Ricardo De La Riva is a pillar of the jiu-jitsu community. He represents a direct link to the foundations of our art. A foundation of honor and integrity that many believe is missing from our modern world. But for decades, the Bushido code promoted by the patriarchal leaders of our sport has been handcuffed to an outdated and cruelly inadequate culture of misogyny.
Stories of De La Riva’s handling of an inappropriate relationship with Claudia Do Val, a longtime student, and female black belt world champion, have exploded into the news. Now the collateral damage threatens forever to tarnish DLR’s legacy.
Claudia discussed her relationship with him during an emotional interview on Paola Diana’s London based interview show “Unleashed, The Game Changers.” She described a sexual relationship between the two that walks the line of inappropriate and outright assault.
Presently no charges have been filed, so presumably, the encounter was consensual. But, the question remains, while it may have been legal in the eyes of the law, did it violate a code of ethics between student and teacher that our sport has historically downplayed?
Equally troubling was De La Riva’s response and reaction. His initial press released was neither a denial nor admission but instead a statement prepared by his legal representative highlighting his previously stealer character and contribution to the sport.
Then, recently in an act astonishing the community at large, he released a memo to students explaining his plan to eliminate his female classes and no longer offer coed jiu-jitsu classes of any kind.
Both were acceptable reactions to addressing the problems. DLR broke no laws during his relationship with Do Val, and what better way to solve these issues of gym romances gone wrong than to simply ban women from training at his academy to protect his business.
However, these responses illustrate a disconnect with the modern world that has found a way to cling to life in the dark corners of BJJ gyms everywhere.
Ricardo De La Riva represents the old guard of our art. The “Masters” that started their training in an era before equal rights and political correctness. They are also from Brazil, a culture notoriously known for its masculine tendencies. Tendencies that, while unsetteling in today’s world, are considered rational and a necessity behind closed doors in gym owner’s offices.
Old gyms wouldn’t allow females to train Jiu-Jitu. The thought was women were too frail, and fighting was for men. Also, the close contact BJJ training requires crates sexual tensions between students, and women just couldn’t handle that amount of attraction. Times have changed, and women are allowed to train, but many academies still secretly hold similar sentiments about their female students. Coed classes mean sexual attractions that will eventually lead to classroom tensions when the relationships don’t work out.
Claudia Do Val described her relationship post-sexual encounter to be very similar. De La Riva and her had a private affair, and after he wanted to continue to, Claudia declined. Thereupon he turned spiteful, making her life at the gym unbearable until she ultimately quit.
This scenario plays out at academies often. Students have sexual relationships, they don’t work out, and a conflict starts, ultimately losing gym owner’s students and money. Unfortunately, female students more times than not are victimized for their role more than their male counterparts. Why?
The male-dominated culture of most BJJ and MMA schools still follows the lead of those academies of the past. The warrior ethos of male supremacy desires to conquer all things, women included. So female students get caught in the mix while they attempt to find a home with-in them.
But female students are also equally guilty of these attractions. They, like the men, are still only human. When like-minded people inhabit an environment as intimate as a BJJ gym, sexual tensions are always going to happen. It is a natural response to the stimulus.
The difficult question to address now is, “What do we do about it?” The answer is nothing. Sexual attractions are a part of intermingling in the modern world. If jiu-jitsu academies are ever going to break away from the dogmatic philosophies of past instructors, we need to understand these transgressions are a part of growing.
Ricardo De La Riva, however, represents a more sinister element of his ancient theology. As the legendary figure of authority in our community he is, and in particular as Claudia’s head coach, his crime is profting from the student-teacher bond.
Even if the student is the pursuer, coaches should never cross that line. Students hold their instructors in high regard for their
ability to help them along their journeys toward Black Belt. These powerful feelings can be confusing in the right set of circumstances, leading to poor decisions. As a coach, it is your responsibility not to allow confusion to corrupt your role in your student’s lives. DLR is guilty of this mortal sin.
As the jiu-jitsu world continues to grow into the future, part of that growth is the challenge of breaking through outdated notions of gym “morality.” The laws from the old days needed to be updated. The old guard needs to recognize that the problem exists first, and it is going to require a break in their ranks. Sadly, DLR missed a golden opportunity to be that person.
This experience could have further cemented his legacy if, instead of his adolescent reactions deflecting blame and banning women, he would have publicly apologized. To err is human, to forgive divine. He broke no laws, just his trust in his student. By saying sorry, the community sees him show that what he did is wrong and his words then have power. But instead, his lack of words speak much louder, and those backroom whispers about women causing problems might sneak out into the open. Maybe schools will even follow his lead to “protect themselves” from possible misfortunes in the future.
Professor De La Riva, life presented you with an opportunity to make a lasting mark more signifcant than the sum of all your previous accomplishments, and you failed to live up to the legacy we thought you were. Shame on you for letting us down.