Kurt Osiander left his job of two decades — teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the prestigious Ralph Gracie Academy — on July 3. And, a mere six days later, he was teaching a 7 a.m. class at his very own studio at 2356 Mission St.
“They wanted me to stop playing heavy metal and stop taking my shirt off,” Osiander said while lying supine — and bare chested — on the mats of his new studio, Empire Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Osiander’s arrival in the Mission is a story of differences in Jiu Jitsu style and personalities. Perhaps the student outgrew the master — or the master got fed up with the student.
Osiander says he was fired, but Ralph Gracie, the scion of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in San Francisco, insists that Osiander made the decision to leave on his own.
“I thought Kurt was my brother,” said Gracie, whose San Francisco studio is on the 1100 block of Howard Street. “I thought he was part of my family. But he decided to do his own thing. That’s OK.”
What’s clear is that Osiander, now in his early 50s and with a worldwide following, discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at 28 through his childhood friend, Cesar Gracie, a son of the Gracie Family, which founded Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Rio the 1920s. Later, in the 1970s, members of the Gracie family migrated to California and set up training studios here.
In the 1990s, Ralph Gracie, Cesar’s cousin who had recently moved to San Francisco from Brazil, became Osiander’s mentor. And Osiander, in turn, devoted his life to mastering the martial art.
With a mane of ringlets and his back and arms covered in tattoos, Osiander stands in his Mission studio remembering those early days — days when, he says, he dedicated “all day, every day” to the craft, earning a black belt almost a decade later, and then a coaching position at Ralph Gracie’s Academy.
Gracie’s mentee, soon began winning awards and developed his own following. His Move of the Week Youtube channel gets hundreds of thousands of views. And, for some celebrities, he became a go-to trainer. When the late Anthony Bourdain, a devoted student of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, came to San Francisco in 2015, he made a point of training with Osiander.
Back at the studio, the flair that won Osiander legions of fans on the Internet made Ralph Gracie uncomfortable.
“I like to teach respect, honor and loyalty in a drug-free environment,” says Gracie, who’s clean-cut and 47, one of 12 children in the first family of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. “A lot of the time, that was not happening.”
Gracie asked Osiander to reign in the cussing. He didn’t.
“I didn’t want to be like everyone else: mainstream and pussy,” replied Osiander.
Osiander sees his independence as a natural outgrowth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is less rule-bound than its progenitor.
But what Osiander describes as edgy and hardcore, Gracie came to believe was disrespectful.
“I want to thank him for the time he spent here,” Gracie said, “But, at the same time, it is what it is.”
And so, Osiander left Ralph Gracie Academy with his business partner Jake Scovel, and a loyal following of students.
“I’d follow them anywhere,” said Yara Badday, a pupil who has moved with Osiander to the Mission. “They bring the best out in people and care about every single person.”
Back at the Ralph Gracie Academy in SoMa, life continues. “Our academy is going through some changes,” said Gracie. “We wanted to do the real Jiu Jitsu. Maybe he didn’t fit into it.”
And on that, the two men appear to agree.