu too. He ended up winning the Pan American Games, because of his feet, being able to get that takedown and control it, do things on his feet.

I would say that is one thing that they need to do, and before they had this idea that all you need to do is jiu jitsu, and your technique will get you through. Well, that’s archaic now. I mean, swimmers will lift weights, you know? You have to cross-train, and that’s what I started developing with Danny and Randy and these guys, cross-training, a hundred reps.

I have a special thing that I’ve developed, and there are certain times and things that your body recuperates in a certain amount of time. In ten seconds, your body recuperates fifty-six percent, and I have a whole system that I do. Everybody lifts weights, and if they do so many, like lift this ten times, try to add more weight, or try to go down, it’s just all bodybuilding crap. It comes from a whole different thing: our powerlifting.

We’re not powerlifters, we’re not bodybuilders, we’re athletes, and we have to have our muscle be able to fire over and over again. That’s why I developed, and to be strong, and nobody trains in their lactic acid zone. That’s what I train guys, and that’s what you train, in an anaerobic conditioning level. One of my cross-training techniques that I do.

I have a formula: weight x reps x times = power. Then there are ways to change that formula. Everybody knows that they can increase reps, but how about decreasing time? How about increasing your reps? How about going into antagonistic muscles, and you go from one exercise from the next, without a rest?

So if I’m doing a pushing, then the next movement I’m doing a pulling, and my muscles that did the pushing are being relaxed, and there is still blood being pumped, then I can go back to doing pushing again, and I’ll do another pulling. It’s called antagonistic muscle groups.

Then there’s heart peripheral, and you can change from different areas, and you change these things all around and it makes it more like sport, it makes it more like an actual athlete that has to compete. Then of course you throw in the ball exercises: I have special ball exercises that I do for athletes, and I teach guys how to go back and do back arches and throw.

I taught a kid, 235lbs, fourteen years old, how to do a back arch and throw in two hours, just by using the balls, and how to use them for techniques on defending your legs, and different things like that. I have a whole series of stuff that I’ve developed, through trial and error and just developing and doing things with guys.

FightWorks Podcast: Wow. This has been like an encyclopaedia, listening to you Coach, but I think unfortunately we’re going to wind down on time here. Do you have any last comments that you’d like to give our audience out there? We’ve got folks all over the world, grappling fans and any last comments or words for them?

Bob Anderson: You know, I just love the idea of going against somebody, one man against another. Don’t take it personal, it’s like a physical chess game, enjoy the journey, and learn as much as you can and be as fit as you can.

Reason where I’m at and I’ve done what I’ve done is because I’ve always tried to be spiritually, connected with my higher power, Jesus Christ. I’ve always tried to do the best I could for my body, nutritionally, and I was always open to learn, not only different things, new techniques – I’ve fought in judo, I’ve won national championships in Freestyle, in Greco – I did all these things to develop me as a total person, in what we call now the mixed martial arts.

Stretch yourself, go out and try some things. SAMBO classes would really help your jiu jitsu, on your feet, you know. Just be open, and take care of yourself. I would say train for life, not just for a few months, not just to win a championship, but train for life.

FightWorks Podcast: Great advice, Coach. Thank you very much Coach, we’re going to be in touch with you, and we’ll post a link so that everybody can come and learn more about you and your offerings. So, thank you.

Bob Anderson: Yeah, if you don’t mind, I have a website, if you want a look me up or anything. It’s called www.coachbobanderson.com.

FightWorks Podcast: Perfect. Alright Coach, we’ll be in touch.

Bob Anderson: Nice talking to you, guys. See you later.


FightWorks Podcast: Ok: and real quickly, I’m going to roll that last little portion that Bob called back to contribute. So here we go.

Bob Anderson: The other thing I wanted, I thought “you know what, shoot, I wanted to put this in there.” Rolls came up – I live in San Clemente – he came with his wife, and his kid Igor, stayed with us and trained. I took him to the YMCA Nationals, and he won the YMCA Nationals in SAMBO.

I didn’t make him some great SAMBO wrestler, but I showed him the techniques, what to watch out for and what to do. He destroyed everybody – I think he submitted everybody. Then we went to the Pan American Games Championships in ’79, in San Diego, along with the World Championships in wrestling, and he won the Pan American Games Championships, and submitted everybody.

FightWorks Podcast: Wow.

Bob Anderson: I wanted to get that in there, I just felt like that should have been in there.

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