At the Gracie Humaita Del Mar, California location run by black belt João Faria, a very focused Royler Gracie walks into the academy to lead his team in their Worlds training camp. The school is packed with so many big name athletes, like Regis Lebre, Zak Maxwell, João Faria, Gustavo Dias, Leticia Ribeiro, Beatriz Mesquita, Penny Thomas, and Mackenzie Dern, that Royler has to quickly strategize the best way to get everyone the training they need on the limited mat space they have. While he is extremely friendly with his students and supportive of their development, during the actual training sessions, he is very firm and pushes them to their limits. It’s obvious he runs his training the old school way. At one point, he looks around, and with his arms held out widely says, “Don’t sit there and look at me like a picture! LET’S GO!”
The legend who leads the Gracie Humaita team likes to run a fair and productive training camp. He rotates the training from school to school so no one feels left out. “I like students to compete and to have a good time,” Royler smiles. “I like to bring the schools together. I don’t care if they win or lose. Most of our students have a normal life. They work and train, so it’s hard to have hard-core competitors. So, we compete, but we have fun doing it.”
Royler is very busy these days running the Gracie Humaita Association. “I also travel all over the world doing seminars,” he says, “Israel, Las Vegas, Madrid… that’s my life.” Royler’s overall goal is to keep the Gracie Humaita schools consistent, so he has an educational system in place to teach every school owner how to run a school, along with all the details involved in its operation. Part of that educational system also includes teaching them the fundamentals of Jiu-Jitsu.
“I try to give the fundamentals of teaching,” he says. “We do a lot of self-defense. To be a competitor is good. It’s also good if you can defend yourself in the street. Jiu-Jitsu can help you with that. Jiu-Jitsu helps you in life. Competition is another part of that, but first you need to understand the philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu and then try to put it all together.” Royler loves teaching and says he wants to follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps and prove to the world that Jiu-Jitsu is good and brings people together.
The Gracie Humaita girls team is particularly strong, and six-time Gi World Champion Leticia Ribeiro heads it up in San Diego. At the 2012 Worlds Leticia will fight in the super feather division. Back in 2009, she dropped from feather to super feather, so she’s been fighting for the last three years at that weight and is happy there. She will fight her division only, not the open class. “The girls who are going to represent our team will be Penny Thomas and Beatriz Mesquita,” Leticia says.
Leticia says Worlds expectations are always good after a lot of hard training. “We know that we are going to have some really tough fights, but we are ready for the war,” she says, “I don’t ever think about one particular person I have to fight against. I need to think about the first fight, and it doesn’t matter who my opponent is.”
Remarkably, this will be Leticia’s 15th Worlds appearance! She competed at the first Worlds open to women, which was back in 1998. Since then she has won the Gi Worlds six times and the No-Gi Worlds twice, all in the black belt division. As for the 2012 Worlds, Leticia says the training has been great. “We had around 20 girls training hard at our camp here in San Diego,” she says. “There are so many talented girls on the team. I’m so lucky to have these girls to train with. We have many big names in the sport training like Beatriz Mesquita, Penny Thomas, Carol Vidal, and Mackenzie Dern. We have two girls here from Europe, Margareth Aase, who is from Norway, and Maxine Thylin, who is here from Sweden. We have a whole new generation of blue belts from the U.S. and Brasil. Now we just have to focus. We have trained hard every day. I just want to say thanks to all the girls on the team for all the good training. Good luck, girls!”
Leticia’s right-hand girl on the team is black belt Beatriz Mesquita. Bia fights in the light division and will fight in her weight class and the open. “I’m feeling better than ever,” she says. “We had a great training camp, and so, I’m ready to get my first title at the black belt level.” Bia isn’t looking forward to fighting any particular competitor at the Worlds. “A fight is a fight,” she says. “In 10 minutes a lot of things can happen, but for sure I have to focus on the last champion because they will be there to defend their title.” Bia won her weight at the Worlds in 2007 as a blue belt, in 2008 and 2009 she won her division as a purple, and also the open in 2009. She wants to feel that thrill again this year and has trained hard enough to make it happen. “I have to keep training hard all the time,” she says, “No rest, no vacation. The Worlds is the most important tournament of the year, so I have to be ready. If I’m not, then I will miss my chance. Everyone there will be doing their best, and they want to win the gold. I’m no different.”
Mackenzie learned Jiu-Jitsu the old-fashioned and natural way, from her father Wellington “Megaton” Dias. She grew up on the mats. Through the years she has “wowed” the crowd with her amazing techniques and exciting game. This year at the 2012 Worlds, Mackenzie will compete as a brown belt in the featherweight division. “I plan on doing the open class, but I will only know after my fights, since you can only compete in the absolute if you are on the podium,” she says. “My expectations for the 2012 Worlds are to have a lot of good fights and to have this be the best year so far! I really like how the black belts are going to have to bring both blue and white gi’s so it is easier to tell the difference between the competitors. It will look really professional! Also, I am excited to see the girl black belts. The feather division is full of a lot of tough girls and I think we will all have great fights.”
Unlike her teammates, Mackenzie has already taken a peek at the brown belt athletes and says there are a lot of girls in the whole brown belt category that she knows. “I have seen a lot of them over the years and each year they are getting so good,” she says, “I can’t say who I think will be the toughest competition because the only girls I know in my division are Miki Takahashi and Tracey Goodell, but I am sure that all the girls in the division are going to bring everything to the fight, so right now I am just getting prepared for them. I am going to try my best to get my sixth World title!”