Combat Magazine, December 1997

The Lion of the Gracie Family!

The Combat Interview
by Paul Clifton

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.

My father Carlos was only 14 when he began training with Maeda, but he was very dedicated and became Maeda's favourite student. My father then adapted the jiu-jitsu techniques that he learned, making the resulting art more efficient for the free fights of the streets in Brazil. My father also entered competitions and even advertised for opponents on whom he could test his style as it evolved. He went on to compete against many famous opponents, such as the Japanese champion Gio Mori, and became famous throughout Brazil for his successful challenge matches where he used his jiu-jitsu against boxing, karate, and many other arts.

Later, my father taught his jiu-jitsu to his four younger brothers (Oswaldo, Jorge, Gastão and Hélio), and the five Gracie brothers continued my father's tradition of challenge matches. Although Oswaldo died young and George and Gastão eventually made a separate way, my father (Carlos) and his youngest brother (Hélio) stayed together, founded a Federation, and operated the Academia Gracie for many years. They also established a dynasty of fighters. My father Carlos had 21 children, of which I am the 11th, and my Uncle Hélio had 9. We were all trained in jiu-jitsu and the men competed. Many of my brothers and cousins have sons, so we are now on the third generation of Gracie fighters. Today there are more than 40 members of the Gracie family teaching jiu-jitsu or competing.

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.

Jiu-jitsu was a big part of my life, but it was not everything. I was fortunate to do most of my growing up in Brazil away from the cities and out in the country. I was a very active child. In Rio we lived near Orca and I swam in the ocean almost every day; when we were in the mountains I loved to run with my dog and I rode horses almost every day. Looking back, I think I had a very good childhood amongst the mountains.

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.

When I was growing up, there was never any doubt who was the best fighter in the family. We grew up in a family of fighters and the traditional way of resolving differences (between two brothers, cousins, or whichever) was to go out on the grass to see who would have the ruling word. When I found my brothers or cousins in this condition, I could often get them to work out their disagreement without a fight by telling them that if they decided to fight it out, then the winner would have to fight me!

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.

When I was Brazilian Champion in the early 1970's, I had trained some American Marines who were at the Embassy in Rio de Janeiro. This eventually led to my coming to the United States to teach U.S. Marines at Quantico, Virginia. I liked America so [much] that I was constantly encouraging my brothers and cousins to make the move. Eventually, several of my relatives -- including my cousin Rorion -- took my advice. I came to the United States near the end of 1972 and soon found myself using the name "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu" to identify my jiu-jitsu instruction. My cousin Rorion did not move to the United States until sometime in 1978 or 1979, and he was mostly interested in being a movie actor, so it's unclear when he really began his jiu-jitsu business but it was probably sometime in the 1980's, nearly a decade after me.

I was quite surprised to learn a few years ago that Rorion had registered the name "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu", and was starting to sue other members of the Gracie family, saying they could not use the Gracie name in connection with jiu-jitsu instruction in the United States. My cousin Rorion also started a publicity campaign to "alter" Gracie history, flooding the magazines with false claims, such as his story that my Uncle Hélio (rather than my father Carlos) was the creator of the Gracie style. The rest of the Gracie family does not agree with Rorion's approach, and Rorion has become the headache of the Gracie family. I was the one who intervened by filing a lawsuit challenging Rorion's false advertising and his attempt to appropriate the "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu" name. This matter has been in the courts for over two years already and we will be going to trial in November. The Gracie family always had a tradition of never fighting each other in public, and I think it is a rather sad change to see this family of great fighters paying lawyers instead of solving this ourselves.

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.

Rorion and I are fairly close in age, and from the time we were teenagers, his father Hélio issued many challenges to my father Carlos, and so we would go to [the] Academy on a Sunday (when it was closed). We fought a sort of modified vale tudo (without damaging the opponent) and I would always win. After Hélio trained Rorion for another six months or so, the story would repeat itself and we would fight again. I fought Rorion eight times and I won every one! My father would tap his brother Hélio on the shoulder and say 'Try again!' So this time, Rorion will try his luck in the Courts.

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.

There are other aspects of the diet, as well. For example, we believe that radishes strengthen joints but carbonated drinks make them weak, so we try to avoid industrialized drinks in favour of water and plain fruit drinks.

People who have heard about the Gracie diet often wonder if we eat meat, and the answer is Yes. Meats are included in the Gracie diet, but many of us are primarily fruit eaters. I tend to eat a lot of fruit -- dates, for example, cereals, bananas, oranges. I didn't eat meat for about 30 years, but a few years ago I added meat back into my diet because I thought I could do with the extra protein. Now I find I often feel tired after eating meat, so I am planning to stop eating meat. When I was in Brazil about three weeks ago I could only get fruits from the local market, and so that is mostly what I ate during that time. In the beginning, my body was craving heavier foods -- like meat or spaghetti -- but then my metabolism adapted, and I feel younger and stronger when I eat mostly fruits.

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.

I think it's good for Europeans to know the Gracie style. It is effective for self defense and you can protect yourself without punching your opponent in the face or injuring him. In the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, we teach good defenses against punches and kicks, but we don't spend a lot of time drilling on how to punch or kick because most people have already learned that and we don't believe in unnecessary injury to the opponent. We focus mostly on other areas of fight, such as groundfighting. This is important for street defense and also in the ring, because most fights come to a clinch and go to the ground.

My father was very strict about his children not hurting anyone because he knew we had superior knowledge and technique so we could defend ourselves without hurting the other person. In his opinion, there was never any excuse for hurting anyone. He'd say 'Let somebody else throw the punches or kicks and just use your training to take them down.'

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.

My father started events called "vale tudo" (Portuguese for "everything goes") in Brazil with what he called the "Gracie challenge". He wanted to prove a point -- to see once and for all which martial art prepares you best for the conditions of a street fight. Over the years, the Gracie style of Jiu Jitsu has consistently demonstrated its effectiveness. My father's concept is now being perpetuated on pay-per-view TV for purely commercial purposes -- selling violence for violence's sake or for entertainment! I'm concerned that this may set a bad example for the viewers. I think that if my father were alive now and saw the UFC or similar events, he would say it should be stopped. 'Stop all this!' I also want the public to know that although some of my relatives were instrumental in starting the UFC, and although UFC announcers frequently talk about the Gracie style of jiu-jitsu in a complimentary way, my relatives have sold their interest in the UFC and the Gracie family actually has nothing to do with the UFC at the present time.

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!

Text reprinted from COMBAT, December 1997 issue

©1997, Martial Arts Publications, Birmingham, England, and Carley Gracie, San Francisco, California.

Note: The article as published contains photographs of Carley Gracie, including sequences of Carley demonstrating Gracie Jiu-Jitsu techniques. The complete issue (including the photo sequences) can be ordered from the publisher's Head Office: COMBAT, 135 Aldridge Road, Perry Barr, Birmingham, B42 2ET, England. Tel.: 44-121-344-3737. Fax. 44-121-356-7300

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