Your family name is synonymous with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Everybody involved in Jiu-Jitsu knows the Gracie family and their importance to Jiu-Jitsu. What is your story specifically? How did you get started in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Who did you train under? Who did you train with?
I began training Jiu-Jitsu relatively late, compared to most of my relatives. I was 8 years old. I began leaning from my uncle Reylson and trained at both of his schools for about 2 years. Around that age I was also swimming for an Athletic Club in Rio, so my training wasn’t too consistent. Then, my family moved away, which had me off training for a couple of years..At 12 I begun training at my uncle Carlson’s school in the historic Figueiredo de Magalhes St. location. That place should be honored by the city of as a Historic Martial Arts property. So many training sessions with legends of the sport for generations. There couldn’t have been a more influential place in anyone’s fighting career. It was great growing up amongst so many MMA and Jiu-Jitsu greats. Heart was something that everyone in there had to have. The energy was always very positive and it was like family. I’m glad to have made friendships that I still keep and appreciate and that I know, will last a lifetime. In the late 90s as a purple belt, I moved to the U.S. and begun training with my cousin Ralph who gave me my Black Belt. Couldn’t have trained under and matured with a better team and teammates.
I feel so lucky to have been exposed for years to different styles of Jiu-Jitsu. The more physical, aggressive and MMA oriented style taught by my uncle Carlson’s lineage and the more technical and submission based game that I learned from Ralph’s lineage. Rodrigo has also contributed a lot to shaping my game. I’ve learned and continue to learn a lot from him. All their influence defines who I am as a fighter today.
Is there extra pressure growing up in the Gracie family and training Jiu-Jitsu? Can you give examples from your experience with this?
Life is very competitive in all aspects as it is, hostility and the use of intimidation are the first choice of many people to resolve any matter. If you don’t learn to stand for yourself when you need to, you”ll just fall behind, in this competitive environment.
My Dad always told me to never rely on my last name if that’s going to make me act any different that I normally would, if I had another name. However, since I chose to engage on something that my family created and lived by, I knew I had to try to be the best I could. It was a pressure that I always channeled to being something extremely helpful and decisive in the way I did my training, competed and lived my life.
As far as training goes, the fact I was born as a Gracie, just gave me the mind set to train like a silverback, and keep the excellence in fighting, teaching and the living creed that my previous generations have left me.
Being knowledgeable in Jiu-Jitsu as a teen, gave me confidence to mature faster, wiser and the skills to physically protect myself in several occasions as well as prevent several others. I feel blessed for being exposed to it.
You mentioned your Dad, Rosley, as always quoting your Grandfather, Carlos. There’s not much information about your Father. Can you tell us about him? Did he train Jiu-Jitsu?
My Dad, as well as most of his brothers learned Jiu-Jitsu from Helio during his teen years. He never cared for competing and fighting was never his goal. In 1969, my father was invited by Helio to help rebuild, revitalize and teach at the first official Gracie Academy in Brazil. The academy was located in Rio de Janeiro and was the most important and main Jiu-Jitsu training center of the entire country. All classes at that time were taught in a private setting, just teacher and student.
After teaching with Helio for several years, my Dad decided to try something different. One of his cousins brought to Brazil a sample of a water mattress from California. He felt in love with its health benefits and the idea of producing them. Then, in 1973, he opened the first ever water mattress manufacture in the South Hemisphere, named Atlantis. The goal was to provide all hospitals in the country with the product and help improve the lives of everyone who suffered from allergies and back related injuries caused by years of use of regular mattresses.
The manufacture was in business for a little over 20 years and at one point had over 300 distributors all across Brazil grossing over $1.400.000,00/year.
Curious fact: The PVC water mattress wasn’t known in Brazil in 1973. To place his first sell, my dad went to a Hospital to demonstrate the product and was ridiculed by the Hospital’s Director, claiming that the mattress wouldn’t support a child’s body weight for one night. He then returned the following day, with a hose and filled up the mattress with water. He placed a cardboard on top of it and had the driver of an ambulance back up with the rear tires on top of the mattress. This was arranged with the driver the previous day and needless to say the Hospital’s director was amazed and embarrassed by her statement the day before, when she witnessed the mattress support that much weight. She then apologized and asked for a sample.
My father’s influence in the way I interact with people is huge. He taught me a lot about surviving in a society where most people will judge you for what you have and not by who you are. He taught us to understand and forgive the weakness of those who lack the knowledge of knowing what’s wrong and what’s right. Even if we were the victims. I’m blessed to have grown up under the influence of such spiritually advanced person as he is.
Your Grandfather is Carlos Gracie. Do you have any particular or special memories you can share?
I have very vague memories of my Grandfather. I remember my Dad taking my sisters and I to visit him in pretty much all of his residences in Rio over the years. I was very young, 7, 8, maybe 9 years old. I was only 14 when my he passed away. Unfortunately, the clearest memory I have of him was at his funeral. It was very sad. My Dad always quoted him in his sayings, and I’m glad I was able to absorb and pass along all of it as I live my life.
My Grandpa was an avid student of the human, animal and nature behavior and mastered the ability to screen one’s character by observing his/her act in a very short period of time. He profoundly admired writers Napoleon Hill, William Shakespeare and especially William Walker Atkinsons. He taught all his kids the importance of exalting something positive about every single person that crosses your path on a daily basis. He believed that every human being had something positive in them, and that they needed to know that. “Everyone needs stimulus”, he used to say.
For those who haven’t had the chance of studying more about him, I listed his 12 commandments below, enjoy:
1. Be so strong that nothing can disturb the peace of your mind.
2. Talk to all people about happiness, health, and prosperity.
3. Give to all your friends the feeling of being valued.
4. Look at things by the enlightened point of view and update your optimism on reality.
5. Think only about the best, work only for the best, and always expect the best.
6. Be as just and enthusiastic about others victories as you are with yours.
7. Forget about past mistakes and focus your energy on the victories of tomorrow.
8. Always make those around you happy and keep a smile to all people who talk to you.
9. Apply the largest amount of your time on self-improvement and no time in criticizing others.
10. Be big enough so you can feel unsatisfied, be noble enough so you can feel anger, be strong enough so you can feel fear, and be happy enough so you can feel frustrations.
11. Hold a good opinion about your self and communicate that to the world, but not through dissonant words but through good works.
Believe strongly that the world is in your side, as long as you stay loyal to the best of yourself.
You were awarded your black belt in 2003 from Ralph Gracie. You debuted in MMA the same year. You’ve had four MMA fights since that time. Many people enjoy your technical and aggressive style of MMA. ProMMANow listed your fight with Sakurai at Pride Bushido 5 in the top 5 best fight performances by the Gracie family. Do you have plans to return to the ring? Do you have plans to return to Jiu-Jitsu competition of any kind?
I know the desire is there, however, there are other factors that will influence me in getting back in the mix. This is a business, there’s always a value, sentimental or financial for everything. I have an Academy in Nor Cal, where I love teaching at, and that has kept me very busy. The past few years teaching my students and managing the business has been my passion and occupation. Unless I receive an offer that is worth taking me away from my classes and students for more than 2 months, then I happily stay where I’m at. Don’t have to change my diet at all!
I’ve had an injury on my back that has kept me from pushing myself at training for too many weeks in a row, that I’m currently treating. Let’s see how that develops too. If something comes around that’s worth examining, I’ll get together with my team and family and study it.
As far as competing in Jiu-Jitsu and Gi-less, I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t itch every time I take my top students to compete and see the black belt division going at it. I definitely see myself mixing it up really well with any of those guys out there, but It’s just not on my priority list right now.
You had an epic Jiu-Jitsu match with your cousin, Ryron Gracie at the 2001 United Gracie Tournament. The match lasted 90 minutes and your knee was injured. This match was unique because you fought a family member. What is the story behind this match? Whose ideas was it? Why did you decide to do it? How did you feel in the match despite injuring your knee?
The story behind that is that he was supposed to fight a teammate of mine, Cameron Earle. Cameron was an extremely talented brown belt who beat several household names out there, back in the day. Cameron got injured and wasn’t able to compete anymore. Then my cousin and instructor Ralph said that Ryron’s camp asked to put me in instead. I was obviously surprised by that. What for, we are cousins?
Then I remembered a visit I did the year prior, to the Gracie Academy in Torrance. I had never been there before, a cousin took me there to meet some family members and train. I was a purple belt then, was excited about it. So I met and trained with Ryron. Apparently the outcome of the training session wasn’t very pleasing to him, which immediately made me think why he wanted to have a match.
His camp proposed special rules such as no time limit, no points for takedowns or reversals, only scoring for passing the guard (3) and taking the back or mount (4), and more. Whoever reached 12 points first would win. After 90 minutes and scoreless reversals and takedowns done by me, when the score was 9 x 9, my knee gave out while attempting a reversal. I had just injured the knee 5 days before the tournament, at training, so when that happened in the match, that was the end of it.
Who was the toughest opponent you have faced in MMA/BJJ?
All my opponents were really tough. I had no amateur or warm up fights. I went in straight into the Lion’s Den. My first fight, with Kiuma Kunioku, had to be considered my toughest one for the fact that I had no idea what to expect. It was a match against a guy who had the belt in the lower weight class, 2nd ranked in the weight we were fighting at and had over 40 fights. I’m extremely grateful to my teammates and coaches for pushing me and helping me get so well prepared for that debut.
Speaking of Jiu-Jitsu competitions, who do you think are the top three competitors at this time?
There are so many good guys out there competing. I have to go with those who have been winning everything recently, my cousins Roger and Kyra.
What attributes make for the best competitors? Technique, Strength, Heart/Mental Toughness?
I think there’s a big difference in between competitors and a simple practitioner or athlete. A lot of times the best competitor isn’t the best athlete or practitioner. There’s a lot of strategy involved in fighting, as you know, not always the best will win, but the one who applies his strategy and game plan best. The first 5 minutes of the fight is where you tell who the best fighter is. When they are both fresh and hungry.
To excel in combat sports, specially the ones you could get a real beating, like MMA, you have to really have an improved level of mental toughness in comparison to others. I see it everyday, people walk in the gym wanting to train to fight. After a few exercising sessions and even repetition filled classes, suddenly their cat passed way, their cousin is sick, too busy with work, etc…
For all other combat sports, I believe that technique and training can improve your mental toughness and confidence level as you go along. You learn to trust yourself more. With extreme precision, timing, calm and coordination, technique will be unbeatable.
Is there anything you would change about Jiu-Jitsu competitions? Rules, Time Limits, etc?
I see and hear a lot of complaints about high level competitors scoring an advantage and stalling the rest of the match. Apparently, the current rules allows for the competitor to utilize this type of strategy. With that being said, I do think something needs to change. Maybe get rid of advantages? Jigoro Kano changed the rules of Judo to make a visually, more entertaining sport. Rickson held a few events with modified rules that awarded submission attempts and such. I thought that was a good idea.
Being able to subdue and submit someone by outsmarting them with thoughts and pure technical skill is an amazing thing.
Like my Grandfather said: “Jiu-Jitsu is the triumph of human intelligence over brute strength.”
You have a thriving school, two affiliate schools, good competitors and a family. What’s next for Crosley Gracie?
I’m just enjoying life. I want to continue teaching and changing lives through our Jiu-Jitsu classes. One thing I really wish, is that all my students got promoted the Black Belt one day. Not for the skill fact, but for the experience and self improvement as a practitioner and person they will go through in every stage of this awesome journey. Statistically, I know its impossible, since not everyone has the mind set to endure such a long commitment, however for those who will, I’m very excited to see the positive changes that it will bring to their lifestyle and everyone around them, every step of the way.
I’m so excited to watch my daughter Kivian grow. I’m excited to witness my students in their path to mastery of the art my family created and the same for their students. I feel full of energy, wouldn’t mind getting back in the fight game either, but we’ll see!
Anything else you’d like to mention?
A few words to all Jiu-Jitsu practitioners out there. To many, a BJJ Black Belt is only a dream and near impossible to achieve due to mat time required to get to that level. No kidding, you could finish college and graduate school while training 3 or 4 times a week, and still not get your Black Belt. It’s the most coveted Black Belt in Martial Arts and no other single fighting art will add more combat skill and strategy to an unexperienced individual, then Jiu-Jitsu.
Don’t let your self lose motivation and get discouraged by experiences such as constant thoughts of no improvement, injuries, etc… Sometimes you are the hunter, sometimes you are the prey. It’s not always going to be Disneyland. All your teammates are improving with you. Some of them will learn faster, others slower than you. Worry about being the best you can be and keep a focused, determined state of mind and you’ll get there.
Be sure to be aware of safety precautions your school take to minimize risk of injures. Improve at your own pace and respect your body. Being consistent and attending classes at least 2 or 3 hours a week is a must for realistic progression. Good Luck!