In the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, no name is more well known than Royce Gracie.
Gracie’s father Helio Gracie is credited with inventing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, doing so much for the martial art that it’s often called Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
When the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event took place in North America nearly 26 years ago, the 170 lb Royce shocked the martial arts community by beating challengers from a variety of disciplines and taking the top spot.
Gracie, who is now a UFC Hall of Famer and ambassador for the sport, has taken his family’s form of self-defense to all corners of the globe.
He travels seven months out of the year to associated gyms to train Gracie Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, and on Sunday he made his way to Halifax to teach the students at 374 MMA first-hand.
“I met him five or six years ago,” explained Radafy Ranaivo, the owner and head coach at the Halifax dojo.
Ranaivo says the world champion has always been extremely humble and approachable.
“I know he’s a big shot and there was a time I saw him that way, I still see him that way,” he said. “But it’s more of a regular people relationship now, more as a friend.”
Ranaivo set up shop in Halifax a few years ago on the Bedford Highway before moving further into the city’s north end.
From the beginning, Gracie has been involved in the club, with Ranaivo continuing to learn from him and passing that knowledge on to his students.
But in receiving those lessons from the Jiu-Jitsu Master himself, Ranaivo knew that kind of training would be invaluable for those learning from him as well.
“He’s a really good instructor,” Ranaivo said of Gracie, who upon entering the training facility kept a straight face and led some very young students through stretches without saying a word. “He’s going straight to what he wants to teach, he doesn’t talk that much when it comes to training it’s just work right away.”
“He can teach kids, anybody. He just has it,” Ranaivo explained.
Becoming so adept at training was no fluke.
Gracie says training, not combat, was his father’s primary goal.
“That’s what my father taught us. How to teach,” Gracie explained after wrapping up his lesson with the young students. “Fighting is just a side thing, it’s just to prove that our style is the best.”
No age is too young to learn the art according to Gracie. He says the end result can bring massive benefits to anyone, especially children.
“Most what we want to teach the kids is discipline, respect and give them the confidence that they can defend themselves,” he explained.
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Sunday’s hour-long seminars were attended by about 20 students each.
The morning session for young students culminated with a belt ceremony where many were upgraded to their next level, earning stripes on their belt, or a new colour of belt altogether.
And who better to do the honours than Gracie.
“I’m going to be here all the time right, so if I give them stripe okay they have stripe,” explained Ranaivo. “But if they get it from the man himself that is a lot more meaningful for them”
“I want it really to be special for them,” Ranaivo continued. “The little kids, maybe they don’t know it yet today but down the road they’ll say, ‘I was there with Royce Gracie’, it’s something for them to really remember.”
Gracie is all too aware that many students are too young to know much about the early days of “Ultimate Fighting” when he ruled the burgeoning sport.
But these days it’s easier than ever for them to get caught up on the days of style-versus-style, and how the Gracie’s changed the way people thought about fighting.
“The kids that haven’t seen me fighting, but then they research history and they see the beginning,” he explained. “That start with my father back in Brazil and my uncles, my cousins, my brothers and then my brother brought to America and that’s when I came in.”
“If they research the history they’ll see what I done, what my family done,” Gracie said.