Renzo Gracie, Twitter and self-defense: a case study of what not to do, Part Two

I figured it wouldn’t take long… I just checked my mail and the haters are pouring in their bile after my “Renzo Gracie, Twitter and self-defense: a case study of what not to do” post.

For the benefit of the slow:

  • I did not insult Renzo, nor did I say MMA doesn’t work for the street (though you have to admit it is pretty ironic that a Gracie prefers boxing techniques when he’s attacked in the street over taking a guy down to grapple with him. :-))
  • What I said is that Renzo broke the law and was stupid in tweeting and doing interviews about it. The only thing that needs to happen for him to get arrested is those two guys filing a complaint or the DA deciding to prosecute him.
  • Both those options were made a very likely reality by Renzo’s own actions of spreading incriminating information. In a court of law, this is called “evidence” and it is used to put you in jail. Given the amount and the nature of the incriminating evidence he has given, I don’t see how he can avoid a guilty verdict if it goes to court. I could obviously be wrong, as I’m not a lawyer. But I’ve had lots of law enforcement professionals, police officers and Alain Burrese (who is both a lawyer and a self-defense expert) confirm that Renzo is potentially in big trouble.
  • What most haters are failing to understand: this incident isn’t about MMA. It’s about the law. According to my understanding of the law, Renzo Gracie was wrong on so many levels it’s just sad.
  • If you want to make it about something other than the law, you’re missing the point. If you refuse to accept that the law applies to everybody, even MMA champions, then you are sadly out of touch with reality.
  • And once and for all, I couldn’t care less about those two thugs. If they were in fact trying to rob Renzo, then I really don’t care if they got beat up for it. That’s their problem. What I wrote about was Renzo’s actions and his lack of judgement; those two thugs are irrelevant in that specific discussion.

The whole purpose of my blog post was to make two points:

  • Just because you are a MMA, muay Thai, whatever champion, doesn’t mean you understand self-defense. Combat sports and self-defense are different animals all together. Renzo just proved this for the whole world to see.
  • When you are involved in an incident like this: shut your mouth and get a lawyer. Don’t give the opposing side ammunition to put you in jail.

Anybody who fails to understand these points or wants to bring up something else in an effort to make Renzo into a hero for what he did, don’t bother sending it to me. I have a lot of respect for him as an athlete; the man is a legend in the Octagon. But in this incident, he was legally in the wrong. And he was stupid in announcing his actions to the world. That’s all there is to it.

Anything else you want to mention in his defense is not relevant to this incident. It may be relevant to other things, but not this incident. 

I hope I made myself sufficiently clear. If not, then I can only shake my head, walk away and tell you “That’s all I’ve got.”

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  1. What worries me is the cause and effect of this incident on other people.

    Let’s assume for a second that Renzo isn’t sued and, in his mind, this justifies his Street Justice™ actions. Renzo moves on, ego sufficiently stroked, his fans support him and the sticky subject of law is never brought up again.

    Let us now look at the two thugs – what happens to them? Are they going to have some kind of epiphany that this criminal lifestyle isn’t for them? Possibly. However, they probably come from a poor background with little-to-no education or skills for legitimate employment. Criminals usually become criminals for a reason.

    So they go back to street crime.

    However, this time, they are aware that the danger that they *themselves* are in – so they have to up the ante. As a result, it’s likely that they’ll now carry weapons, possibly add more people to their gang and they’ll be more cautious and aggressive in choosing victims and attacking them.

    So now, as a direct result of one man’s ego, someone – maybe more than one person – will be attacked by armed resource predators. Not only that, but their tactical approach and execution will be a lot more ruthless than before to prevent the victim being in a position to fight back.

    Innocent people could be seriously injured, maimed or killed as a result of one man’s vigilante actions. I do not consider this a positive outcome at all.

    • Nathan, I think that in this story, there are only sad endings. Nobody wins here.

      • I agree. And I think it’s the competitive, alpha male, win/lose mindset that is the problem here: Renzo thinks that he has *won*. Even if it means an innocent person *losing* further down the line.

        It’s also a sad reflection on martial arts as a whole that the ‘Awareness, Avoidance, De-escalation’ mantra simply does not exist in a lot of them. Worse still, Renzo – as a prominent martial artist – has done the complete opposite of what he should’ve done and may inspire others to follow his example, to their peril.

        • And there’s one of the main differences between MMA and self-defense training. In MMA, Awareness is not a factor, not in the slightest. And much of the training is such that it goes against the specific strategies and tactics of self-defense. So without tweaking and adapting MMA training, it has serious flaws in the street. For the most part in the tactics and strategies. Renzo proved this clearly.

  2. Michael Johnson says

    Well said, Wim.

  3. Ignoring the morality and legalities of the incident, there is for me a more curious aspect still to this episode.

    Namely, how on earth did Renzo tweet in real-time these events whilst pumelling/chasing these two street punks?

    With quite some effort I can just about text as I walk along the road, but my spatial awareness is reduced. Could I do the same in a real-life encounter?

    Ok, Renzo has more martial capability than me, but Im not sure if his keyboard skills are any better than mine – and concurrently in serious action.

    Dextrous multi-tasking or what?

  4. steve kombolis says

    Too bad his phone didn’t have an application that explains the law to him and under what conditions someone can and can not claim self-defense. If indeed he was telling the truth and if indeed these two were muggers, Renzo still tweeted enough to guarantee that if charged criminally or civilly he will lose. For the people who can’t understand that, just be glad it isn’t again the law to be stupid, you’d be looking at a life sentence.

  5. I count being insulted by idiots as a compliment: obviously they’re too thick-headed to understand a) the situation itself and b) the point you were trying to make which will be supported by every reasonable person with even the most basic knowledge of criminal law.

    Perhaps you could reply to all those geniuses with a link to this hilarious video:

  6. Has Renzo gone insane!!! A middle-aged man, married with kids, with a thiriving business and a great reputation – risking everything, to end up in Jail!! Wake up Renzo! this is not Brazil (and I’m not Brazil-bashing by the way). Massive, massive lapse in judgement!
    To all those slavish, argumentative, hero-worshipping fans of Renzo – would you like to see your hero slammed in jail for such a triviality?

  7. Charles James says

    Thanks for this post. It comes down to judgement doesn’t it. Who actually has this as a topic in their martial arts and/or self-defense training? How do you teach judgement?

    It just goes to show that even those who seem to have attained expertise or even mastery in martial arts have more to learn especially in this arena – violence and defense and legal systems.

    Again, thanks for your post and its clarity.

    Charles J.

    • Gotta disagree with you here Charles. Who teaches this? Good self-defense instructors do. They teach you a set of principles, guidelines and mental checklists along with an understanding of the legalities of self-defense. All of this is obviously of no importance to an MMA fighter, so they don’t learn any of that. Why would they? MMA is a sport. So is golf; Do you expect a Rollerblade champion to learn self-defense? you wouldn’t.

      I understand what you mean but I just disagree. Judgement and how to get it are some of the building blocks of a good self-defense curriculum.

  8. Excellent points. Renzo Gracie has certainly given a prosecutor or plaintiff’s attorney more than enough to work with from his actions. What could have been an excellent lesson about awareness, in spotting and identifying the potential set-up, instead could easily become Exhibit 1.

    He’s also incredibly lucky they didn’t turn out to be armed at the time of the offense, or more willing to fight together.

  9. Wow. Great find but wow!

    What about deescalate, avoid, and call the police?

    Lots of “what ifs” here. What if one of the muggers had a firearm or knife?

    And going all social media on it?

    Pretty dumb.

    All the muggers need is one sleezball lawyer…


  10. @Charles James: the law is binding and every citizen is supposed to know the law. Last time I checked ignorance is not a valid legal argument ;-). If you’re learning martial arts (in any form) you should at least know when you can and when you can’t use it (legally) on people and to what degree, otherwise you might get to practice on the Aryan brotherhood and the like in jail. The rest is mainly common-sense (sane people will generally run away from danger, not pursue it further) which this Gracie-character is clearly lacking: not only did he break the law but he boasted about it on the net… On top of that: what if one or both of those supposed muggers had a weapon or friends waiting? I very much doubt even a Gracie can dodge a bullet or a club to the head when you’re busy beating on another guy in order to ‘teach him a lesson’.

  11. I recall reading a post not that long ago by Paul Sharp in which he rubbished RBSD/Combatives and extolled the superior virtues of MMA/BJJ. Uh huh. This clown is very lucky his would be attackers were not armed. Otherwise those updates would have read:

    ‘Am chasing second guy in my car.’
    ‘Have found him!’
    ‘Glint of metal in his hand?’
    ‘But BJJ is invincible so why do I bleed so after being shot, why is everything going black?!’

  12. Renzo’s kind of thinking and behavior reminds me of Bas Rutten:

    I guess Bas could probably end up in court for some of these techniques, such as:

    1) don’t-you-ever-do-that-…

    2) Right away you say, “oh I’m sorry” then BANG! BANG! BANG! “no I’m not”

    which would almost certainly define Bas as the one using excessive force.

    There is a also a very recent push to change laws from required ‘Duty to Retreat’ into ‘Stand your Ground’ mindset (even when you’re not inside your premises):

    The law(s) on this are very blurry:

    and I personally believe the law is blurry for a deeper reason… as The Clash sings

    “Know your rights, all 3 of them
    I say
    Number 1: You have the right not to be killed
    Murder is a CRIME!
    Unless it was done by a Policeman
    or an aristocrat”

    So I think best advice on this kinda situation is definitely coming from Wim – if you find your self in this kinda situation shut your mouth and get a lawyer.

  13. @Danny: I’m not an expert on US law so I’m going to assume you’re right. Yet I’d think the law in any state would be clear: either you must retreat or you don’t. In any case I think it’s a bad idea to promote ‘stand your ground’ laws: not because I feel for criminals getting hurt but the other way around. I believe encouraging citizens to stay and fight while they could have run (even when they’re in the right) will lead to more innocent people getting hurt. In a fight an experienced criminal who’s used to violence will probably have the upper hand: that’s why it’s probably wiser to just take off and let the police deal with it.

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