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A NIGHT IN NEW YORK - Part 3


Renzo looked on several street corners for drug dealers, but he didn't find anyone. He remembered two recent occasions when things had been different: 
 
In the first case, Renzo noticed that a woman was being followed by three suspects. The woman was visibly drunk, carrying a few bags of clothes. Renzo began to accompany them from a distance; when the woman changed sidewalks, the guys followed her. Renzo quickened his pace and approached, facing the harassers: “Are you looking for something?” The guys stopped. Supporting the woman, Renzo called a taxi, put her in the vehicle, gave the driver a $100 bill and told him to leave the girl at home. Then he turned to the marginals who were watching him: “NOT today!”, he said firmly. The three hesitated for a moment; then they walked away. 
 
The other memory concerned a homosexual boy who was about to be attacked by two men who were cursing him violently. Renzo noticed that the boy was crying. He stopped in front of them. “That's not your problem!”, said one of the attackers. “It's not – YET. But it will be, if you lay a finger on this boy.” The two guys approached Renzo. "It's that Brazilian fighter...", one whispered to the other, and they both backed away. Renzo took the boy's hand and escorted him to a safe place, away from the attackers. 
 
But that August night, there was no altercation. 
 
Temporarily satisfied, Renzo walked back to his car and started the drive toward his home in New Jersey, 45 minutes away. Over the stereo, Frank Sinatra's voice would accompany him on the way: 
 
"Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars" 
 
His fascination with Sinatra arose from the moment he arrived in NY: one side of his personality liked to be, like Old Blue Eyes, an attentive boss, surrounded by a staff made up of the dozens of people who worked in his businesses. Caring for people was an important part of his life and he didn't feel this as a burden: “I want people to shine. If you're with me, you'll shine – even if I have to force you to!” 
 
"Fill my heart with song
And let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore" 
 
Renzo would get three to four hours of sleep that night. At 7:30am he would resume his very tough daily training, which involved long-distance running, weight training and endless Jiu-Jitsu sessions with much younger partners, faced in sequence. 
 
That night was a synthesis of Renzo's ethics: generosity with others, strictness with himself. Rigor – which is more than the notion of discipline that relates to athletes. Renzo was not disciplined, he was strict. Intensely rigorous. 
 
"In other words, please be true" 
 
RENZO: I just hope that death, when it comes, will be a woman... Because I'll want a kiss before I go! 
 
Alone behind the wheel of his car, he smiled before singing, along with Sinatra, the last verse of “Fly Me to the Moon”, while cruising at 80 mph the dark roads that separated him from his home – a frank smile, so characteristic, that it translated his entire attitude towards life.

Publisher Avatar Renzo Gracie posted

A NIGHT IN NEW YORK - Part 2


The subway was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was now customary to carry out a cleaning during the night, disinfecting the benches, walls and floors of the wagons. 
 
Renzo passed a homeless girl nervously arranging her smallest belongings, nestled on the sidewalk at the entrance to the subway: blonde, blue eyes, very thin and shivering a little, the girl must have been about 25, her face ravaged by nights sleepless, but which still retained a vestige of the beauty of yesteryear. She hugged her slight body, repeatedly checked her things, covered herself and uncovered herself with an old blanket. 
 
As he passed, Renzo walked a few steps and decided to go back. 
 
He stopped very close to the girl, knelt down, smiled and took a fifty-dollar bill from his wallet; he folded the money, put his hands behind his back, hid the bill in his right hand and offered both closed hands to the girl, so that she could guess where the bill was hidden. 
 
Faced with the brief indecision, he waved his right hand, indicating the location of the money. The girl touched Renzo's hand; he opened it and handed her the 50 bill, with an expression of amused surprise. 
 
Then the girl looked at him with tears in her eyes, paused and thanked him in a thin voice, her emotion on the edge of her skin. 
 
Renzo's eyes watered too, as he often did. 
 
They stayed there for a while, talking in the cold dawn. 
 
Then Renzo stroked her hair, said a few more words of encouragement, got up and continued walking. 
 
Now was the time to look for drug dealers on street corners and chase them away. That situation had been repeated since the mayor had given the order for the police to relax their approach in the city. If the Law wouldn't do its job, someone else would have to. After all, this was Renzo's territory, and it wouldn't be infested with vagrants freely spreading their devastation. Not if he could help it. 
 
RENZO: I've always felt, since I was a kid, that there's nothing I can't do. 
 
INTERVIEWER: But aren't you afraid? 
 
RENZO: (genuinely surprised) And why would I? 
 
(to be continued)

Publisher Avatar Renzo Gracie posted

A NIGHT IN NEW YORK - Part 1


On the Upper West Side, at two o'clock in the morning, August 2020: 
 
After discreetly paying the bill for the Dark Bullet restaurant by himself, Renzo said goodbye to the friends who were still with him, got into his sporty Mercedes and drove to the court of what is considered the largest Jiu-Jitsu academy in the world, with 1,500 students. 
 
Through that building on 30th Street passed celebrities such as filmmaker Guy Ritchie and chef Anthony Bourdain;
singers David Lee Roth, Demi Lovato and Madonna;
Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry;
actors Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Harold Perrineau, Ed O'Neill and Henry Cavill;
athletes such as world champions Georges St-Pierre, Matt Serra, Chris Weidman, Frank Edgar and Khabib Nurmagomedov;
the biggest businessman of MMA fighters in the world, Ali Abdelaziz, who entered the business through the hands of Renzo;
in addition to countless students, teachers, journalists, military personnel, models, police officers and workers from various sectors. 
 
Jews and Arabs; religious and atheists; Christians and Muslims; blacks and whites; men and women; gays and straights; poor and rich... 
 
RENZO: Jiu-Jitsu doesn't exclude anyone. There is more philosophy on a mat than in the entire Ivy League (a group made up of 8 of the most prestigious American universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Yale). 
 
Renzo remembered a story involving two students: one was Jewish, the other Arab. They lived arguing and getting weird, until they started training together. They became inseparable training partners and remained so for years. One day one of them had to move from NY and leave the academy. The other was deeply saddened. But to this day, whenever they have a chance, they call each other and make an appointment to train together. “Jiu-Jitsu brought those guys closer: they traded fights for the mat,” said Renzo. 
 
After parking in front of the gym, Renzo began his solitary walk around the area, looking for trouble.

(to be continued)

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DESAFIO VALE TUDO (MMA CHALLENGE)


Luiz Augusto Alvarenga had respectable credentials: he was 6 times South American champion in full contact (or kickboxing) and held the title of Grand Master, being at that moment the greatest Brazilian authority on the style. 
 
Kickboxing, a cross between karate and muay thai (or Thai boxing), created in Japan in the 1960s as a hybrid martial art, was introduced in Brazil in 1978 by Grand Master Markus Tullius, of whom Alvarenga was one of the first students. After mastering the style, he spread it across the country through his classes, fights and exhibitions, having participated and won a series of international tournaments. 
 
Full contact came about because karate fighters resented not being able to apply direct blows to the opponent's body during championships, having to stop the action shortly before contact. Mixed with Thai boxing, it presented itself as the alternative for fighters who wanted effective action. It was characterized by the application of kicks, punches, knees and elbows, and it was a fight fought standing up. Seen at the time as the most violent form of martial art, it didn't seem capable of being defeated by any other style. 
 
On the night of January 1, 1992, the effectiveness of full contact was put to the test at DESAFIO VALE TUDO (MMA CHALLENGE), taking place at the Ibirapuera Poliesportivo Gym in São Paulo. 
 
Renzo was 25 years old at the time. He was 5.9 feet tall, weighed 149 pounds and was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion. 
 
Lee Wen, kung fu master, was appointed as the referee. 
 
The time had come for the world of martial arts in Brazil to know the result of the confrontation between the stand-up fight, represented by one of its greatest national exponents, and the ground fight, represented by a young man on the rise, hungry to impose himself in the universe of MMA tournaments – and interested, mainly, in proving the superiority of his fighting style. It wasn't just Renzo who was being tested that day: it was Jiu-Jitsu and, as a direct consequence, the name and legacy of the Gracie's. 
 
Broadcast by TV Gazeta, in front of a stadium full of fans and athletes of both martial styles, the fight was surrounded by a tense atmosphere: in those days, security issues were a problem in this type of tournament, with the permanent risk of invasion of the ring and general confusion. Episodes like this had already occurred in Rio de Janeiro... Because of this, it was established that no one could approach less than 3 meters from the ring. Of course, this procedure was broken in the heat of combat, without, however, causing any kind of greater turmoil that would affect the progress of the fight. 
 
Lee Wen gave the signal and the match began. In a matter of seconds, Renzo closed the distance, preventing Alvarenga from applying his kicks and punches; grabbed the opponent's body and took him to the ground. 
 
With no way to use his techniques, Alvarenga quickly found himself in the prey position. Renzo established his base with the footwork and began to deliver blows, with his fist and with his head, against the right side of Alvarenga's face, which, in 1 minute, was already disfigured, the eye, the cheekbone and the forehead swollen. With 2 minutes of combat, suffocated by the pressure, Alvarenga gave up, giving Renzo a series of taps on the body. 
 
But the referee did not see. 
 
Keeping Alvarenga in submission, Renzo told Wen that his opponent had given up. 
 
At this moment someone rang the gong and the fight stopped. 
 
3 minutes of combat had elapsed. 
 
The fighters rose and returned to their corners. There was a start of confusion, with the complaint that there had been a withdrawal and that it had been ignored. 
 
After 2 minutes of stoppage, the fight resumed. After a short exchange of punches and kicks while standing, Renzo again grabbed Alvarenga and took him to the ground. At that moment, the kickboxing Grand Master's only concern was to escape from the ring... He clung to the ropes, tried to throw his body off the platform, trying to avoid suffocation and submission. Alvarenga even managed to extend his agony for another 3 minutes (in that match, it was agreed that the rounds would be 15 minutes long). Until Renzo grabbed him from behind and knocked him down, choking him and ending the dispute. 
 
Alvarenga fell out of the ring after being released and the referee decreed Renzo's victory, in a symbolic translation of his definitive expulsion from the MMA tournaments. He would never fight in this type of championship again. His swollen face and ragged breathing were less impressive than his bewildered eyes, drawing the astonished expression of someone who has been hit by a car without even having seen what hit him... 
 
After the victory, in an interview with the TV Gazeta reporter, Renzo declared, with radical firmness: "Because this ring is a place where amateurs don't fit - only convinced men fit in! Anyone who doesn't have conviction in their martial art shouldn't even step on a MMA ring... Because there's this shame of wanting to run away during the whole fight, it's a disgrace for a fighter... It shows a man without honor. That's not the doctrine we teach in Jiu-Jitsu." 
 
RENZO: Do you know what it's like, my friend, to be in front of a man who wants to physically crush you? In front of you he rises. Strong. So confident that he looks at you with a certain contempt. Until you get into combat. Then his smile fades, replaced by the tense face of battle. Can there be any feeling in the whole realm of human experience, so ancient, so enduring, so completely satisfying, as that of accepting one's adversary's surrender? His downcast look means respect. Exhaustion and pain are the parents of his new humility. We measure ourselves in many ways, but none are as rich as stepping into the arena and coming home with the laurels of victory.

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THE WILD TIMES OF YOUTH - Part 5


The climax of this phase took place at a party in the South Zone of Rio, with an incident that, very close, did not prematurely end Renzo's trajectory on Earth. 
 
Renzo and four friends were at a club. They quickly noticed the hostility with which the other guys present, who were the overwhelming majority, were watching them. Renzo's approach to a girl triggered the confrontation: in an instant the ballroom erupted into a general brawl. 
 
His four partners were soon knocked out, one of them after receiving a bottle to the face, which opened a question mark-shaped cut on his forehead... One of the others received a kick to the head, the other two went down with volleys of punches. 
 
Finding himself alone in the face of more than thirty opponents, Renzo adopted Leonidas' strategy at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC), in which 300 Spartan warriors faced tens of thousands of Persian soldiers: he retreated to a narrow hallway at the entrance to the bathrooms, through which only two people could pass at the same time. 
 
There he can face the numerous pack that attacked him, knocking out one guy at a time. 
 
The bodies of his opponents were already piling up in the passage when a guy came up from behind, from the men's bathroom. This man was carrying a revolver. 
 
When he shot to kill, Renzo was on the ground, mounted on an opponent. The shot hit his left leg. 
 
Renzo got up and tried to run towards the shooter, to disarm him, but his shot leg “gave up” on the way. 
 
The guy fired 3 more times, without being able to hit him, while Renzo jumped on one foot in the direction of the women's bathroom. 
 
Inside were about twenty girls, who had taken refuge terrified by the fight. Renzo shouted at them: “There's a guy with a gun out there! If he comes in here, HE WILL KILL EVERYONE!” 
 
With the weight of their bodies against the door, the girls prevented the entry of the shooter, who ended up giving up and fleeing the scene. 
 
When the police arrived, Renzo was stopping the bleeding using a makeshift tourniquet from his shirt. 
 
Taken to the emergency department of a hospital, it was found that his femur had been broken by the bullet. The fracture was very serious: the bone remained connected only by a bundle of fibers, the thickness of a hair... After a delicate surgery, he had to be immobilized for more than 1 year for total recovery. 
 
Renzo was 16 years old. 
 
At school, he had just completed the eighth grade and decided that he would not return to formal studies. Upon learning, a teacher sought him out and said, categorically: 
 
“You're making a big mistake, kid... There are only two places the fight can take you: one of them is jail. The other is the cemetery.” 
 
RENZO: When I released my two books (“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique”, co-written with his cousin Royler; and “Mastering Jiu-Jitsu”, in which he shares the authorship with his former student John Danaher), I sent autographed copies to this teacher.

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