In this exclusive interview for COMBAT, veteran fighter Carley Gracie describes life amongst the Fighting Gracies - that most famous of modern martial arts families. Whereas others may talk up a storm, the Gracies walk the talk and they have never been afraid to do their thing in public. How did they become so accomplished and world renowned? And how has success affected them? Read on!
COMBAT: Tell the readers a little about your famous family.
CARLEY GRACIE: My family is of Scottish descent. My Great-Grandfather, George Gracie, came to Brazil as a diplomat and Gracie family has lived in Brazil since that time. My grandfather's name was Gastão Gracie; he was a diplomat and influential businessman, with a lot of contacts. In the early part of this century (around 1912 or so), there was a large Japanese settlement immigrating into northern Brazil. My grandfather Gastão was the diplomat who represented Brazil in arranging this settlement of Japanese immigrants. His Japanese counterpart was the former Japanese jiu-jitsu champion, Mitsuyo Maeda (sometimes called "Maeda Koma", because he is known in Brazil as "Conde Koma", which means the Count of Combat). Maeda showed his appreciation for my grandfather's assistance by teaching jiu-jitsu to his oldest son, Carlos, who was my father.
COMBAT: We know of Rickson, Royce and Rorion through the Ultimate Fighting Championship. What relation are they to you and are there any others we ought to know about?
CARLEY GRACIE: They are all sons of my uncle Hélio, who is my father's youngest brother. You may also have heard of some of my nephews who are currently competing publicly, such as Carlson Jr., Renzo and Ralph.
COMBAT: When did you begin training?
CARLEY GRACIE: I can't remember exactly when I began training. I was born into a family of fighters, so I learned to fight even as I learned to walk. We were raised in an enormous house -- 28 bedrooms -- and there were always many brothers, cousins and students of the family around, practising their jiu-jitsu, so I naturally [learned] how to approach a "fight" early. Even the little children instinctively use "technique" when they play-fight, because they have been watching the older family members practising jiu jitsu. In terms of more formal training, I suppose I began my training at around six or seven years of age.
COMBAT: Can you remember your first ever competition?
CARLEY GRACIE: Yes, it was many years ago in the mountains of Rio where my father had a country home where the entire family got together on weekends and holiday times. My father made a competition between people from the city and the people of the local town. I remember that I won that first competition -- although that's just about as far back as I can remember!
COMBAT: Do you fear anyone in competition?
CARLEY GRACIE: Definitely Not! When it comes to a fight, there is no opponent that I fear. My whole training has been to prepare me for the ring (or the streets). Even though I have something of a disadvantage with my age and I no longer compete or train for competition, my extensive knowledge and the techniques that are now instinctive give me a tremendous advantage and the confidence that comes with knowing I have the advantage.
COMBAT: How do you rate Marco Ruas? He says he can beat any Gracie and that Rickson has refused to fight him for five hundred thousand pounds!
CARLEY GRACIE: Ruas is a strong man who has learned some Gracie Jiu Jitsu but in my opinion he does not know enough to beat a Gracie fighter. I haven't heard this story about the 500,000 pounds before. Many people make challenges behind closed doors, but I don't think Ruas has actually made a challenge to Rickson's face. If the offer was made and Rickson hasn't accepted it must be a problem of negotiating the details about rules, money and video rights. However, I don't think Ruas is a threat to the Gracie family. If I thought there was a risk he could beat Rickson or another Gracie fighter, then I would have no qualms about stepping forward to defend the Gracie name and reputation. Even with our age difference, I am confident that I could win against Ruas in a "no rules" contest because I know what he knows and I also know what he doesn't know.
COMBAT: Who do you think is presently the most respected of the Fighting Gracies?
CARLEY GRACIE: Well, this is a difficult question. Rickson, Royler, Renzo and Ralph are competing publicly now, and a new generation is coming up behind them, but we no longer have the family gatherings where the Gracie members can test their skills against each other in private and resolve these questions.
COMBAT: I understand there is something of a dispute between yourself and Rorion at this time.
CARLEY GRACIE: Yes, but it is a dispute that actually involves the entire Gracie family. My cousin Rorion is trying to prevent the other members of the family from using the Gracie name in connection teaching jiu-jitsu, which is the business of the Gracie family. Since I was the first Gracie to come to America and use the Gracie name, I am the one who is dealing with this problem.
COMBAT: Did you try to settle this dispute in the time honoured Gracie way -- by a fight?
CARLEY GRACIE: Yes, but it didn't work. Before the lawsuit was filed, while Rorion was suing one of my brothers, I met with Rorion in Los Angeles to see whether the matter could be worked out. During the meeting Rorion challenged me to settle this matter through a fight. I accepted immediately and offered to do it right there -- in the conference room -- or to go to a neutral dojo and settle it on the mat, but Rorion became evasive and starting making excuses (that he was retired from the ring, that his shoulder was bothering him, etc. etc.) I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because Rorion has always lost when we fought and it would have made no sense for him to pursue a venue where he would expect to lose.
COMBAT: So there is a true division in the Gracie family at the moment?
CARLEY GRACIE: Yes, unfortunately. I sometimes think that Rorion and Hélio are the dark side of our family, not unlike the 'dark side of the Force' in the Star Wars movies. In contrast, my father Carlos was a very friendly person, very open and happy to share his good fortune with his family and friends. People said he was like a "Dale Carnegie." That is how the Gracie traditions were established, and why they remained in the family so long. Unfortunately, my cousin and uncle seem to have taken a different path since my father passed away.
COMBAT: Why do you think Gracie Jiu Jitsu has become so effective and strong?
CARLEY GRACIE: I think it's because of the development which my father made from the art he was taught. He constantly sought out matches against people trained in other styles of martial arts, and used that experience to [help] him to adapt and modify the classical techniques he learned so that they became more effective. Efficiency was also important, because my father was small in stature and looked more like a scholar than a fighter. For example, we use leverage and balance to overcome physically stronger opponents and our style makes a point to deal with differences in size, weight and build. During my career in the ring, I often fought opponents who were much heavier and stronger, and I never lost. When I train, I like to take on people who are much heavier or stronger than I am, or who are skilled in other styles, but I have years of experience and training to use against them. Someone who is physically strong -- and who also knows the Gracie art well -- would make a formidable fighter!
COMBAT: Are you still learning Gracie Jiu Jitsu?
CARLEY GRACIE: Yes, because there is always something new to learn. Nobody teaches me now, so I learn through my own training and studies.
COMBAT: What form does your training take?
CARLEY GRACIE: I get in a lot of training while I teach because I'm always demonstrating techniques on the mat. At times when I'm not teaching, I practice techniques with friends or students. I don't work out with weights, but I do bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups and sit-ups, and jogging when I have time.
COMBAT: Have you ever had to defend the Gracie name?
CARLEY GRACIE: Yes - many times. Both in the ring and outside the ring! I have fought many opponents over the years but one of the most memorable matches was against Sergio Ires de Almeida. He was very strong and had been taught by a very good student of my father. Sergio was a tough fighter and the fight lasted longer than usual, but I beat him anyway! However, the toughest opponents were always the members of my own family, particularly my older brother Carlson (who was the Brazilian champion before me) and my younger brother Rolls (who became the champion after I left Brazil).
COMBAT: Which is your favourite technique?
CARLEY GRACIE: I like chokes and armlocks.
COMBAT: Why do your techniques -- such as the heel lock you showed yesterday -- work better than the standard ones?
CARLEY GRACIE: I don't know how to answer that question because I only know how to perform techniques the Gracie way. That is the style -- the way -- that I learned. The only thing I can say about these other techniques is that they appear to rely too much on strength, whereas the Gracie technique relies on position and leverage. Small details are very important to get the full advantage of the technique.
COMBAT: I understand that the Gracie family have their own ideas on good diet?
CARLEY GRACIE: That's right. My father made a study of the chemical combinations of foods and developed a diet to promote health, athletic ability, and longevity; the entire Gracie family was trained in his diet and we lived that way. Fruits are a large part of the diet but the key is knowing which foods combine well and which foods don't go together.
COMBAT: Yesterday was the first day of your seminar here. How did you find your English students?
CARLEY GRACIE: I found them intelligent, very fast and enthusiastic. I also enjoyed working with Ross Iannocaro.
COMBAT: What do you think is your role now as a teacher of Gracie Jiu Jitsu?
CARLEY GRACIE: I have to explain clearly the principles of techniques of Gracie Jiu Jitsu in a way that people can understand. I enjoy training professional fighters and teaching people how to defend themselves on the streets. I am also developing instructors who can pass on the knowledge correctly even if they are not black belts with many years experience. I see teaching as an art within an art! You have something inside you, which you know, and your goal is to get another person to know what you know and do what you do. For me, this is an art! I believe I am quite successful at it and I also know how to bring these talents out in others.
COMBAT: What do you want to see happen in the future?
CARLEY GRACIE: I want to see Gracie Jiu Jitsu continue to spread. I like the Europeans I have met so far, the way they think, and the safer way of living here, and I'm looking forward to coming back for another seminar.
COMBAT: Finally, do you think UFC is a good or a bad thing?
CARLEY GRACIE: Well, I don't know. A little bit of both, maybe. The idea made sense when it first started, because there were a lot of fantasy martial arts in the U.S. where people weren't actually learning effective self-defense. The early UFC events demonstrated what systems worked and what didn't, and there's no doubt that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu came out on top. However, now the UFC has become more of a brawl, burdened with rules that don't exist on the street, and more for the sake of violence and entertainment than to test the effectiveness of the various martial arts. This is leading to a lot of public criticism of the UFC and similar events.
COMBAT: Thank you very much for this interview.
CARLEY GRACIE: I enjoyed very much speaking to you and I look forward to working with you in the future!