BJJ Curated

Tony Pacenski Talks About Rickson Gracie and Jiu Jitsu Basics

“Little” Tony Pacenski sat down with our friends at Jiu Jitsu Times to talk about Rickson Gracie’s teachings, using principles in your jiu-jitsu and the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation.

For those that do not know Tony has over 20 years experience in Grappling and BJJ and has been taught by the worlds best, including Grand Master Helio Gracie and his sons. See the full interview Jiu Jitsu Times with below:

Jiu-jitsu Times: In your jiu-jitsu documentary “Invisible Force” you talked much about the principles of connection and invisible jiu-jitsu and perfecting the so called “basic” moves of jiu-jitsu. At what point in your study of jiu-jitsu did you become aware of the importance of this? How has your training with Rickson Gracie influenced your understanding of these principles?

Tony Pacenski : Firstly, before we begin thank you for the interview! My first experience with Rickson Gracie’s approach to jiu jitsu and invisible force theory was at a seminar in Torrance, CA in 2011. At the time, it was revolutionary to my thinking of what jiu jitsu can be. I wanted more; however, Rickson lived in Brazil.

With the formation of the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation (JJGF) and the full year before the launch in 2014, I had the unprecedented opportunity and honor to work closely with Rickson on many jiu jitsu projects including written philosophical work, curriculum, and many different projects that helped me better understand his thinking about jiu jitsu, his theories, teaching pedagogy, and his physical application.

Yet, quite simply, it was my job to have conversations with Rickson about jiu jitsu and get his thoughts onto paper. An honor and dream come true because I idolized him for also twenty years.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you explain what is the difference between a “Technique Based” approach versus a “Principle or Concept Based” approach to jiu-jitsu?

Why do you feel a Principle or Concept based approach is more useful in jiu-jitsu?

Tony Pacenski: Technique based jiu-jitsu is the idea of going to a seminar and having the instructor show individual techniques or a series of techniques. They could be new strategies and ideas so that the student can gain more and more information in a lateral idea.

In contrast, the conceptual based approach, which is to me not learning more and more techniques, but looking at individual techniques much deeper.

The idea is to move latitudinal into the ground with your protection on techniques that are based on principles and conceptual ideas.

With principles and conceptual understanding you’ll be able to problem solve much better than with the technique-based understanding and teaching because one day you will be in positions where you will be challenged to move from concept to find a new technique or movement. Your moment of discovery will arrive because concept.

One story I like to relay here is having a conversation with Master Rickson Gracie and having him after two years of teaching me his overall curriculum; he brought up Master Caique and Master Pedro Sauer.

Rickson said that these are his students and that they know how to problem solve using the principles in their technique.

At that moment I felt like a spoiled little child who got to learn his techniques, but now wanted to know how to problem solve like his students from the generations before me.
I expressed this to him and with a smile he told me that in time I would be able to do it.

Now one year later I feel much better about this topic.

Jiu-jitsu Times: How would you recommend students of jiu-jitsu look at learning and applying their jiu-jitsu in terms of concepts INSTEAD of accumulating more and more techniques?

Can you give a specific example in, say, passing the guard, controlling the back, or applying pressure from the top position?

Tony Pacenski: Jiu-jitsu today versus twenty years ago has so much more information exposed to students.

Students are learning faster because teachers themselves are teaching in concept versus techniques. This was being done ten years ago in certain academies. However there’s a natural ability during the white and blue belt years where students want to learn everything they can and all the magical “Golden Leaf” techniques.

Over time, as we get older, it becomes more and more difficult to perform all the techniques that you’ve learned and often we forget. So it is in these moments we will naturally arrive to desiring an understanding of the fundamental techniques in a more profound way. However, we still need to be exposed to information such as what Rickson Gracie is pointing to because he has the theories of connection and invisible force.

In many ways, this is his biggest contribution for all and builds off what his father gave to us.
If you have never felt the expression of Rickson or at the least his teaching through students, you’ll never understand the power of what jiu jitsu can be.

There are many examples of the concept of invisible power in every single basic technique.

Look at the book and pick one: you name it. I can promise you that you can do the technique much better than how you were taught without performing more jiu-jitsu to solve your problem(s) or positional struggle.

The search is to find the perfect technique is based in principles and not physicality or the overall understanding of more and more and more jiu-jitsu.

Adding more techniques to solve problems is essentially not what you’re fighting for.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you share one or two of your favorite principles of jiu-jitsu? How do you apply it in rolling?

Tony Pacenski: My favorite principle in jiu-jitsu is connection because it is invisible to mostly everything. With it my timing is perfect and I feel like I can read the mind of my opponent or anticipate his or her actions.

Without connection, I feel that I’m struggling for the perfect leverage, angles, weight distribution and base. Mostly, I am not performing what is at the heart of the jiu-jitsu technique.

Jiu-jitsu Times: How does a student develop a deeper understanding of how the concepts are employed? They can drill an arm bar for sets and reps. How does one train a concept to inculcate it into muscle memory?

Tony Pacenski: Students and teachers can develop principle-based jiu-jitsu by going in the academy and searching for it in their practice.

The practice and repetition is to play with the connection points and the leverages and enjoy them. We all know when we’re doing jiu-jitsu correctly with the timing and the sensitivity. The strategy is to take out all of your physical attributes and your physicality and master defensive skill sets before the pursuit of offense.

Your muscle memory will come with time on the mat where you’re doing much less and seeing much more even with your eyes closed.

One thing you can explore is challenge and test your basic techniques with common resistance by your training partner. See how well you can do a simple technique against the struggle of a stronger person without doing a position transition to another jiu-jitsu technique or the use of physical attitudes.

The testing is a step toward the path of better execution regardless of how your professor or his professor taught the technique. This a way to get you to start questioning the techniques that were originally taught to you.

We should always be questioning through some form of challenge or testing.

Jiu-jitsu Times: For the last several years you have been working with Rickson Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu Global Federation (JJGF).

Quote: “Rickson Gracie co-founded the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation (JJGF) this year (2014) to help support and bring quality services to individual practitioners, competitors, academy owners, independent promoters and instructors with diverse levels of knowledge and experience in Jiu-Jitsu.”

“By using educational programs, competitive events, the digital online platform and special events, people now are able to connect around the world to preserve the history of Jiu-Jitsu, advancing themselves and the culture.”

Can you talk about your work with the JJGF is and what the BJJ world can expect to see from the JJGF in the near future?

Tony Pacenski: Yes, and continue this important mission.

I am one of the co founders of the Federation with Rickson Gracie and Carlos Gama. Today the team has grown and many academies around the world have subscribed to the ideals and mission of the JJGF. There has been a lot of work to all make this happen.

What is happening next with the JJGF is the Jiu Jitsu Global Conference which includes the Jiu Jitsu Founders Awards June 6, 2016 in Long Beach, CA.

Is exciting!

For more information about this event and the JJGF, visit

Jiu-jitsu Documentary – “Invisible Force”