On February 12, 2013 I grappled with a lingering flu and self-consciousness to head out to a seminar. It was not just any seminar. It was a seminar led by a very special man: Royce Gracie epitomizes the true martial artist. He didn’t need to say much, he revealed himself in his actions.
Royce Gracie found me. He found me in a sea of students in a packed room. I then knew, as a student, that I was ready. He put his arm around me and began to casually walk me over to a group of size-appropriate teammates to warm up with some judo. While we walked across the large training hall I looked up at him and said, “Do you remember someone sending you an article?”
His eyebrows squinted slightly and his eyes drifted to the right, a sign of recollection. I went on to name the article I was referring to (“Rolling In A Hurricane”) and described the footage of Rickson Gracie demonstrating Gymnastia that was contained in it. “Yes, that was me,” I replied with a smile. He smiled as well. He was then strictly business, teaching with command, humor, and humility.
Royce Gracie: More Than Technique
I was the only woman there, a not-uncommon state of affairs in jiu-jitsu. He made me feel special, but not for that reason. In fact, he made everyone feel special. He cared that students picked up the material, regardless of age, rank, sex, size, or appearance. He handled even the most bizarre questions with verbal judo.
One attendee asked if all the old Pride fights were real. He simply shook off the comment with assertive humor, retorting, “Do you think the blood was fake?” He used the comment to display the core of jiu-jitsu and judo. He let the momentum of the comment pass by and exposed its absurdity. (This is what they teach law enforcement officers, verbal judo: Distract and de-escalate until there is no other choice but to use force.) He changed strain and frustration into laughter, appreciating every effort students made, including some attempts to speak broken Portuguese!
Every part of the lesson plan was taught with a reference point to real-life scenarios; for example, how to handle and deflect anger and irrational behavior on the street, or respond to an aggressive or ill-conceived plan of attack in a tournament, a ring, or a cage. This was not about improving your wrestling, judo, and jiu-jitsu for sport as much as it was to demonstrate the real-world applications that Gracie jiu-jitsu has to offer.
Each block of material was introduced in detail, but not in a way to micromanage or confuse the student. Afterward, he watched the students—each student—in detail. When widespread, consistent mistakes in execution were identified, he immediately stopped the action. All students stood at attention to listen to his insight as to why or how they were having trouble performing the material.
Over the next three hours of teaching, the techniques increased in difficulty. The lesson began with basic judo, standing wrist locks, and strait arm bars, and moved on to duck-under leg locks that flowed pristinely into heel hooks and Achilles straight ankle toe lock options. The seminar’s instructional portion finished with several more submissions and takedown applications that are applicable to those who compete in sport jiu-jitsu tournaments. One single-leg takedown and headlock escape (for those of us who enjoy Vale Tudo) was done against an unforgiving cage, accompanied by good-natured teasing for those of us who have cauliflower ears! The seminar ended with several rolls, a group photo, and opportunities for individual photos.
With a file folder filled with copies of my BJJ Today articles, I waited in anxious anticipation to hand the stack to Royce Gracie at the end of the seminar. He graciously accepted them, and gave me a friendly embrace while posing for a photo with me. In retrospect, the most refreshing and impressionable events that took place in such a brief meeting with an amazing teacher was how he was able to engage each student, that he remembered a brief conversation between us, and would remember my name and efforts to contribute and promote jiu-jitsu by accepting my material.
After hearing the comments made by people in local schools in North Carolina who met Royce Gracie this week, including personal friends of mine in other schools, it seems that each person walked away feeling the same way: uplifted and encouraged. If you express interest and effort in the jiu-jitsu community, your interest and effort will be reciprocated.
Royce Gracie may be a stranger to us in our day-to-day secular lives, but he made us work hard for a short time, and parted with all of us as if we were long-lost friends who would forever be his students. Everyone who attended experienced something very rare, which will be treasured always.
A simple recounting of the techniques that Royce Gracie taught would be inadequate to describe what may be a once-in-a-life time experience, and a disservice to the reader. Instead, I hope that I have conveyed the atmosphere, his methods of instruction, and the one-on-one student interactions and life lessons you can take away from an amazing martial artist. In this way, if you are lucky enough to attend a Royce Gracie seminar, your nerves will be calm and your mind will be wide open.
June Louise Elliott, MA (American Council on Exercise, CPT, Forged Fitness, Cary, NC)