On a beautiful, late-fall day last year I threw Royce Gracie to the mat. Three times.
Martial arts and no-holds-barred fighting fans will be familiar with the Gracie name, but many of you have probably never heard of Royce (pronounced "Hoyce"). He's usually called by his first name since his 7 (!) brothers are also internationally accomplished fighters, but Royce is the best known of the Gracie clan due to his multiple Ultimate Fighting Championship wins.
This modern-day martial arts legend was in Memphis on that fabled fall day for a Brazilian jiujitsu workshop and a training session with the West Memphis police department. His visit was arranged by Chad Chilcutt, head instructor at Memphis Karate Institute, and the workshop was held at the institute's Wimbleton Sportsplex location.
On the day of the workshop the eager students arrived at 9 a.m. mostly gi-clad and bleary-eyed. They laughed and stretched out, awaiting the day's lesson. When it looked like everyone was there, Royce raised his fingers to his lips and gave out two short, loud whistles. The students hurriedly gathered in the center of a room that had grown as quiet as a church, ready to watch and learn from a master.
To put Royce's accomplishments and abilities on a pedestrian level, if you put him in a ring with Tyson, Royce would win. If you put him in a ring with Ali, Royce would win. If you put him in a ring, one-on-one with Bruce Lee, Don the Dragon, Van Damme, Seagal, the Rock, or Stone Cold, Royce would win each match and stroll out without even looking tired. Perhaps this explains my giddiness at feeling this man's weight being propelled to the ground by my own.
Granted, he let me throw him. In fact, he showed me how to do it. Nevertheless, it felt good to see someone who has left hulks of men quivering and whimpering go sailing over my shoulder. Three times. (Did I already mention that?)
Actually, I had to ask him to let me do it. More specifically, I asked if he would demonstrate a technique on me and he counter-suggested that I demonstrate one on him. A martial artist myself, this would be akin to Eric Clapton asking the lead guitarist in a high school garage band to show him some riffs.
So I stuck my arm out and followed his instructions, not sure if said arm was trembling out of respect for this man or out of attraction to him. But by the third throw my shakes had slightly subsided and I was about to start kicking my own ass for not bringing a camera.
On Friday, June 1st, the rest of Memphis will get a chance to see Royce first-hand when he and several other UFC veterans fight a total of 12 bouts at Denim & Diamonds. Before fighting Friday night, Royce will host several workshops at Memphis Karate Institute on Thursday night and all day Friday. The two-hour classes on Thursday and Friday are $40; one-hour classes are $20. Call Chad Chilcutt (388-6338) for more information. The Friday night fight at Denim & Diamonds will begin at 7:30 p.m. and admission is $10 per person.