An instructor and competitor brought up on lashes from the fly-swatter

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The name “Gracie” implies a legacy that is rich in the roots of Jiu-Jitsu, history, and family. As the generations of children grow up and seek success and prosperity, many of them find it walking in the same footsteps as their ancestors: through the gentle art of Jiu-Jitsu. Some have a passion for teaching, some have a love for competing, and some, like Ronis Gracie are devoted to both.

Photo: Mike Colón

Ronis is the son of Karla Gracie and Antonio Pereira. His grandfather is the legendary Carlos Gracie, Sr. As is true in any family, there are some personalities that really stand out and Ronis has those traits. Wherever he goes, he manages to make a statement. Although he outwardly appears friendly, laid back, and fun loving, behind the mask is someone who is quietly focused, confident, and intelligent. With this Gracie, what you see is not always what you get.

What is striking about Ronis is that nothing seems to discourage him. There is a light-heartedness about him that others may perceive as agreeableness, but don’t underestimate him. There is an inaudible determination deep within him that cannot be seen to the naked eye, unless you really sit down and talk to him about his goals in his life’s work, which is most definitely Jiu-Jitsu.

You could write comedy movies from all the things that happened in our family, but that’s a good thing” Ronis Gracie

Before the 2010 Worlds Ronis made some strong statements about his upcoming performance and how he didn’t believe anyone could beat him because he had trained so hard and was completely confident in his abilities to win. In the end he came in 2nd in his division and 3rd in the absolute. Although he was disappointed, he only showed resolve by saying he would continue to train as much as possible and compete as much as he could to win next time.

Photos: John Cooper

There were no tears of frustration, no tantrums on the mats or off – only a resoluteness to try again until he gets it right. Where does his strength of character and security within himself come from? Why is it that certain people seem to have the knack for handling disappointments and obstacles in life better than others? Maybe some of it has to do with his family and tight-knit upbringing.

Growing up in the Gracie family is much like growing up in other large families except that legendary characters are always involved in the mix. Ronis feels very fortunate to be a Gracie because he has felt their presence around him his entire life. He not only had the support of his mom and dad, but also his uncles and multitude of cousins. His cousinKayron is still his best friend today.

“I was also close to Roger, Rolles and Igor, but they were older, so they would just beat us younger ones up,” Ronis jokes and then laughs, “Although, not Roger, because he was the nice one. Kyvia used to beat me up, too. I still have a lot of hard feelings about that…” The laughter, closeness, and comradary was endemic. “My cousins are like my brothers,” Ronis says, “and I have a lot of respect for my uncles. I’m lucky to have such a big family. They are very loving and they always supported us, no matter what.

Having that kind of family support to fall back on is important in life…and rare. It creates a confidence and self-assuredness seldom seen in someone as young as Ronis. “It was great to have so many people in my family giving me good advice and helping me grow up to have a strong mind,” he says, “Because of that, I was never afraid of the world and I was able to help others and be confident in myself.”

I was lazy. My uncles told me to go back and train but they didn’t push me, so I didn’t” Ronis

Along with the love and support he received, Ronis says there were many humorous family memories. “We have so many funny family stories,” Ronis says, “You could write comedy movies from all the things that happened in our family, but that’s the good thing. We grew up always hearing those stories. It helped us not take things so seriously. We learned to take the good in life.”

Although he and the other Gracie members respected and revered the legend that was Carlos Gracie, Sr to them, he was also just their beloved grandfather and he was not exempt from the fun. “When I was really young, I used to live in a house with 14 rooms,” Ronis says, “I lived with Kayron, Kyron, Kyvia, and Caroline…we all lived together, so we did a lot together. My grandfather was very old at that time, about 90. He used to have a fly-swatter and he would sit in his rocking chair on the porch and kill flies all day long.

“When I was about 6 years old, we used to play with him. I would run naked in front of him and dance and my cousins would “fake fight” to make him mad. He would run after us and try to smack us with the fly swatter,” Ronis laughs, “I was the youngest and the slowest, so I used to get swatted more than anyone else.

“He also used to hold a towel and snap it at us. He was so good at it,” Ronis says laughing, clearly in awe of his legendary grandfather, “He used to tell my uncles’ friends, I’ll give you $200 if you can endure me snapping you three times on your hand. Nobody ever got their money!”

Ronis says when the family wasn’t joking around and having fun together, there was always the Gracie philosophy to draw from. “Since I was a little kid, I always tried to see everyone in my family as an example,” he says, “Everything I learned from my mom and uncles, I took as ‘philosophy.’ I was always involved in Jiu-Jitsu. I always saw them doing it. It was one of the best things I saw in my childhood because I saw how it changed a lot of people’s lives.”

Growing up, Ronis learned that Jiu-Jitsu was more than just a martial art and method of self-defense. He was taught to respect others through the art and was told the more knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu he had, the more responsible to others he became because he was a representative for it. But even with all this encouragement behind him, it took a while for Ronis to truly find his path in life. Even Gracie’s lose their way sometimes!

Ronis started Jiu-Jitsu at about 7 years old and entered his first tournament in 1996 when he was 9. “I used to win all the tournaments as a kid,” Ronis says, “I’d win quickly, like in 30 seconds. I was also playing soccer at the time. I hurt my knee, so I stopped Jiu-Jitsu for six months. When it was time to come back, I was a lazy teenager at 13 and didn’t want to. I was living with my mom and grandma and they didn’t push me. My uncles told me to go back and train, but they didn’t push me either, so I didn’t. When I was 17, I realized I needed to get back on the mats.”

There was a time when Ronis thought about giving Jiu-Jitsu up to become an attorney. He was 19 years old and working in a job that he did not enjoy. He finally got up the nerve to quit and decided to dedicate himself to Jiu-Jitsu full-time.

He came to the United States with his uncle, Master Carlos, and his best friend and cousin, Kayron Gracie, to compete, and decided to stay. “I think I have more people from my family here in America now than in Brazil,” Ronis jokes, “Everywhere I go, I have a place to stay. I think I have family or friends in every state.”

Ronis has been in the U.S. for two years and has made a name for himself at Gracie Barra Garden Grove. He loves to teach and pass along his knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu, along with the philosophy of the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle, which he knows so well from his own upbringing. “It helps my students be better people and grows their confidence outside of the academy, in their jobs and lives.”

At first, he says he was nervous about teaching at GBGG. “I’m a purple belt and the main instructor, but I’ve always been confident in my teaching abilities,” Ronis says, “I may not be the best athlete, but I know I’m a good instructor.” Ronis says teaching at GBGG has made him very happy and that his students are very happy with him in return. “I really like the students,” he says, “I feel like they are a part of my family. I will never stop teaching in my life. It’s my passion.”

One day, Ronis wants to open his own school, but for now he’s focused on training, competing and teaching. He believes all of these things help his technique and improve his overall Jiu-Jitsu game. “I try to compete at all the tournaments,” Ronis says, “I’ve learned to be a patient fighter. I stay very calm. A year ago I wasn’t. One day I realized that I was training a lot, but I was blind. I was just using strength. I was trying to beat people without thinking, but then it suddenly clicked and I understood that my mind should be more tired than my body.”

Ronis says the time is now for him to compete. “Because of my age and the progress of my Jiu-Jitsu, I feel like I need to compete as much as I can,” he says, “I’m very competitive and I like being an athlete. I try to be the best at what I do. If I choose Jiu-Jitsu for my life, I want to be as good as I can possibly be.”

Ronis is on the right path to a successful and fulfilling life in Jiu-Jitsu. With the Gracie family behind him, he cannot go wrong. The future is where he looks to with hope and faith. “Today I’m very happy. I’m confident and young; I can pay all my bills. I can only see myself getting better in every way; economically, mentally, physically, and spiritually.” Throw some of that Gracie philosophy in the mix, and it appears we may have yet another Gracie champion in our midst.

But maybe not if his opponent shows up with a towel or a fly-swatter to intimidate him.

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