Publié le 9 juin 2013 | par Panta Rei0
Interview with Clark Gracie
Hello Clark and thank you for your time!
Panta Rei : You are from the Gracie family and were born and raised in jiu-jitsu, do you think you had to be a jiu-jitsu competitor or do you just love the art?
Clark Gracie : Well, first off thank your for this interview. I did not have to be a competitor, there are many cousins of mine who do Jiu jitsu, are great teachers but choose not to compete. I compete now because I enjoy it, I enjoy the entire journey and preparation of the competition as well as stepping on to the battlefield. Although, making the decision of being a competitor in my family can have a lot of pressure put on your shoulders, but i can also perhaps say that there is a feeling of guilt for me if I didn’t choose this lifestyle. I suppose it makes things a lot easier that I enjoy what I do, and what better family to be born into for this sport.
PR : What would you have done if you hadn’t chosen the jiu-jitsu path?
CG : I really don’t know, I have a lot of interests and don’t see Jiu jitsu as all there is to do in my life, but I should say that I think that if I didn’t do Jiu jitsu I would probably be a very different person, maybe with different values, health and vision of myself. Jiu jitsu, I believe, if you really indulge yourself in the art and the lifestyle, can make you a very different person and have a very positive impact on your life in just about every way.
PR : There are a bit of controversy towards the Gracie Jiu-jitsu history. The Helio side of the family try to make Helio the only creator of the Art as we know it but the Carlos side aren’t really found of this version and always bring back the importance of Carlos Gracie. What do you think about it, did Helio created the brazilian jiu-jitsu from maeda’s judo or is it more a family developpement?
CG : This is actually a subject that I normally choose not to talk to much about. When it comes to jiu jitsu and within my family, this is like talking about politics or religion, it usually will end in disagreement, but since not many people will give the same answer as I do, I will take this opportunity to be disagreed with. Well, as I’m sure you know, Jiu jitsu never stops developing, which is what makes it so beautiful and interesting. Maeda, from what I understand, was a professor in Belem do Pará of a judo school where he befriended Gastão Gracie my great grandfather, but he also knew traditional Japanese Jiu jitsu. It was this art that he taught to Gastão’s eldest son, Carlos. Carlos, being the oldest of his brother, taught the rest of them and began to modify it, as each of us do to the Jiu jitsu we learn today. He was not a big guy so he made it work for him and fit his body, using leverage as opposed to strength and modifying various movements. The family moved to Rio de Janeiro and eventually opened the first Jiu jitsu school in Brazil. Helio was 10 yrs younger than Carlos, and eventually started training, and like we all do, had his own style. Helio began to fight and did well and as his older brothers, began to also create a positive reputation for Jiu jitsu in Brazil, he was at one time, the representative for gracie Jiu jitsu in the family, following him was Carlson, who was Carlos’ eldest son, then came Rolls, Rickson and the list goes on. These people laid the ground for us who all now practice what they had proved in Brazil at that time. Then came Royce in the USA who made a huge effect on the popularity of Jiu jitsu. Now who was it that created it? Was it Helio, , Maeda, Carlos, Rolls, Rickson? Actually it was all of them, they are all the pioneers of our art, they all created a little bit and added their touch to it, as the current champions of the sport are continuing to do today. But who started this entire evolution of the Traditional Japanese Jiu jitsu? At what point did it begin to evolve into a different art? It was with Carlos. He was the one who originally learned it and taught his style of what he had learned to his brothers, who are the first generation of Brazilians to learn, teach, and begin to modify the traditional art from Japan. What I also find very interesting is that is wasn’t until 1994, when Carlos died, that Helio and his sons began to proclaim that Helio was the sole founder of the art, making statements taking away credit from Carlos Sr. Anyways, that is just my take on it, I am in fact the 3rd generation of Gracie’s practicing Jiu jitsu and there are people closer to the source that have more stories than I do. What I will tell you is this, every academy on the planet offering gracie or Brazilian Jiu jitsu classes should have a good sizes framed photo of both Carlos and Helio Gracie, if not also Carlson Sr. and maybe even Royce.
PR : Reyla Gracie has written a book about Carlos Gracie Sr which has created some controversy, did you read it? What do you think about it?
CG : I unfortunately have not completed reading the book so I cannot give a strong opinion on it, but I will say this: Journalists are always going to have enemies and people who disagree with them. People will get upset when things are published that are disagreed with, or maybe some people are embarrassed to have in the public eye. In the end, it’s the family that gets the most upset, but the public are happy to read about it and don’t get their feelings hurt when reading the book like we may, so in the end I think it’s a good thing the book is finally out and people can know some of the history of this very interesting man, Carlos Gracie.
PR : What do you think about the non-Gracie lineage, such as the Fadda one (greatly represented in the BJJ competition scene by Rodolfo Vieira and the GFTeam)?
CG : I find it very interesting, but it all came from Maeda and Jigoro Kano before so things are bound to turn out similar. Also thinking about all Martial arts in Brazil, I have to think that they all came up so close to each other, I’m sure many techniques were exchanged and similarities come out of the styles. Being that Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the prominent one I have to imagine that it rubbed off on other arts like Fadda and luta livre in Brazil, as it is continuing to do today with MMA.
PR : In a past interview you said that you only started to compete when you were a purple belt. Can you explain us why? What do you think about jiu-jitsu and competition?
CG : I had a lot of pressure to be a champion from my father, he had an undefeated record and to follow in his footsteps is not an easy task, if even possible this day in age. So I competed when I felt ready and if I didn’t feel great then I didn’t like to compete. These days I don’t care as much about the victory, I just enjoy the battle. But to answer your question, I wasn’t one of these 5x national champions kids by the time I was 10, like you see these days, because Jiu jitsu tournaments didn’t even start in the US until I was around 13 or so. They were not very big back then, nor were there as many. Now that I have began to dip my feet in the competition circuits, I can confidently say that it is a healthy sport and can be a great thing for anyone to try if they train for it and feel prepared. It’s good to take yourself out of your comfort zone. How many of us will actually in our lifetime get in a situation where someone is trying to kill us? We see so many war movies like Gladiator and Braveheart, but this only really exists in the fantasy world these days unless you join the army and go to war. So this is a safer way to challenge yourself and put yourself in a real life situation of combat, and the most beautiful thing is at the end of the match, if you are a mature human being, you can throw a smile back on, and be friends with your competition if you like.
PR : The Rorion side of the Gracie Family is big on self-defense, what are your views about jiu-jitsu and self-defense, street fighting, …?
CG : My side of the family is also huge on the self defense. Actually every Gracie family member is, and most of the older generation of instructors around the world know the self defense side of Jiu jitsu too. My father teaches the self defense side on a regular basis. I just think people have more fun with the sport side of the art. That being said I think it’s very important that we don’t forget that it is an art of fighting not an art to make things beautiful. Moves should be valued by effectiveness in real life situations not by the beauty of the technique. This is something that worries me, that one day our Jiu jitsu could be seen as an art that isn’t as effective in MMA or the street. I think we all need to know the self defense part, it would be very embarrassing for us all if a non beginner Jiu jitsu student got beat up in the street. Maybe he did a move that works in the academy but not in the street and got badly hurt. I pride myself in investing my time into something that will give me security 24 hrs a day and not excelling in other sports that can only be useful at the time of the game. I really don’t know what kind of person I would be without this sense of security.
PR : This same people are advocating a « keep it playful » training (defense oriented training, letting the opponent get dominant positions, …). How do you train yourself everyday? Do you keep it playful or do you stay more aware of the positionnal hierarchy during a roll?
CG : I have been advised to train the way I compete, so most of the time I am training hard I try not to let my opponent get good position or submit me. But I do understand the « keep it playful » philosophy. I do at times become very playful in jiu-jitsu and I think that is really when the evolution in Jiu jitsu and in our games begin. Also it’s good to train to escape bad positions and defend yourself. For example, sometimes someone might develop such a good guard that if one day someone passes it they wouldn’t know how to escape or defend from submissions. Also, if you always train with a lot of strength, you may one day encounter someone stronger than you and if you are not used to using technique to combat strength then you most likely will find yourself in a not so good position. Jiu jitsu, just like life, is all about balance, I think it’s good to train different ways.
PR : The Gracie family has a close history with MMA. What do you think about today’s MMA and the level of jiu-jitsu the modern MMA fighters have?
CG : Most fighters these days seem to focus on a bit of everything and never really excel at any one thing, although that is not the case for all fighters, there are some very talented athletes. There are not many high level black belts in MMA, as a jiu jitsu athlete, I personally see many opportunities for submission during most matches that are not capitalized on, which makes me think that MMA is lacking some jiu jitsu for the majority of fighters.
PR : Do you plan to do MMA in the future?
CG : I used to think I would do it, but now I am so focused on Jiu-jitsu and having a great time doing it, so we will see, but I enjoy being able to specialize on my family’s art.
PR : You won the last pans championship, your final match with Marcelo Mafra was one of the best ever. How did you manage to stay calm and go for the kill until the last moment?
CG : Marcelo was trying to kill my game through the entire match, and seemed to want to win on points. When 5 min hit, then shortly after check mat team started chanting « Lapela » I suppose that gave me motivation to pick up the pace and go after the win a little harder. I feel that Lapela is one of the best guys in the division, but I felt that I could beat him, so I stayed persistent and in the scramble came out in a great position.
PR : You have a pretty modern jiu-jitsu game with a great open guard game. What do you think about the evolution of the game from the closed guard centric style to the modern open guard philosophy?
CG : I love both, modern jiu jitsu is very new and fun, but I really do love catching guys in basic moves like the cross choke!
PR : You seem to love the omoplata but you often finish it with a choke instead of the shoulder lock itself, you use the position likgree a crucifix and go for the collar. Where did you learn this variation?
CG : I was able to develop it on my own after various attempts of chasing after the omo plata.
PR : Most of the time the omoplata is more a sweep than a submission, do you think that competitors should try to finish it more and don’t allow the sweep until they can’t keep the position anymore? Do you think most people are lazy with it?
CG : Yes, I see many people let it go in order to get the point on the sweep, that is something that i rarely do. I think people underestimate it.
PR : Your omoplatas lock and choke earned you a great popularity in the BJJ community since the pans, as you can see it used as an internet mem, what do you think about it?
I think it’s time to give a name to your omoplata choke, what do you rather it be called, the « playboy choke », « the california choke », « the I take your wife choke? » (laugh)
PR : Thank you for your time, if you want to adress a message to your sponsors or your french fans, here you go!
CG : I come often to France and i have a school in Le Havre and Miramas, near Marseille. I love visiting every year and training with the guys there. I want to give a big thanks to my instructors Carley Gracie, Rodrigo Medeiros and my physical trainer Maurizio Tangari for all the preparation. Not to mention, my team that helped me train for the events in the past years. My sponsors have helped a lot also: shoyoroll, Clinch Gear, Açai Roots, Supertubos have been great supporters. And finally thanks to all the fans and positive comments that i receive, makes it that much sweeter.