Recently a video has appeared on YouTube of Chuck Norris presiding over a Las Vegas Gracie Jiu Jitsu seminar in 1988. This video captures a moment in time in which Norris played a pivotal role in the growth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the United States.
In this video however the publisher presents information about the context of this meeting that is incorrect. The video presents that this 1988 seminar is the first time the Gracies taught in the United States. Under the video on YouTube it has the following caption:
Do you know the story of how the Gracies came to the USA and the whole UFC, MMA and Gracie Ju-jitsu got rolling here. Chuck and Bob Wall visted the Gracie family and family in Rio, Brazil and experienced the training first hand and were impressed so much that Chuck wanted his Black Belts in the UFAF to learn the system. In 1988 they flew to Las Vegas and taught us for the first time. That was the begginin. Hope you enjoy this histiric video clip I took of the intro and some of the training, Keep in mind the camera quality back then wasn’t as great as now.
Now this information is not correct. After the jump we look at the proper context to put this seminar in and what important role Chuck Norris actually played in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s growth in the United States.
Now, the first problem with this video’s claim is that by 1988 the Gracies had been in the United States for years. Rorion Gracie had visited California in 1969 at the urging of his cousin Rolls Gracie, whose mother lived in New York. Rolls was a frequent visitor to the U.S. and told his cousin that he should have the experience of traveling.
Rorion stayed in the U.S. for about six months, giving a few jiu jitsu lesson, but eventually returned to Brazil. Then in 1978 Rorion returned the United States and opened the first Gracie Academy on U.S. soil a full decade before the seminar in question. The official Gracie Academy history has these dates in their official records, and Rorion lists these dates in countless interviews. If this isn’t sufficient proof of the Gracie’s presence and influence in the United States at this point, Rorion also developed strong ties in the movie industry. Rorion has credited parts in a 1983 episode of Hart to Hart, the horror movie Death House in 1987 and was listed as Special Technical Advisor: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for the 1987 Mel Gibson film, Lethal Weapon. Rorion helped coordinate the final fight scene in which Mel uses a headlock escape and a triangle choke.
A full recounting of the Gracie’s coming to the United States can be found right here.
So clearly Chuck Norris did not bring the Gracies to the United States, but this video still documents an important moment for the Gracies. While Rorion’s efforts to spread Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by word-of-mouth and challenge matches was winning him students, it was earning him few friends in the established martial arts community of the United States. The martial arts world can be very political one and being the newest martial art in an area can be very difficult. Rorion tried to convince several local martial arts academies to let him teach classes at their schools but was turned away every time and sometimes even challenged to a fight for asking. This was likely due to simple business calculations by the school owners, any money students spent on lessons from Rorion was money they were not spending on the school’s primary martial art. As a result Rorion was forced to teach out of a garage.
In the mid to late 80’s, Chuck Norris became aware of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and began training under Carlos Machado. He became a strong advocate for the art in the U.S. martial arts community and opened many doors for jiu jitsu. Norris began to integrate techniques with his own martial art, Chun Kuk Do, and helped the Gracies raise awareness of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu both around the United States and around the world. Norris would secure demonstrations at large conventions and even got the Machado brothers appearances on his TV show, Walker Texas Ranger.
Norris is now a black belt under Carlos Machado. And while it is not a Chuck Norris Fact that he brought the Gracies to the United States, he did play a large role in getting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as wide spread as it is today.
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