On July 17th, 2019, the Gallerr team attended the grand opening seminar of Master Royce Gracie’s newest gym in the Jumeirah neighborhood of Dubai.
United Arab Emirates has embraced jiu-jitsu and there are dozens of high level gyms across the small gulf nation, however the addition of Gracie’s gym marks a step towards focusing on the concept of self-defense and practical jiu-jitsu over the tournament and points style which currently serve as the norm in the region.
The seminar filled up the gym, with attendees paying close attention to Master Gracie’s instructions, while clips of his classic UFC matches played on various screens. In many ways, his seminar was like an old-school class where he detailed self-defense techniques, had students practice the moves while he circulated, gave instruction and encouragement.
In a time where world champions, high level teachers, and legends frequently give seminars, it’s easier to meet your idols now more than ever, but once in Master Gracie’s presence, his aura of patient intensity and status as a legend in the game is different. His words and instruction are measured, but you can feel the quiet confidence that lead to him to become the first UFC champion flowing through his movements. When he demonstrates a technique, it is both fluid and purposeful, with no wasted energy or motion. He personifies this ethos in his daily routine, keeping himself in immaculate shape by running up to 15 miles a day, weight training, practicing jiu-jitsu and, as he told the seminar audience, abstaining from drugs and alcohol in order to always be in the right mindset in order to be ready to fight at all times.
Royce Gracie was the first UFC champion but is also the last of his kind.
The UFC has moved further and further away from the spirit of style versus style, weight classes and rules be damned, to more of a streamlined, ruthless machine that combines high level fighting with elements of Professional Wrestling to get people to tune in. The fights are still important, but also the press conferences and interviews to sell the fights have become events.
People even line up to watch weigh ins! It’s hard to see this UFC embracing a purist like Master Royce, but no matter how you look at it, nothing that we see in the octogen today would be possible if it were not for Royce Gracie.
One of the first things we saw in the seminar was that his belt was not black, but dark blue. Naturally, we asked the question about why his belt was this color.
“I’ve always been promoted by my father. After he passed, I didn’t want to receive another promotion from another person, so that’s why my belt has remained the same. In the past, jiu-jitsu belts were white, light blue, and dark blue. The dark blue belt was reserved for teachers only, the light blue was for students.
“Over time, federations were created, and with these federations came championships, divisions, and rules, such as time limits. When my father fought, there were no weight divisions and no time limits. My father, for instance, fought for hours in one single match, so the time element was brought in. With time you have to add weight divisions, and thus, more levels, which is how the new belt system has been developed over time.
“People that follow the new belt system are not because they know the system, it’s because they are good competitors inside the rules, but they are lost when it comes to the authentic self-defense system developed by my father.
“When my father saw that happening, he put away his red belt, when to a light blue belt. Every time my brothers and I took a picture with my father, we always said that we couldn’t be in pictures in our black belts and he in a blue belt! So for the pictures, he put on his blue belt.”
They don’t make champions like Royce Gracie anymore. A purists’ purist, he is the living embodiment of his father Helio’s vision of what Gracie Jiu-Jitsu would become to the world.
The pressure of those expectations might have crushed lesser people, but when someone believes in something as strongly as Master Gracie does in jiu-jitsu you can understand why so many years later he is as relevant now as he was raising that first UFC belt in 1993 on a cold night in Denver.