Vanderhoof hosted a living legend this past weekend, when UFC Hall of Famer and martial arts master and pioneer Royce Gracie stopped by to teach a two-day mixed martial arts workshop.
People travelled from all over the north to take the workshop with Gracie including people as far away as Fort St. John and Prince Rupert as well as many from Prince George and Vanderhoof itself.
Saturdays four-hour workshop involved working out in ‘gi’, which is the martial arts uniform. Gracie concentrated on mainly the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
On Sunday, participants wore t-shirts and Gracie taught more of a street-fighting, mixed martial arts session.
Approximately 16 people attended the workshop on Saturday and 40 on Sunday. Both sessions took place in the NVSS gymnasium mezzanine.
The history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu begins with Gracie’s uncle, Carlos Gracie who learnt the art from the Japanese in Brazil.
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“My uncle learned from the Japanese, but my father, Hélio Gracie, was too small and he couldn’t do it,” said Gracie.
“My father watched my uncle teach for a couple of years and he memorized the whole thing … then one day my uncle was late for a class and my father stepped in on the mat and said “Hey I know this – I can go through it with you until my brother gets here.” By the time my brother showed up he told the student he would replace the class but the student said ‘no no no – if you don’t mind from now on I would like to take classes with Hélio Gracie’ – my father.”
That student happened to be the president of the National Bank of Brazil, not just anybody, so Gracie’s uncle asked his brother what he did different:
“So my father showed him … what he did was … he didn’t invent a car, he didn’t invent the wheel … he invented the jack so one person now can change the tire of a car – he invented leverage,” said Gracie.
Gracie started to learn the art from his father, uncle and older brothers as soon as he could walk.
“My playground was on the mat,” he said.
By the age of 16 he had attained his blue belt. Soon after that he joined his brother in California to teach jiu-jitsu, and at the age of 18 he received his black belt.
“There’s only one way to find out which style of martial arts is the best, and that’s by forgetting the ring, forgetting the cage, and fight with no rules and no time limit,” said Gracie.
“So my brother came over to America and started the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC),” he said.
“At the beginning there was no rules at all, just no eye-gouging and no biting – there was no time limit … pretty much anything goes.”
The first UFC in 1993 was an eight-man tournament, the second was a 16-man tournament.
“So that was four fights in one night … so it’s kind of like playing four hockey games in one night,” said Gracie.
“So when my brother created the UFC he put me to fight and I fought three guys in the first night, four guys in one night in the second UFC,” he said.
“I fought one guy that was 6ft 8, 490 pounds – I won in under three minutes … that shows that it’s not about strength, not speed, not power … it’s leverage, technique, and knowing what to do,” he said.
Between 1993 and 1994, Gracie was the tournament winner of UFC 1, UFC 2, UFC 4, and fought to a draw with Ken Shamrock in the championship match at UFC 5.
Gracie now travels all over the world teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts.
“I come to Canada as often as I can, although I prefer it in the summer,” he laughed.
“I don’t like the cold weather very much.”
He came to Vanderhoof once before about six years ago and said he was happy to return.
Scott Stewart who was the man responsible for bringing him back to Vanderhoof said it took a lot of phone calls to get him back, but it was 100 per cent worth the effort.
After spending the weekend in Vanderhoof, Gracie travelled down to Vancouver for a one day workshop before heading home to LA. Before coming to BC he had been teaching workshops in Dubui, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.
He said he came to small-town Vanderhoof because he was invited and he loves to travel.
“I spend about six months on the road traveling and six months at home, but not straight … I’m away for a week home a week away for two days, back home for four days and so on,” he said.
Of those who came to take the workshop in Vanderhoof he said there was a variety of different levels of skill.
“Some are brand new so they just learning new moves, some are having more of a review so I can show them how to do it better, and how to set up the moves better,” he said.
“We are dealing with a lot of strategy … their strategy was pretty much zero so I had to fix a little bit of that.”
“I don’t believe in good student and bad student, I believe in good teachers and bad teachers – come to my class and you will learn something,” he said. `