Carlos Gracie Junior
This week’s episode of the FightWorks Podcast is really two episodes in one. Each of the two interviews we present here would normally be a week’s worth of content but we are feeling especially generous with the 2010 BJJ World Championships on the way this coming weekend!
The first feature interview is with Carlos Gracie Jr.. Many of the Gracie family are key characters in how jiu-jitsu became what it is today Carlos Junior is no exception. He is the head of all Gracie Barra schools, the president of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, and the publisher of GracieMag. Influential indeed!
The second of our interviewees is none other than Jean Jacques Machado. One of the five Machado brothers (and a cousin to Carlos Gracie Jr.), Jean Jacques won his weight class in the 2001 ADCC Submission Grappling Championship and is highly regarded for his teaching skills. Another terrific interview brought to us by FightWorks Podcast contributor Christian Simamora.
Of course we will also review some listener email, voicemail, and go over the plans to cover the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championship coming up this weekend at the Long Beach Pyramid in Los Angeles!
CARLOS GRACIE JUNIOR INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTION
Fightworks Podcast: Ok family, we are at Gracie Barra Headquarters in Irvine, California. We have big pleasure on the show today to speak with Carlos Gracie Jr, sometimes referred to as Carlinhos, sometimes called Master Carlos. He has many names, but today we’ll just say, hello Carlos, how are you?
Carlos Gracie Jr: I’m very well, thank you, and thank you for coming here to interview me, my friend. It’s a pleasure.
Fightworks Podcast: Well Carlos, we have a lot of things to talk about, and you have a lot of roles in the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You wear many hats, but today, we’re only going to focus on a little bit, because we don’t have hours and hours, we just have some time. So today we’re going to talk a little more biographically, about your life, about Gracie Barra, and that sort of thing.
Maybe later, maybe another day I’ll come back, and we’ll talk about the Federation, Gracie Mag, and all that great stuff. Sound ok?
Carlos Gracie Jr: Ok, yes, that’s good.
Fightworks Podcast: Ok. So, I guess the first question, Carlos, would be how do you – because you have so much work, so many different jobs in jiu jitsu – how does Carlos Gracie Jr himself? How do you think of yourself in the world of jiu jitsu?
Carlos Gracie Jr: A difficult question, my friend, to say or talk about how I define myself. I think I define myself as one of the collaborators for the growing of jiu jitsu. All my intention is to bring jiu jitsu to a better level. So everything I did in my life was for this, how I can benefit jiu jitsu and benefit the people who are in this environment.
Fightworks Podcast: And when you say that, these days, jiu jitsu is a global phenomenon, right? It’s gone way beyond the beginnings in Rio.
Carlos Gracie Jr: Yes. Only people who lived, maybe, twenty years ago, a little more, a little less, can see this difference. That’s because in those times, people were imagining how jiu jitsu might grow, what can jiu jitsu become. So it was just a few people who had the inspiration, and could create something that could envision what is happening now. I had the luck to be one of them.
Fightworks Podcast: I think there is probably more than luck involved, because you’ve been working very hard to spread jiu jitsu for years.
Carlos Gracie Jr: I think I was lucky, that’s just a word to say, but I was inspired to do something more than most of the people wanted to do, and be accommodating that kind of life, you know? I expected something else, and in the beginning, you start to expect something from others. I tried, with others doing something, but when you see that its not happening, then I started to think, “Man, if I want something to happen, I have to do it myself.” So I started doing things, and inspire things as I was inspired, putting those things that are capable of helping me to think as I think, to help accomplish those things.
Fightworks Podcast: Well, I want to talk a little bit about Rio, actually, maybe more than a little bit about Rio, because a lot of our listeners are in different parts of the world. Not many of them get the chance to visit Rio, and they were not around back in the early days of jiu jitsu in Rio. One thing before we talk a little bit about history and the past: last week, I read in O Globo, one of the big newspapers in Brazil, that last week the legislative assembly of Rio tried to pass a proposal that said jiu jitsu was going to be part of the…I’m going to say this in Portuguese, so you can correct me. They said it is going to be part of the ‘Patrimonio immateriao‘, of the state, of Rio. Can you explain what that means to our audience? Not just what ‘patrimonio immateriao’ means, but what that means for jiu jitsu.
Carlos Gracie Jr: I think it was the government realising and accepting that the jiu jitsu was very important for Rio de Janeiro, for the country of Brazil. A long time ago, the first time I came to the United States, just when the UFC made jiu jitsu and the Gracie name start to appear around the world, I was in the supermarket, buying some things. We were talking in Portuguese, and the cashier was Brazilian.
He looked to me and said, “You guys are Brazilian, a jiu jitsu fighter, a Gracie? Ok,” and the guy said, “thank you very much for bringing a Brazilian name to the next level, because people here start to treat me better because I’m Brazilian, right now, because of you guys, what your family is doing for the name of Brazilians, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”
Now people know about Brazil, because before that, people around the world knew nothing about Brazil. They just knew that Brazil have samba and soccer, something like that. “Oh, Brazil is in Argentina.” They don’t know. Now, people know what Brazil is, they respect Brazil, Brazil is around everywhere, pass their culture, mixing their culture with other countries. People now understand how Brazilian people are, so, I think Brazil has to consider that, just because of jiu jitsu.
Fightworks Podcast: Right. Well, I think all of our audiences knows how important jiu jitsu is to us, for sure. One of the interesting things that we sometimes hear is that the perspective, or the feeling about what jiu jitsu is in Brazil is not the same feeling we all have, because to all of us, it is something we love to do all the time. We can’t do enough. But sometimes the media in Brazil portrays jiu jitsu not always the best.
Is that true, or how is it there?
Carlos Gracie Jr: The media in Brazil are never fair. I think its a characteristic of the people involved in this business. They always put sensationalism into everything that happens. When the jiu jitsu started to grow over there, instead of saying good things about jiu jitsu, they always pick some boys who are fighting in the streets, some boys who are messing around, and put those guys like stars, to say bad things about jiu jitsu, because they know the jiu jitsu population is huge in Brazil. So, they can sell more newspapers.
We talked one time, when I brought a journalist inside my school. He came to me, to ask some questions, to embarrass me against other peoples’ jiu jitsu. They wanted to create a polemic situation. So I said, “yeah, come to my school.” I bring him inside, and had a class there. I said, “You guys can easily put him sitting during the class,” and told him, “I think you guys could make a very fair interview and research deeply. Put some journalists inside the schools, make some research and see what the teachers are teaching, if they are encouraging people to fight in the streets. Then you guys can be real journalists.”
The guy said to me, “I know Carlos, that everything is like that. But we are sent to the streets to say bad things about jiu jitsu. I have to come here and create a polemic, I cannot tell the truth. That’s the truth.”
So I said, “Ok man, I cannot help you to create worse things than there already are.”
Fightworks Podcast: It sounds like there is lazy journalism, at least in regards to jiu jitsu, down there, because it’s easy to sell newspapers and it’s a big story.
Carlos Gracie Jr: Now what’s happened, jiu jitsu has grown around the world, it has recognition from the biggest countries. They have the army adopting jiu jitsu, it’s a curriculum in the army, and other countries are doing the same. Now Brazil, they could do this before, but they never did that. But now they’re late, in recognising that, but they want to do something. I think in Brazil, they never considered people that are there. You have to go out of Brazil and do something good, and then, they treat you like a hero.
For example, when Rickson was fighting in Brazil, doing things there, they never said nothing about Rickson. When Rickson went out and started fighting in Japan, winning fights there, and people around the world considered him, then the people in Brazil considered him as well. This happened for Rickson, Minotauro, and many other fighters in Brazil. They are recognised in Brazil because they are recognised outside of Brazil. So Brazil always tries to imitate what other countries do.
Fightworks Podcast: Well, it looks like things are changing, so that’s a good sign. So, let’s start at the beginning. Many of our interviews with people in the jiu jitsu community start with “how did you become involved in jiu jitsu,” and I think that’s kind of a strange question that doesn’t apply to you, because you were born into the jiu jitsu family. But, can you kind of talk about your memory of your early days, being exposed to jiu jitsu?
Carlos Gracie Jr: When I realised I was into jiu jitsu, I already was, because my father, my uncles, my older brothers, my cousins, they all work in jiu jitsu. We’d be sitting at the table to talk, for dinner or lunch, the talk is about jiu jitsu. If we gather together, wherever we stay, the talk is about jiu jitsu. Everything at home is about jiu jitsu. Who is training more, who is training less, who beat who, we have to train more, guys not teaching well…only this kind of arguing or talking. So, what’s happened is that my father created the first Gracie school, in Brazil in 1925. My uncle Helio and the other uncles were teaching there in his school, they work together.
Later, my father moved to Teresopolis. Teresopolis is like, I live in LA and I move to south of Orange County, something like that. It’s one hour, in the mountains, and he got a huge house over there, and the plan was that all the young kids would live over there, no matter if they’re sons, nephews or grandsons, everybody live in that house. We studied in Teresopolis and lived there, and the school was in Rio de Janiero. The ones who got to age sixteen or something like that moved to my uncle’s Helio’s house in Rio de Janeiro, because at that time he was the one who ran the schools over there. They moved to that house and started to work at the school, and at the weekends went to Teresopolis and got together with everybody.
Fightworks Podcast: Ok, so let me repeat to make sure I understand. So, there was a house in Teresopolis, that your father Carlos owned, and that’s where all of the grandkids, the children, everybody went all the time, until they were sixteen.
Carlos Gracie Jr: They lived there, studied there, lived with their mums, without their mums, it didn’t matter. They create like a place that they have thirty kids living there, and we had eighteen maids, working to serve everyone, working the house. The house had eighteen bedrooms, it was like a hotel, functioned like a hotel. We all lived there, and my uncle took care of the schools and lived in Rio de Janeiro. Those who start to help in the schools moved to his house in Rio, and start to help in the school, under his control. On the weekends, the school was closed, so everyone moved to Teresopolis and spent their weekends there. Sunday evening, whoosh, back to work in the school. That’s how it worked. When I got to about fifteen, sixteen, I moved to Rio de Janeiro to live in my uncle’s house, to give more attention to jiu jitsu, learn jiu jitsu and stay there, do whatever they asked me to do.
I learned jiu jitsu helping my brother Rolls and my cousin Rorion teach, because in my time, they were the main instructors in the Gracie school over there, both of them.
Fightworks Podcast: Rorion and Rolls.
Carlos Gracie Jr: Rorion and Rolls. Rolls was one year older than Rorion. So, I learned jiu jitsu under them. I helped them teaching, they used me to teach others: this is the way I learned jiu jitsu. I think it is the best way to learn. Stay there, the guy explain to the students, the students apply on you. I train jiu jitsu with the students, and they teach, they stay there, they control the training, and most of those are private classes. So I stayed there all day, since I wake until the school closed. That’s how I learned jiu jitsu.
Fightworks Podcast: A lot of the people today that we consider big and important teachers in jiu jitsu, big personalities in jiu jitsu, they originated and were altogether with you? As a child, as a teenager, in Rio, in the ’70s and ’80s? That seems like a very important time to the people who today are important figures in jiu jitsu, because you, your cousins, everybody was in Rio at the same time. I think there has to be some way that the culture of Rio, in the ’70s and ’80s, had a certain effect on you guys together. I mean, we hear a lot of pretty crazy stories of Rio then.
Carlos Gracie Jr: Rio de Janeiro was a fanastic city, very beautiful, mountains and beaches close by. It was a great city to be raised in, the culture was very nice, but all the big cities in the world are growing and growing. They don’t coordinate well, and now, Rio de Janeiro became a little bit violent, because there are a lot of poor people living there, drug dealers and things like that.
Now they try to get the control again, but it is much more difficult, because they didn’t plan the growing of the city before. So now, they are struggling with this.
Fightworks Podcast: But, it sounds like from what you’re saying, twenty years ago it was a pretty nice place to grow up?
Carlos Gracie Jr: Very safe, just full of middle class people living there, poor people living around, living well. I didn’t see many bad things happen, you know? There were just boys in the street messing around, but positive things, not bad things like robbing, shooting one another, drug dealers. At that time, you didn’t see those things happen much.
Fightworks Podcast: You mentioned your brother Rolls. We have had a lot of guests come on our show, and they talk about what an important influence Rolls was for them. Relson talks about Rolls, Fabio Santos, Jacare Cavalcanti…everybody talks about how important Rolls was to them. Can you tell our listeners what Rolls meant to you?
Carlos Gracie Jr: Rolls meant a lot to me, because when he died, I was the one who continued his school. Gracie Barra, today, is a continuation of Rolls’ school. He was my main instructor, even though I learn from others, like my uncle Helio, my cousin Rorion, they teach me a lot, everyone teach me a little part of what I built myself. But Rolls was my main instructor, the guy I choose to say “you are the guy I follow, your ideas.”
He was a good brother, he always think in a group, thinking about everyone, helping. So his personality was a humble guy, and the other side, very valiant. Always there for the people who needed him, and always helping you, try to make you better, thinking about others. He was a real leader in that time. Rolls was the one everyone admired, and everyone chose as the leader of jiu jitsu in his era.
So, I was lucky to have him close to me, I learn a lot with him. I was just lucky to have real contact with him at that time.
Fightworks Podcast: A lot of people talk about, like I said, the positive impact that he had on them. Do you think jiu jitsu would be different today if Rolls were alive? Would it be in a different place or have gone in a different direction?
Carlos Gracie Jr: It’s difficult to say because he was the one who always had ideas ahead of the people at that time. That’s why he was one of the guys who inspired me to do something, ahead of the way people were thinking at that time. I don’t know, it is difficult to say because, everything I said to you I guess, you know? But I think that he would have accomplished a lot of things in jiu jitsu. It is difficult to say if it would be better or worse, but…things happen. Its a guess.
Fightworks Podcast: One of the things that we heard about him was that competition was important to him, that he was one of the people who was a proponent of jiu jitsu competitions. So, my question now is how important to you, Carlos, is jiu jitsu competition, and how important should competition be for the average jiu jitsu person out there?
Carlos Gracie Jr: That exactly tells me something. I think we all, I think all Gracies have inside them…I think all human beings have inside them some kind of competition. Sometimes it is not on the mat, but in the companies, in everywhere you go: you’re competing against someone or something. So, its in my family, my father and my uncle, because my father had twenty-one children and my uncle had eleven. Many times they are the same age, so I saw my father and my uncle arguing a lot about, “No, Rocian can beat Relson!” or “Carley can beat Rorion!” or someone is fighting another someone who is better, “No, this one!” Then, sometimes when were playing, they would pick someone, “Come on, put the gi on!” They go to the mat, and make the guys fight. The guys are playing soccer, and suddenly they have to fight with each other there, just because there is an argument that one can beat the other. That competition grew a lot inside my family, but in that time we all had the same school, we were all together, and this arguing together. What happened was that my older brothers started to open their own schools and have their own students. The competitions started to be inside the Gracie school, so the school at that time against the Carlson schools. “The students at the Gracie school can beat all the Carlson schools”, and Carlson was mad with that, and prepared his students to beat us, because we were the competitors from the Gracie school at that time, because my father’s school, my uncle and us were against Carlson now.
So, things start to grow inside us, and then, the students of our students start to open a school like Romero ‘Jacare’ open his schools, or Fabio Santos have his schools, and then, the competition starts to spread around. The tournament was a consequence of that mentality of people building good students to beat on each other to prove that they are good teachers. That’s where it starts. But how do I see that competition? The competition means a lot to me, because I love it, I want my students to be very good, my son, everyone, and what I pass to my students is that we have to still win tournaments around the world, everywhere, it doesn’t matter where. We have to have a very nice team, to compete in every corner of the world. That’s my mentality, that’s how I want to go. That’s what we’re doing now, we have teams everywhere. In the Asian tournament, the European tournament, the small tournament, we are there, and in most of those tournaments, we are always on the podium.
Competition means education, for the student. I never say to my students that they have to win. I don’t push them. I say to them, “do your best.” It never means too much to me: a competition is not a means to an end. It is something else to make their personality, make them better as individuals. So, when you go to a competition, you have to accomplish a lot of tasks in yourself, inside. You have to be disciplined. You sometimes have to lose weight, so you have to discipline your diet. This educates you how to stay in shape later on, making sure your body works well, like your cholesterol and things like that, how to avoid being lazy with your body.
Competition gives you security about yourself, because when you go to compete, you go to fight someone like you, and you’re alone over there. You challenge yourself to try to accomplish something, making you focused. This adds a lot of things into your personality. The result of that competition is nothing: if you win, you can win today, lose tomorrow, or win because you get one guy, lose if you get another. You can’t control those things, but what you can control is yourself. To be there, to be standing there, and competing, the result of the competition doesn’t matter. Do your best in that time. If you do well, the result is good, if you don’t do well, try to be better next time, go again. This will make the personality of the individual better, that’s why I focus a lot on competition, I encourage the guys to go there. Not because I want a gold medal, because I’m selfish and I want my academy to be ‘the best’ – my academy is a result of the work we do inside. If we lose the competition, I don’t care. I just want the guys to be there. But the result? It doesn’t matter.
Fightworks Podcast: So speaking of competitions, its not long until the most important competition in the world for the gi. The World Championships are coming up in just a few weeks. You must be very excited.
Carlos Gracie Jr: I’m used to it, because we have been competing for decades, and I always deal with this. Now I’m much more mature than I was before. So, like I say, I’m excited to see how people in competition are going to do, how the people have fun over there, how we can make something that will help everyone that goes there and make them better.
So, about my team, I just push them and inspire them to train more, to believe in themselves and everything they believe they can accomplish. I go there, sit in the bleachers and try to watch and see what I can get, if they do some mistakes, so I can see their fights and later on talk to them about that and maybe give an explanation why they win and sometimes why they lose, why they didn’t fight like this or like that.
So if I stay down there and talk with people, I can’t see any fight, I can see nothing, because people always want my attention, to do some things. I disappear in the middle of the crowd so I can see what the guys are doing.
Fightworks Podcast: I have just one or two more questions for you. You said that when we started the interview, I started with the big, difficult question? [laughs] I think I have another difficult question. It would be difficult for me to answer, so I’m going to ask you: what is your favourite thing about jiu jitsu?
Carlos Gracie Jr: I think my favourite thing about jiu jitsu…jiu jitsu is my life. The lifestyle that I have because I’m involved with jiu jitsu, I think is great. I would not change the kind of life I have for any other kind of life, even if I was a billionaire. I would like to be a billionaire with the mentality I have today, because if I was a billionaire with my mentality, I could accomplish a lot of things and help a lot of people. So, to be a millionaire with poor mentality, I would just be looking to have a good watch and drive a good car, have a good house, and show that I am something for the others, and could not use my money for the benefit of other people.
So I think jiu jitsu, the best thing in jiu jitsu for me, is what I build of myself, what jiu jitsu did for my personality, for me as a human being. I learned a lot inside the schools, I learn a lot with my professors, I learn a lot with my students, with my friends. Jiu jitsu schools, for me, my students, are an extension of my family. What I see happen inside them and outside, that’s what has made me what I am today. I think that is the most important thought that jiu jitsu brought to me was this: build myself.
Fightworks Podcast: Carlos, any last things that you would like to say to our audience? Like I said, we have people listening in a lot of places in the world, they probably won’t ever have the opportunity to say “hello Carlos, how are you,” or “thank you Carlos,” you know, have a conversation with you. What’s the last thing today that you would like to say to all those people out there?
Carlos Gracie Jr: I’d like to say that everyone who is involved with jiu jitsu, or is doing something for jiu jitsu, or getting help from jiu jitsu, that they are not alone. I consider them as my brothers. If one day you could do something for them, helping in any situation, help them to build something, give them inspiration, or they give some inspiration for me, I’m always hoping for those exchanges. I’m always open to help them in anything. We are all in battle to help one another.
Fightworks Podcast: Carlos Gracie Jr, thank you very much for being on the Fightworks Podcast.
Carlos Gracie Jr: Thank you for coming here, man, its a long, long, long way to come here to interview me [laughs].
Fightworks Podcast: The traffic wasn’t too bad. We’ll see on the way home what happens, maybe I’ll have a different opinion then. But it was worth it. Thank you.
Carlos Gracie Jr: Thank you.