Forget about how fans and critics see Roger Gracie. In this interview, published in a special Worlds issue of GRACIEMAG, we sought to find out how the best in the world see the only three-time absolute champion on the planet.
Rodrigo Cavaca (CheckMat): You are the greatest Jiu-Jitsu competitor of all times. How long before the World Championship do you begin your preparations for the competition and how long do you spend training with the folks at Gracie Barra?
I train one week with the Gracie Barra folks in California. I start preparing about twelve weeks before the competition. That’s when I pick up the intensity by training twice a day.
Cavaca: Do you ever think of returning home to Brazil to live, or are you completely settled in London?
At the moment, it would be hard for me to live in Brazil. I’m opening my third academy in London. I wouldn’t be able to return even if I wanted to. But I’m not thinking of living in London forever. My son, Tristan, is one year old and will start school in England, so I won’t be going back any time soon. But forever is a long time; I do plan to live in Brazil again someday.
Bernardo Faria (Alliance): I feel I evolve a lot after losing. I see what I did wrong and work on correcting it. You practically never lose; so how do you get your Jiu-Jitsu to evolve experiencing only victory?
One should learn from both victory and defeat. At a championship, one comes across a variety of different errors: tactical errors, errors in preparing one’s self… Just by training you become aware of the flaws in your Jiu-Jitsu.
Bernardo: What’s your physical conditioning routine like throughout the year?
When I’m not competing, I do workouts aimed at building strength and explosiveness three times a week at most, without a lot of repetitions. With a championship coming up, I change up the kinds of workouts I do, doing more repetitions to improve my physical conditioning, setting strength and explosiveness aside.
Marcelo Garcia (Alliance): What part of having been born into the Gracie family most benefitted you?
Incentive. There’s a lot of stimulus in the family. It comes from everywhere and is there the whole time. We also model ourselves on our family members, and have support from a lot of people, including technical support. I was able to learn a wealth of technical details from a variety of different people.
Marcelo Garcia: These days, I feel we get along better, are more cordial than we were those years when we were in the same brackets of the absolute. Is it just me, or do you treat your opponent’s differently in the lead-up to a competition? Does the fact we no longer compete against each other change anything?
On the day of a match, I avoid contact with everyone, especially those I’m about to fight. I don’t want to chat with someone I’m going to be facing. It’s not that I have something against you or any other opponent, I just want to concentrate for my match against you or anyone else. Once it’s over, though, I’m 100% on good terms with everyone. Once, on the podium, someone came and joked, “Whoa, I’ve never seen you smile before.” “Now it’s all over I’m all smiles,” I replied.
Tarsis Humphreys (Alliance): What tips do you have for me to make my Jiu-Jitsu as tight as yours? What’s your training like in England, where oftentimes you don’t have the Estimas, Lagarto and the other tough black belts around?
The way I see it, you shouldn’t train just for training’s sake. It’s about the objective you create for yourself with every workout. Of course there are days when your training doesn’t yield that much; all you did was go to the gym. But you need to direct your training towards something specific, some improvement. If all you do is roll, you don’t work specifically on what you do wrong. One needs to train specifically for each position you might encounter. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since I was young and continue to do in England, regardless of who I train with, as I don’t always have the Estimas or Lagarto with me in London. One tip is to go down the line of your students, because when you’re tired you end up dropping to the same level as your lower-level students. Another pointer is to always put yourself in danger situations, positions where no one likes being, out of pride. Sometimes you get submitted, and it bugs you, but the important thing is to forget your ego while training so you can put your head to work. If you end up facing some tough guy at a championship you’ll know how to escape because you practiced it in training.
(Specialists try to decifer Roger’s style in video below.)
Michael Langhi (Alliance): How do you manage to keep motivated for a World Championship after having won so much already? Where do you find the motivation to train?
As my life involves Jiu-Jitsu 100%, it kills me if there’s a competition like the Worlds going on and I’m not in it. I feel obliged to participate, regardless of the titles I’ve won in the past. I couldn’t care less about titles. I’m not into that. What I think about is the confrontation, match by match. I recognize that if I’m not physically well I won’t be able to do nine matches the way I’ve been doing and my technique won’t be enough to overcome my opponent. I try to reach new heights in every way: reach new heights with my technique, standing, on the ground, physically. I seek perfection as a Jiu-Jitsu fighter, knowing full well perfection doesn’t exist. What motivates me is knowing I can always do better. There are a lot of people who stop in time because all they think about is the title; they don’t think about doing better next year. I couldn’t care less about titles, winning a third title, breaking records. I want to push my limits. I do, however, like that trophy. Recognition for what you do is always nice. I’d be just as happy without the trophy, though.
Langhi: How do you keep in rhythm competing at just one championship per year, submitting everyone and even entering and leaving your matches without huffing and puffing, with a tank full of gas?
I compete twice or thrice a year, whether in MMA or in no-gi Jiu-Jitsu. But twelve weeks does the trick, so long as you’re at thirty, forty percent in shape.
Rafael Mendes (Atos): Here’s a hypothetical situation. You’re down by two points and you get one hook in from your opponent’s back thirty seconds from the end. Do you try and get the tapout even if you run the risk of your opponent holding out, or do you put the other hook in for the win?
I’ve been in similar situations before. I’ve tried for the choke and lost the fight. I was hindered by thinking of the attack and not the points, looking to be offensive. These days – looking back at it all – I think I’d opt for the points – but my head is always thinking about the finish. I’d put in the hook. At least that’s what I say now. When it comes down to it, though, I might just go for his neck (laughs).
Rafael: What do you feel can be improved in your Jiu-Jitsu?
Every aspect. Defense, back mount, mount, half-guard, standing, attacking from side control. I’m aware there will always be some so-far unnoticed detail that will make a giant difference in my game. Just by knowing you need to improve, you are improving. If you think you have nothing to improve, you’re making everything worse.
Pablo Silva (Gracie Barra): Now you’ve won every Jiu-Jitsu title possible, what are your plans for your MMA career?
The goal for 2011 is to copy 2010 (laughs). Or to outdo what I’ve already done. I recognize that in MMA I’ll be fighting tougher and tougher opponents. That’s the natural progression and what will continue to happen, until I eventually make it to becoming the divisional champion, should things play out that way. But I don’t watch anyone’s MMA fights; I let a matchup materialize and then worry about it. The plan is to compete at the next Worlds, have another MMA fight this year and then another two next year. I’m also thinking of competing at the World Pro 2011 in Abu Dhabi, but nothing’s certain.
Bruno Malfacine (Alliance): What’s the training secret to making it all seem so easy in your matches?
There’s no secret. There’s no secret training formula to make a match seem easy. The match may seem easy to those watching, but you can be sure that for the one in there it’s really difficult. The trick is to be technically, physically, and mentally one hundred percent prepared at the time of the championship. If anyone finds out the secret, let me know what it is.
Bruno: What’s your goal in life? Do you think about fame, being a good teacher, an MMA champion?
I don’t fight for fame. This is the life I chose for myself and I only think about fighting. That’s my goal for now. Once my fighting career is over I’ll probably start my career as a teacher, but I’m going to get one out of the way before thinking about the other.