This is about DE LA RIVA...

I just got this email in my email box...

Training with The MASTER

For as long as I ’ve been doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I ’ve heard the name ‘Ricardo De La Riva ’. My primary BJJ training took place at a Gracie
Academy, and perhaps because of this, the name was mentioned quietly, almost reluctantly, like the admission of a secret, shameful sin. It was for this
reason that the name ‘De La Riva ’lodged itself so firmly in the recesses of my brain. I felt like something about this man was hidden from me; maybe not purposely, but there was definitely something left unspoken. I could feel

The Dieties of BJJ are jealous Gods. They despise sharing their dominion with less mortals. Despite this, throughout the history of the art, there
have been innovators outside the Gracie family who have changed the entire defining structure of how the game is played. A very select few of these
gifted men have had the holds or moves which they created named after them,
thus ensuring their place in the verbal history of BJJ, passed down from one generation to the next. The ‘Kimora ’shoulder lock and the ‘Ezekiel ’choke
are two examples of this. The ‘De La Riva Hook ’ is a third.

I don ’t remember when it was that I learned how to do this position. It was shown to me when I was still a white belt, but I could never fathom what was
so great about it; an open guard with one foot threaded around an opponent ’s thigh with the toes flexed back into the crease of his hip. Big deal!

Eventually I wound up leaving the Gracie Academy, and through a bizarre series of events dating back to the year 2000 when I competed in the blue
belt division of the Pan American games in Florida as a white belt (I had to borrow a belt in order to be allowed to compete) opened my own BJJ academy
with a Brazilian instructor who had received his own Black belt from a man named Marcello Monteiro. Other than knowing (from my own past experiences
with him) that Monteiro was a kind and honorable man, I truly knew very little about him. He had been a brown belt when I met him in Florida, and
the fact that he had received his own Black Belt from De La Riva, or even the fact that he was De La Riva ’s top student and had trained exclusively
with him six years, meant nothing to me.

That changed however, after some of the more militant elements in the Gracie clan started posting negative things about me, my Academy, and the head
instructor Sergio on the internet. Resenting the competition (as he also teaches in the Bay Area), one of them went to the message boards and
questioned the veracity of Sergio ’s Belt as well as the legitimacy of our school. Sergio responded with ‘Our Academy is proud to be a member of the De
La Riva BJJ Association, and my Black Belt has been sanctioned by him. Any disagreement you may have with the legitimacy of either my rank or my school, please take up with Ricardo de La Riva. ’ To my astonishment that actually seemed to work. Waddaya know...!

Unbeknownst to me, I had aligned myself with perfect tool for countering the arrogance of my former school. Ricardo De La Riva, 5 ’10 ”and 145 pounds.
The only man in history to ever defeat THREE Gracie ’s (including Royce, Royler, and Rolker) in a single tournament. Inventor of the ‘De La Riva Hook
’; a name given to a specific type of open guard game in order to differentiate it from the closed guard game, which (now get this) he ALSO
invented! That ’s right …according to multiple 'old school' sources Ricardo De La Riva is supposedly the inventor of THE GUARD GAME ('Ummm....okay, if
you say so! I'm certainly not the expert here!"). According to Monteiro, before De La Riva came along, opponents simply fought for the coveted top
position, working to gain submissions from there. You can ’t get a submission from a bottom position! Don ’t be ridiculous! Sweep, go on top,
and work the submission from there. That ’s just the way BJJ works …right?

But De La Riva couldn ’t do it that way. Skinny, and not terribly strong for his diminutive height, De La Riva suffered from the additional handicap of
having ankle and knee joints which continually failed him, causing him to be unable to trust his balance when fighting from a standing position.

The doctors he went to in order to find some kind of treatment for his joints, said that he should quit BJJ entirely. His body just was not strong enough
to endure the abuse he was putting it through. He had a genetic disorder, they told him. It wasn ’t his fault that he couldn ’t be a fighter, but neither could they do anything to help his body work better. Neither could he for that matter. It was difficult, but De La Riva finally came to accept the fact that he would never be able fight like the other BJJ guys at who trained with Carlson Gracie Sr. at his Academy in Rio.

So instead, Ricardo De La Riva learned to fight from his back ….and in so doing, beat everybody,
even those who outweighed him by a significant margin. After his defeat of the Gracies, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu would never be the same. The ‘guard game
’changed everything. And when the top competitors became proficient in passing the guard, he countered again by inventing the ‘De La Riva Hook ’…a
counter to the guard counters.

Whenever my female students get frustrated because they ’re having difficulty submitting their male training partners, I tell them; ‘They ’re
stronger than you are, they ’re bigger than you are, they ’re physically tougher than you are …. be smarter than they are! Much smarter! ’

De La Riva knew this 20 years ago. Physically more suited to be a math teacher, an engineer or even a medical researcher, this gray, serious little
man (who reminds me of nothing so much as an emaciated version of the Warner Brother ’s little dog character ‘Droopy’ ) knew he could never be a ‘BJJ
fighter’ if he used the traditional definition of that term as his yardstick. So he became a ‘BJJ scientist ’instead. Guess what? Science wins.

Other fighters may be stronger, or faster, or tougher, than he is; they may spend their every waking moment on the mats ….but De La Riva ’s brain is every bit as much of a part of his BJJ game as his body.

Intelligence radiates off of him. He exudes an aura of ‘smart ’the way other men exude ‘danger ’or ‘sex ’or ‘power ’. When you meet De La Riva, there ’s no way you can imagine him as one of the toughest guys on the planet, but there ’s no
way you can imagine him as being ‘dumb ’either. The De La Riva train doesn ’t stop at the Stupid Station. That much is obvious.

I know all this because Marcello Montiero and the legendary De La Riva have spent the last three days living at my house. Really.

I pride myself on not getting ‘star-struck ’ when meeting famous athletes from the NHB/BJJ world. After all, they’re all just people like myself who
love the sport and just happen to be really, really good at it (really, really, really, REALLY good in some cases).

But just being greatly skilled at something doesn ’t make you necessarily a person worthy of great respect. Being good at BJJ is no guarantee of innate goodness, trustworthiness, or of an honorable nature; a lesson I have learned all too well from personal
experience. And yet …I must admit, when De La Riva invited me onto the mats to roll with him, I felt myself having to take deep breaths in order to
control my trembling hands and racing heartbeat.

This was a legitimate LEGEND I was training with; a man whom even the Gracies had no choice but to respect, and who ’s name would live on through
the ages, long after he himself had turned to dust. I felt like a white belt; a novice. I ’ve had that experience before, but always with men who
were my superior not only in terms of skill, but also in strength and weight as well. Not only was De La Riva ten pounds lighter than I, he ’s also had
his right bicep surgically removed after it was crushed in a training accident. I knew I was stronger than he was …it just didn ’t matter. At ALL.

Although I tried to pace myself during the course of our training, his touch was deceptively light, and I kept being tempted to press my strength/weight
advantage, always feeling as if I was just so close to getting a sweep/pass/hold/whatever ….if only I could just ….

When our time on the mat ended, I was panting and covered in sweat. My mind had completely ceased to function, and by the time the bell sounded,
signaling the end of training, I was operating completely on instinct –all conscious technical thought having deserted me long since. Breathing only
slightly heavily, De La Riva smiled and patted me on the back. ‘Good job!’ he smiled, and then went on to teach a private lesson to another student.

A few hours, and several private classes later, he took me aside to show me how I could improve my game. That is …I remember him showing me a technique
….what exactly that technique was I haven ’t a clue.

My brain was still swimming with assorted technical detritus, the result of a prior two days
consisting of continual study and training. I had spent hours and hours on the mat, studying De LA Riva's moves in seminar classes, which he and
Monteiro taught to not only me and the students of my Academy, but also to the various BJJ students who had traveled from all parts of California in order to bask in the light of his knowledge.

Thank God Sergio also attended the seminar! I doubt if I remember even 1/3 of all of the techniques he
demonstrated. It was the only seminar I've ever attended where not only did I not know any of the positions he demonstrated, I hadn't even SEEN them
used! EVER!

When De La Riva asked me if I thought there was any way his class could be improved, I told him ‘Maybe it would be better if you showed fewer techniques. I know how valuable all of what you ’re teaching is …but if the students can ’t practice the moves enough times, or if they get so much information they aren ’t able to remember any of what you teach them, then no matter how useful the techniques are, they won ’t do them any good.’ He nodded sagely and thought about what I said. This was De La Riva I was
talking to after all. Deep thought is his response to almost everything.

Sergio and Marcello (the two Brazilian Black Belts with photographic memories for moves) disagreed with me strongly, and sadly, the lone voice of
the purple belt girl was eventually drowned out in a sea of raucous protestations by the offended Black Belts. The arguments they used to
contest my remark consited for the most part of "YOU'RE WRONG!"
Hey, how can you argue with logic like that? Especially considering the

After his third day in a row teaching, with only the barest acknowledgement given to his need for food or sleep, De La Riva spent his last night in San
Francisco taking in the various sights of the city, with me, Sergio, and Hati (one of the female students at the Academy), as his tour guides. Sergio
favored expensive, yuppy, meat-market type bars, as the cutest girls tend to congregate around copious displays of wealth; but after about five minutes
at the first club, I vetoed that idea.

Instead we went to an eclectic neighborhood hang-out near where I used to live. Included among its merits, were live music and two pool tables.
Monteiro fell asleep in the car while the rest of us rubbed elbows with Bay Area artists and drank micro-brewed beer. Well they did –I was driving.

On Friday morning at 5am, Sergio borrowed my car (his own wasn ’t big enough for all of the luggage that the twin professors had brought) and drove the
two Black Belts to the airport. From there, they would fly to Michigan and finish taping ‘Chess on the Mat ’, the instructional DVD they ’re working
on. Then De La Riva will go to Tokyo, followed by Europe, and then finally he ’ll spend one week back with his wife and seven year old son before
traveling again to teach in South Brazil.

I believe that it was Royler Gracie, hailed as one of the most skilled BJJ players in competition today, who named De La Riva as ‘the toughest opponent
I’ve ever faced ’. That such a man was able to grace my little, relatively unknown Academy with his time, skill and knowledge, is an honor so profound
that I simply have no words to express the depth of my gratitude. In addition to being an amazing competitor, Ricardo De La Riva has the rare
ability of being able to share that knowledge and understanding with his students. Training with him, I got the feeling that he really cares about
the progress of those who attend his classes. He ’s a somber and focused instructor, but then something will strike him as funny, and he ’ll grin
boyishly and do a kind of bobbing dance across the mats, his loose joints dangling like a marionette's. Then he sits again, soberly resuming his teaching, and you wonder whether or not he really DID act so

 GOOFY, or if was just some kind of bizarre hallucination. must have just been imagining things...

The truth is that De La Riva loves dancing, and eating, and being silly. He doesn't have to take himself seriously...he's already proved everything he
needs to and he's confident enough in his skill that he doesn't need to pretend to be anything or anyone else just to impress the crowds. 'Asshole
armor' is something insecure young men clothe themselves in so that they can pretend to a confidence they dont actually posess. They imagine this ruse is part of what makes them 'tough'....(As if anyone would need to be 'tough' in the first place if they weren't subject to the same vulnerabilities the rest of us have to deal with...Ironically, often a 'tough guy's' greatest vulnerability is his fear of being 'weak' or 'loosing'...but that's a topic
for a different article....). De La Riva, on the other hand, is so damn good that he doesn ’t feel the need to take himself too seriously, or to fight
Neanderthals in bars just to prove how macho he his. He knows what he can do….and so does everyone else in the BJJ universe.

As far as I’m concerned however, what impresses me most about the man is
that he ’s just one hell of a nice guy. A Professor to whom I can give my
loyalty and know, without doubt or reservation, that I won ’t be taken for
granted or taken advantage of either. De La Riva won't USE you; instead he
makes you better. His own success is measured by the improvement of his students. When you win, he wins. That ’s how he got so good at his game …he
encouraged his opponent ’s growth by sharing his innovations, then used the defensive techniques they developed to push himself even farther.

The following is a quote from Lao Tsu ’s Tao Te Ching. It is my favorite quote, and the feelings its message evokes within me, echo those present
during my short experience training under De La Riva:

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that the don ’t love to compete
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
And in harmony with the Tao.

Tao Te Ching

(approx. 550 BCE)

In the true sense of the word, Ricardo De La Riva is a Master, and not only because of his athletic victories. His trustworthiness, honor, humor,
intelligence, kindness, respect, patience, generosity, and humility make him unlike any other BJJ Black Belt I have ever met. In the four years I trained at my former Academy, the Gracie, whose name I bore on my gi in every tournament I ’ve ever competed in, rolled with me only twice. Both times he
hurt me, pinning me down so that I couldn ’t move, and then doing some evil trick that caused me to cry out in pain. I didn ’t feel honored when I
trained with him …I felt like a fool.

Throughout the years, I ’ve had the great privilege of training with many other BJJ black belts as well. Though extremely skilled and beautiful to watch in action as they gracefully flowed across the blue vinyl floor, not a single one even came close to De La Riva ’s precision in explaning the various moves and holds. I don ’t know if this is because the other Black Belts lacked the same level of technical understanding on a conscious/verbal level as De La Riva, or if they just don ’t have the same kind of awareness and regard of and for the students that De La Riva so obviously holds for those who train with him. Whatever the case, De La Riva ’s teaching style
alone showed him to be a ‘Master of Masters ’. The few minutes he spent rolling with me I will remember as one of the highlights of my BJJ career.
My gratitude for that alone, goes beyond my ability to express in words.

Professor De La Riva, should you ever chance to read this …thank you ….from
the bottom of my heart.

Jessica ( OPENDOORBJJ/Californica)

  • Tanks Jessica, I really apreciated what you wrote .

Marcello C. Monteiro - Coach
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Wow! Excellent writing about an incredible professor.

wow that is incredible! i am starting BJJ on wedensday under William Bittencourt who i believe got his black belt from De La Riva...


Beautifully written!!! This single article has inspired me to attend the first De La Riva seminar I have an opportunity to go to.

After having the honor of attending the Indy seminair I have to say that this letter hits true.
Coming in to the evening with ripped up ribs I took the time after warm ups to wrap them up. With everyone paired off and rolling I was struggling with the wrap.
De La Riva comes over ask how I got hurt and helps me wrap them up! Now I have guys I train with all the time that would't have helped. De La Riva comes over like we are old friends.

I was so impressed. The greatest part is Maonteirao is very much the same way, a very technical teacher with a great knowledge of how to improve his students.

I cannot wait to train with "a living legend" again in six months and with Marcello and Jaoa on Dec 10th and 11th


Jason Schmitt

Uh....gee Montiero....I guess this means that you like the article I wrote? LOL! I actually logged on here for the first time in months to see if they had a link to Grappling Magazine. I was thinking about submitting this article either there or to On The Mat. I guess that would be kinda pointless now though huh? ;-) Oh well. The most important thing is that people get to actually READ it and that will probably happen here more than anywhere else I suppose. If anyone wants to see some of the photos that were going to go with the article many of them have been posted to the opendoorbjj Yahoo Group. Since you've read the darn thing anyway, why not get the full effect? I'm so glad that you all liked it. :-)


that was great

ttt for De La Riva!

wow! excellent post!

A great article!


excellent post


Nice website.  You guys look like you have a nice progam there. 


What a great article!!

Thanks all. Before I got into BJJ I was a professional writer but I've always been a little shy about sharing my work with the whole MMA crowd. I've offered to help various instructors I've worked with in the past, telling them that I was a writer and actually have gotten a couple of journalism awards even, but I've always sort of gotten the brush off becfause what I primarily write about has more to do with philosophy/phsychology, and most fighters don't get too excited when I speak to them about the idea of writing an article like that. It's difficult for me to get them to talk about anything 'real', and that makes it hard to write anythinhg real about them. It was easy to write about DLR because he wasn't pretending to be anything or anyone other than who he really was. He wasn't trying to impress me and I didnt have to dig through any BS looking for the 'real' De La Riva. This time, instead of asking anyone for thier opinions or permissions to write an article...I just did it (and kept my fingers crossed that I didn't say anything that would piss anyone off too's happened before). Anyway, thanks for all the positive feedback. :-)


That was one of the most amazing articles I've read. I would love to have the opportunity to train with any of you in the future.