By Can Sonmez
The five Machado brothers are related to the Gracies via their aunt Laír, who was Carlos Gracie Sr’s third wife. Their team name (RCJ) comes from the initials of the brothers’ names: ‘C’ is for Carlos Machado, the eldest brother. ‘R’ stands for Roger and Rigan, second and third oldest, then finally ‘J’ for Jean-Jacques and John, the two youngest brothers.
Just like their cousins, the Machados were able to learn jiu jitsu directly from their uncles Hélio and Carlos Gracie, at the enormous Teresopolis mansion. They are also yet another lineage whose origins can be traced back to the Rolls and Carlson school in Copacabana, as the Machados trained with Carlos Gracie Jr at Gracie Barra. He was the man who would eventually give them their black belts, but as he said in a 2002 interview, “They could use the Gracie Barra name. They prefer to use their own name, Machado, also a strong name in Jiu-Jitsu. It’s ok; it’s good for them.”
Although all of them have done well in competition, Jean-Jacques and Rigan are especially renowned. Jean-Jacques held on to the cruiserweight title at both the Rio de Janeiro State Championship and the Brazilian National Championships for the decade between 1982 and 1992, along with a clutch of ADCC medals between 1999 and 2005. Rigan’s record is just as impressive: according to his website, he remained unbeaten for 13 years, during which time he managed to win an incredible 19 matches on the same day.
Following in the footsteps of his cousin Rolls, Rigan competed in a range of grappling competitions outside of BJJ. Impressively, he sometimes won them without knowing what the rules were beforehand. John Will remembers once such occasion at a SAMBO tournament:
“Rigan took his opponent down easily and pinned him to the mat. Then, seemingly ignoring his opponent’s frantic and futile attempts to escape, he started up a conversation with the referee about whether it was legal to apply this lock or that. The highly perplexed referee made the situation seem even funnier by answering Rigan’s questions. To put the icing on the cake, Rigan paused to actually thank him before dispatching his hapless opponent with a shoulder lock.”
Like Rorion, the Machados would also make connections in Hollywood. According to Black Belt Magazine, Carlos Machado met Chuck Norris while on vacation in Las Vegas during 1988. Norris was running a convention there for his students in the United Fighting Arts Federation: the Machados would later become a fixture of that event, holding the first of many annual seminars in 1990. The Los Angeles Times emphasised a different brother, Rigan, who had apparently met Norris in 1989, while scuba diving. In yet another magazine, the connection is Norris’ friend, actor and jiu jitsu student Richard Norton, who urged Norris to try his hand at grappling.
Chuck Norris was impressed by what he saw of BJJ, deciding to take up the art himself (he would later earn a black belt in the style). Norris co-owned a mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana, and in 1991, Norris encouraged Carlos, John and Rigan to open up a school there. The brothers had previously been helping out at the Torrance academy, as well as teaching out of Cesar Gracie’s garage, but by that stage had decided it was time to branch out on their own.
Helped by Norris’ influence, the new Machado academy got plenty of attention. Norris took part in a demonstration inside the Tarzana mall, which was covered by a Los Angeles Times reporter. The ensuing full-page article kept the phone ringing for a month: the Machados soon found themselves with over 150 students. That success enabled Rorion’s cousins to open up a second school in December 1992, located over at Redondo Beach.
Carlos moved out to Dallas in 1995, again at the invitation of Chuck Norris. By this time, Norris was regularly taking private lessons with Carlos, to the extent that Carlos actually had an academy on the set of Norris’ TV show, Walker: Texas Ranger. A red light would warn the students that filming was going on next door. Norris was a dedicated student, as Carlos told the Fightworks Podcast:
“I was his main instructor, I travelled with him, went with him to Hawaii several times, I went with him to Israel, where he had one of his movies filmed, I went with him to Houston, Texas, where he filmed Sidekicks. He would rent a suite in a hotel and fill it with mats, that was our workout room. After a day’s filming, he’d go there, stretch, or before he started the day, we would work out in the early morning. And he loved it, because he has been doing karate all his life, and I think all the kicking started to affect a little bit his joints. Jiu jitsu is more gentle, so he fell in love with it.”
In the three years after Carlos moved to Dallas, his younger brother Rigan presented several Machado students with their black belts. These six men make up half of the group now known as the ‘Dirty Dozen’, a term for the first twelve non-Brazilian black belts. Among them were Australian pioneer John Will, Combat Base leader Chris Haueter and the first African-American black belt, Rick Minter. The Machados can also claim another important first, as they produced the first American female black belt, Cindy Omatsu.
Apart from Carlos, the Machado brothers have stayed in California. The family remains close, tied together by jiu jitsu. To leave the last words to Carlos: “I miss the fact that I don’t see my brothers all the time, but I do take advantage whenever I see them. It’s kinda funny, because when I go back to California, I better be in shape. If I go see Jean Jacques in his academy, or John or Rigan, the way we greet each other is with a gi and a roll on the mat. We don’t even say hi.”
Gentry, Clyde, No Holds Barred (London: Milo Books, 2005) • Peligro, Kid, The Gracie Way (Montpelier, VT: Invisible Cities Press, 2003) • Will, John, Passion & Purpose (Australia: Willstream, 2010) • IKF Presents: Masters and Styles, April 1995 • Black Belt Magazine, October 1998 • Los Angeles Times, 11th April 1993 • thefightworkspodcast.com • www.slideyfoot.com • www.jeanjacquesmachado.com • www.rcjmachadojiujitsu.com • bjjmachado.com • www.onthemat.com • www.bjjheroes.com • www.austinbjj.com
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