Tribute to Master Carlson Gracie, Sr.
I spoke to Natasha yesterday (Saturday) and she reminded me that it would have been Carlson's 74th birthday. "Carlson" was Master Carlson Gracie, Sr., who was a legendary figure in Brazilian jiu jitsu and grappling and also, I'm proud to say, my BJJ teacher for the 4 years before he passed away on February 1st of this year. I have been meaning to write about Carlson since I started the trip, and now is as good a time as any. Natasha said that some of the people from the academy are going to go to his gravesite in Evanston, IL, today to remember him on his birthday. Carlson lived his last days in Chicago and really came to view it as a second home. Half of his ashes are interred there while the other half went back to Brazil. I wish I could be there. I am in spirit.
I don't really know how to describe Carlson in a way that will do him justice. I am forever grateful that I got a chance to know the person behind the legend. The fact that he gave me my purple belt--decided I had earned it and actually put it around my waist--well, I'm not prouder of many other accomplishments in my life than that. He was a kind, generous, frustrating, stubborn, loving and beloved human being. His death, while not the original catalyst for me quitting my job and ultimately taking this trip, certainly influenced my decision. After he died, I realized that he had lived every day of his life doing exactly what he wanted: teaching and being around people who loved Brazilian jiu jitsu. I wanted to be able to say that too, that I lived my life doing exactly what I wanted.
He was one of those larger than life figures, but he lived so modestly and refused to let anyone stand on ceremony with him, even though he was a genius and a legend. We knew he was those things, but on a day to day basis, he was just Carlson. Our teacher and our friend. Yoiks. Just writing this is making me tear up. And I only knew him for 4 years. I can't imagine what the loss was like for so many of his students, who looked to him as a father figure and trained with him since they were children. Not to mention Junior, his son (and my other teacher, I'm proud to say).
I know Carlson Sr's presence in my life has directly and indirectly enhanced it in ways I could never repay even if he were still alive. I feel that the best way I can pay tribute to him is to continue to live my life in the most rewarding way I can, even if that is difficult. Carlson never backed down from a challenge, and I will honor his memory by doing the same.
Here is the card that was passed out at his memorial service. (Please excuse the flash residue.) He was laid out in a gi, with his black belt around his waist and a red belt (a belt above black that is reserved for only people like him: legends) coiled nearby. He never would wear a red belt even though he had every right to. He said red belts were for "old people."
Rest in peace, Professor. We miss you so much.