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Just over a year ago, I began a steady and consistent practice of Bikram yoga. The 90-minute beginning class consists of 26 postures, each performed twice and held for up to 60 seconds. The room is a stifling 105 degrees, with 40 percent humidity, which is much too hot for someone born in a country that gets five days of sun each year (but I do love the British summertime). There is only one thing that would keep me going back into that room over and over: the benefits seen and felt almost immediately in my training camp. This was the first time I had introduced training sessions into a fight preparation that were dedicated entirely to recovery and physical wellbeing.

This particular practice was derived from a selection of traditional Hatha yoga postures. It was Bikram Choudhury who formulated this approach to the practice, before his moral and ethical devolution once his brand was established and he became famous and wealthy. I had tried a few different types of yoga throughout my martial arts career in my endless and seemingly impossible quest for flexibility. Bikram yoga was new to me—I had not heard of it until my friend and coach Alder Hampel suggested it to help with my leg dexterity for jiu-jitsu. We did two sessions (one week apart), and I spent a good portion of the class lying on my mat trying to stop my limbs and abdominal muscles from cramping.

My brief experience had been thrown in the draw with all other yoga that didn’t seem to fit with my training camp. It wasn’t until I spent a couple of weeks in Peru that it came to mind again, and I felt an immediate pull to start back upon returning to Las Vegas. I think I may have left a chunk of my ego in the Amazon because I no longer cared if the 80-year old woman on the mat next to me was kicking my ass, while I was sitting in a sweaty mess on my sodden towel. Finally, at age 30, I had committed myself to getting flexible, before my joints started to creak when I got out of bed in the morning.

The first few weeks were tough, and I occasionally had to leave the room to let nausea pass or take a few minutes off to stretch out a cramped muscle. Eventually, my diet adjusted, and I knew that the three-hour window before class started was a water-only time. I noticed right away that certain foods couldn’t be eaten on days when I practiced, so they eventually became excluded all together. I was craving a lot more fresh food, fruits and vegetables, and less animal products. I was adding salts to my water and keeping a constant watch on the volume I was drinking. I began to find my rhythm, feeling hydrated throughout the class even after sweating an average of seven pounds each session. I was able to focus on my physical improvements, keeping a mental note of my capabilities in each posture.

BY DAN HARDY // PHOTOS BY PAUL THATCHER

Becoming The Yogi

From years of keeping my chin tucked, I had developed a slight forward head posture, which made it uncomfortable to sit for long periods or sleep on my back. With the strong focus on back bending throughout the series, my posture began correcting itself. As you can see in Half-Moon Backbend (Photo A), my spine flexibility is starting to improve, allowing me to look at the wall behind me. This was impossible 12 months ago. The key for all of these postures is the movement into them—it has to be gentle and mindful. In Half-Moon Backbend there should always be a lifting out of the waist to elongate the spine. I still have a very ridged mid-spine, so I put my mind in that part of my body during the stretch and try to relax into the posture a little more.

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Aside from the flexibility gains, I found that the stability in my knees and ankles improved. For a posture like Standing Head to Knee (Photo B), flexibility in your hamstrings is not enough. Entering into the position, you have to extend your leg, while keeping the standing leg locked, then round your back and bend your arms down to place your forehead high on the knee. Although the contracted quadriceps on the standing leg does most of the work, there are a lot of supporting muscles holding steady to prevent any sideways movement in the joints. I enjoy visualizing my standing foot as a magnet that I cannot separate from my magnetic yoga mat, focusing on driving down into the ground and using that energy exchange to root myself.

This is a fairly recent posture for me, as I struggled a lot with balance when I began rounding my back and stretching forward. There is also an emphasis on pulling the toes back toward the head and keeping the extended leg locked. The advancement of this position is removing the hands from the foot whilst keeping the forehead on the knee. It was this posture that taught me about the value of a meditative state during practice. I found that if I wasn’t mindful of my breathing and focus, my balance would only hold a few seconds once my leg was extended. With a calm and focused approach, I can hold fairly comfortably for much longer. Think of being mindful as filling the stretched or unstable body part with your mind. Be present in that space within yourself and learn to support in with your focus.

Tree Pose (Photo C) and Triangle Pose (Photos D) have been very useful in opening up my hip muscles. I always think of these as the “guard” muscles—the ones that have to do so much work to control an opponent in your guard. All of the grappling arts demand strong and powerful hips, but the danger is that it can lead to a tightening of those muscles if they aren’t stretched a lot. My hip flexors have been tight from years of kicking and kneeing, even to the point where sitting cross-legged can be uncomfortable. Tree Pose (Photo C) is much more gentle and didn’t take too long to improve my front and inner hip muscles (adductor brevis and longus, pectineus, and iliopsoas). I started by holding my foot high on my thigh and driving my hips forward, until my flexibility allowed me to remove my grip without the foot slipping at all. Once I have my balance and my foot is high on my thigh and my hands are in prayer, I role my hips forward and lengthen my spine like a child trying to appear taller than they really are. The following posture in the series is toe stand, which I am still struggling with. It is basically the same posture except the base leg is bent so it seems like you are sitting on your heel.

Triangle Pose (Photo D) opens up the whole body, from the foot of my straight leg to the hip and glutes of my supporting leg. The simultaneous upward and downward reaching elongates the muscles in the torso and creates a twisting stretch that lengthens the hip flexors and adductors.

Photos E, F, and G are some of the advanced 84-posture series, most of which are a real challenge for me at the moment. Finger Stand (Photo E)—and thanks to Bruce Lee I did hundreds of fingertip pushups over the years—is fairly comfortable for me. Keeping your legs locked and strong makes a huge difference here. After that, the effort is predominantly in the core, keeping the whole body tight and the legs raised.

Peacock (Photo F) requires more core strength and muscular endurance than flexibility, whereas Upward Stretching (Photo G) requires good core strength, but also a fair amount of suppleness in your hamstrings. I found that this posture needed less effort from contracted muscles as my hamstring flexibility increased.

Fortunately, the popularity of yoga is widespread now, and in many cases there are several options of styles and studios. I enjoy the Bikram style because I feel it’s a little easier to stretch in the heat. Other styles of yoga aren’t quite as uncomfortable but will still be very beneficial. If you can’t get to a class, there is a wealth of information online to draw from. Try taking a few minutes each day to stretch out and reconnect with yourself. Even if it’s just some basic stretches, be gentle and explore your body’s capabilities. For me, yoga is about awareness of self, appreciation of the vehicle you have for this human experience, and understanding the potential and adaptability of the body. After these practice sessions, I feel lighter, motivated, and focused. I have been a lot more productive, healthier, and felt more alive than ever before.

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Heating Up

I know that a lot of people, particularly at the start of their practice, will find the heat to be too much. One of the flaws in Mr. Bikram’s attitude toward teaching, and something that has been passed on to some teachers, is this ego about the heat of the room. The benefits of the heat are that your body will naturally be more supple and it will be easier to stretch to your maximum in the postures. However, if you find that the heat is causing you to spend a lot of time on your mat feeling nauseated, then it is counterproductive. Ask the teachers at the studio where the cooler spots in the room are. Your practice will only improve if you can do the practice. If you are unlucky enough to find yourself with a heat miser for a teacher, use the cooler spot or find a studio with less ego.

Food For Thought

Since beginning yoga, I primarily avoid dairy, pork, processed foods, and fast food. I usually have one animal product each week, but only in the evening, and never before practice. The last time I ate fast food was January 2. I ate lemon chicken from a Chinese takeout, and in my next yoga session (which wasn’t for another week because of travel), I lay on my mat for most of class feeling nauseous and reliving every bite of that meal.

I’ve developed some kind of new internal sense that tells me what is and isn’t welcome in my diet. I don’t even crave that stuff any more. I know that the immediate gratification is not worth the stress it puts on my body.

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Win or lose, ‘The California Kid’ talks about the importance of believing in yourself against any opponent.

 

 

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You’ll notice plenty of talk and press about anti-inflammatory foods, supplements and medications these days. Inflammation certainly sounds bad, but is it always so? And what exactly is this seemingly pesky thing? Inflammation is part of our body’s innate immune response—we’re born with it. Without it, we wouldn’t heal. When something harmful is irritating your system or a body part sustains a blow, the signs of inflammation are ready and on the scene to attempt to remove, care, heal and protect.

Acute inflammation due to things such as intense training, a cut on your skin, or a banged up knee will show symptoms of rapid onset, lasting for a couple days to maybe a week or two depending on severity (Just how banged up was that knee?). Symptoms include pain, redness, immobility, swelling and heat. Chronic inflammation on the other hand, lasting a few months to several years, is seen in conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and asthma, or when acute issues become chronic. Although a certain amount of inflammation is needed to heal, the continual onslaught over time will start to damage and destroy cells and tissues. More and more research is indicating links between chronic systemic inflammation and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, allergies, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

Hopefully most of the inflammation you’re dealing with is acute inflammation stemming from things like a tough training week, a strained joint that won’t keep you down long, skin irritation due to a new laundry detergent, or a random sinus infection. To keep acute inflammation acute, and to keep chronic inflammation from wreaking havoc on your system, make sure you stack your diet with healthy, clean anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients from the list below.

WILD CAUGHT SALMON
Wild salmon is packed with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two polyunsaturated fatty acids considered essential as we cannot make them ourselves. We must consume them either via food or supplemental sources. Along with salmon, oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, tuna, trout, and anchovies also make the list, with wild salmon usually winning the title of most popular and appetizing with fewest toxins. Along with being anti-inflammatory, wild salmon also supports cardiovascular, cognitive and immune function.

TURMERIC
This spice is found predominantly in Indian and Asian cuisine and can be identified by its bright orangey-yellow color and slightly bitter, peppery warm flavor. Curcumin, one of its major compounds, should be of interest to athletes as well as anyone dealing with pain and inflammation, due to its ability to mimic the power of popular anti-inflammatory meds without the negative side effects. Other benefits include antioxidant, immune and cardiovascular support.

BERRIES & TART CHERRIES
Blueberries may be small in size, but their phytonutrient content keeps them standing with the big boys, thanks in great part to their powerful antioxidant rich anthocyanins. All berries show promise, so include a variety in your diet, but blueberries most likely take top spot. Not as sweet as berries but just as potent, tart cherry juice has been shown to help reduce post-exercise pain and soreness leading to shorter recovery times.

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Long revered as an important part of the Mediterranean style diet (known to decrease risk of heart disease), olive oil’s extensive list of polyphenols make it a major contributor in the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory departments. Although its weaker tolerance for heat may not make it the best cooking oil (go for higher smoke point coconut oil and avocado oil instead), drizzle garlic infused olive oil over your steamed greens to make your possibly picky taste buds quite happy with that broccoli.

ON THE FLIP SIDE…You want to cool inflammation, not fuel it! The following are some pro-inflammatory foods that are best to avoid/minimize.

Foods containing trans-fats:Avoid these as they’re known to increase bad cholesterol and triglycerides, lower good cholesterol, and cause increased general inflammation.
Foods containing high sugar levels:Minimize foods containing high levels of added sugar, as it can increase inflammation and stress the immune system.
Conventionally raised, grain fed meats:Go for organic/grass fed/pastured instead.
Processed foods:Check any bag of cookies, crackers or packaged snack items in your pantry, and you’ll see that they typically contain high levels of omega-6 rich safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, etc. When eaten in abundance without the regular balance of omega 3’s (like those in wild salmon) inflammation is increased.
Gluten and Dairy:For some individuals, gluten (wheat, rye, barley, spelt, possibly oats) and dairy can be pro-inflammatory. Whole, unprocessed gluten free items such as sweet potatoes and quinoa as well as low sugar milk substitutes like unsweetened almond and coconut milks are great alternatives.

FIGHT! RECOMMENDS
In addition to a proper diet, adding a high quality glucosamine & chondrotitin supplement will help keep your joint inflammation down. Just ask Don Frye, Duane Ludwig, or any of the members of Team Alpha Male. They all rely on GLC 2000 to keep their mobility smooth. A 90 Day Supply is $56.95. Buy online at www.glcdirect.com

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mariusz
(Props to Strongest Man.)

by FIGHT! contributor Thomas McCullough

Five-time World’s Strongest Man winner Mariusz Pudzianowski makes his MMA debut on Dec. 11. “Pudzian” will face professional boxer, Marcin “El Testosteron” Najman, at KSW 12 in Warsaw, Poland.

Founded in 2004, Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki, or “Martial Arts Confrontation” in English, is Poland’s leading MMA organization. Modeled after Pride, KSW still stages one-night four and eight-man tournaments and has promoted fights featuring Jason Guida, Antonio Mendes, Peter Sobota, Jordan Radev, and Mamed Khalidov.

Featured on the fight card is a KSW Middleweight title fight between Vitor Nobrega (7-1) and Aslambek Saidov (5-1). TUF veteran Dean “The Renegade” Amasinger (5-1) will also appear and face Maciej “Highlander” Gorski (7-3), and explosive striker and member of Poland’s national Karate team. James “The Messenger” Zikic, (17-5-2) will face Daniel “Kociao” Dowda (5-2) in a middleweight contest. Ranked in the top ten in the UK, Zikic, is a UFC veteran and former Cage Rage Light Heavyweight champion. KSW 12 will also feature an eight-man heavyweight tournament.

“Pudzian” who last won the World’s Strongest Man competition in 2008, will headline the fight card in this heavyweight bout. Holding a green belt in Kyukoshin Karate, he boxed for seven years as an amateur before competing in strong man competitions.

His opponent, Najman, who signed a four-fight deal with KSW, will also makes his MMA debut and holds a professional boxing record of (13-4) with 9 wins coming via KO.

“If Najman wants to exchange punches with me I wish him luck. I won’t be as slow as an ox and I won’t let him beat me up. My mother didn’t raise me to be a bum. These hands can hurt; believe me,” said Pudzianowski.

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Fighters are shrinking their waistlines thanks to the perpetual arms race that motivates them to become champions.

In 2005, Kenny Florian made his Octagon debut at the finale of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. Weighing in at 183 pounds and competing at middleweight, Florian went on to suffer his first (and only) TKO-loss at the hands of Diego Sanchez. After the defeat, Florian went on a diet, returning to the Octagon later that year 15 pounds lighter as a welterweight, and rattling off two quick stoppage victories. But Florian wasn’t done shrinking. In 2006, he dropped another 15 pounds for his lightweight debut. He would stay in that division for four years, amassing an impressive 9-3 record, with his only losses coming in title fights or title eliminators.

In 2011, with the lightweight title picture clogged by the Maynard-Edgar battles, Florian tightened his belt by 10 more pounds and moved down to featherweight, now weighing in 40 pounds lighter than in his UFC debut six years prior. When he retired two fights later, Florian was the only fighter to have competed in four different UFC divisions. Florian was an extreme case of a subtle underlying trend in the UFC. Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: how often do fighters switch weight classes, and how has the average size within a division changed over time?

Screen shot 2014-05-06 at 5.30.30 PM Analysis of UFC fighters from 2002 to 2013 with at least two Octagon appearances found that 38% of them had competed in at least two different weight classes. If we change the sample size to fighters with at least four appearances, then the metric leaps to 56%. That means more than half of all UFC fighters will drop a division if they compete for at least four fights. Size is an advantage in MMA, and the overall trend in the UFC is for fighters to get better at managing their weight and compete in lower divisions. When a fighter moves down a division, he is suddenly facing smaller opponents. There’s a cost to this weight cutting, but on fight night, the payoff remains. Bold moves that size advantages are rewarded, while those who persist in a disadvantaged state get punished harshly. Regardless of whether a fighter moves down a division to gain a size advantage over future opponents, or is forced down due to an existing disadvantage against his current division’s opponents, the net improvement appears to be worth the move for the majority of UFC fighters today.

Competition is a powerful force, and MMA perhaps more than any other sport is an unforgiving cauldron of competition. Skills get put to the test, conditioning gets pushed to extremes, and any hole in a fighter’s game will get tested and exposed. The UFC has evolved rapidly under these pressures. Today’s top MMA athletes are full-time fighters with cutting-edge training camps. They have dieticians, nutritionists, and supplement sponsors. During fight week, they may even have a personal chef to travel with them to help manage the weight cut and rebound. All of this means that the amount of raw athlete packed into each pound that steps on the UFC scale at weigh-in time is as at an all-time high, but it could go higher.

If these trends are real and all the emphasis on size management is working, then we can assume that fighters in prior years may not have been optimizing their size as well as fighters do today. With the right analysis, we should be able to see evidence of that. Here’s how average fighter size (height and reach) by division has changed over the last decade.

UFC Changes in Division Size by Era

The graph shows that the average size of each legacy UFC division (that existed before Zuffa’s addition of the WEC) has grown in average height and reach over time. I’ve used a weighted average that simply looks at any fighter appearance in the Octagon by weight class and captures the height and reach. The reality isn’t just that modern fighters are taller and longer than fighters a decade ago, it’s also that the very same fighters weigh less than they once did. Fighters have shrunk their waistlines, while divisions have sprouted vertically and horizontally—all thanks to the perpetual arms race that motivates athletes to become champions.

In smaller weight classes where the weight cut to drop a division is also smaller, we see larger relative changes in size. Lightweights didn’t even have a division they could move down to until the WEC merger in 2011, so plenty of fighters who could have competed below lightweight were hanging out in a larger division simply because it was their only opportunity to compete in the UFC. While this analysis used larger sample sizes to ensure the hypothesis was well tested, it also isolated the same size values for even more recent periods like 2011-2013 or just 2012-2013. It seems the divisions aren’t done growing. The more recent the period of data used, the larger the legacy divisions get. It’s an arms race, and it’s not over yet.

Let’s return to the case of Kenny Florian, who migrated 40 pounds and four weight classes down the UFC divisions with the same-sized frame that was 5’10” tall with a reach of 74 inches. According to the chart, he was a tiny middleweight, but a fair-sized welterweight. At lightweight, however, Florian had a size advantage over the average division opponent, so it’s no surprise that he found a home in this division for most of his career. When Florian cut down to the next division, he was huge by comparison. He had a big size advantage over most featherweights who averaged 5’8” tall with a reach of only 70 inches. Now retired from fighting, but having clued us into an important competitive trend in MMA, here’s hoping that Kenny is enjoying many satisfying meals at all-you-can-eat buffets.

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FIGHTNOMICS Hits Bookshelves

MMA finally gets the analysis it deserves in Fightnomics by Reed Kuhn. Common theories about the sport get put to the test with a little bit of science and a whole lot of numbers. The fight game will never look the same after you discover what really matters in the cage.

For more info on ordering the book, visit fightnomics.com

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Les shin introduces itself to Frank Shamrocks ribs. (Photo by Paul Thatcher)
Le's shin introduces itself to Frank Shamrock's ribs. (Photo by Paul Thatcher)

Several years ago kickboxing legend Joe Lewis was asked about the relevance of kickboxing in self defense and mixed martial arts and he said that while 90% of fights end up on the ground, they all start on the feet.

In spite of this, wrestling has become the de facto base for most American mixed martial artists. The sport demands fanatical conditioning, develops functional strength, and provides competitors with a solid grappling game from which to add submission fighting. It also, according to many participants and pundits, allows competitors to dictate where the fight takes place by taking a stand-up fighter off his feet.

But what happens when that stand-up fighter stuffs every takedown and uses each of his or her opponents attempts to unlease a flurry of punches and kicks before slipping out of reach?

Ousmane Thomas Diagne did just that in his professional mixed martial arts debut at Strikeforce Challengers’ first installment on Showtime on May 15. Diagne faced 16-fight MMA veteran Kaleo Kwan and earned a unanimous decision victory with the techniques and strategies of San Shou.

A combat sports synthesis of various elements of Chinese martial arts, San Shou emphasizes striking with the hands and feet, throws, and takedowns. The style is widely associated in the United States with Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le, a champion San Shou fighter before he began his MMA career and the Frenchman Diagne, a San Shou champion himself, came to Le for the purpose of transitioning to professional MMA.

“I wouldn’t take anything from muay Thai or anything, but [San Shou] incorporates the best of each style where there’s the hands of boxing, the kicks of muay Thai, the kicks of tae kwon do, the kicks of different martial arts styles,” said Le. “I think its a very good compliment for mixed martial fighters–a discipline where you have a different arsenal of weapons that you can use in your repertoire.”

What Le neglects to mention is that unlike other forms of standing combat sports, San Shou incorporates elements of wrestling. And unlike folkstyle wrestlers, San Shou fighters shoot without touching their knees on the ground, which Le said makes it easier to get out of a stuffed shot.

“I just started using my punch-kick combinations with my takedowns as a wrestler,” he said, “but I started implementing different techniques that San Shou offers…In San Shou, you have two or three seconds to get the guy down or the referee will break it, so there’s no slowing down the pace of the fight.”

San Shou develops fluidity between striking and grappling that eludes so many fighters that come to MMA from arts that focus on either stand up fighting or groundwork, but never both. Le attributes the in-and-out style, as well as an emphasis on defensive wrestling, to San Shou’s fight arena, a raised platform called the “Lei Tai.”

“During that the time that [wrestlers] have to set [up takedowns], that’s when we take our opportunity and strike with them and we’re out and we don’t give them that option either to setup the takedown,” said Le.

Le is the first to admit that San Shou fighters need to learn the submission fighting game but doesn’t buy the idea that the primarily stand-up style puts its practitioners at a disadvantage in MMA. Diagne may never have a Nick Diaz-like game off his back, but he’ll win a lot of fights if he keeps landing body kicks like he did against Kwan, kicks so hard they could be heard on mute.

“You hurt them with your strikes, then the game’s even when it comes to the ground because they’re gonna be focusing on what different shot they just got hit with, and what’s hurting them,” said Le.

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We’ll take a look at stories 10 through six in Part One of this year-end special.
PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER
PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER

In 1993, a skinny Brazilian named Royce Gracie not only won the very first UFC tournament, but he also changed the way we forever perceived fighting.

Twenty years later, there’s still nothing particularly remarkable about Royce Gracie when you look at him. He’s the same slim, unaffecting figure at 46 years old that he was at 26, back when he somehow emerged as the face of the gladiator bloodsport known as the UFC. In 2013, only the obstacles in front of him have changed.

These days, Royce is a man of schedules. Right now, he’s in North Carolina, doing a week of seminars sandwiched between stops in Missouri and Canada. After Canada, he’ll head back to his home base in Los Angeles for a couple of days before trekking down to Brazil. People—all over the globe—love Royce Gracie.

In fact, people love anybody who can hollow out adjectives (like “skinny” and “small”) and recast them as glorified nouns (like “icon” and “pioneer”). In 2013, people—companies, dojos, academies, you name it—want Royce to pay them a visit. Come behold the greatest everyman the fight game has ever known.

And like most athletes who transcend their sport, Royce remains in great demand after retirement. At one time in his life, he refused to lose against giants nearly double his size. In a roundabout way, defiance made Royce not only a star but also a living curiosity.

*****

On this day, he rises before the sun is up in Raleigh-Durham and drives straight to Charlotte, where he pulls in at the Charlotte Police & Fire Training Academy in a Kia, just as pedestrian as you please. He walks up, shakes hands with his longtime friend and student Steve Hall—the only Royce Gracie black belt in the Charlotte area—and the event is in motion. Royce is ushered without ceremony into a classroom where 40 or so cadets are waiting to hear him speak. In a flash, he’s doing just that. He’s telling them stories and answering questions. Some of the trainees followed the sport of MMA back when it was a barely legal underground spectacle. Some, just like so many on the UFC’s current roster, rented the VHS tapes.

Many are staring at him like he’s Zeus come down from Mount Olympus.

And if Royce is Zeus, then his late father, Helio, was Cronus from the first generation of Titans. The difference is that the Gracies don’t belong to mythology, even if it’s tempting to categorize them that way. In one sense, Royce is just a dude. And Helio, who in 2009 passed away as a temple of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—and whose own brother Carlos learned jiu-jitsu from Otávio Mitsuyo Maeda and brought it to Brazil—couldn’t even do a pushup.

Royce Gracie addresses cadets at the Charlotte Police & Fire Training Academy.  // PHOTO BY SHANE CUDAHY
Royce Gracie addresses cadets at the Charlotte Police & Fire Training Academy // PHOTO BY SHANE CUDAHY

“But he had leverage,” Royce tells the class. “He was strong because he had the right leverage. You’d spar with him, and he’d grab your wrists, and you’d be like, ‘Goddamn, he’s strong.’ As an old man, 70 and 80 years old, you could feel his leverage, but he couldn’t do a pushup.”

Royce just happened to be the Gracie who got thrown into that first big martial arts gumbo back in 1993 at UFC 1. He was a live chapter to Helio’s biography. Royce’s brother, Rorion, was one of the promotion’s founders, back when togas, electrical fences, and alligator-infested moats were being discussed. The whole thing was based on brutality, both figurative and literal. Although it was only 20 years ago, that first UFC feels like something from Jem “The Gypsy” Mace’s day of crude bare-knuckle combat—only, the UFC’s earliest versions had far fewer rules.

Royce was the one who entered the eight-sided cage that night 20 years ago. And Royce—virtually expressionless—was the one who was left standing at the end.

That’s when he changed our perceptions as to what happens when real life martial artists cross one another. In 1993, Jean-Claude Van Damme represented our most updated (and absurd) martial arts notions. People liked to fantasize that what we saw with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris was the apex of the art. They didn’t envision it being the smallest man in a Brazilian chain, who headed toward the cage looking like Daniel Larusso in his gi.

“When we first came to America—when [my brother] Royler came to America, people didn’t know what Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was all about,” he says. “When I got here many years later, people still didn’t know. If you opened up Inside Karate or Black Belt magazine, they would not talk about grapplers at all, in general.”

By late 1993, Royce became his own editor. He beat every guy put in front of him from UFC 1 through UFC 4. He made the fight game horizontal. It was him showcasing the concepts of leverage, come beast or behemoth.

“I had fights that lasted seconds,” he tells the class. “I had fights that lasted one hour and 45 minutes. If the guy didn’t make a mistake, we’re going to fight forever until somebody loses.”

Hall tells Royce they’ve got to bounce. People are waiting on him at the Futrell Airfield. It’s there he’ll board the helicopter “Snoopy 1” for a joy ride around greater Charlotte, the city where Gracie once fought Ken Shamrock to a 36-minute stalemate at UFC 5.

The police are only too happy to return the Royce Gracie of 2013 back to his familiar heights.

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1993. Twenty years ago, MMA was the Wild West, filled with wrestlers, brawlers, judo practitioners, opportunists, pugilists, mercenaries, karate masters, sumos, grapplers, shysters, and jiu-jitsu players.

The face of the original UFC should have been somebody like the muscle-bulging Kimo Leopoldo. It should have been the colossus Dan Severn, or the yoked Ken Shamrock, or a Texas-sized concrete mixer like Don Frye. That the face was someone…somewhat less extraordinary…confused many people and raised suspicions.

“That was the UFC,” Royce says. “It shows that this thing’s for real. Actually, the first UFC in Denver, a lot of people thought it was fake, that it was set up. The second one, everybody still thinks, ‘Well, it might be set up.’ The third one, people thought, ‘Hmmm.’ The fourth one was the one that sealed everything. People saw what Dan Severn did to the other opponents, and then I came in and beat him, and people were like, ‘Wow.'”

What happened was Severn, all 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds of him stuffed into a pair of pro wrestling trunks, crashed through his first two opponents that night in Tulsa. The All-American wrestler from Arizona State was too much man for Anthony Macias and Marcus Bossett, finishing them both with chokes without breaking a sweat. Royce, who weighed 180 pounds (generously), had done the same to Ron van Clief and Keith Hackney, only it took him longer to do it. Even though Gracie had won two UFC tournaments in the past, Severn was supposed to be the climate changer. He was the 800-pound gorilla.

Then Royce happened.

In another bare-knuckle, no-time-limit fight, Severn got Gracie down immediately and kept him there for the next 15 minutes. It felt like the mismatch people suspected it would be. In fact, Jim Brown, the former football great who worked as one of the original commentators for UFC events, shook his head when asked what Gracie could do to turn things around in a bout scheduled for infinity.

“With 14 minutes gone, it feels impossible that he can do anything,” Brown said. Then, after a pause, he added, “…but [Royce] has the heart of a lion, too.”

About a minute later, the ever-patient Gracie, biding his time with Severn in his guard, began to sink a triangle so surreptitiously that most, including the commentators, didn’t think anything of it. Then he lifted his hips and constricted. Then came the slow wooden taps of Severn.

“I knew there was no way he was going to submit me,” Royce says. “There was no way. I knew he only knew wrestling, he was a strict wrestler. So he had no submissions. I just knew how to play a defensive game. So, I just put him into guard and waited for the right time.”

That was the cymbal crash of a career that had already been filled with triumph. At UFC 1, on Nov. 12, 1993, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Gracie went about beating some of the great characters of the game. First it was Golden Gloves Champion Art Jimmerson, who fought with one glove to protect his jab hand, and ended up submitting only two minutes into the fight (that 2:18 of fight time was the entirety of Jimmerson’s MMA career). Then it was Ken Shamrock. Gracie coolly handled Shamrock’s pressure before clamping onto his neck and tapping him out.

That set up a fight in the finals with Dutch karate master, Gerard Gordeau, who’d scattered Teila Tuli’s teeth all over the media table earlier that night. Some four years before Mike Tyson took a bite out of Evander Holyfield’s ear, Gordeau wrote the book on fight game cannibalism.

Royce Gracie // PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER
Royce Gracie // PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER

“As soon as I took him down, he took a bite of my ear and pulled it with his mouth,” Royce says. “I just looked at him like, what are you doing? And he just gave me that look like, so what. I was like, okay, and I put a couple of head butts in his face. That’s why, at the end, I held the choke a little longer.”

Gracie took home the modest bounty that dangled over the whole spectacle.

“If you fought and lost in the first round, I think you got $1,000,” he says. “If you won the first round, you got $2,000. But if you won the second fight in the semis, you got $7,000. And if you lost the second fight, you got $3,000. It was something like that. And if you won first place, you got $50,000, and second place got like $10,000.”

Money aside, the Gracies were on the map. Helio saw his craft stand up against the fiercest competition of the time.

At UFC 2, Gracie did it again. This time, he took home $64,000 for beating Minoki Ichihara, Jason DeLucia, Remco Pardoel, and Patrick Smith, who was a taekwondo specialist. At UFC 3, Gracie rolled through Kimo, tapping him with an armlock in the first round. He was so dehydrated afterward that he had to withdraw from the bracket.

After beating Severn at UFC 4: Revenge of the Warriors, Gracie traveled to Charlotte for UFC 5, where he faced Shamrock a second time. At that point, Gracie had a target on his back. And Shamrock, knowing the minefield he was about to run across, fought to smother him.

“He stalled,” Gracie laughs. “He was sitting on me. His father was yelling at him do something, ‘Don’t just sit on him, what the hell’s going on?’ But he stalled.”

That fight ended in a draw, after the newly instituted 30-minute time limit and six-minute overtime. Shamrock, playing it safe, didn’t make a mistake. After that, Royce left the UFC with an 11-0-1 record, all of his victories coming via submission (which is still a UFC record). He would continue to fight in Pride, where he met Kazushi Sakuraba in 2000 in what was one of the longest fights on record. With no time limits, the bout went 90 minutes, in which both fighters had moments where they nearly finished the other, and both nearly killed themselves in the process.

“That was a long fight,” Gracie says. “I remember sitting down, and it got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, let’s see who’s going to go farther.’ Both of us where done for the next fight, so forget the next fight. It was six rounds of 15 minutes with two-minute rests in between.”

With a broken leg and nothing left in the gas tank, Gracie’s corner threw in the towel. It was one of only two losses he’d ever face in MMA. The other came against Matt Hughes at UFC 60 when he was nearly 40 years old. By that time, Gracie has already inspired thousands of people, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in America was everywhere. He was a vanguard. Royce Gracie had already left his mark on the game.

*****

1973. In the Gracie household, with older brothers Rorion, Relson, Rickson, and Royler Gracie, there was a hierarchy in place for the younger brother Royce. The elders were respected. If there was a problem, “we stuck to the mats,” Royce says. “[Helio] encouraged that.”

As for his mother, while there was ultimately a pacifist message behind the fight game that Helio encouraged that spoke to restraint, Veara has some fire in her blood.

“She is tough,” Royce says. “My dad would say, ‘Do not fight, do not beat your opponents, win with technique, but don’t hit them.’ And as soon as he walked away, my mom would be like, ‘Forget everything he says. Beat him up. I want to see some blood. You have to knock some teeth out. Your father is getting old, he doesn’t know what he is talking about anymore.’ I’d say, ‘Alright, mom. I’ll try.’ She was the mean side of the old man.”

At eight years old, Royce began to take up the “family business” of jiu-jitsu. Today, he is a 6th degree black belt, though since Helio passed in 2009, he wears the navy blue belt, the same as his father (despite being a red belt).

“My father thought it was wrong that people would win fights and be awarded black belts, so he went back to the navy blue belt,” Royce says. “He would put the red belt on if you asked him for a picture, but besides that, he never really did.”

*****

2013. Two days prior, Royce jumped out of an airplane at Fort Bragg. Today, he took a leisurely helicopter ride around Charlotte, from the race track to Lake Norman to downtown, where the Carolina Panthers football team could be seen practicing in the stadium. Later, he’ll teach a seminar at Hall’s school. He’s a man on the move.

Royce Gracie is all smiles as he boards a helicopter for an aerial tour of the local area // PHOTO BY SHANE CUDAHY
Royce Gracie is all smiles as he boards a helicopter for an aerial tour of the local area // PHOTO BY SHANE CUDAHY

And these days, Gracie can walk around with his sunglasses and ball cap and few people think anything of it. On first glance, he’s just some guy of “average size,” as he says. That is, if he’s by himself. If he is with an entourage, then people connect that within the phalanx is the unassuming man who put Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into the American lexicon.

“Most people, if they think they recognize me, are like, ‘No that’s not him,'” he says. “I say to my son, ‘Just don’t answer, don’t look back if they yell Royce. Just don’t flinch.’ If you look back, that’s it. If you don’t move, ‘See, I told you it wasn’t him.’ That’s what I hear behind me.”

As for the current landscape of the UFC, the Hall of Famer likes the cerebral fighters, the ones who use strategy, like Georges St-Pierre and Cain Velasquez. He likes the hard-to-solve puzzles, the fighters who are full of nuance and surprise, like Jon Jones. He likes fighters who go in there with a mindset not so different from his own. And as for those above mentioned names, with their big sponsors and big paydays, and all the exposure that the fight game gets now compared to those underground first days when he stood as the skinny guy going against the pantheon of Goliaths?

Any regrets that he came too soon?

“No, not at all—fighters, they come and they go today,” he says. “It’s the turnaround. Even the guy who makes five million dollars, the next week there’s a new champion, so he’s gone and nobody knows. What I have is forever. I’m the first one. There’s no money that can buy that.”

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One Punch Max Out
The Power Max 360 is a resistance-based machine with hydraulic handles that can swing in every direction. UFC bantamweight Brad Pickett uses it to simulate punching, pushing, pulling, and clinching.

Pumping Pumpkin
Don’t give in to the temptations of high-sugar pumpkin lattes, muffins, and sweet breads that show up in grocery stores and coffee shops this time of year. Instead, use canned pumpkin as a flavor booster to your favorite pancake recipe or protein shake. Pumpkin is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and beta-carotene.

The Juice Is Loose
Watermelon juice’s sterling reputation among athletes is getting scientific support in a new study, which found that juice from the lush melon can relieve post-exercise muscle soreness. The report attributes watermelon’s healing effects to its high content of the amino acid L-citrulline. For a rundown on other nutrient essentials that can help you recover after a tough workout, flip to page 80.

Mouth Guarding
To keep your mouthguard germ-free, use a clear or white one so you can see any dirt or debris that is lodged in the crevices, and clean it with soap and hot water after every use, then rinse it with mouthwash.

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Athletes are always looking for ways to maximize their return on investment in the gym. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to combine strength and endurance training into a full-body workout. If you are looking to improve muscular strength, muscular endurance, and overall fitness, give this workout a try.

CIRCUIT SIX

1) Medicine Ball Throws: 20 reps (10 each side)
2) Jump Squats: 25 reps
3) Wide-Grip Pull-Ups: 6 reps (overhand grip)
4) Dumbbell Squat-to-Overhead Shoulder Press: 15 reps
5) Chin-Ups: 6 reps (underhand grip)
6) Sit-Ups: 30 reps

Each exercise will begin “on the minute.” When you begin the main workout, start your stopwatch and immediately begin knocking out the medicine ball throws. Let’s say the 20 reps takes you 30 seconds. This leaves you 30 seconds to rest before you begin the jump squats. Now, let’s say the jump squats take you 40 seconds to complete. This will leave you with 20 seconds to recover before you begin the wide-grip pull-ups. Each exercise starts “on the minute.”

Keep your stopwatch running the entire time in order to be exact with your rest intervals. Once you complete all 6 exercises (6 minutes), this is 1 circuit. The goal is to complete 3-6 circuits (18-36 minutes). These are non-stop circuits, so you will be “on the minute” the entire workout. There is no additional rest after completing a circuit.

This type of workout is going to circulate blood to the working muscles, create an amazing pump, get your heart rate jacked, and generate a lot of muscular fatigue. To be successful the first time trying this workout, err on the side of using lighter weight. Also, perform each exercise quickly and e ciently—think rapid-re repetitions (still maintaining good form, of course). The rapid- re repetitions will maximize the work, as well as maximize your rest intervals.

Perform this workout once or twice per week, leaving at least two days in between the workout. After completing this workout a few times, you can get creative and insert other exercises into the circuit, such as burpees, power cleans, pushups, jump lunges, dips, and reverse abdominal crunches.

// PHOTOS BY WILSON FOX

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 6.58.31 PM

>> MEDICINE BALL THROWS: 20 reps (10 each side)

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 6.59.12 PM

>> JUMP SQUATS (left): 25 reps
>> WIDE-GRIP PULL-UPS (right): 6 reps (overhand)

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 6.59.52 PM

>> DUMBELL SQUATS-TO-OVERHEAD SHOULDER PRESS (left): 15 reps
>> CHIN-UPS (RIGHT): 6 reps (underhand)

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 7.00.19 PM

>> SIT-UPS: 30 reps

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Kenda Perez

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