As the First Family of the UFC, the Gracie’s have a great responsibility as the constant ambassadors in the fight sports world. Whether on the big stage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship or in the many MMA, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Martial Arts schools worldwide, they are all influenced by and handing down the lessons of the Gracie family fighting style. Renzo Gracie Black Belt, Karel “Silver Fox” Pravec, operates his Gracie Black Belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym in nearby Saddle Brook, NJ with the Gracie family fighting style as his focus of educating his students. The famously friendly, welcoming way of Master Renzo Gracie is how Karel instructs all his students. Karel was gracious to sit with me at his BJJ gym for an interview and to discuss the beginning of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu on the East Coast and his Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu life changing experience and school influence.
Hello Karel, thank you for allowing me to continue our submission grappling coverage and fire some questions at you. Let me start by saying, we spend a lot of time examining and enjoying the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA, and having interviewed grapplers and MMA fighters locally, there is a great buzz around you.
Karel “Silver Fox” Pravec: That is nice
Two comments spoken directly to me – first from a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt “Karel is a very high level BJJ practitioner, Karel is one of the most technical people I have ever rolled with” the second from a BJJ Brown belt and US Marine veteran –“ If you are going to train Jiu-Jitsu in Bergen County, then you should be going to see Karel”. How does that make you feel?
Its nice and it is kind of funny, I have an easier time with Jiu-Jitsu now, than I did when I started when I was 29, now I am 48. I truly believed in BJJ as a style and its techniques. As I get older I acquire more knowledge and I tend to rely on my technique and I encourage that with my students and training partners. Ultimately I train to finish, instead of guard passes and sweeps, I want to finish. I appreciate that students and guys I roll with notice that.
Karel you are a black belt under Famed BJJ Black Belt Master and MMA practitioner Renzo Gracie. A Matt Serra quote about you states, “Karel is one of the original students at the famed Renzo Gracie NYC academy and trained with Renzo at the beginning of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gracie ‘revolution’ in America. Karel is an extremely tenacious competitor always attacking for the submission”. For true fight sport fans you were there at the beginning of East Coast MMA in America. How does it feel witnessing that history first hand and seeing how the Gracie fighting system has influenced modern day MMA?
Things have changed fairly dramatically since I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and stand up fighting. I was a 2nd degree Black belt in Tae Kwon Do in the early nineties and everyone that started at the original Renzo academy were black belts and high ranking guys in different stand up styles – we had no wrestlers. Most guys that started at Renzo were helpless once the fight hit the ground, so all these guys I am with, we attend early seminars in NJ and NY that display the power of the Gracie system that will inevitably come into play once the fight gets to the clinch. That has further evolved over the last ten years as wrestlers realized once high school and college wrestling is over there is a second life in BJJ and submission grappling. Now with the influence of wrestlers, take downs have evolved and BJJ has become effective.
In the early days, was the Gracie style evolving daily at the original RGA or were you just listening to the blueprint Renzo laid out?
First let me say that Renzo Gracie is one of the nicest people you ever want to meet. He is also extremely smart and while he is a legend of MMA and a pioneer of the sport he does not rest on his laurels, he is constantly trying to stay on top of the technique. He knows that technique evolves. I try to teach the way Renzo does at his academy at the start and now presently, with the understanding that technique evolves.
What is and example of this evolving style?
Renzo is very technical and smart and at the early start of BJJ the guillotine was taught to have the head, close the legs and stretch the body out. With a tough wrestler it has become difficult to submit with a guillotine, the head will pop out, so the technique evolved to lean towards one side and utilize the whole body to choke the opponent.
It shows you need to evolve and Renzo pushes for that change when it is necessary.
All I ever hear about Renzo is great things, however I saw something online that was interesting, so I have to ask you an uncomfortable question about your mentor. In a Youtube clip I viewed, Renzo kicks Nate Marquardt in the face after Nate took a swipe at Ricardo Almeida for holding onto a fight-ending choke a little too long. Nate had a point, Ricardo even looked over and smiled at his corner and smiled after Nate tapped. I am fan of Ricardo but it look like he did it, so he may have deserved a little shot. But then Renzo boots Nate in the face. Is that just an example of how dedicated Renzo is to his guys?
Renzo will treat you like a long lost brother he is a genuine and great person. Renzo welcomes his closest friends and first day students with the same welcoming way, but do not cross him or one of his guys. Renzo was protecting Ricardo from what he viewed as a cheap shot first from Nate on the mat. Funny, and this is the kind of guy Renzo is, later oh a few years later, Nate came to RGA in NYC to train with us. Renzo is so friendly he welcomed Nate to come train. After the battle, Renzo will treat you like his brother.
You are part of an elite group of Renzo Gracie Black Belts, and you have earned the right to train with top BJJ and MMA coaches and talent. I am curious about John Danaher, after seeing him as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter and hearing Georges St. Pierre rave about how great John Danaher is, tell me about him.
First, the belt only covers two inches of you and I try to live up to that and live the honor by improving and working at it seven days a week. Work ethic and being driven is how you improve. John Danaher is a great example of this fact if you train at RGA in New York City you get an instructor like John who works at his craft. John is a true student; he spends time improving as a high-level university professor spends time in his subject area. John is so technical and smart and he spends seven days a week at RGA, teaching, training, studying fights and constantly improving. John puts so much time into Jiu-Jitsu and is respected for his commitment to the sport. John is a great example of Renzo Gracie influence and then utilizing that foundation and John’s passion and he has evolved into a “Yoda” of Jiu-Jitsu wisdom. He is often called the “Yoda” of Jiu-Jitsu around the gym.
Any other up-and-comers or MMA guys that I would know from the original Renzo Gracie class that went onto UFC or MMA success?
When I started at 29 with Renzo the only guys would be the Serra brothers, who are great guys and Matt Serra went on to UFC success, most of the other guys were older bad-ass black belts from other styles that started to train with Renzo and all of us realized how great this BJJ stuff was, how technical and effective it was, we all got hooked.
How has you’re training evolved after so many years in Martial Arts?
When I was only training Tae Kwon Do I would attend various seminars of other styles and try to improve my skills and at the same time I was traveling for business, I developed a hybridized kickboxing style. On the road at like 5am I would train seven days a week I would do 1,000 kicks. Once I started training with Renzo Gracie, I started replacing my daily routine, 6 days kicks, 1 day Jiu-Jitsu, then 5 days kicks, 2 days Jiu-Jitsu and so on until presently I train kicks one day a week.
You still train stand-up at 48?
Yes, one day a week, I do a thousand kicks.
So at 48 you still train 3 times a week in NYC with Renzo at RGA and you are at your gym in Saddle Brook daily, and you still train striking one day a week?
You are an animal.
Last question, a lot of new comers that train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu get discouraged because they do not advance belts in a Gracie BJJ system as quickly as they do in a school more geared towards belt advancement like a Tiger Schulmans Karate, who has been accused of advancing students quickly. Any input on that subject?
Yes, it of course will lead to frustration for many students, but Martial Arts is about self improvement not about who is the biggest bad ass. The Martial Arts are about improvement, Martial arts develop character, nothing in life comes easy, usually after the three month mark students get frustrated but if it was that easy everyone would do it.
Karel thank you for speaking with me for our one-on-one interview this week.
Thank you http://www.silverfoxbjj.com/ for information on Karel Pravec. To contact Karel visit http://www.silverfoxbjj.com/ or call 973-800-5163
Thank you http://www.renzogracie.com/ for information on Renzo Gracie, John Danaher and RGA. To contact Renzo Gracie or RGA visit http://www.renzogracie.com/