Chuck Norris is a martial arts legend who has a wealth of experience in several different styles, and he even spent quite some time training Jiu-Jitsu with the Gracie family. In an old interview, the famous and actor and icon of the martial arts world actually spent some time explaining how he first found out about Jiu-Jitsu. It actually wasn’t a planned meeting, and it was much more spontaneous. Instead of it being an arranged meeting between two elite martial artists, Norris actually found out about the Gracie family by word of mouth instead:
“I was in Rio de Janeiro on vacation and I was going round to all the different martial arts schools and working out, and every school I went to the name ‘Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’ kept popping up. They said ‘Oh man, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu!’ and I said I’ve gotta found out who they are. So I finally tracked them down in Rio (de Janeiro) and I went to their school and I met Mr. (Helio) Gracie, the father. I met Rickson Gracie, who was the world champion at that time, and… Royce Gracie.”
Obviously there wasn’t really anyone better to give out an introduction to Jiu-Jitsu than the Gracie family at the time, but Chuck Norris was not completely new to the idea of grappling. While he was much more well-known for his striking skills at the time, he actually had a great deal of experience in Judo too:
“So I asked them if I could work out with them and they said… you know, very cordial, they said ‘of course!’ and I was a black belt in Judo so I thought I had some pretty good grappling skills. Anyway I got on the ground with Rickson Gracie and it’s like I’d never had a lesson in my life. He played with me…”
While he explains that his background in Judo didn’t do much to help him against Rickson Gracie back then, it obviously would have made him significantly more skilled than most brand new students stumbling into Jiu-Jitsu at the time. It appears as though Helio Gracie might have recognized that as well:
“He (Helio Gracie) says ‘I want you to stay here’, he says ‘you got great potential, I can make you a great Jiu-JItsu person’ and unfortunately I was getting ready to do a movie and I couldn’t stay there. But I went back to LA and I started training with Rorion Gracie, who had a school in Los Angeles, and I started training with the Machado brothers, who are the cousins of the Gracies…”
As he explains, that first meeting with the Gracie family led to a lifelong relationship with Jiu-Jitsu for Chuck Norris. Not only did he continue learning from and sparring with elite grapplers like the Gracie family and the Machado brothers, but he also progressed his way up the BJJ belt ranking system. Over the years, Norris continued being graded by the Machado brothers and was eventually promoted to third degree black belt in the sport. This was only one of several martial arts that Norris would end up becoming a black belt in, putting him a step ahead of the vast majority of traditional martial artists in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
The full interview with Chuck Norris where he talks about his first time training with the Gracie Family was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of Bloody Elbow:
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