This article was written by black belt Arun Subramanian from Foundations BJJ - Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood Madison.
Born Edgar Cano in California in 1970, Eddie Bravo (his stepfather's surname) has long been a divisive figure in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Some see a radical visionary, and others see a self-promoting madman, capitalizing on fluke successes. But at this point, it would be very difficult to argue against the impact Eddie has had on the world of Jiu-Jitsu. While beginning his martial arts journey as a wrestler, Eddie, like many before him, watched stunned as Royce Gracie dominated the first few UFC events. He began studying BJJ under Jean Jacques Machado, a cousin to the Gracies. Jean Jacques was born with amniotic band syndrome, a congenital abnormality that left him with only the thumb and pinky finger on his left hand. As such, he became extremely proficient with the overhook, utilizing it over the traditional grips he could not hold, in order to control his opponents. This experience learning under Jean Jacques proved to be a critical element in the formation of Eddie's clinch heavy style.
When Eddie was a Brown Belt, he flew to Sao Paulo to participate in the prestigious Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission grappling tournament. Not only was Eddie a relative nobody at the time, but the stakes were even higher considering this was the first ADCC event held outside of Abu Dhabi. Eddie was fighting legends in Brazil, in an era when nearly all the legends were Brazilian. In the first round, Eddie drew the very tough Gustavo Dantas. Despite being a heavy underdog, he submitted Dantas by rear-naked choke. While this was surprising to many, it's what he did next that really sent his career to the next level. In the early 2000s, Royler Gracie was the most accomplished sport grappler from the Gracie line and a hero in Brazil. He was a 4-time world champion in Jiu-Jitsu and a 3-time ADCC champion. As far as the world was concerned, a match with Eddie was a formality on his way to further glory. Perhaps it was due to underestimation, or perhaps due to Royler's unfamiliarity with Eddie's preferred closed guard configuration, the Rubber Guard, but unbelievably, Eddie locked up a triangle. Royler tried to back out, but it was far too late, and Eddie scored the submission, the first-ever on a Gracie by an American. While he lost the following round to the extremely skilled Leo Vieira, submitting Royler and forcing him to accept the Bronze was more than enough for the world to take notice. When he returned to the United States, Eddie was awarded his Black Belt by Jean Jacques and set off to start a revolution.
Shrewdly capitalizing on his newfound status as the man who bested a legend, Eddie founded the first 10th Planet location in Los Angeles. By this point, he had worked with various MMA promotions like Pride FC and the UFC and felt that traditional BJJ was losing its edge in terms of combat efficacy. Unlike the early days of MMA when any form of submission grappling was largely a blind spot for martial artists, wrestlers that had adjusted their style to incorporate submission defence, and strikers with strong takedown avoidance had started to emerge. Traditional Jiu-Jitsu stylists were having more issues dealing with hybrid martial artists than they did during the days when matches were very much about individual style versus style. With the introduction of rounds which always began standing regardless of how the previous round ended, 4 oz gloves which protected strikers hands and made many grappling holds more difficult to achieve, and standing starts at the referee's discretion, strikers were beginning to have an advantage against classical BJJ stylists. But one of the biggest problems, according to Eddie, was the traditional reliance on the Gi. Eddie was convinced that in order to become proficient at Jiu-Jitsu explicitly for MMA, training should never occur in the Gi, and accordingly, 10th Planet does not use it at all. This rubbed many traditionalists the wrong way, specifically those that held the belief that Gi training produced more technical grapplers, since the slower, more methodical pace required more precision than explosiveness. But Eddie believed this was not relevant for MMA.
The 10th Planet style as a whole is characterized by the use of bizarre terminology for its positions and submissions. The original justification for this was so that coaches could corner their fighters without the opponent being able to understand what instruction was being given. Whether or not this is true, phrases such as "The Jiu Claw", "The Meat Hook", and "Crackhead Control" are part of the 10th Planet language. Many traditionalists objected to Eddie's claim of having invented a new brand of Jiu-Jitsu. "No aspect of Jiu-Jitsu is invented, only discovered," is a quote attributed to Jiu-Jitsu legend Francisco Mansur. Indeed others, namely Antonio Schembri, had explored Rubber Guard before. 10th Planet's core half guard, the Lockdown, already existed in Judo. But just as the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu deeply explored the groundwork of Judo and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, making for a much richer style from what previously was a portion of a larger art, so too can it be argued that Eddie pushed the boundaries of these esoteric positions further than anyone before.
In 2012, Ralek Gracie launched a promotion called Metamoris. While the idea of submission only matches was not new, Ralek was the first to bring modern production values and create a pay-per-view event around the idea of submission only grappling super fights. In 2014, at the third Metamoris event, Eddie faced off against Royler again, in a rematch 11 years in the making. The lead up to the match was bizarre, in that there were several back and forth negotiations regarding both compensation and rules. While ADCC is a No-Gi event, where competitors can opt to wear grappling shorts, spandex, rashguards or compete with no shirt altogether, Eddie had gotten into the habit of training with a rashguard on top, and traditional Gi pants on the bottom. While Royler ultimately accepted this choice of attire, he demanded to be able to grip Eddie's pants, while Eddie was not permitted to grip any portion of Royler's clothing.
Eddie faces off against Royler for the 2nd time
When the match finally took place, it became clear relatively quickly that Eddie's style had evolved quite a bit more in the preceding 11 years than had Royler's. The Lockdown is almost a direct response to Royler's preferred guard pass, the Knee Slide. Despite having limited success with his guard passing, Royler never attempted to switch up his approach, getting caught in multiple Lockdown sweeps along the way. Towards the end of the match, Eddie was able to set up a devastating leg submission called the Vaporizer, which attacks the calf, knee and hip. In addition to his incredible flexibility, Royler was also able to barely survive on the strength of a grip on Eddie's pants. While nobody can be sure what would happen if the same two competitors were to face off on a different night, it is not at all hard to believe that if Royler hadn't insisted on a peculiar ruleset that gave him a decided advantage with respect to grips, he either would have tapped or suffered severe injury. But while it was a draw in the books, and Royler took solace in the fact that he had not been defeated, Eddie gained a number of fans that evening, in addition to a large amount of validation. He had demonstrated that his victory in 2003 was no mere stroke of luck. Further, it was clear his focus on teaching rather than competing since their last match had not weakened his game. Rather, he had clearly developed further and further wormholes into his style, along with the help of his 10th Planet training partners and students, and was able to throw attacks at Royler that he was not equipped to deal with.
Again showing a perfect sense of timing, capitalizing on the surge of respect and popularity that had come to him after his performance in Metamoris, Eddie unveiled the Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) shortly afterwards. EBI was characterized by being a No-Gi, submission only format. It shortened the 20-minute time limit from Metamoris to 10 but addressed one of the biggest criticisms of Metamoris (the draw) by introducing overtimes. Metamoris had attempted judge's decisions at one point, but without a submission, it never felt like a definitive end to a contest. EBI rules give competitors as many opportunities as possible to finish a contest, by allowing for overtime rounds that begin in dominant positions. In the event of no submission after 3 overtime rounds, the shortest cumulative escape time within the overtime rounds wins. This incentivizes action from both the attacker and the defender. This unique ruleset has since been adopted by a host of other promotions, large and small. Eddie has also been totally open to making modifications to EBI over time. EBI showcases minors as well as adult competitors, and after a heel hook injured a young competitor, Eddie disallowed them for minors. In an effort to "keep Jiu-Jitsu honest", Eddie introduced Combat Jiu-Jitsu into certain EBI matches, which allow open-handed strikes when one opponent is on the ground. Soon, upkicks from the person on bottom will also be allowed. With Combat Jiu-Jitsu, Eddie is essentially reinventing MMA with the rules skewed to favor grapplers rather than strikers.
Flat Earth and Beyond
Eddie has never been one to shy away from controversy. Even when Eddie's first book, Mastering the Rubber Guard came out, it raised some eyebrows that Eddie dedicated a portion of the introduction discussing his affinity for cannabis. He wrote that its use helped him to develop his unique grappling style. The book was released in 2006, long before the wave of progressive cannabis legislation that has been sweeping the nation and the Western world. Eddie has long been a conspiracy theorist, raising questions about things like 9/11 and chemtrails. These are issues he has discussed both on his own podcast, Eddie Bravo Radio (which originally aired from 2012-2015), and on his good friend Joe Rogan's podcast multiple times. As there has become an increasingly vocal contingent expressing the belief that the Earth is flat, Eddie has lent his support to that movement, even bringing back his podcast in 2017 to discuss the topic. But none of this matters much to his huge role in Jiu-Jitsu. Especially as EBI continues to be the juggernaut in premiere, one-night submission grappling events, and with Eddie's own students having success in grappling, MMA and Combat Jiu-Jitsu. Whatever one's opinions on Eddie's beliefs and practices outside the realm of grappling, he clearly deserves far more respect than was given when he first submitted Royler. He has continually built on that success, demonstrating that not only was he not a flash in the pan, but that in many ways, he is a legend in his own right.