THE MASTER'S LEGACY - Part 1
At the age of 15 Renzo suffered the impact of death for the first time, when his uncle Rolls Gracie tragically passed away in a hang gliding accident. Rolls was his master at the time: his guide in Jiu-Jitsu training and also his role model as a human being. Renzo wanted to be like Rolls – as a fighter, as a teacher, as an individual.
RENZO: Rolls was unique. And he had a quality that I greatly admired: his ability to bring the family together. He was an absolutely fair man; and since he was the best at Jiu-Jitsu, all the Gracie's respected him. The final years of his life were a time for the family to unite, something that never happened again... He was the son of my grandfather Carlos, but Hélio (Renzo's great-uncle) raised him from birth. He called both Carlos and Hélio “father”. This deep relationship with the two patriarchs brought together the clan segments around their presence. He was a strong figure, which no one could direct; even when Hélio said that something was “red”, Rolls was the only one who could correct him and clarify, on the basis, that the thing was, in fact, “blue”... And we all agreed. There was no small talk – he was a born leader. I spent my childhood and adolescence watching my uncle: the absence of fear in his attitude, his charisma, the determination to do the right things, the unwavering will to be a winner. I learned all this from him. He was the father of several qualities that, until then, I didn't even know I could have: I saw in him, and then those same characteristics were born in me... The good teacher explains; the excellent teacher demonstrates; the great teacher inspires.
During the period he lived in Copacabana (Rio de Janeiro), Renzo lived in the same building as Rolls, in an apartment opposite his uncle's. Every morning, 11-year-old Renzo would knock on Rolls' door and go to the gym with him. In addition to training, Renzo and Rolls also talked a lot, in a relationship full of teachings and stories.
RENZO: That was a phase when I paid close attention to everything my uncle said. I think my habit of telling stories comes from there... I asked him everything, both about the fight and about life. And I could see that my father admired him too: he described Rolls as the great champion he was, told stories about his courage... My grandfather's children from different marriages, my father and Rolls were each other's best friends. It was even for this reason that we went to live in the same building of him. In that year of 1978 our bond became very strong, and I don't remember a single day when we didn't meet.
Renzo watched Rolls training, but mostly absorbed the moments after training, when his uncle sat down with the students and athletes to talk. He traveled with Rolls in competitions and saw his behavior with friends and opponents: his passionate way of looking at the world and his firm and loving way of training and teaching.
RENZO: Rolls had the dream of building the “perfect gym”: an environment of complicity and collective growth. In fact, the 30th Street gym in New York is exactly the model he envisioned. That school is my uncle's dream finally come true. Everything he described to me, everything he imagined his whole life in organizational and philosophical terms, I was able to put into practice.
When Rickson came to visit the 30th Street dojo for the first time, he told Renzo, impressed, that Renzo had managed to build the ideal structure: the facilities, the human relationships, the practicality of the laundry system, the interleaving of classes - starting a different class every half-hour, which makes life easier for students, who always have time to train, regardless of unforeseen circumstances in their daily routines (the gym offers up to 18 classes a day, distributed throughout the different spaces). And above all, the vibrant atmosphere of passion for the martial arts that emanated from the master Rolls.
(to be continued)