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“It Comes From the Heart, Every Time”: A Conversation with Renzo Gracie

Posted by Tommy Hackett on May 13th, 2010

Renzo Gracie at his seminar in Fife, WA last Saturday

Pictured: Renzo Gracie demonstrates how to begin a guard pass at his seminar in Fife, WA last Saturday.

There are a few figures in the MMA world which require no introduction. Fewer still are all but universally admired.

He’s quick to deflect any such praise, instead casting favor to his family and their art which has changed the martial arts world — but Renzo Gracie, who enjoyed his first visit to the Seattle area last Saturday to conduct a jiu-jitsu seminar, may just stand alone to many of us.

After the seminar, the legend smiles his way through requests from area fans — everything from autographs, to questions about technique, to a request for a chokeout. In a brief Total-MMA interview, Renzo laughs as he’s reminded of some of his vintage MMA battles — including a win over the man who helped put the Seattle area on the MMA map, Maurice Smith. In the 1990’s, Bellevue’s Smith had won titles in UFC and Battlecade, and actually released instructional videos marketed as the solution to the Gracie family’s dominance. They eventually met in 1999 in Japan’s RINGS organization.

“He made those videos, ‘How to Beat Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,’ to tell everybody how it’s done!” Renzo laughs. “And, I armlocked him! (laughs) But I love the guy. He’s a great competitor and we were very fortunate to have him in the game.”

Renzo expressed his love for his family’s art and the MMA arena when he came back to compete last month in UFC 112, at age 43, nearly 20 years removed from his debut bouts in the vale tudo rings of his native Brazil. As he puts it, “I hadn’t done a push up for two and a half years! I signed up, and six months later went to the fight. I lost 40 pounds and was able to get into decent shape, just not enough to finish the fight!” The laugh this time is a little caustic.

While Renzo ended up losing that bout to Matt Hughes, he may have scored the most memorable line of the evening in his post-fight interview. Asked by Joe Rogan if he wished he had taken more time to prepare or fought an easier opponent for his comeback, a battered Gracie asked with a grin, “But then what kind of fighter would I be?” The crowd roared in approval.

Asked to recall the moment, he simply says, “It comes from the heart, every time, you know. This is a sport that I love.”

“I’m looking forward to fighting again toward the end of the year,” Renzo says, adding that he doesn’t know against whom he would battle, or exactly when it would occur. But he has another five bouts left on his contract. “They’re going to propose me someone, and I’ll be more than glad to make it happen.”

“I’m trying to go down to 155 (lbs.),” he continues. “I fought Matt Hughes and was 169 on the day of the fight. I believe I can push myself to be 155, and do it healthy, do it the right way, you know?”

2010 has also been marked with continued succes as a trainer. In addition to sharing some credit for the success of Georges St-Pierre, Renzo has seen his black belt Roy Nelson won the most recent season of Ultimate Fighter, and even more impressively, Frankie Edgar just defeated BJ Penn to take the lightweight title. This weekend, Renzo’s attention turns to his cousin Roger, and another familiar face at his New York academy, Braulio Estima.

“Roger (Gracie) is fighting next week. He’s training with us, him and Braulio Estimo. Braulio is fighting Shine in North Carolina, same day. It’s going to be an interesting weekend. I’ll be with Roger and Ricardo Almeida will be with Braulio. Oh man, they’re training very hard. He’s commiting himself at 205. It’s going to be an unbelievable battle. Ricardo Almeida will be fighting Matt Hughes at UFC 117 (in August). So it’s going to be very interesting. We will have a full year of competition.”

Still, he finds time for seminars like this one. His love of the art of jiu-jitsu, what he calls “an unbelievable way to make people better,” seems to motivate him — but so does learning.

“Oh yeah, I’m still a white belt,” he says, somewhat shockingly. “Every time I come to a seminar like this, I am able to improve myself… to correct things I’m doing wrong. By looking at other people I can make it better, you know. It makes me understand better the moves… teaching is actually learning.”

“I believe this is the greatest sport in the world,” he says of his family’s art. “Take your time, join, train, you’re going to fall in love. It’s addictive. You’re going to see the jiu-jitsu adapt to your personality, the way that you are. The next thing you’ll see is the greatest sport you ever did in your life. And it’s the rest of your life. That’s the funny thing. You don’t train for five or six years. You train forever.”

Renzo has motivated so many in this game, from this seminar’s attendedees, to the royal family in Abu Dhabi, who have begun establishing jiu-jitsu for physical education in the United Arab Emirates school system. (Renzo classifies that accomplishment as something the Gracie family dreamt of doing in Brazil — “and now, finally it’s happened.”)

So, who does he look up to?

“I have a lot of heroes, my friend,” he says with a smile. “Even Maurice Smith! He started the game late and he did unbelievably. Matt Hume, he was a very tough fighter but he was an unbelievable teacher. There’s people who really matter, really make this sport. Those are among them. My family, who are always on my side and in my corner. I can’t even thank them enough, you know.”

It begins and ends with family for Renzo Gracie… and it begins and ends with love.

Special thanks to Rodrigo Lopes and Gracie Barra Seattle for helping arrange this interview.

Renzo Gracie and Rodrigo Lopes

Renzo Gracie and Rodrigo Lopes, lead instructor at Gracie Barra Seattle

Marcelo Alonso and Renzo Gracie

Renzo Gracie enjoys a laugh with Seattle-based Carlson Gracie black belt Marcelo Alonso, a friend from Renzo’s childhood in Rio

Tommy & Renzo

Tommy Hackett and Renzo Gracie

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