Ricardo De La Riva is a slight unassuming man with a gentle smile. Talking to him it is hard to imagine that this man is on the cutting edge of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Voted as one of the top five technical fighters of all times by his peers, every BJJ school on the planet is teaching his famous de la Riva guard. I had recently the chance to train with De La Riva is a slight unassuming man with a gentle smile. Talking to him it is hard to imagine that this m during a visit to my club and ask him how his guard came about.
Nobody could have imagined the impact this skinny 15 year old kid would have on the jiu jitsu world, when he walked into one of Carlson Gracie’s affiliate schools in Copacabana and started training under then brown belt Marcus Soares. Less then a year later de la Riva was training at Carlson Gracie’s main academy, and was helping teach classes as a blue belt. In less then six years, Carlson awarded de la Riva his black belt.
Carlson Gracie had his own approach to teaching Jiu-Jitsu with an aggressive style of training and a reputation of not holding back any information from his students. His academy was only the second jiu-jitsu academy to open and Carlson, at the time still in his twenties and being a very aggressive fighter himself attracted the most athletic and talented fighters in the area.
De La Riva still remembers well the extremely competitive atmosphere of the training at the legendary academy. For the longest time only 2 fighters could represent the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Team during tournaments. Accordingly, the students from the 2 Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academies would fight each other to qualify to represent the team. Carlson Gracie had the rule at the time that white to purple belts where not allowed to spar with higher belts putting even more pressure on the younger fighters impatiently trying to catch up with the brown and black belts.
De la Riva also remembers how future champions like Mario Sperry, Murillo Bustamente, Allan Goes and others started training at the Rua Figueiredo Magalhaes academy as white belts. “Their talent was obvious and the level of jiu-jitsu was very high. You could see right from the beginning how gifted they were.Ñ He especially remembers Amaury Bitetti and Ricardo Liborio sparring with their teammates. De La Riva also remembers the “original bad boy” Whallid Ismail walking in as a young blue belt from an affiliate academy;” He always had a temper and would fight like crazy.” The eighties turned out to be high watermark for the Carlson Gracie team producing many of the famous champions among the more then 100 black belts promoted by Carlson.
With his small stature de la Riva had to find a way to survive in this aggressive atmosphere by fighting mostly from the bottom trying to keep his stronger opponents from passing. This led to his innovations of the now popular guard game the famous de la Riva hooks. What only his students know, it also led de la Riva to develop a very sophisticated half guard and butterfly guard game. “We never gave it names back then and just used to call all of it the open guard.Ñ The technical expertise in this open guard allowed De La Riva is a slight unassuming man with a gentle smile. Talking to him it is hard to imagine that this m to compete successfully for years, beating notables like Royler, Rolker and Royce Gracie.
In 1986 he opened the de la Riva jiu-jitsu academy teaching his very own technical and creative style of BJJ. Over
the years he produced dozens of De La Riva is a slight unassuming man with a gentle smile. Talking to him it is hard to imagine that this m Jiu-Jitsu black belts training people like Rodrigo ÑinotauruÑ Nogueira
and Marcello Montiero along the way. As time went by and he continued to beat the best fighters in Brazil, including
Royce Gracie twice, his fame started to spread beyond Copacabana. These days de la Riva spends more time teaching s
eminars across the globe than at his own academy. He even has a whole BJJ tournament series named after him. The de
la Riva in Japan attracts the best and brightest of the grappling community in that country every year.
In his typical modest style that never really takes himself too serious he thinks that it was partial genetics that helped
him succeed: “I share very flexible ankles with my brother that helped me to survive as long as I did.” He finishes the
interview jokingly: “I really didn’t have a choice. When I was young I only could either play soccer or do jiu-jitsu
and these ankles sure were no good for soccer.”