Tarzana, CA-Located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley in unassuming industrial strip lies a Jiu Jitsu Academy led by one of the famous Machado brothers, Jean Jacques Machado a sixth degree black belt. When you first enter the academy a young man named Gustavo welcomes you into the academy as if you were an old friend who has come by to visit.
You are then taken to the back for a tour of the mats, when you enter the matted area you expect to hear the grunts and groans of people putting their art to work. Instead I was surprised to only hear one voice, a voice with a distinct Brazilian accent giving detailed and precise instruction to his students. The students sat their with their eyes and ears wide open listening and watching his every move, like children being told a story around a camp fire and anxiously awaiting to hear how the story unfolds.
Jean Jacques Machado was born in Rio de Janiero, Brazil; he is the fourth youngest member of the Machado family. The first being Carlos then Roger, Rigan, Jean Jacques and John Machado. Jean Jacques was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome. Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS) is a set of congenital birth defects believed to be caused by entrapment of fetal parts in fibrous amniotic bands while in utero. In Jean Jacques’ case this meant he was born with his left hand only having a thumb and a pinky finger.
As a young boy Jean Jacques’ parents took him to see a specialist that could help with the growth of the bones in his left hand to help make a finger. At that time there was a study to do a procedure in which the bones in his left hand would be stretched out. But this would not be an over night solution, as the doctors would have had to repeat the procedure on him for a couple of years before seeing any kind of results. Jean Jacques’ told his parents he did not want the procedure that he was already doing everything he liked in life and did not need to go through that, his parents supported his decision and opted not to do the procedure.
He never let ABS dictate his life or stop him from accomplishing his dreams, he did not use it as an excuse, he used it as motivation. He developed this strong mind and strong will to overcome through the love and encouragement given to him by his parents Carlos and Luiza Machado. Growing up with his four brothers made it easy for him to face the world, not having to worry about his hand.
Jean Jacques’ outlook on life and the way he presents himself has carried over to how people view him and his accomplishments. “Somebody told me that I am not a handicap that was a Champion, I was a Champion that happens to be a handicap,” says Jean Jacques Machado.
That same mentality to rise above and to never stop pushing is something that his uncle Carlos Gracie saw in him when he was 1-year-old, as he told Jean Jacques’ mother, “One Day He Will Be Champion!”
A Champion indeed he became on and off the mats as he has become a story of inspiration for many people around the world. He has shown people to never give up on your dreams no matter what life throws your way.
Jean Jacques put on his first gi as soon as he could walk, “The tradition in our family was as soon as you start walking you pretty much have some uniforms, learning how to fall, learning how to play with the other kids without worrying much about getting hurt or taken down, being able to feel safe and play around,” says Jean Jacques.
Seeing the passion, hard work, the training and dedication that his brothers, his cousins and uncles put into Jiu Jitsu really inspired him and showed him at a young age that Jiu Jitsu was something he wanted to do. Inspiration also came from seeing the older generation of his family train and compete. “One of the advantages not to be the first generation is you can learn so much from watching the generations before you, how they do, what they do and even though we learn a lot from making mistakes but they make our roads a lot safer,” says Jean Jacques.
Around 1987 at the young age of 19, Jean Jacques Machado received his black belt from his cousin Carlos Gracie Jr. while training at Gracie Barra. In 1989 Jean Jacques stayed behind in Brazil to help run Gracie Barra, while three of his brothers came to America. Then in July 1991 he came to America for a month, after receiving a phone call from his brothers inviting him to help out with a seminar they were doing at Chuck Norris’ Academy in Dallas, TX. After that experience he was sold on coming back and living in America, so much so that when he returned to Brazil everything he did for the next six months was to assure that he would be able to move to America and join his brothers.
He returned to America in late February 1992, this was a time when Jiu Jitsu had not taken over the country like it has now and pre UFC I. During this time Jean Jacques and his brothers were part of the Pioneers to bring Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to America. The Machados like The Gracies helped not only in bringing Jiu Jitsu to America, but also in influencing a lot of the Jiu Jitsu styles we see today.
In 1992 the First Machado Academy was already up and running, located in their garage in Redondo Beach, CA. Within a couple of months they had enough students to expand and move the academy out of their garage and to an actual location where they could expand their student base even more. One of their most dedicated and famous students at the time was Chuck Norris, who was commuting from the San Fernando Valley to Redondo Beach to train with the Machados.
During that time Chuck Norris owned a shopping center in Encino, one day Chuck asked the Machado brothers if they could come teach a couple of classes at one of the empty spots he had at his shopping center. While teaching a class Chuck came over to them, handed them some keys and said, “I don’t want to drive this much anymore, here is the keys, this is your new academy here in the Valley.”
As with anything new and mysterious, as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was viewed during those early years, the Machado Brother encountered some roadblocks from the local martial arts community. The majority of the local martial arts schools were more traditional stand-up martial arts, who were unwilling to accept this new art. But that did not deter the brothers from going to local high schools, colleges and neighbors to show them the fundamentals and philosophy behind Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. They also reached out to the local law enforcement and showed them how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu could really benefit them in their jobs.
Law enforcement officers came to see first hand what their academy had to offer, through the word of mouth of these officers who experienced Machado Jiu Jitsu first hand the Machado brothers became very well known throughout the law enforcement community. Later they were invited by the Sheriffs Department to teach a seminar on what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was and how it would benefit them out on the field. The seminar was such a success that the Machados would then become the first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructors to teach grappling to the Sheriffs Department, they then went on to become volunteer consultants to the Sheriffs Department Arrested Control Unit. Through their work with law enforcement more officers would go on to continue their education in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at their academy. So many officers ended up joining their academy that 30 to 40% of their student base came from the law enforcement community.
Then came UFC I, which helped to make their lives easier as it introduced the world to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Along with brining new students, UFC I also brought some doubters from the local more older and traditional martial arts community. They did not want to accept that this new art just showed the world that their art had some holes and weaknesses. During this time in which doubters and naysayers were popping up, the Gracies put out a challenge to any martial art school that would like to prove their art against Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Many schools caught wind of these challenges and since the Machados were teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and were related to the Gracies, people would come to challenge them and their students. The problem with this was that the Machados were not participating in these challenges. When people would come to their academy to challenge them, they had to explain to them that they were not participating in the money challenges, but if they still wanted to challenge them all they had to do was sign a waiver. In the end the challenges had a different end result for the people who came in to challenge them.
“After everyone that came to challenge us, we did the challenge, we took them to the ground, we choked or arm barred, they became our students. Most of them after eighteen, nineteen years passed they are still here training with us,” says Jean Jacques.
The Encino academy was owned and operated by all five of the brothers. After some time, most of the brothers grew tired of making the 50-mile drive to teach everyday in the Valley. They were getting ready to close the academy, when Jean Jacques made the decision to move to the Valley permanently and take over the academy 100%. He stayed at this location until 1996 establishing himself and his family as the absolutely first family to bring Jiu Jitsu to the San Fernando Valley.
The academy really began to grow and expand, so much so that he needed more space and had to move to a new location. Deciding to take full advantage of being the only one offering Jiu Jitsu at that time in the Valley, he decided to stay close and open his new academy in Tarzana, CA. The new school was only about a two miles from his old academy, which helped with retaining his old students and opening the door to many more new people.
His academy in Tarzana became known as one of the premier schools to train at and it attracted many new students who would go on to become some of the worlds best grapplers. The Tarzana academy saw black belts awarded to grappling greats like Eddie Bravo, Felicia Oh, and Ricco Rodriguez.
The Competition Years
Jean Jacques dominated the Brazilian scene in Jiu Jitsu by winning the Rio de Janiero Jiu Jitsu State Championships in the Cruiser Weight Division for ten years this was from 1982-1992. He also went on to become the Cruiser Weight Champion in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu National Championships for those same ten years. At that time the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu National Championships were the Worlds of that time, since the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) and The Mundials were not created until 1996.
In 1991 Jean Jacques Machado had one of his biggest Jiu Jitsu matches when he faced Wallid Ismail at the Copa Atlantica. At this particular tournament the turnout of brown and black belts was not high, you had a higher percentage of blue and purple belts competing. The organization who put the tournament together decided to combine the brown and black belts, which was the first time something like that had ever been done. This caused for some brown belts to drop out because they did not want to compete against black belts and vice versa. But that did not deter Jean Jacques from competing, as he had spent so many hours training and preparing for the tournament, that he was not about to turn around and waste all those hours of training.
During that time Jean Jacques was a black belt and Wallid was a brown belt, so Jean Jacques being one of the few black belts willing to compete against brown belts ended up meeting up with Wallid in the finals of the tournament. At that time there was also a big rivalry between Jiu Jitsu schools, as Wallid was representing the Carlson Gracie School and Jean Jacques was representing Gracie Barra. The finals of the competition were held on Sunday in an outdoor venue, that day it ended up raining, so the match was rescheduled for Tuesday. This made it perfect for everyone, as all Jiu Jitsu schools in Rio De Janiero closed and everyone drove to go watch the match. The match was a long hard fought battle in which Jean Jacques came out the victor by advantage points.
In late 1995 came a big opportunity to showcase not only his skills, but also to represent Machado Jiu Jitsu on the global stage, when he would travel to the rising sun to take on Yuki Nakai in a twenty minute time limit Jiu Jitsu match. Nakai was one of the best and most recognized Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts from Japan. He had already received a lot of notoriety from competing in the 1994 Japan Vale Tudo and making it to the finals where he lost to Rickson Gracie. During the quarterfinals of the tournament Nakai lost his eyesight in his right eye, when in his match against Gerard Gordeau, Gordeau illegally eye gouged him.
His finals match against Rickson Gracie would be Nakai’s final mixed martial arts match, so Nakai and his camp decided that the best thing for him to do now would be to do grappling matches. Nakai’s team and promoters traveled to the Machado academy looking for an opponent, as they were one of the pioneer schools in America. They wanted to know if the Machados had a good high belt lightweight or featherweight student that would accept the grappling match against Nakai. His brothers said of course they did, but before they could name somebody, Jean Jacques stepped up to the challenge and accepted the match himself. But in order to compete in the match, he had to lose 20 lbs. in less than thirty days.
Jean Jacques successfully cut the weight and was set to travel to Japan, where the match was set to take place during an MMA event, which would have one special grappling only match. The match allowed more than enough time for him to play his game and carry out his game plan. “My goal was definitely the submission, like many people say I rather win by submission than win by points definitely, it’s a much better feeling win that way,” said Jean Jacques. Jean Jacques would only need 5 minutes and 21 seconds to submit Nakai via triangle choke. This great match would not only go down in history as Japan v. Brazil in Jiu Jitsu, but it would also be the first gi grappling match to take place in Japan. After this match it really opened up the doors for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Japan.
The victory also helped to expose people to Jean Jacques and Machado Jiu Jitsu. “Winning that match made more and more people in such a big tournament like that hear about who you are, which family you belong to, where you come from and people started paying more attention to the quality of our Jiu Jitsu. I definitely was very happy and it was a very big push for people to know who are the Machado Brothers that pushed Jiu Jitsu and still pushing Jiu Jitsu as time goes by. It definitely was a big turn out to myself and evidently my family,” says Jean Jacques.
Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC)
In 1999 after many years of donning and competing with the gi, Jean Jacques would go on to compete in his first no gi submission grappling tournament. He was invited to compete in the 2nd installment of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling Championships. This would be another big opportunity for Jean Jacques to prove his grappling skills and knowledge. Originally receiving a phone call from one of his students in Ricco Rodriguez, who had already been successful at the first ADCC Championships, told him that the people who organized the tournament had heard of the Machados and wanted one of the brothers to compete in their tournament. Jean Jacques of course told Ricco that he would accept and later received the official invitation to one of the worlds greatest no gi submission grappling tournaments. But competing without the gi was not going to be a big daunting task for Jean Jacques, who had already adapted his game not to rely on the grips of the gi, but to use more of his legs and leverage to compensate for his left hand. Jean Jacques would go on to compete in the under 77 kg division where he submitted all four of his opponents to win his division. This great accomplishment would earn him the Most Technical Fighter Award that year.
Two of those four opponents were two of Japan’s toughest and most successful grapplers in Hayato Sakurai and Caol Uno both were Shooto fighter at the time. In his semifinal match he faced the always-tough Hayato Sakurai, who at the time was the undefeated Shooto Middleweight Champion. The match had a ten-minute time limit, with points not being counted the first five minutes of the match. This allowed Jean Jacques to really open his game, pressure his opponent and go for the submission without having to worry about points. The strategy worked as he submitted Sakurai via rear naked choke within the first five minutes of the match.
In the finals he ended up facing Caol Uno who was already a very accomplished mixed martial artist in Japan. In no other match was it more prevalent that his game plan was to put pressure and submit his opponent more so than in his final match against Uno. You could see it in his opponent’s eyes that he was not expecting such an aggressive and tactical attack. Being that it was the final match it had a twenty minute time limit, but Jean Jacques only needed five minutes to submit Uno via rear naked choke, the same choke he used to submit all his previous opponents.
The game plan never changed and Jean Jacques stuck to the plan that ended up breaking down all of his opponents. “I think they end up falling to my grappling then, I was just going after them, giving them no break and I think that was the game plan to go after people, to submit no matter how, just want to keep going after them until at least one of the techniques goes through,” says Jean Jacques.
While I was conducting this interview I had the pleasure of meeting Caol Uno, who was at the Jean Jacques Machado Academy to take a class and learn some techniques from the legend himself. I was able to chat with Mr. Uno through his interpreter Gan Dnisono about what he remembered the most of his match with Jean Jacques.
“At the very last moment of my fight, he finished with his arm, with his hand, which has only a short finger, he is very good at using this part of his body and he finished it with his handicapped arm, so I was very shocked,” said Uno.
I also wanted to know what brought him to the Jean Jacques Machado Academy after having competed with him so many years ago. Mr. Uno said, “Eventually I came to LA to train for one week and I got an opportunity to visit Jean Jacques Academy today and I feel like it is my destiny to stop by his academy and indeed he gave me a lot of good advice and those advices are making me feel a lot better, so it’s destiny.”
In 2000 Jean Jacques was invited back to compete in the under 77 kg that he dominated in 1999. Once again he went on to have a successful run and making it to the finals. In the elimination round Jean Jacques went on to submit Marcio Barbosa 2:54 into their match, then he submitted Mikey Burnett at 3:40 of their quarterfinals match. The opponents progressively became tougher, as he would end up going the full ten minutes with Leo Vieira, but still capturing victory by points. The toughest match was yet to come, not only because of the skill his opponent would posses, but because he would have to face his own cousin, Renzo Gracie.
The match ended with Renzo as the victor via advantage points, but it was not a match that either man or cousin was looking for. “That is your cousin someone you grow up with training Jiu Jitsu together and suddenly you are faced in that situation, it was weird for him, it was weird for me. Regardless of who takes first or not it was not a good feeling at all, it was not feeling of celebration at all that match. It had to happen and it happened, but I do not think it was what we were looking for as a family, but we are both professionals,” said Jean Jacques.
In 2001 Jean Jacques would try to achieve another feat in winning the absolute division at Abu Dhabi. That year the field would be filled with some of the fiercest competitors, with fighters such as Ricco Rodriguez, Macio “Pe de Pano” Cruz, Tsuyoshi Kosaka and Ricardo Arona. Jean Jacques was one of the smaller competitors to enter the absolutes that year and would still go on to make it to the finals. In his first match he encountered no easy task as he confronted Tsuyoshi Kosaka, the first man to give Fedor Emelianenko a loss on his record. As tough as Kosaka was, Jean Jacques was able to submit Kosaka 3:31 into the match.
In his quarterfinal match, Jean Jacques, would go on to not only gain victory but also earned the fastest submission award, when he submitted Marcio Cruz via heel hook five seconds into their match. That is a record that still stands until this day. The quick submission allowed him to continue onto the semifinals, where he faced another tough opponent in Ricardo Almeida. The match went the full ten minutes, but Jean Jacques came away with his hand raised in victory.
This set the stage for the finals; where Jean Jacques would go on to face one of the biggest beasts to enter the absolutes that year in Ricardo Arona. Arona at that time was already a well-decorated mixed martial artist, who had defeated the legendary Jeremy Horn twice and had also gone the distance with the Emperor himself, Fedor Emelianenko. The match was a high paced and energetic match, that saw two great grapplers give their all and leave it all on the mats. Jean Jacques would end up losing the match by points, but he showed the Brazilian Tiger, that he was in there with another beast who would not give him an inch, as Jean Jacques would go on to do what he does best which is attack, attack and go for the submission at every opening. The match would go on to win the best match award and acknowledge to great warriors.
Jean Jacques Machado The Teacher
When you enter the academy there is a wall that displays a lifetime of achievements of an athlete and of an instructor. But it is not the trophies or medals that bring a smile or pride to this gentle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Legend; it is every student that has walked and continues to walk into his academy and knowing that he has helped change and influence their lives with Jiu Jitsu. Those are the greatest accomplishments and truly life fulfilling joys for a man who has reached the pinnacle of the grappling world.
“I have my own way to guide my students, more importantly to be a good person and I think everybody agrees with me. It’s not like the mean face means anything, the mean face just means that maybe you are hungry or you are mad at yourself, you don’t need to make a mean face to show that you are good in Jiu Jitsu. To be polite is the most important thing,” says Jean Jacques.
Those are not just words that he uses to explain the way he teaches, but it is his philosophy that he lives by, to be able to reach out to people through Jiu Jitsu and change their lives and make them better people not just better athletes. This is something that you can see from the first moment you meet this humble man off the mats and also on the mats in the way he teaches and treats every single one of his students.
As a teacher he likes to offer his students as much rolling time as possible, he wants to see how their game changes from when they start out fresh and then progressively begin to wear down and get tired. This allows him to see what their Jiu Jitsu is really like and what they have learned. Jean Jacques says, “I want the students through the training to feel they have a lot of energy, they have no energy, because I want them to work both areas of their game; being aggressive, learning how to defend, come back and be aggressive.”
His hands on approach to teaching and helping his students evolve has not only brought him many students, but has also helped him retain so many of them as well. Like Jay Zeballos, a 1st Degree Black Belt under Jean Jacques, who says “Perhaps the most amazing thing is that after 13 years of being his student, I still approach my training with the same excitement and enthusiasm as I did as a beginner. This is because he continually takes the time to work with me and help my development, it’s a never ending journey.”
Jay like many of his students not only views Jean Jacques as his teacher but also as someone to look up to because he is someone in whom you can find inspiration. “I am fond of telling people that he is not only my Jiu Jitsu instructor, but my life coach as well. He sincerely believes in all his students, and you cannot ask for greater motivation to succeed than that,” says Jay. The belief that he has in his students inspires them to become that much better. But he also reminds them that with becoming better and stronger, you must never forget to be humble, as you never know when you might end up being the one tapped.
“Jean Jacques Machado is a great example of a great competitor. Whether you win or lose, to do it with grace, humility and respect for yourself and your opponent,” says Felicia Oh. Felicia is Jean Jacques’ first female black belt and was also the first woman to win the Pan American Jiu Jitsu Championship in both the gi and without the gi as a black belt in 2007.
Jean Jacques is teacher who is not afraid to put his ego to one side and put himself in precarious positions to help his students with new moves or positions they are working on. He is not afraid to become the guinea pig for his students, so that they can work and improve their game. He will sit down with them and go over every single detail of what worked and what did not work.
Nobody probably knows that better than one of his most recognized and world-renowned students, Eddie Bravo, who is the creator of the rubber guard. As Eddie himself will tell you, he did not develop the rubber guard all on his own, he had the help and inspiration of his master, Jean Jacques Machado.
“The greatest thing about Jean Jacques is his open mind, a lot of Brazilians don’t have open minds like Jean Jacques. He was very involved in creating my style of Jiu Jitsu. Anytime I hit a roadblock I always knew I could ask Jean Jacques how to solve this problem, he always had the answer to solving the problems, so I could continue evolving the rubber guard and twister. My style definitely has Jean Jacques’ fingerprints all over it,” says Eddie Bravo.
His teaching has inspired many of his students to open their own academies and continue spreading the knowledge and passion for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that their master has passed onto them. Right now Jean Jacques has twelve affiliates schools located across the globe, you can travel up north to Canada or go down under to Australia and find a Jean Jacques Machado affiliate school, that will teach you Jiu Jitsu with the same passion, dedication and love as the legend himself.
Eddie who owns and operates 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, says one of the many things he learned from Jean Jacques was teaching, which has also influenced his approach to teaching. “One of the most important things is teaching and how you treat your students. I learned a lot from him, unlike a lot of top celebrity instructors Jean Jacques actually shows up and teaches his classes. He is very disciplined about teaching classes and he is not afraid, his students are very important to him and he knows that it is important to his students that he shows up and he is the one teaching class. That’s always in my head and I am pretty good at that too, I teach 90% of my classes,” says Eddie.
If you have always wanted to learn from the legend himself, but you don’t live in the same city, state or even country as his academy; not to worry because you can now become one of the thousands of people who have become part of his Jean Jacques Machado Online Training Center. Just like he was a pioneer in bringing Jiu Jitsu to America on February 24, 2006 he became one of the first to bring Jiu Jitsu to the masses via the World Wide Web.
By partnering with Jay and Mike Zeballos two of his students, they developed the online training center that allows people to browse through over 1,000 video lessons. The best thing is if you have a question about something you saw in their video library or about a particular position, submission or escape, you can post the question on the community forum and Jean Jacques himself will answer your question via video. In the video he will address your question and breakdown every single aspect of your question. Through his Online Training Center he is able to reach people he may have never had the chance to teach, he has students all across the world, from America all the way to Singapore. This has allowed him to fulfill one of his dreams, sharing his knowledge of Jiu Jitsu with the world.