De La Riva Dynasty: Building a Modern Day Empire

Published on by Nico Ball

Photo courtesy of Hywel Teague

Most young boys grow up watching old school martial arts movies and dreaming of epic adventures where warring clans fight for the honor of their Masters. Martial arts movies like the Shaw brother films inspired just as many epic street brawls between kids on the basketball courts in New York City as they did along the beaches of Copacabana where Jiu Jitsu was being introduced for the first time by the Gracie family.

At some point, these aspiring martial arts Masters must abandon their fantasies and busy themselves with the normal responsibilities of the adult world. For most kids, the pressure of school, work, and family responsibilities slowly usurp dreams of mastering Martial Arts, but for one boy the dream of building a successful martial arts dynasty became a reality.

Ricardo De La Riva (pronounced HE-VA) is 6th degree black belt born and raised in Copacabana. He is a reserved guy with graying hair, and black glasses that at first glance seem more akin to a college professor than a Jiu-Jitsu black belt. His revolutionary contribution to the Jiu-Jitsu world was a result of the being constantly overpowered by heavier opponents in training.

He is a product of the Carlson Gracie lineage, a team known for their aggressive top game, which forced De La Riva to use flexibility instead of power to try to de-stabilize his training partners.  In 1984, when De La Riva was a brown belt, what was once called the “pudding guard” became known as a highly effective way for smaller, flexible athletes to unbalance and sweep opponents. His success with the guard in competitions earned him the prestige of being the only person in Jiu-Jitsu with a move named after him (Ezequiel and Kimura both come from Judo).

After receiving his black belt, De La Riva opened his own academy a few blocks from the Carlson Gracie school in Copacabana. Although he has moved locations several times in the last 30 years, the academy has never left the neighborhood that De La Riva calls home.

The Mecca: Training Jiu-Jitsu in Copacabana

Since retiring from competition after his match with Yuki Nakai in 2013, De La Riva has dedicated himself to perfecting his methodology. He is just as passionate about his student’s evolution as he was about his own competition career. Students, after all, are a representation of their Master’s style and work ethic.

The De La Riva headquarters is often frequented by visitors who want to meet the inventor of their favorite guard. Unlike some schools that discourage cross training, students from any academy are welcome to drop in and train. The academy has multiple classes throughout the day, the majority of which are taught by Mestre De La Riva himself. When he is absent from the academy, he ensures that the teachers left in charge have a specific curriculum for the week. In fact, De La Riva has an online portion to his website to ensure that ALL the teachers in EVERY affiliate are receiving and giving proper instruction to their students. His attention to detail is one thing that sets him apart from other academies in the area.

“A lot of people joke around giving class, but Jiu Jitsu is my profession, I’ve given class since I was 18. I know there are some people that just go out there and do whatever at the time, but I like to have everything organized.”

A true master leads by example and De La Riva is no exception. Not only does he work hard, he expects his counterparts to maintain the same level of excellence. International affiliates are also held to the same standards, which is how De La Riva has managed to maintain high-quality instruction in the midst of a growing business. 

Expanding the Empire: International Affiliates

De la Riva has over 50 affiliate academies around the world, but he hasn’t let his success make him complacent. He is constantly traveling in order to personally manage his affiliates, meet new students, and spread the De La Riva pedagogy.

“I don’t want money,” he says when discussing his hectic travel schedule, “I want people to recognize my work”.

Despite his success, De La Riva is a humble guy who continues to work hard to establish his legacy.  He travels frequently to his visit his affiliates, always opting to go to different places and meet new students when he can.

He is constantly on the go, but very rarely spends more than a few days away from home. Instead of extended stays, he opts to take 5 separate short trips, going to different academies and meeting new people each time. This allows him to travel the world, meet new students, and demonstrate the efficacy of his techniques, while simultaneously managing his affairs at home.

The Evolution Continues: De La Riva and MMA

De La Riva always makes sure to spend time on the mats with his students. Every now and then he will slip off his glasses, put down the timer, and get in a few rounds.

At the start of class students file in bowing and shaking hands with the utmost respect, but by the time they tap fists to roll, the atmosphere is more laid back. Don’t let his reserved demeanor confuse you, De La Riva can make a streamline transition from closed guard to spider guard, to pressuring an unsuspecting purple belt against the wall and raining down a few fake elbows before spitting a little smack talk and then finishing him off in a wicked triangle.

Jiu Jitsu has become the new, must-have skill for MMA fighters and everyone is clamoring to learn as much as they can before stepping into the cage. Although de La Riva has taught fighters, he prefers to keep his distance from the rough and tumble MMA crowd. With the exception briefly coaching the Nogueira brother’s and having a close relationship with Anderson Silva, Mestre De La Riva prefers to training in a Gi, or a Kimono as they are called in Brazil.  

Training NoGi is a whole other beast, he noted when discussing the topic. The ground maneuvers that intrigue most Jiu-Jitsu athletes are unnatural for MMA guys who would prefer to be off hitting bags somewhere instead of learning the intricacies of the perfect triangle.

Every now and then you may catch him brushing up on NoGi with some students, but for the most part, you will find Mestre De La Riva joking around, training, and perfecting the art the way he knows best, in a kimono.

A True Martial Artist

With over 30 years of teaching experience, De La Riva’s philosophy, style, and approach to martial arts have solidified his position as one of the cornerstones of the Arte Sauve. Through Jiu Jitsu, De La Riva has been able to build a legacy, share his culture, impart a little wisdom, and inspire more kids to follow the path of a martial artist. He may not be able to walk up walls or fly across roofs like masters of Shaolin, but he is a real life example of how Jiu Jitsu can influence the lives of so many people around the world. 

You can find out more about De La Riva by checking him out on social media or stopping by one of the numerous affiliates around the world.





Check out more about the Evolution of the De La Riva Guard on BJJ Hacks.

The History of the De La Riva Guard

The Evolution of the De La Riva Guard: From Pudim to Berimbolo