When Rigan Machado was seventeen years old, he was taught an important lesson.
The young Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prodigy had earned himself a reputation as one of the most dangerous competitors in Brazil by winning a string of national tournaments in devastating fashion. He was undefeated on the competition mat and was quickly making his way through the ranks under the eye of his coach Carlos Gracie Jr.
As one of the five Machado brothers, and a cousin of the Gracie family, Jiu-Jitsu was in his blood, and any sign of arrogance by Rigan — or one of his siblings — was always quickly stamped out by the other family members.
But on this occasion, Rigan’s ego had gotten the better of him, and his coach Carlos, as well as another of his training partners — future UFC legend Royce Gracie — decided it was time to teach him an important lesson.
“I thought I was the best in the world, that no one could beat me and that I was untouchable. Carlos and Royce noticed this and they set me up to train with the most advanced guys in the Gracie Academy, 40 of the best black belts they had. And that day they put a price on my head. They beat me up pretty bad and every person in the class made me tap out multiple times.”
“I got completely humbled, I went from thinking I was the best fighter in the world, to feeling like I was the worst. I really felt like shit.”
This was a moment that would leave a lasting impression on Rigan's mindset and would shape his philosophy toward his Jiu-Jitsu and his life for years to come.
“I found out at that moment that whenever I let my ego get to me, that’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to be humbled. Jiu-Jitsu is a great teacher of humility, and you have to keep on training, stay humble and keep using it to make you a better person and keep the ego from making you think you’re a superhero.”
“That’s why today, the more I keep myself humble, the more life is wonderful. And everything in life is good to me because I try to treat everyone the same. I realised I’m not better than anybody on that day. It changed my way of thinking.”
The lesson achieved its intended outcome. From that eventful training session, Rigan's approach changed for good. He did go on to become the best in the world and a legend in BJJ, both as a champion competitor and teacher to some of the best practitioners in the world.
Today he applies his incredible knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu as both a fight scene choreographer in some of Hollywood's biggest films, and as a teacher at his gym 'The Academy' in Beverly Hills — where celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Mel Gibson and Demi Lovato have trained utilising Rigan's unique BJJ training system.
But no matter where he goes or what celebrities he is with, Rigan is always aware of the important lesson in humility he learnt many years ago on the training mats.
The Early YEARS of Machado Jiu-Jitsu.
When you are one of five boys growing up in the heart of Brazil and a direct relation to the Gracie family, there is little room to decide what will occupy the majority of your spare time. For Rigan and his brothers Carlos, Roger, Jean-Jacques and John it was always Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on their minds and in their hearts.
“We were always training together, from the time I was five years old, we had mats in the house and we would wake up every morning and train Jiu-Jitsu, we would go to sleep thinking about Jiu-Jitsu, we lived and breathed it. It was full-time Jiu-Jitsu.”
“I was so lucky to have four brothers who shared my love of Jiu-Jitsu and who I could train with all the time.”
In his youth, Rigan won the Brazilian Nationals every year and in every belt division between the ages of 14 and 21. In that time he set an amazing record of 365 wins and 0 losses, once competing in 19 matches in one day and finishing them all by submission.
His long-time training partner, fellow Black Belt and close friend John Will remembers the first time he saw Rigan in competition.
“The first time I saw Rigan compete was around 1992 or so. We went up from California to Kentucky to compete in the national Sambo championships – as there were only a couple of BJJ schools in the states at that time and so no competition scene yet. It was no surprise to me at all to see him just walk through the competition, takedown submit, takedown submit. In the final he got Ron Tripp, a Judo Olympian and six times winner of the Sambo nationals. I said to Rigan, ‘Be careful, this guy has a bit of experience’ - Rigan replied ‘Don’t worry my brother. Pick a finish that you’d like me to use’ - I did, and he did. The match took 39 seconds, and he finished with the sub I chose. it was all very easy for Rigan.”
Chasing The American Dream
In the spare moments when Rigan and his brothers weren't training at their family home in Rio De Janeiro, their father would often take the boys out to the local movie theatre.
Here they would sit together and watch Hollywood films starring Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino or Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it was in these moments, away from the gym, that Rigan’s mind began to dream and became captivated by a new obsession.
Rigan’s father, a court judge, was an avid movie fan and he would talk to the boys about these films and his favourite actors for hours. It was these early memories that Rigan says led him to pursuing a career in the entertainment business.
“I fell in love with the theatre because of my father, he loved to take us to the movies, to talk about movies, and talk about guys like Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone, and that really influenced me a lot growing up.”
“Today I’m friends with Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone and I’m putting Jiu-Jitsu in some of their films!”
After travelling to the US to visit the Gracie’s in the late 80’s, and witnessing the success that they were having establishing their own Jiu-Jitsu academies, Rigan decided it was a great opportunity for him to also make the move over to America.
“I like adventure, and I was hungry to challenge myself, and to be my own man. I could see the opportunities in the US were getting bigger and bigger, so I sold my car and bought a ticket.”
Rigan moved to California where he was soon followed by his brothers Carlos and Jean Jaques. Then— with some help of fellow martial artist Chuck Norris — they set up their first school and began to teach BJJ.
“Chuck Norris motivated us a lot, he was the guy who organised for us to get our papers, and he helped me and Carlos to open the doors for the other brothers to come to America and spread Jiu-Jitsu to a bigger audience.”
Bringing Jiu-Jitsu to Hollywood
Now, almost 30 years after moving to America, Rigan combines his two childhood passions —BJJ and movies — in a way he never thought possible.
“Today I train lots of actors for action films. And that’s a new area for me. When you start putting Jiu-Jitsu on the big screen and people start to become interested in it, that’s what happens, and that’s part of what I’m trying to do for the BJJ community now. It’s a different challenge, but I love it.”
“To work in the movies for me is so much fun. I love to teach the guys who I see on the big screen. To work with people like Scarlett Johansson, Mel Gibson and Chadwick Boseman. Things like this give me great pleasure for the contribution and part I can play for the community, which is very small.”
Rigan developed a training system for his actor clients that protects them from the major risks of getting hurt or injured through sparring. It’s a system he's worked on over a number of years to make sure his students are both technically proficient and physically conditioned despite significantly reducing the amount of sparring in their training.
“I created this system which is a mixture of BJJ, cross-fit, wrestling and judo because when you’re training an actor for a movie you have to be incredibly careful with the technique to ensure they don’t get hurt or scarred.”
“We spar in a controlled way and little by little we increase their skills.”
Watching Rigan teach his system at the Academy, it’s clear he watches his students incredibly closely. Stepping into their technique drills, he physically corrects small posture and positional movements as they occur to ensure that each technique is being learnt as efficiently as possible, minimising the potential risk of injury.
It is his attention to these details that has seen Rigan become the go-to teacher in LA.
Being close to his students both on and off the mat has also had a positive effect on Rigans life, admitting that he learns more from his students than they do from him.
“The guy who changed my thinking a lot was Ashton Kutcher. Because I didn’t know he was the businessman he is — he really is one of the most brilliant people I’ve met in my life. The guy is very good at what he does, he’s an amazing artist, an amazing investor in technology — he invested in Uber, Airbnb, and many other technology companies before they became the successes they are today— For me to be around and to learn from guys like him every day is a dream come true.”
“I try to surround myself with people like this and become a sponge for the amazing information they can give.”
It’s these lessons that have also influenced Rigan to branch out into his own ventures, launching the Jiu-Jitsu World League (JJWL) in 2015 with the aim of creating a professional Jiu-Jitsu platform that appeals to larger commercial audiences.
“My goal (with JJWL) is to create a professional level for Jiu-Jitsu athletes. Everything is amateur at the moment so the problem is how do you make Jiu-Jitsu entertainment like the UFC so you don’t lose the best fighters to MMA.”
“I think we have a chance to make that happen (with JJWL). My goal one day is to have the best Jiu-Jitsu athletes being full-time professionals and making millions of dollars.”
“We are currently the number one competition for kids in the world and my goal is to use that as a platform to get to the next level.”
Rigan has also recently launched his own clothing brand, Phyve Supply, a streetwear brand with a focus on martial arts, surfing, climbing and skating. It’s a reflection of the philosophy and lifestyle he says he has learnt from living and breathing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“BJJ to me was a hobby. I never imagined I would ever be earning a living in Jiu-Jitsu, but I got opportunities and the opportunities just kept on coming.”
“Jiu-Jitsu has been like my mother, my father and my best friend. I get everything I need from it. It has taught me how to be humble, how to be healthy, it taught me discipline, and has given me all the tools I use outside the mat. I owe a lot to Jiu-Jitsu.”
“Helio Gracie told me one day that you just have to love what you do. And that’s what I’ve tried to do with my life. Jiu-Jitsu is a big part of my life, it’s my lifestyle and I love it.”