On a Sunday afternoon in Santa Monica, dozens of men and women in rash guards and bathing suits grappled on the mats they’d set up at the beach. “If you want to roll, just fill out a waiver,” one woman told a curious young man who’d approached. “The snacks are communal. Help yourself.” She gestured toward a table of fresh fruit and bottled waters. Behind her, other jiu jitsu practitioners of varying ages did pushups and stretches as they prepared to hit the mat. Some sprawled in the sun on beach towels, taking it easy after having exerted themselves fully at the previous day’s Eddie Bravo Invitational tournament — an event that brought Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners like themselves to Los Angeles from all over the country. In a tent not too far from the mats, pot smoke emerged from the flaps in the front — not an unusual smell in Santa Monica, and certainly not at a meetup of Eddie Bravo’s followers, students of his 10th Planet philosophy of jiu jitsu.
Bravo, whose gym is in downtown Los Angeles, is one of the most popular and polarizing figures in modern Brazilian jiu jitsu. He is known for his controversial belief that jiu jitsu should be practiced sans gi. According to Bravo, the absence of the fabric to grab on a gi allows for holds like his signature “Rubber Guard,” which require more flexibility and patience. Bravo is notably more outspoken about his marijuana use than many other jiu jitsu teachers, who often run schools that have large kids programs.
"I chose the path of advocacy," Bravo explains. "Back in the early 2000s, when I started talking about it, you could still get arrested [for having pot]. I would just do what I could to spread the truth about cannabis until it got to a point that we didn't have to worry about going to jail. And we're at that point now, so I don't go out of my way to talk about it."
"It moves super fast," Bravo says of jiu jitsu. "You have to know the individual plans so well that mastery of it all has gotten to the point where it's unconscious." For Bravo, the muscle memory inherent in jiu jitsu and the creative process are one and the same. "It's like someone else is doing the work, and you're just kind of producing," he says, of both jiu jitsu and rapping.
“10th Planet is definitely known for being pro-marijuana,” says black belt and musician-actor Erik Daniel Cruz, who has been training closely under Bravo for 10 years. According to Cruz, it is not uncommon for classmates to meet up for a smoke before hitting the mat to practice. He likes to smoke a joint to calm nerves before a big competition. “It helps you relax and stay focused while you’re in an anxiety combat situation,” Cruz says. Bravo, for his part, does not recommend using cannabis while nervous. "It amplifies your emotions. When you compete so much that you don't get nervous anymore, that's when you can start using cannabis," he explains.
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Cruz and Bravo collaborate musically as part of the group Smoke Serpent. They rap about jiu jitsu, weed and Bravo’s renegade no-gi philosophy. It’s the kind of music that will get you pumped up before a big match. Cruz, too, sees similarities between the process of creating music and practicing jiu jitsu. Both, he says, require you to be focused without thinking at all. Both music and jiu jitsu also require what Cruz referred to as an in-the-moment “creative response,” a state of action that is easier to reach with the help of cannabis. Bravo says marijuana can be a conduit to reaching this state of clarity and excellence. "When you're high, it makes you work better in that unconscious zone."
Bravo’s students are passionate people who talk endlessly about submissions and holds and whether anyone has heard Bravo on the latest Joe Rogan podcast. They have scars and bold tattoos and chiseled, pointed shoulders. Like many martial artists, they can manipulate their bodies to drop weight and quickly gain it back. They are no strangers to protein shakes and coconut waters. They don’t have training days to lose on hangovers, or room to bloat after a beer bender. Marijuana, particularly indica strains, says Cruz, offers a means of unwinding without losing steam.
Beyond the psychotropic effects of marijuana, many 10th Planet practitioners use cannabis for its physiological benefits. Studies have shown cannabis to contain large amounts of the component E-(BCP), which is an anti-inflammatory — something that could be highly beneficial to an athlete who spends several hours a day exerting themselves in high-intensity grapples. With prolonged training comes perpetual soreness, and many 10th Planet practitioners use cannabis products like the nonpsychoactive CBD in tandem with therapies like massage and cryogenic treatment to manage pain. The use of cannabis as both preemptive and after-the-fact pain management appears to be growing among a number of extreme athletes. Runners, for example are turning to cannabis in growing numbers as evidence suggests that painkillers like ibuprofen can damage the liver when used during intensive physical activity. Cannabis is a drug that can be well-suited for all athletes, said Bravo. "As long as you're confident doing the sport, any sport will be elevated by cannabis."
Bravo’s school of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is relatively new. He opened the doors to his first gym in West Hollywood just 12 years ago. His unique take on the philosophy of the sport, and his refusal to conform to its rules have already changed its landscape. His students hold their own in competitions against jiu jitsu greats from the famed Gracie school. Across the country, 10th Planet gyms are opening. and Bravo’s beliefs on marijuana use are espoused there, “I gotta super-hide (pot smoking) on the east coast. They still don’t get it,” says one student from Pennsylvania, who had travelled to Los Angeles for EBI 7.
The goal in grappling is to submit someone, to conquer them through peace. Cannabis helps these waxing poetic warriors surrender their minds and find strength through slowness. “You play your game inch by inch,” Bravo has said of his jiu jitsu philosophy, quoting his own teacher, Jean Jacques Machado, “‘Get what you need. There you go. Control them….Inch by inch forward.’ It’s just, like, the perfect quote for life, ‘Inch by inch, you’re gonna get it, or it’s gonna get you.’”