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Locals learn from legend Royce Gracie at Cortez Martial Arts
Noah Ramil gets a T-shirt signed by mixed-martial arts legend Royce Gracie following a two-hour seminar the Brazilian held at Cortez Martial Arts Academy Monday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

His name is legendary.

It echoes in hushed tones whenever he makes an appearance at an event for the sport that he helped put on the map.

And on Monday afternoon, dozens of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students got the chance to learn their craft from one of the finest practitioners in the world – a man whose father founded it with his brother near the mouth of the Amazon when they were both teenagers.

Learning from Royce Gracie might not mean much for the outsider, but it meant the world to students like Dana Blanco – a blue-belt who trains in Modesto – who signed up early to get pointers from the Brazilian legend at Cortez Martial Arts Monday night.

“It’s a little bit scary – it’s intimidating,” Blanco said. “You want to make sure that everything that you’re doing is perfect. It’s an honor above anything to be able to do this. It’s a chance to be able to learn from one of the best.”

Gracie was soft-spoken when he would call the more than 50 participants together and give a brief demonstration on the move or technique that he wanted them to practice.

It gave those who came to watch the man in action a chance to see the flawless technique that made him one of the most respected fighters on the planet despite his relatively lanky frame – a testament to the physics-based system that his father and uncle developed to give an edge to those who think ahead.

Vince Bordi, the former Manteca High standout wrestler and the current Cortez Martial Arts MMA instructor, said he had looked forward to the opportunity that Monday afforded him – putting him face-to-face with a guy he grew up idolizing.

“It’s kind of surreal knowing that Royce Gracie is here in my hometown right now teaching,” Bordi said. “Just like everybody else here I watched him when I was younger, and it’s incredible that this guy was able to dominate the way that he did. To see him do that and then 10 or 15 years later see him here is just crazy.

“It’s more than just a surreal feeling.”

As an amateur fighter, Bordi leads the stable of Cortez’ rising MMA stars and spends more than his fair share of time in the half-cage against the facility’s northern wall.

He’s trained in jiu-jitsu with Cortez for the last two years, and says that having the discipline as a solid base helps make him into a more well-rounded fighter – especially in an evolving fight game where he needs more than just his wrestling and his boxing to keep himself a threat to future opponents.

“It’s one of those things where everybody is training it, but it’s something that you have to know – you have to have that solid base and be able to work those positions,” he said. “That’s what great about having Royce Gracie here. He could do it all.”

With a clean, white gi contrasted by his black belt, Gracie walked through Cortez’ gym and paid close attention to the moves that each student was making.

His name was already somewhat on the wall – his cousin Charles sanctions Cortez’ gym as a satellite facility of his Tracy site, and Cortez himself is currently a brown belt under his tutelage.

But Monday’s class didn’t come about as a prescheduled favor from an instructor to a student.

Cortez was in Cabo San Lucas when he talked to Charles Gracie and asked when Royce would be able to come out to his Manteca facility. He asked if the following week would work, and Cortez immediately began scrambling to make the short-notice scenario work for both him and his students.

“It’s an honor to have him here. He’s a legendary figure in this world, and a lot of the time people become legends after they die but he is truly a living legend and this is a chance to learn from him today,” Cortez said. “I have to stop and ask myself – why here? Of all of the places in the Central Valley, why did he choose to come here?

“It’s a special event, and it’s something that a lot of people will remember for a long time.”