By: Daniel Frank
Jiu jitsu and the cinema have been intertwined for many years. Movie stars, directors, stunt men and women have trained jiu jitsu and have taken their passion for the gentle art and put it onto the silver screen.
You may have heard that director Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) is a Renzo Gracie black belt. You may have seen pictures of Scarlett Johansson or Ashton Kutcher training with Rigan Machado. You may also have seen scenes in movies like the triangle choke at the end of the first Lethal Weapon or the rolling omoplata in Pacific Rim. Whether the technique displayed is performed correctly or not, or if the actor or actress you see wearing a gi and a belt is a favorite of yours or isn’t, jiu jitsu is beginning to be noticed and will only continue to proliferate in Hollywood.
Keep a sharp eye out for jiu jitsu techniques in upcoming movies or in your favorites from the past. Also, check out these four films that showcase jiu jitsu.
- Brazilian Brawl
When I describe a movie as a must see, that doesn’t imply that the movie is well made. Brazilian Brawl is really an attempt to showcase the Machado brothers and their jiu jitsu. It was not intended to win any film awards. In the movie, a poor farmer is being forced off of his ranch by a corrupt local official. The farmer resists and is eventually murdered, but luckily he is related to five Brazilian jiu jitsu black belts who are intent on doing the right thing. Fairly early in the film the ‘Bad Boys from Brazil’ showcase their skills in an academy setting while also (laughably) demonstrating what skilled instructors they are. For the next 95 minutes the viewer is inundated with horrible acting, badly choreographed fight scenes, jiu jitsu techniques that you practice in your intro level classes, some shirtless ranching, face painting, frequent stops to a restaurant that never serves food, and the worst 15-minute shootout ever seen. Despite the lack of film expertise in this movie it was an attempt to bring Brazilian jiu jitsu to the American public and is a must see.
Red Belt came out in 2008 and is a better attempt in bringing jiu jitsu to the public. It even brings stars like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alice Braga, and Tim Allen on board, but again the story falls flat. Written and directed by David Mamet (a jiu jitsu practitioner) Red Belt tells the story of a jiu jitsu academy owner struggling to make ends meet. A chance encounter brings hope to the protagonist, but betrayal and deceit force him into the ring to save his business and his marriage. Cameos by Dan Inosanto, Gene LeBell, Jean Jacques and John Machado, Enson Inoue, Randy Couture, and Ed O’Neill make it entertaining and still a must see for any jiu jitsu student.
Choke is a 100-minute documentary that came out in 1999 and follows the training leading up to 1995’s Vale Tudo Japan. The documentary is a blatant showcase for Rickson Gracie, but also dedicates some film time on two other fighters: Todd Hays and Koichiro Kimura. The documentary is well done and provides interviews with the three fighters, montages of training, and preparation for the tournament. The montage of Rickson training on the beach and performing his breathing exercises is the most famous portion of the film and that which most have seen in snippets on social media. There is film of the matches themselves along with backstage access. The documentary is an absolute must see for all jiu jitsu practitioners and a good look at a legend of jiu jitsu.
Renzo Gracie: Legacy is a documentary film, shot over a ten-year period, that was released in 2008. The film begins with the fight between Renzo and Oleg Taktarov in 2007. Over the course of the next 78 minutes the documentary covers a brief history of jiu jitsu, along with covering the life of Renzo and his father, Robson Gracie. Footage of Renzo’s fight/riot with Eugenio Tadeu, ring and backstage footage of Pride 1, 2, 10, and Bushido, coverage of ADCC 2005, along with The Rumble on the Rock fight and IFL (International Fight League) action make this an extensive and entertaining film.
If you get your hands on a copy of the DVD version there is bonus footage which includes: Renzo rolling with Mauricio Gomes (Roger Gracie’s father), a short film on ADCC 2003 that includes many influential jiu jitsu names, clips from ADCC 1998, and interviews.
Overall, Renzo Gracie: Legacy is a quality documentary that took a lot of dedication to make. Despite being another attempt to glamorize a member of the Gracie family, the material covered is extensive and can be enjoyed by both supporters and detractors of the Gracie family.
I am sure that more jiu jitsu movies will surface in the future. If the movies do not involve jiu jitsu as the main topic then the will certainly involve jiu jitsu moves in their action sequences. You can see this trend happening already in films like Warrior and John Wick. All of these movies might not be masterpieces, but it is certainly entertaining to see something that you love portrayed on the silver screen.