Meanwhile, Gordon Ryan Wins Eddie Bravo Invitational 6

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Eddie Bravo has changed the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling with his eponymous Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) tournament, a 16 man competition featuring the world’s best grappling talent. As promotions like Metamoris and Polaris struggled to find ground (no pun intended) with the martial arts community, mostly due to lackluster events, contract disputes and overall mismanagement, EBI rose through the ranks to stake it’s claim as the world’s premier, most spectacular grappling event.

With a grand total cash prize of $50,000 and the tournament winner earning $25,000, EBI 6 is the grappling event with the highest stakes, financially speaking. While the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) is widely considered the olympics of submission grappling, the tournament is more about pure competition than about exciting matches, and there is no cash prize for the winners.

As April 24, 2016 approached, several competitors pulled out of the tournament, including ADCC champions André Galvao and Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu. As it turned out, Eddie Cummings, the winner of EBI 4, pulled out with an injury and was replaced by teammate and Garry Tonon (winner of EBI 3 and  EBI 5) protege Gordon Ryan.

Sporting a flawless competition record (12 submissions, 2 decisions) of 14-0, Gordon Ryan’s popularity has grown exponentially among the no-gi and submission only grapplers. Under the tutelage of Tom DeBlass, John Danaher and Garry Tonon (he is Tonon’s first black belt), Ryan has dominated the competition since he began jiu jitsu at age 15.

Five years later, he entered EBI 6 as the youngest competitor amidst a sea of sharks and tough veterans including Lucas Rocha, ADCC 2015 winner (88kg) Yuri Simoes, multiple time EBI champion and grappling sensation Garry Tonon, Marcello Garcia prodigy Matheus Diniz, and world-class wrestlers DJ Jackson and Rustam Chsiev.

As the first absolute division (open weight) EBI tournament, many questions remained to be answered about the best strategy to win the tournament, and how much of a role weight differences would play. Tonon weighed the lowest at 173 lbs, while Yuri Simoes and Rustam Chsiev weighed in at 228 lbs, while the heaviest competitor Amir Allam weighed in at 261 lbs.

Many people in the BJJ community would argue that weight is of little consequence at the highest levels of the sport, but if you’ve ever watched an EBI tournament, you know other factors come into play. Because the tournament is concluded in one night, competitors sometimes compete in back-to-back matches, often with little to no rest time in between.

In addition, certain competitors come from wrestling backgrounds, where takedowns, positional control and conditioning are prioritized over slicker styles often seen in jiu jitsu. Rustam Chsiev, a Russian wrestling champion with a visible strength advantage, dominated his opponents with thunderous takedowns, smothering top control and crushing submissions. DJ Jackson and Matheus Diniz also demonstrated superior athletic ability, manhandling their opponents with ease and advancing to the quarter and semi-final rounds.

One of the first shocking upsets was Gordon Ryan’s destruction of Yuri Simoes, one of the more physically imposing grapplers and a 2015 ADCC champion at 194 lbs. This is where the weight differentials began to play a role: as the competition progressed, the heavier grapplers appeared to tire faster; only Rustam Chsiev’s conditioning held up as he advanced to the final round against Ryan.

One thing to note about Gordon Ryan’s style is that although he appears long and lanky, he has developed a perfect style for his frame. He doesn’t exert himself, and moves fluidly during transitions, always looking for small openings where he can exploit his opponents’ haste and over-aggressiveness. Ryan didn’t even face adversity until he met Yuri Simoes in the semi-finals, where he spent the majority of the match on offense.

What he lacks in the heel-hook mastery of his mentors Garry Tonon and Eddie Cummings, he makes up for with superior strategy and tactics that play out perfectly in a one-night tournament. Here are the tenets of his game that translate so well to submission grappling, particularly the tournament style format:

  1. His style doesn’t rely on explosiveness and strength, which reserves energy for escapes and finishes.
  2. He has the musculature to support his frame, but not so much that it drains his cardio or hinders flexibility.
  3. He emulates the tactical mastery of using leg locks to reverse and transition to better positions, rather than using them purely as attacks.
  4. He has excellent flexibility, particularly in his hips, knees, and ankles, allowing him to use an impenetrable defensive knee-shield against aggressive top-game players.
  5. He has mastered taking the back, something Marcello Garcia and his academy have emphasized.
  6. He doesn’t depend on finishing the choke once he gets the back, opting instead to either isolate an arm or climb his way up his opponent’s back until he can triangle a head an arm (reverse triangle), opening up modified chokes and armbars.
  7. He knows how to pace himself – in every one of his matches, he exerts less energy than his opponent and is always the fresher fighter going forward.
  8. His fight IQ is unparalleled. He understands strategy and knows when to bait his opponent into getting greedy for a submission, then capitalizing on their mistakes.
  9. He’s young. At only 20 years old, and having come this far, he has the talent and the physical tools to go as far as he chooses in martial arts, whether that’s submission grappling or MMA. He doesn’t overtrain, and learns from the best in the business. He is smart enough to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors, and his legacy is only just beginning.

Footage of the entire EBI 6 event can be found on UFC Fight Pass, and I highly recommend watching this footage if you have any interest in martial arts. Submission grappling is one of the most effective, if not the most effective fighting system. This system enables someone to train techniques live, against a real-life opponent, anywhere from 0-100 on the intensity spectrum without getting hurt. While some injuries do occur (as in any sport), they tend to be benign compared to many other sports, including striking based fighting systems.

Unlike striking based systems, submission grappling involves no head trauma, an issue that has come to the forefront of combat sports enough to garner attention from the U.S. Congress, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

If you have any interest in learning self-defense, or simply want to better yourself as a human being, I cannot recommend anything more highly than submission grappling (or No-Gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ). Martial arts are a vehicle for human development, and submission grappling is the most effective martial art. The techniques have all been proven on the world stage (remember the first twelve UFC events?), and they can be trained at 100% intensity without severely hurting your opponent. Training with a real-life opponent will sharpen your tools and mentally prepare you for the rigors of hand-to-hand combat, and learning the fundamentals of movement, leverage, and position will enable you to both control your opponent and add strikes to your arsenal, if you choose to do so.

Understanding how your body moves, what kind of pace you can sustain, and how to maximize strength, agility, flexibility, power and endurance will optimize your body and mind. You will gain confidence, learn to respect others, and learn to respect yourself. The true tenet of martial arts is love and respect of others through love and respect of self.

After all, the most powerful weapon is the one you don’t actually have to use. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “speak softly and carry a big stick.”