Interview by: Barry Laminack
Photos By: Andy Hemingway
It’s not often that you get to interview a legend in this sport. A pioneer, if you will. But that’s just what I had the chance to do when I spent some time at Urban Jungle Self Defense back in August of this year. Royce Gracie was in town doing a seminar and he was kind enough to set aside some time to talk with me.
Royce: About twice a year.
TCD: What is your take on the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and it’s evolution?
Royce: Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a self defense style. It’s not a point system. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that people are practicing has become a points system and that’s ruining the martial art, like it ruined most other martial arts.
Most martial arts out there, if not all of them, are built to fight and for self defense. They are not built to score points. The point system competition is ruining martial arts in general.
TCD: There is a lot of talk about trying to get jiu jitsu into the olympics. What are your thoughts on that?
Royce: I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with having a points system. On the streets thee is no points system. I understand it’s fun but look at Tae Kwon Do today. What are they teaching? They are teaching you how to tag the opponent. If you hit through his head like it used to be before, they say it’s excessive force and that it’s too violent. You have to tag your opponent to score the points. So what are they teaching you? How not to hit. It’s weakening the style.
Most styles that go through points they lose their home and where they come from. They are not built for that, they are built for the streets and for self defense.
TCD: Has there been anything In the evolution of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Brazalian Jiu-Jitsu that you’ve liked? Has there been anything that your proud to see?
Royce: Evolution? What kind of evolution are you talking about?
TCD: In general, as the sport has grown and changed over the years.
What is the evolution of boxing? Better shoes? Better helmets? Better gloves? It has nothing to do with evolution. It’s not evolution of the sport of boxing, it’s in the materials that you use in boxing. The tape, what kind of gloves, what kind of shoes, helmet, training. But the boxing itself is still the same. The 1,2 combination is still the same. A hook is still a hook and a jab is still a jab.
The evolution is in the training facilities, the equipment, what you eat to become a better fighter; but a jab is still a jab.
Same thing with Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. People talk about evolution. OK, maybe there is one or two new moves but a choke 50 years ago is still the same choke today. The arm lock 50 years ago is still the same arm lock today. There are better gi’s and better mats and more training today, but it’s not evolution of the system; it’s evolution of everything around the system.
TCD: What about the new styles (guards, etc.) that have developed over the years?
Royce: What sport does Mike Tyson practice? Boxing? Muhammad Ali? Boxing.
Do they both have the same styles? No.
Ali keeps you away with his long arms and Tyson comes in tight, bobbing and weaving; but they both practice boxing.
You can’t teach a style to a person. You can teach the art of boxing, but I can’t teach you Muhammad Ali.
I’ll teach you Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, but I can’t teach you a style. I can’t teach you to move like me, you’re not me. You have to move your own way. Everybody has their own personalized style, but everybody learned Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
It’s like saying, “I’m going to go drink a Starbucks.”
No, you’re not going to go drink a Starbuck, you’re going to go drink a coffee. You don’t go make a Xerox, you make a copy.
TCD: What about the evolution of MMA?
Royce: What is MMA?
Royce: People say they want to practice MMA. “I want to learn MMA”.
You don’t learn MMA. You learn a style. You learn jiu jitsu, you learn wrestling, you learn judo, you learn kickboxing. MMA is a jack of all trades, master of none.
TCD: But the sport itself has changed dramatically from when you pioneered it back at UFC 1.
Royce: Not exactly.
TCD: Well, you look at fights now, a title fight is 5 5-minute rounds.
Royce: But still…Loyota Machida, what style does he come from?
Royce: Randy Couture?
Royce: How come Nogueira knocks people out with is boxing? He compliments his jiu jutsu with boxing, like Randy Couture. Loyota Machida comes from karat but then he trains jiujitsu on the side to compliment. In the beginning, people used to train one style only, but that was the quest that my family had. What style was the best. Once we proved through the years that Gracie Jiu Jitsu was the best style, the stand up guys had to learn grappling now. They have to learn some kind of grappling style like Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
And the jiu jitsu guys, of course are not going to stay behind, they are going to learn how to punch.
You learn a style.
TCD: The UFC signed a deal with Fox. Is that good for the sport?
Royce: Of course.
TCD: Is the commercialization of MMA a good thing for the sport?
Royce: They still put two guys in there to fight, in a safe way. The rules are there to prevent the fighters from getting hurt. So in a safe way it’s a clean fight. It’s good for us because we are getting bigger sponsors. That means us fighters are going to get paid more. Instead of making it illegal and us getting paid $50,000 to fight 3 fights in one night, we get a million dollars to fight.
TCD: Speaking of fighting, there was a rumor that you were going to fight at UFC Rio.
Royce: No. You guys created that rumor.
TCD: The media started that?
TCD: I was watching the Fight for BOPE and heard you doing the commentary for them. You’ve done commentary for Pride and Bodog in the past as well. Is that something we’re going to see more of from you?
Royce: Man, that’s hard. I prefer fighting rather than doing commentaries man.
TCD: Is it because you don’t like it?
Royce: No, it’s just hard! You have to have talent!
TCD: What would you say the biggest win was in your MMA career?
Royce: Maybe the first UFC because it was raw, no gloves, no rules, no time limit, no weight division, 3 fights in one night. Naah. Maybe UFC 2. No time limit again, no rules again, no gloves, no weight division, but was 4 fights in one night. Naah maybe Kimo at UFC 3; 250lbs of pure power.
TCD: You don’t want to pick one is what you’re telling me.
Royce: Hold on, hold on. Maybe UFC 4. Dan Severn. 260+ pounds of muscle. Whatch his fights and see what he did to people before me. He destroyed them, picking them up and throwing them on their heads. Naaaah. Maybe an hour and 45 minutes with Sakuraba; 6 rounds of 15 minutes. Naaah. Hold on, let me think about it. Maybe Akebono. 6’8″ 480 pounds.
I think my name is in the history books with bold gold letters.
TCD: So what you’re saying is you don’t have one, is that it?
Royce: It’s hard to pick one. They are all memorable.
TCD: It does seem as if every new one topped the previous one. In your opinion, who is the best fighter in the world right now?
Royce: Oh man, there are so many guys. I like the guys that know how to use strategy. Guys like Anderson Silva. He makes it look easy. St. Pierre, BJ Penn, they make it look easy, but look at their opponents when they are fighting somebody else. Those guys are very tough man. They have the ability to deliver their strategy and make it look easy and make their opponent look like nothing.
So pretty much the guys on top. BJ Penn, Nick and Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez. There are so many on top.
They are on top because they know how to use strategy.
Royce: It’s not just about being tough and it’s not just about being talented. You have to have discipline to get up and go do it, and chase it and deliver. They are able to deliver their strategy. It’s not just about being tough, they feel punches like everybody else, but they are able to deliver the strategy that they and their team set up.
TCD: Fair enough. Who do you think is the best at developing that strategy?
Royce: It’s hard to pick one. There is a big difference between the guys that are tough guys that come in and duke it out and fight and get hit and get bloody and get hit and hit back and don’t go away from the guys that use strategy. The guys that know how to take their opponent and make them look like nothing. That’s strategy, that’s an ability.
Most people say “I’m going to throw a 1,2 combination, I’m going to take him down, mount him, throw a couple of elbows, he’s going to turn around and I’m going to choke him.”
That’s not a strategy, that’s a wish. “I wish the fight goes that way.”
Strategy is being able to figure out what your opponent is going to do and get him out of his game.
TCD: Is that what you did in your career?
Royce: Watch my fights. I don’t like to get hit man; very rarely I got hit.
Look at Dan Severn for instance. That’s a perfect example right there. He beats everybody up, he just went throughout them like nothing. Then he got to me and couldn’t do nothing to me.
Like Akebono. Before the fight everybody was saying, “Oh man you’re crazy! You’re going to fight a guy who is 6’8” and 490 pounds. How are you going to take him down? How are you going to beat him?
After I beat him everybody was like, “Oh come on, that was easy! He’s too fat, he’s too big.”
Well, walk up to a 6’8″ 490 pound man and slap him in the face. You’ll see how fat he is.
“Oh, he’s slow.”
Yeah, you’ll see how slow he is after you slap him in the face.
Just because I made it look easy, doesn’t mean it is easy. It’s the same thing with guys that are fighting right now. Just because BJ Penn makes it look easy, that doesn’t mean it’s easy man. Anderson Silva, Nick and Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez. Just because they make it look easy, doesn’t mean it’s easy.
TCD: My last question. What piece of advise would you give to somebody who is getting started in the sport?
Royce:Train. Don’t rely on talent or being tough. Train.
TCD: And have a strategy?
Royce: And strategy. Your team has to come up with one.
TCD: Royce, thank you for your time, I really appreciate it. It’s great to have you here in Houston and we hope to see you back soon.