“Jiu-jitsu is life.” This statement is often made by practitioners
of the art of jiu-jitsu.
Some mean it in a playful way: jiu-jitsu is so fun and engaging that it
seems to permeate every aspect of life.
Others mean it in a more serious way: the power of jiu-jitsu becomes an
obsession, and every waking moment is spent trying to learn, develop, and
improve jiu-jitsu skills.
But for me, the statement “Jiu-jitsu is life” has always been about the
actual correlation between jiu-jitsu and life. Yes, the struggles, trials, tribulations,
and triumphs that are part and parcel of jiu-jitsu also reflect what we
all experience in life.
I was introduced to jiu-jitsu in the early nineties by a revered Navy SEAL
master chief. I was a young SEAL at the time and was overseas on my first
deployment. During our morning muster, the master chief asked if any of us
wanted to learn how to fight. I raised my hand—and my life changed forever.
A few hours later, this lanky master chief, who was much older and
smaller than I was, was tying me in knots—placing me in positions where
I had no option other than to tap out, to surrender. I was dumbfounded. It
didn’t make sense. No matter what I did, I could not survive for more than
30 seconds with the Master Chief.
I tried over and over again to do something, anything, to survive, but I
could not. Neither could any of my fellow SEAL teammates who had also
joined me for the lesson.
After almost an hour, the master chief looked at our exhausted faces and
said: “Welcome to Gracie jiu-jitsu.”
I had no idea what that meant at the time. But it seemed like I had been
exposed to some kind of magic—a magic power that I did not understand.
But I did understand one thing: I needed to learn this magic power—this
power of jiu-jitsu.
The master chief, whose name was Steve Bailey, had trained at the legendary
Gracie Garage in the late eighties and early nineties in Torrance,
California. He was by no means a master of the art. By his own admission,
he was just a beginner. But even with the most basic jiu-jitsu moves, he was
able to completely dominate and easily submit my teammates and me over
and over again.
So began my jiu-jitsu journey. I continued to train with Master Chief
Bailey on deployment. When I got back to the States, I found a jiu-jitsu
instructor named Fabio Santos, whose jiu-jitsu lineage traced directly back
to the Gracie family.
I trained as often as I could, sometimes speeding to the jiu-jitsu academy
for lunchtime training, then returning at night for more classes. I was
obsessed. I learned the basic positions of jiu-jitsu: the mount, the back, the
guard, the half guard, and side control. I learned the basic submission holds
of jiu-jitsu, the moves to actually make opponents tap out: the straight arm
lock, the kimura, the americana, collar chokes, the guillotine choke, the rear
naked choke, and foot, ankle, and knee locks. Over time, I learned how to
fight. But I also slowly began to recognize that jiu-jitsu was not just a catalog
of individual moves. Instead, all the moves were interconnected—they
worked best when combined together in sequence to support each other.
That lesson soon led to the realization that jiu-jitsu was not just combinations
of moves either, but that there were underlying principles of jiu-jitsu
that made the entire system work.
But most importantly, over time, I realized that the principles of jiu-jitsu
were not just a way of fighting—they were a way of thinking. I saw the correlations
between the principles of jiu-jitsu, leadership, combat, and life itself.
I began to apply these principles to everything I did. And the more I applied
these principles in other aspects of my life, the better I was able to execute: I
became a better SEAL, a better leader, and a better person.
So, when Rener Gracie, grandson of the founder of Gracie jiu-jitsu,
Helio Gracie, asked me to review his book, I was thrilled when I saw the
title, The 32 Principles: Harnessing the Power of Jiu-Jitsu to Succeed in Business,
Relationships, and Life. This title made perfect sense to me considering Rener’s
direct personal connection to the co-founder of Gracie jiu-jitsu, his vast
knowledge of the art, his unique ability to adapt jiu-jitsu so that anyone can
learn it, his success in various business ventures (many unrelated to jiu-jitsu),
and his honorable position as a grandson, son, husband, brother, and father.
All this represented the statement “Jiu-jitsu is life.” I could not wait to dig
into the book. I was not disappointed.
The book spells out the underlying principles of jiu-jitsu, how they
apply on the mats, and how they apply in life. These are principles that I also
learned from jiu-jitsu and that I applied in every aspect of my life. But Rener
codifies them in a simple, clear, digestible way, making them accessible to any
person in any situation, regardless of whether they are a black belt in jiu-jitsu
or if they have never learned a martial art. These principles have been tested
on and off the mat and are sure to help anyone who implements them. Here
are some of the principles readers will learn:
The Detachment Principle teaches us that there are certain situations
where it is advantageous to break away, let go of, or make distance from an
opponent. The same is true in some situations in life: There are times when
the best option is to simply let go. If a person is in a bad relationships or an
unfulfilling job, sometimes the best thing to do is just to detach and move on.
The Creation Principle is rooted in taking action in order to set up a
reaction that is advantageous. On the mats, this means executing moves that
provoke a response from the opponent. In life, it means taking action in
order to create a scenario that will help move toward a desired goal—like
asking your boss specific questions to help you get a raise or proactively taking
on a project to show you’re ready for a promotion.
The Fork Principle requires a jiu-jitsu practitioner to utilize multiple
attacks simultaneously, which will all result in a predicament for the
opponent—each available outcome ends with the opponent skewered on one
prong of the fork or another. For instance, a skilled jiu-jitsu player will simultaneously
set up a triangle choke, an armlock, and a sweep on their opponent.
In order to defend the triangle, the opponent extends themself, becoming
vulnerable to an armlock, so they collapse their weight, lose their balance,
and get swept. The life application of this principle teaches us to pursue
win-win relationships in our personal and professional lives. So, whether it’s
a strategic alliance between corporations or a shift in how you relate to your
children, if it’s win-win, then you’re applying the Fork Principle.
The Depletion Principle utilizes patience, persistence, and pressure to
defeat an opponent. In jiu-jitsu, this principle is self-evident: A jiu-jitsu
practitioner uses certain positions to conserve energy while their opponent
struggles. Over time, the opponent becomes exhausted and can easily be
defeated. In life, this principle is equally effective—instead of trying to forcefully
impose a new idea on someone, which may result in unnecessary friction
and conflict, it is better to slowly introduce the new idea over time so
that it can be fully understood and willfully accepted.
The Sacrifice Principle teaches us there must be sacrifices in order to
achieve success. We all understand this idea from the game of chess: We
might give up a pawn to take a rook. In jiu-jitsu, we might sacrifice the
danger of a triangle choke in order to pass the guard or give up the mount
to attempt an armlock. In life and business, we must also make sacrifices.
Sometimes we must sacrifice short-term profit for long-term growth or perhaps
resist the temptation to give our children something they want in order
to teach them the life lesson they need.
The Redirection Principle can turn negative situations into positive ones.
In jiu-jitsu, this often means using your opponent’s energy against them. For
instance, if an opponent uses excessive force to push you, you can redirect
that energy and trip them with relative ease. This principle is invaluable off
the mats as well. It can be used to de-escalate an angry individual by redirecting
their focus, or it can be used to redirect your child’s excess energy
from annoying their sibling to something more productive, like exercise or
These are but a few examples of the principles outlined in this book.
Some of them seem like common sense, while others are more nuanced
and subtle. But all of them are effective—both in fighting and in life. Since
physical jiu-jitsu principles can be difficult to explain through words alone,
Rener has included a scannable QR code at the beginning of every chapter
that links the reader to a video in which he and his brother Ryron visually
demonstrate and teach the combat application of that chapter’s featured
principle (if only Sun Tzu had access to the same technology when he wrote
The Art of War). These complementary videos provide a one-of-a-kind experience
for every reader, adeptly bridging the gap between the combat and life
applications of the 32 principles.
Once the reader understands these principles, they will see they can be
applied everywhere and to everything.
That is the purpose of this book: to share the powerful principles of
jiu-jitsu with as many people as possible so that they may be learned and
utilized, allowing people to become Grandmasters of life.
But remember what the final principle in the book says about being
a Grandmaster: The co-creator of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Helio Gracie himself,
never stopped seeking knowledge. He never stopped learning. He never
believed he knew it all. Nor should we.
We must always be learning. And this book is a great source to learn.
Learn the philosophies. Learn the principles. Learn the lessons.
Learn, without a doubt, that “Jiu-jitsu is life.”
Thank you, Rener Gracie, for distilling the art down to its 32 core principles
and for making them so easy to learn and implement.
Thank you to the Gracie family for everything you have given to the
world and to me through the techniques and philosophies of jiu-jitsu.
—Jocko WillinkDecember 2022