Legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Royce Gracie travels the world teaching martial arts, which instill confidence and discipline — qualities that will carry over into the rest of your life.
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We arrive for a photo shoot with Royce Gracie, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, mixed martial artist and UFC Hall of Famer. Draped in a bright blue gi, Gracie is a lithe 6 ft. 1. His handshake is firm but not overly so.
Then his eyes change for just a second and he gives me that look, just a flicker. It’s a calm intensity that says: “I am the master of this domain. Don’t mess with me.”
You sense his enormous personal power and self-confidence, coming from a proven skill in martial arts — and probably something far deep than that. You can imagine a gang of thugs meeting him in some dark space, then deciding to get the hell out of there.
Gracie is a big supporter of all martial arts, which is the number two sport in the world after soccer. “It helps with your confidence,” he says. “In any situation you know you can defend yourself. You are not afraid to confront or be confronted. You walk into a meeting confident. It teaches you discipline. Talented people without discipline don’t go anywhere.”
Look up the name Gracie and you find a sprawling family tree of martial artists that started with the previous generation back home in Brazil, where Royce learned jiu-jitsu from his father and his three older brothers. At 17 he moved to California to help his brother Rorion teach the sport. Rorion created the UFC in 1993 as a way to test the various martial arts in a single completion.
In the first championship Royce Gracie fought three times in one night and won the title. “There were no rules in the cage at that time,” he says. He is known as much for his for his mental toughness as for his skill as a fighter. Over his career he suffered broken bones but was almost impossible to defeat.
He holds the most submission victories in UFC history with 11. His success with Brazilian jiu-jitsu revolutionized mixed martial arts, contributing to the movement towards grappling and cross-training in the sport.
Gracie is in town to lead a training session. During our interview, he watches me and takes in everything else in this room where he is the star attraction.
He explains how his father Helio took the traditional Japanese sport and developed it into the more sophisticated Brazilian style: “He was a small man who never went to school, but he came into this world for a reason. He watched the sport in his brother’s studio and invented techniques that allowed a small person to compete.”
Helio emphasized timing, leverage and technique over size and speed and went on to become a feared competitor who defeated many larger opponents. Gracie remembers his father teaching him as soon as he could walk. “It was a form of play,” he says. Now he teaches his own children back home at the Academy in Rio.
“My father started a family quest to promote the new style,” he says. “Ours is the best self defense system in the world.” Today Royce Gracie remains a man on a mission, spending six months a year travelling and teaching the sport.
Fight and teach: The official biography
-> Royce Gracie received his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 18; he is now a 6th degree black belt. He gained fame in Ultimate Fighting Championship, beating much larger opponents. In 1993 and 1994, he won three championships.
-> He holds the record for the longest MMA match in history: 90 minutes against Japanese star Kazushi Sakuraba in 2000. He also beat Olympic Judo Gold Medalist Hidehiko Yoshida. His largest opponent was Sumo Grand Champion Akebono, 6′ 8″ 486lbs, whom he defeated in 2004 in under three minutes.
-> His training regimen includes running, weight training, cross training, meditation and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
-> His list of students includes actors Chuck Norris, Ed O’Neal, Jim Carrey and Nicholas Cage. He has also trained the CIA, FBI, DEA, Secret Service, Army Rangers, Army Special Forces, Navy Seals and police departments.
-> He lives in Southern California with his wife and four children.