Jiu-Jitsu for more than just cage fighters | NevadaAppeal.com
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Jiu-Jitsu for more than just cage fighters

Justin Lawson
jlawson@nevadaappeal.com

RENO – Long before mixed-martial arts became big business, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was more “Fight Club,” than a sports competition, a man walked into the cage dressed in full gi to show how one fighting style could take down any opponent, no matter how big.

Royce Gracie used Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to win the UFC championship three times and fought to a draw in another despite being outsized by his opponents. Gracie showed the few followers of UFC at the time that BJJ was a style that should be noticed and no one knew that better than Gracie. His family is considered the first family of the sport, having originated the style in the streets of Brazil in the early 1900s as an off-shoot of Japan’s Judo.

Over the past 16 years since UFC 1, the sport has exploded in popularity and with it, so has Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. That same style of BJJ that Gracie used to earn fame can be found at Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy Reno where Gary Grate, who is a first-degree black belt certified by Gracie’s cousin Charles Gracie, teaches everyone from young and old to cage fighters and people looking for more confidence.

“For us, people can choose to be a cage fighter if they want,” said Gracie, who has only authorized a handful of academies to train under his name. “The main goal for us, the Gracie philosophy, is we just did the Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense. If you see it the way it is, maybe it sounds funny, but it’s really to protect yourself. This really started because most of the Gracies are very light, there’s not too (many) tall people and we had to learn how to survive on the mat or even in the streets or the challenges against the strong people.”

Grate hosted an open house Saturday, which turned out more than 150 people, of his new 6,600-square-foot facility and gave people a chance to check out a sport, that while it has gained in popularity, still poses many questions from curious outsiders.

“When I started, I was basically driving down to Sacramento once a month to take a class when I could,” said Grate, who started in BJJ in 1996. “I would go down, take a class sometimes with a friend and come back and play with it in our garage. Now you have a bunch of little schools that are kind of doing the same thing now. They think they’re running programs, but they’re really not.

“Now we’ve got 200 students and 40 kids and it’s just growing crazy. There’s a downside of too where everybody wants to be a cage fighter and the training they’re getting isn’t what they need to be doing and they don’t realize that because they don’t have a proper training partner.”

The academy offers a free week to those who are interested, but not sure if the atmosphere is for them. Some people, Grate said, are turned off by the cage, thinking that all BJJ is is cage fighting.

In addition to BJJ, the academy also offers Muay Thai boxing, traditional boxing classes taught by former University of Nevada boxer Ryan Simpson and a cross-fit program.

Of course there are more options than just Grate’s academy, such as Fighters Pro Shop in Carson City and the Lion’s Den, which was founded by former UFC fighter Ken Shamrock, in Reno. But even Carson City residents have become regulars of Grate’s academy.

“In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu it doesn’t matter if you’re necessarily gifted with particular strength, you can be a small guy and overcome a big guy,” said Carson’s Kurt Brooks, 24, who is a purple belt in BJJ and is 1-1 in professional fights. “People look at me and don’t think, ‘Well, he’s a fighter.’ It’s the harder you work, the better fighter you are.”

Carson resident Paul Abeyta, 40, on the other hand has no dreams of fighting professionally, but said that BJJ has provided him with a Fountain of Youth.

“I honestly feel younger now than I did at 18,” he said. “No joke. Honestly every morning when I wake up, I feel younger.”

Grate has trained under Gracie since the late 1990s, has fought professionally and served as an assistant under Shamrock in the International Fighting League. He has four black belts that train under him along with a handful of brown, purple and blue belts. Some of his students include professional fighter Buddy Roberts and Carson City’s Frankie Dimartino. He has also trained with UFC superstars like B.J. Penn and Hall of Famer Randy Couture.

“You got a lot of people who are kind of nervous about coming in because they see UFC on TV and then we get a lot people who think that’s all you do is cage fight and they don’t realize Jiu-Jitsu is the ultimate form of self-defense, especially for women and kids because of the bigger, stronger opponent thing.”