Should you ever wake up one morning to find yourself transformed into a Hollywood celebrity with fame and fortune and time at your disposal, yet blessed at the same time with a burning desire to unpack the mysteries of fighting in a safe and supportive environment, the man you want to track down for instruction is Rigan Machado, an eighth-degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu red and black belt in the Carlos Gracie line who teaches out of the Academy Beverly Hills on Wilshire Boulevard, just five minutes from the Beverly Center to the north and the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to the west: right in the hub of the Hollywood celebrity ecosystem.
Over the years Machado has become the go-to instructor for Hollywood royalty who want to learn the art of grappling without risking their valuable faces and bodies. Everyone from Vin Diesel to Ashton Kutcher to Keanu Reeves to Ziggy Marley to Usher to Robert Duvall to Scarlett Johansson to Charlie Hunman has come to the Academy Beverly Hills to study the secrets of what Machado calls Flow Jiu-Jitsu, a system, he says, for "people who can't get hurt."
"It's technical training," Machado told Jiu-Jitsu Magazine back in April 2015. "They learn jiu-jitsu and technically train, but it's all safe. I created a type of jiu-jitsu for the Beverly Hills clientele. Competition, sparring … these guys can't do that. I can't even take a 1% chance of them getting hurt." Machado claims Flow Jiu-Jitsu features more than 700 techniques, all of which can be learned and drilled and mastered without the risks presented by active rolling and sparring.
"All my celebrity clients possess the physical and mental capability to perform at a top level," Machado said. "I have to be extra cautious in my sparring methods because the students have camera commitments."
Yesterday Machado scored yet another celebrity disciple, arguably his coolest yet: multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated rap star Wiz Khalifa. Both Machado and Khalifa posted pictures on their Instagram pages of the two men after a training session, with Khalifa's fresh white belt popping out against his fresh black gi. "My new Jiu Jitsu brother," Machado hailed Khalifa, and the rapper returned the favor by telling the 50-year-old BJJ legend that he was "happy to call you my brother."
There's no word yet why the 29-year-old Khalifa decided to take up Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I imagine even with bodyguards, the life of a huge pop star can be a tense one, surrounded at every turn by jealous souls and bad influences, and maybe the rail-thin Khalifa decided it was time he had the skills to defend himself. After all, it wasn't that long ago that he and fellow hip-hop star Kanye West nearly came to blows backstage at the Coachella festival, and though nothing's been heard on that front for a while, celebrity squabbles do have a way of coming back at the most inopportune moments: at the club, say, or in a restaurant on a tropical island. Nowhere is safe.
Then again, Khalifa could just be in it for the exercise. Why else would he choose the "injury-/risk-free" Flow teachings of Mr. Machado? No one hoping to prove him or herself in an actual fight is going to choose a fighting philosophy that specifically eschews sparring and rolling, right? No, Khalifa's interest must be more aesthetic and cardiovascular than confrontational.
Which is fine and great and to be applauded. Not everyone needs to learn how to fight and celebrities are probably wise to protect their faces and fingers and knees from the kind of mauling even a light roll can result in. The more people learning the art of jiu-jitsu, and in turn bringing further cultural legitimacy to mixed martial arts, the better.
Still, the rise of Machado's Flow Jiu-Jitsu and the ongoing influx of celebrities longing to learn the secrets of fighting without assuming any of its risks do raise something of an existential question. It's the same question I ask myself whenever someone in one of my fighting classes delights in hitting the pads but has no interest in sparring: How can you define fighting without the fear that comes from confrontation, without the daring to risk injury, without the thrill of potential calamity? Without the rarefied air stimulated by terror and the courage, or indifference to survival, to face that terror, can fighting really be called fighting at all? Is grappling without the inevitable humiliation and the shocking realization of physical incapacity and the threat of debilitating bodily harm and unconsciousness really anything more than an empty gesture, no matter how many skills you learn or how much "flow" you summon?