BRISTOL, Conn.—“My father served as an example,” Royce Gracie tells Breitbart Sports. “He wouldn’t tell people what to do. He would get up and do it himself.”
Brazil doesn’t celebrate Father’s Day until the second Sunday in August. But for Royce Gracie, every day, including the day Breitbart Sports caught up with him earlier this year, seems a good time to honor his papai. Gracie appeared so protective of his father’s name during an appearance for Bellator MMA in Bristol, Connecticut, that when he heard the words “Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” he made a point to say “Gracie jiu-jitsu.”
Helio Gracie lived 95 years, fathering nine children and one of the world’s most popular martial arts. Royce Gracie, the UFC’s inaugural champion, told of his father still rolling on the mat well into his nineties with much younger men. His skills misled observers to marvel at his speed and strength. “He was not fast,” his famous son corrected. “He just had perfect timing. He was not strong. He just had perfect leverage.”
Children, human Xerox machines, do as their parents do and not, always, as they say. Helio Gracie, a teacher of jiu-jitsu, understood better than most how people learn. He abstained from smoking and drinking. So, a lean and fit Royce Gracie, appearing a decade younger than his 48 years when Breitbart Sports encountered him, followed clean living.
To instill a competitive spirit, Helio Gracie offered his children more money to lose than to win, a tradition his son carries on by giving his kids $20 for losing and $10 for victory. Helio Gracie’s game counterintuitively imparted the lesson that winning provided a feeling so superior to losing that even financial disincentives couldn’t dissuade from putting forth the best effort. As Royce Gracie tells it, “Nobody wants to lose.”
Surely Royce Gracie never did. Despite standing six-feet tall and walking around at a 175 pounds, the Brazilian regularly beat much larger men, such as the 500-pound sumo Akebono Taro, through leverage and submission mastery. Gracie finished his career with a 14-2-3 record, defeating the likes of Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, and Kazushi Sakuraba. More importantly, Gracie, along with his family, helped launch the UFC and essentially started the sport of mixed-martial arts, at least as a viable, professional enterprise.
That violent venture started from a desire to honor the life’s work of his dad.
“When I first came to America,” the UFC’s first champion told Breitbart Sports, “I thought, ‘Wow! How come people don’t know what Gracie jiu-jitsu is?'” From the time he arrived in California in 1984, Gracie sought to evangelize America on the discipline his father founded. The initial UFC tournament in 1993 served as a vehicle to do just that. “My family was on a quest to find out which style is the best.”
What that fighting discipline taught Gracie about personal discipline remains the legacy of his patriarch’s that he appears to cherish most.
“My father served as example,” Gracie explained to Breitbart Sports. “That’s what I try to do [for] my kids. It’s very easy for people to say, ‘Don’t do this.’ Like a lot of parents say, ‘Don’t drink,’ and then they pull out a beer. Smoking, the same thing: ‘Don’t smoke’—then they’ll pull out a cigarette and start smoking. So, my father served as an example. He wouldn’t tell people what to do. But he would get up and do it himself.”