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Tap Houston: A Sit Down With Royce Gracie ‘The Godfather of MMA’ – Part II

BRITT HOFFMANN, TAP HOUSTON
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Royce Gracie engages young students with gentle intensity building confidence through self-defense.

Royce Gracie engages young students with gentle intensity building confidence through self-defense.

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“That’s the way Pop wanted it.” – Michael Corleone, The God Father Part II 1974

My father always tell me [before my fights], “Son, use your Jiu Jitsu. I don’t want to see you beat them up or cut them with your elbows. You must show the world the art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu.” My mother, she say, “The hell with that Royce! You beat them up! Beat the hell out of them!” My father taught an important lesson so that people will see that Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the best martial art. If he was ever afraid to see us fight, he never show it or say anything.

In his unmistakable Portuguese accent, Royce offered a lesson after asking him if his father, Helio Gracie, was ever nervous watching his sons fight the same way Royce gets watching his brothers or cousins fight. 

The history of the Gracie Family is rich and storied. It is one that has a singular purpose…”empower the weak against the strong”. This has been the lesson for nearly a century among the Gracie Family.

In Part I of this blog series, I referenced the history and philosophy Royce Gracie’s family has built and taught worldwide. Since November 12, 1993 in Denver Colorado at UFC 1, tens of thousands of “Jiu Jitsu” and “MMA” schools have popped up. All with good intentions to teach the arts, nevertheless, many being a very watered down versions of the original. Some may even carry the family name but have, seemingly, appeared on just about every street corner like a fast food chain focusing on sport and MMA Jiu Jitsu, allowing self-defense take a back seat.

One thing Royce or any of his brothers, cousins, or nephews will tell you, is that sport and MMA Jiu Jitsu are great, but those styles will get you killed on the street. Why? First, sport [tournament] Jiu Jitsu is great exercise, teaches great technique, and is great for building both kid’s and adult’s confidence. The problem is in its nature to score points that sometimes require positions that can get you severely injured on the street. Time limits are also unrealistic. In a self-defense situation, there are no time limits, rules, or points. There is only win or lose – life or death/injury.

MMA Jiu Jitsu teaches how to avoid strikes, but the same problems with time limits and rules apply. Before you say to yourself, “Why, then, are there so many Jiu Jitsu tournaments and MMA promotions? That’s what BJJ is these days.” Well, you’d be right, but only partially and here’s why.

You’ll notice that most BJJ schools, globally, use some version of a triangle in their logo. Many think that is representative of the infamous “Triangle Choke”. BTW, if anyone tells you that who owns or teaches at a school, there’s your first red flag. The symbolism of the triangle is the two intersections at the base of the triangle represent sport and MMA Jiu Jitsu. They’re fun and they teach you fundamentals, but the top of the triangle represents self-defense symbolizing it’s priority within the art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu for sport and MMA are a byproduct of drilling and completion that has evolved from no-holds barred fights to matches with rules, time limits, and unrealistic scenarios. Jiu Jitsu was meant for self-defense. It became sport.

So who is Jiu Jitsu for? The “Tapout/Affliction” t-shirt guy with a faux hawk? Maybe, not likely though. Is it for tough guys only? No, “tough guys” get their egos destroyed their first time on the mat, then leave never to return. So…is it only for guys that are in shape and workout? Could be, I’m 6′ 2″ and 250 lbs of solid muscle.

…underneath a layer of blubber and pale skin and I can’t jog to the end of the street without out stopping at least once. Does that answer your question? Jiu Jitsu is for everyone: toddlers, elementary school age kids, teenagers, boys, girls, the weak, the strong, the frail, the fit, and everyone in between. It’s for the college student, the IT guy, the athlete, the CEO, the mailroom guy. It’s for moms, single ladies, grandmothers, secretaries, nurses, you name it.

“How do I start and how do I choose the right school?” While I was at Sugar Land MMA where Chad Kight teaches Gracie Jiu Jitsu under Royce’s name, I asked Gracie what his advice would be to a parent or an adult who wants to learn or bring their child to learn GJJ and MMA and on selecting a gym? He responded:

Its based on the teacher. You gotta like them. The adult, the kid, they gotta get along with the teacher. The teacher’s got to know what he’s doing, of course. But there’s a lot on character too. So, I mean, for the kids, they gonna learn self-defense, they gonna learn the same thing as the adults. They gonna build their confidence. See, I never had a fight on the street. I’d never walk away from one. But I never had a fight on the street.

So, as an adult, you know any kind of confrontation, if you know how to defend yourself, it makes life much easier. But it’s still based a lot on character. So, you walk into a school and you see a teacher who is super heavy and overweight, is that the kind of example to want to have for yourself or for your kid? Or a teacher who goes out and gets drunk and you run into him in a restaurant and getting drunk, is that the guy I want teaching my kid? I don’t want that guy!

“Soooo…that’s you, passive aggressively, telling me I shouldn’t be teaching Gracie Jiu Jitsu since I love beer and I’m fat because of it?”, I joked.

(laughing) You’re working on that!

Obviously, character is key to finding the right instructor and school. However, there are plenty of guys with good character teaching Jiu Jitsu so I asked his perspective on pedigree or lineage to where it all started. In Part 1 I wrote, “…some may chose to drink from the well, some from the  puddle beside it.” Gracie explains what I meant by that:

Do you want a place where there’s just some guy who says he trained with this or that guy? Or he beat so and so, but you never heard of the guy and all of a sudden he’s a “black belt”? Or do you want to go to a place where you know the instructor learned from the purest source? Even if the instructor isn’t a black belt but he has a direct line to a Gracie or someone who learned from a Gracie, that’s the guy you want teaching you. Obviously, one of my guys would be ideal.

Royce’s “guys” aren’t new to the Houston area. He and Chad Kight (Brown Belt) began their relationship in 1997 through Jason and Randall Ebarb of Texas Punishment Crew in Beaumont, TX who trained under Pat Hardy, all of whom, were promoted to Black Belt by Royce Gracie. But that’s not the only tie to Houston. 

Tony Torres-Aponte, co-owner of Urban Jungle Self Defense in The Heights, began training with the Gracie Brothers in the mid 80s in Torrance, CA. Torres-Aponte, then a sound Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do practitioner, accepted the Gracie Challenge. As the story goes, he through one punch, when he woke up he said he wanted to learn. He’s been practicing and teaching for over twenty years and has four affiliates: Cypress BJJ, Magnolia BJJ, Mont Belvieu BJJ, and Anaconda Jiu Jitsu in Galveston. His bond with Royce is such that he waited 15 years to be promoted from white belt until Royce was able to come back to see him. He was promoted to brown belt the next time. He is now a Black Belt Professor.

I asked Chad Kight what it meant to him to have Royce Gracie’s name on the building at Sugar Land MMA and his reply sums up Gracie’s mission:

To have Royce Gracie’s name on our building makes us very happy to represent him and Gracie Jiu Jitsu in the way that he feels it should be represented.  True to the immortal Helio Gracie’s way of teaching, Royce gives us constant guidance in his fathers Jiu Jitsu, not only through the techniques, but in the way of life that goes with Jiu Jitsu.  The virtues, the keys to a healthy life, and the way you carry yourself off the mat being just as important as what you do on the mat. 

We also teach the stand up Gracie self-defense here which is a huge part of Gracie Jiu Jitsu.  Being able to do this with Royce’s blessing makes us very happy that we can effectively enable people to defend themselves.  We are honored to be friends with Royce Gracie and to be part of his team.

When he comes here for teaching my students it is my goal to offer them the best jiu jitsu that the world has to offer.  When Royce teaches here it gives my students a chance first hand to experience Jiu Jitsu with the man who brought it here, learning directly from the source.  We are always extremely happy to have him visit us here several times throughout the year and give us his guidance in his family’s Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

In addition to a few Gracie Academy certified and Rickson Gracie schools around town, there are a handful of schools in the Houston area that are the real deal. Just remember it’s important to talk to the owner and ask about where he comes from, where he’s been, who taught him, who taught the person that taught him, what you or your child will learn, do they offer true self-defense instruction, then verify what he tells you.

Part III of my time with Royce, we talked about who influenced him most in life, if he still has one more fight, and his take on the transgender fighter, Fallon Fox. Stay tuned!

Britt Hoffmann, Tap Houston

royce blue belt3 Tap Houston: A Sit Down With Royce Gracie ‘The Godfather of MMA’ – Part II

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