By Jake Ewald
InternA petite woman presses a man’s arm to the floor. She wraps her legs around his back. He stands up, pulling her off the floor with her legs still encircled around his body. The woman stands and thrusts her legs behind the man’s knees, immobilizing him and pinning him to a mat.
“Switch partners,” commands the teacher. The man and woman bow to one another and find a new person to spar with.
Clark Gracie surveys the scene. Twelve students have come to the La Jolla Sports Club for a session in Gracie jiu-jitsu. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu class is the only one of its kind offered in La Jolla.
The course is “focused on self-defense, getting in good shape, and eating well,” says Gracie, who warms his students up with stretches and new techniques and finishes with sparring matches between classmates.
“It’s an individual sport, but we train as a team,” Gracie said. “You can come here never having tried a sport or with a black belt. We will get you in shape.”
One student said: “People do it as a hobby, for sport, and for fitness. Everyone’s super cool and friendly.
Gracie grew up in a family of fighters. His grandfather, Carlos, created the fighting style known as Gracie (or Brazilian) jiu-jitsu. His father, Carley, was a professional national champion from 1969-72.
Clark was raised in San Francisco and started teaching classes with his dad as a teenager. After moving to San Diego five years ago, he competed in the U.S. Nationals, winning championships in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, he claimed second place in the World Jiu Jitsu Championship.
He usually trains for about five weeks before a tournament and, says, “I give it everything I have the weekend before the event.”
To wind down after classes, Clark likes to head for the beach, eat good food and travel around the world. (He was in France last week to teach seminars in jiu-jitsu.)
Clark recalls having to use the fighting style in a real-life situation.
“As I was walking off the subway in San Francisco with my girlfriend, a man followed us on an escalator, threw a punch at me and ran to the top waiting for me. I was able to take him down and try to calm him,” says Clark. “But for the most part jiu-jitsu has helped me stay out of conflict situations. I have confidence in myself to avoid fights.”
Unlike regular jiu-jitsu, Gracie jiu-jitsu emphasizes leverage (a smaller person can easily defend himself against a larger person).
“It’s a friendly environment here,” says Clark.” Leave your ego at the door because you are going to submit to someone, maybe half your size.”
As the class winds down, all the students line up and bow to each other. They step out of the ring and back to the real world.
Clark Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy
- La Jolla Sports Club
- 7825 Fay Ave.
- La Jolla, CA 92037
- (858) 456-2595
- Adult - 7 p.m. Mon. and Wed.
- Teen - 3:30 p.m. Wed.
- Members- $80/month
- Nonmembers- $90/month
- Teens- $65/month