Roger Gracie, the 10-time Jiu-Jitsu World Champion, visited Henley last week to attend the opening night of a new martial arts academy.
Henley resident Paxton Gibbons, who earned his Jiu-Jitsu black belt directly under the teaching of Mr Gracie, organised the event to mark the launch of his new Roger Gracie affiliated academy, RGA Henley.
Mr Gracie, 36, a fourth-degree black belt originally from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, is considered to be one of the best Jiu-Jitsu competitors of all time and is part of the Gracie dynasty, the world’s most renowned and influential martial arts family.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, often dubbed the gentle martial art, is a technical system of self-defence that uses strength, leverage and weight distribution to overpower an attacker on the ground.
Mr Gracie, who is polite and softly spoken in conversation and speaks with a slight American-Portuguese accent, explained that Jiu-Jitsu appeals to people of all ages and sizes because it involves a grappling style of fighting without the punching and kicking used in other martial arts.
“It’s the most enjoyable and the most real martial art you can do”, he said.
“For example, boxing, it’s a great way of fighting but you can’t spar, it’s a young man’s game … you can only say ‘I do boxing’ if you actually spar boxing, because if you just hit the bag, that’s not the same. In Jiu-Jitsu you have the full form of fighting without the striking, so anyone can do it – the four-year-old, the seventy-year-old.”
“My oldest student that I had in my gym in London was 86, and he was training in the class like everybody else. He was doing the same techniques … you can fully train without getting hurt because you don’t need to hit someone. If you take the striking out of it there’s no restrictions … it’s the most enjoyable and it’s the safest, that’s why it’s so popular.”
The 10-time Jiu-Jitsu World Champion explained that his competition days are now over. “I fought July last year, and after that I retired from fighting. I’m not fighting any more, I’ve been fighting my whole life. Now I want to see more and more people training, hopefully I can change people’s lives through Jiu-Jitsu. I have a big school in London and I want to open more”.
The founder and head coach of RGA Henley, Paxton Gibbons, who lives on Valley Road, is teaching adult Jiu-Jitsu classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, with a Beginner’s session running from 7-8pm and an Intermediate session from 8-9pm.
“Paxton has been training with me for years”, said Mr Gracie, “he’s a perfect example of Jiu-Jitsu changing people’s lives … he’s doing this because he loves Jiu-Jitsu, he loves training, he wants to be part of it … to see him transforming and see him going in that direction is very fulfilling. He’s not just my student, we’re friends … so seeing him doing this, it’s a great feeling.”
25 Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts including Kywan Gracie, Roger Gracie’s cousin, attended the opening night of RGA Henley on Thursday.
It took place in the first-floor studio of Henley Practice, the multi-disciplinary physical rehabilitation and exercise centre at the Oast House in Greys Road car park.
Mr Gibbons led a mixed ability training session on specially-commissioned martial arts training mats, beginning with a static warm-up exercise session including star jumps and squats.
He then demonstrated a number of technical skills, which students practiced on each other, and the session ended with 20 minutes of sparring in pairs – an opportunity to try out the moves they had just learned.
Mr Gibbons said, “I’ve been teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for many years and I’m really happy that I’m now teaching in my home town of Henley. Roger is my teacher and my friend – and he’s a martial arts legend – so having him here on opening night means a lot to me.”
There are membership and drop-in price options available and individual lessons are available on request. There are plans to introduce women’s self-defence classes and children’s lessons over the next few months. To book a free introductory session or find out more go to www.rgahenley.co.uk