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Dan Severn’s got nothing on me. On a beautiful, sunny, late fall day 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”). Usually called by his first name since his 20 brothers are also internationally accomplished fighters, Royce is the best known of the Gracie clan due to his multiple Ultimate Fighting Championship wins. In UFC IV, Severn saw months of training squeezed into oblivion by the slender, unassuming, Brazilian. Royce Gracie, the man who got the better of Severn, weighed about 100 pounds less than the master wrestler yet still managed to wrap his legs around Severn’s thick neck and shoulders and squeeze the big man into a tap out. Likewise, in UFC V, Ken Shamrock felt the same relentless power. For over 30 minutes he and Gracie lay entwined on the mat, an occasional shift in positioning the only sign that they were both still in the fight. As boring as it was to watch (I got up twice during the Pay-Per-View match to make popcorn for my friends.) I couldn’t help but stare in amazement as Shamrock’s, who outweighed Gracie by at least 50 pounds, strength diminished, the muscular behemoth surrendering to skinny Royce’s boa constrictor-like hold. Finally, the referee and judges broke up the match and declared it to be a tie, knowing that it could go on for hours if left unchecked. After that the UFC instituted time limits -- the reason why Royce says he will not fight in the UFC again. This modern day martial arts legend was in Memphis on that fabled fall day for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu workshop and a training session with the West Memphis police department. His visit was arranged by Chad Chilcutt, the 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 wheezed two short, loud, whistles. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the students hurriedly gathered in the center of a room that had grown as quiet as a church. Royce pulled one high-ranking student into the middle of the crowd to help demonstrate the first technique. They went over the move several times and then everyone paired off and began attempting it. Royce walked around the room, eying each of the approximately 50 students, offering suggestions and demonstrating again when necessary. Predictably, his moves were fluid and effortless, his legs would lock on his opponents and trap them in much the same way he trapped Severn and Shamrock. Conversely, the students’ moves were fumbling, their legs would shoot up into the air and then jut into position, as graceful as jackhammers. This was the pattern the four and a half hour workshop would follow, with about 45 minutes added at the end for the students to spar each other. Many of the workshop participants had driven long distances for the chance to learn from a master and several appeared to have strong-armed their loved ones into coming with them. Though only two women were on the mat in their gi’s learning the holds, several more sat on the sidelines, reading books or magazines, obvious casualties of a significant others’ desire to learn from a Gracie. To put Royce’s accomplishments and abilities on a pedestrian level, if you put Royce 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, Steven Seagal, The Rock, Stone Cold - any of the well known brawlers- Royce would win each match, get up, 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, if fact he showed me how to do it. Nevertheless, it felt good to see someone who has left hulks of men quivering and whimpering in the Octagon, go sailing over your shoulder. Three times. Granted, I had to ask him to let me do it. Actually, I asked if he would demonstrate a technique on me and he 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. I was hardly up to the challenge. By the way, in addition to being a master of his craft, he’s really hot and has an adorable Brazilian accent. 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. According to Chilcutt, Royce makes it to Memphis about once a year and other instructors from his Gracie Jiu Jitsu Academy in Los Angeles are in town about every few months to teach similar workshops. Maybe if I start practicing now I can show Royce a thing or two when he comes this way again.

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