(Kron & Rickson Gracie | Photo via Moskova)
By Elias Cepeda
How do you ask a grown man to talk about a time you saw him cry? It can’t be easy, and maybe it’s not even polite. Surely an interviewer can think of other questions to ask someone — especially a fighter.
Unfortunately, in the day or so before speaking with Kron Gracie, that was the main thing I could think to ask, and to ask first. To be clear, I saw Kron cry when he was still a child, and then only from a distance.
Maybe I was mistaken and he wasn’t even truly crying.
Yeah, maybe that’s how you ask a man to talk about it — tepidly and with plenty of qualification. Probably not, but that’s how I broached the subject with the man.
It was the summer of 2000. Rickson Gracie, the champion of his family, was hosting an international Jiu Jitsu invitational. There were tournaments for every experience and ability level, as well as famous champions competing in super matches as well as milling around the arena as a part of the crowd.
And then there was little Kron Gracie. He had to have been just eleven or twelve.
Kron presumably could have chosen to enjoy the whole event as a child — that is, running around with family and friends, playing. Instead, he was in a gi and on the mats.
Kron’s older sisters were pretty and did fun demonstrations with their father. Kron’s older brother, Rockson, walked around the tournament with his head shaved, tattooed and an air of seriousness, the obvious heir apparent to Rickson Gracie’s fighting legacy.
Whatever pressures his siblings surely felt, Kron was the one on the mats that day, competing.
Kron competed that day and, when I saw him, he had just lost.
It couldn’t have been easy, and Rickson’s youngest child was visibly upset. Losing is never fun but when everyone is watching you because your dad is the best fighter in fighting’s first family, it has to be miserable. Rickson, walked over to Kron, put his arms around him and consoled his young son.
These days, Kron Gracie is a black belt international competitor — recognized as one of the best middleweights in the submission grappling world. I ask if he remembers that one match, an eternity ago and surely insignificant by now in the grand scheme of his career.
“I remember every moment of that match,” Kron tells CagePotato.
“I remember training for it, I remember everything he tried, everything I tried, and I remember losing.”
Kron had competed for years but says that his dad’s tournament was the first time he had trained with real focus. The let-down was rough.
“I felt pressure to do well. All eyes were on me,” Kron details.
If the young Gracie remembers vividly the hollow feeling of defeat, the memory of his father comforting him is equally as strong. “I remember every word he told me,” he says. “He just told me that it was alright and that I’d be ok.”
How Kron got from there to today, where he makes a living teaching and competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and is respected as having one of the best pure styles in all of submission grappling is no doubt complex and layered. Having his father’s unconditional support and guidance must have been a big part.
It also seems possible that Kron learned to convert pressure and pain into hard work and excellence. Though he remembers every detail of that loss at his father’s tournament in 2000, one can only imagine how small that pain was in comparison to what he and his family went through later that same year.
Rickson’s oldest child Rockson died in December of 2000. Rickson never fought professionally again and has cited that moment as the lowest of his life.
“Deep down, you see a reason to shoot yourself in the head, to stop doing the right thing, to stop being a happy person. You may want to fools yourself, thinking ‘it’s bad, but I can take it,’ and that’s the kind of lack of honesty that will never cure the wound. I hit rock bottom and decided, deep down, whether I would come back to the surface or not,” Rickson told GracieMag in a 2010 interview.
Rickson clearly did go forward and, to this day, trains and teaches. Kron doesn’t talk to us about his brother’s death specifically but does say that shortly after the summer 2000 tournament, he began to see life and Jiu Jitsu a bit differently.
“I was raised around winning and championships so it was kind of always expected,” Kron says.
“Not long after that tournament, I began to take it more seriously and see myself having a future in Jiu Jitsu, in making it my career. Things happen in life and you decide it is time to step up and become a man.”
That is heady stuff for a kid to take on but Kron did — training and competing constantly. He dominated the ranks all the way through the brown belt class, before his father awarded him his black belt in 2008.
Thus far, he has yet to win a major world championship at black belt but has managed to stand out nonetheless. At the first Metamoris competition, last fall, Kron submitted the reigning middleweight Jiu Jitsu world champion, Otavio Sousa.
Ordinarily, matches are ten minutes long and points are scored to decide a winner if no one can finish with a submission. At Metamoris matches, there are no points and if you want to assure a win, you need to get a submission during the twenty minute matches.
Kron’s style fits the Metamoris format well because of the finality it requires for victory. Kron hardly ever uses a move that a first year Brazilian Jiu Jitsu student wouldn’t begin to learn.
He’s all substance and aggression, with no flash. The idea, his father’s idea that Kron has adopted, is to do the simple things right — with proper leverage and weight distribution applied to your opponent.
“If we spend doing techniques in Jiu Jitsu competition that wouldn’t work in a real fight, what is the point?” Kron asks.
That approach to Jiu Jitsu — to learn it as a fighting art, not just a pretty looking exercise without purpose or consequence, is all Rickson Gracie. Over the course of his career, Kron’s father fought in gis on the mats, speedos on the beach, shorts in packed arenas and in whatever he happened to be wearing when business needed to be settled on the street.
(Kron has been training MMA with Nate (left) and Nick (right) Diaz | Photo via GracieMag)
Kron seems in the midst of trying to prove he can become the best in the non-striking submission grappling world. Yet, the philosophy he’s adopted from his father and grandfather Helio Gracie that Jiu Jitsu is for fighting and fighting effectively, begs the question of whether he’d consider carrying on their fighting legacy himself.
I ask Kron if he thinks he will ever fight in MMA and his answer is to the point. “Yes,” he says, without doubt. “I will absolutely fight.”
At the Metamoris II Pro Jiu Jitsu Invitational on June 9th, Kron will take on one of the best Jiu Jitsu representatives in MMA, Shinya Aoki. Kron’s desire to fight MMA and his pairing with Aoki is no coincidence.
“Totally,” he says when asked if he expects grappling against Aoki to give him a taste of how he might fare against top MMA grapplers.
“That’s why I wanted this match up with Aoki. I have so much respect for his Jiu Jitsu game in MMA. He has submitted so many people at the top levels of MMA. I want to see what he feels like. I want to see how my Jiu Jitsu matches up against his. I believe in my Jiu Jitsu and that it will work in MMA, but I am not looking past Aoki at all. I think this match will give me an idea of what some of these guys feel like.”
Kron already has a decent idea of what it feels like to lock horns with some top MMA fighters. As he talks with CagePotato, Nate Diaz sits nearby. Diaz is helping Kron train for Metamoris II.
Kron says he’s been working with both Nate and brother Nick Diaz frequently, and not just on submission grappling. Kron was in Nick Diaz’ corner when he faced Georges St. Pierre earlier this year, in fact.
“Nate is here helping me prepare for Aoki,” Kron says. “I’ve gotten to work with him and Nick a lot now and it’s great.”
Kron says that he gets in MMA work with the Diaz brothers as well as grappling. “Oh yeah, for sure,” he says, sounding as if getting to spar MMA with elite fighters is much of the point of his training with the Diaz brothers.
“We do a lot of work and all types.”
Kron’s intensity leading up to matches is certainly that of someone who takes winning and losing seriously. However, the reckless abandon with which he competes suggests someone who doesn’t fear loss.
Many high level grapplers have unbearably boring matches when pitted against one another. Wary of making even the tiniest mistake which their opponent can seize on, many black belt matches are cautious, careful and horrible to watch.
Turn on a Kron Gracie match, any one, and you’ll see the furthest thing from that type of match. He drives, scrambles, pivots and spins, all in constant search of a submission win. Kron grapples with the sense of urgency of a man fighting for his life — which, he might say, is kind of the point.
Kron speaks as someone who not only carries the pressure of being the son of the greatest Jiu Jitsu fighter of all time, but also as one who possesses the confidence from a lifetime of personal instruction from that same master.
Beat me, if you can. And if you do, watch your back because I’ll get better and come back for you.
“It isn’t that I don’t care about losing,” Kron explains. “But all you can do is train the right way leading up to a fight, and then let go and go hard in the fight. The point of a fight is to see who the better guy is. I hate losing. But if I go out there, give it everything I have and lose, then the guy is better than me. If I don’t let it all out on the mat, I won’t ever know who truly was the better man that day.”
You’re born with pressure to be great when you’re born a Gracie. At the same time, putting that yolk around your neck and facing conflict and tests head-on is modeled for you.
Maybe that’s part of why Kron Gracie decided at an early age to run right into the fire, perhaps not unaffected or unafraid, but at least unflinching. And, if over time, Kron becomes one of the great ones, that decision will probably be why and how he got there.