Photo courtesy of Gracie Academy
Rener Gracie and students of the Gracie Academy 'BullyProof' program.

Bullyproof for school: A jiu-jitsu master mixes kale and stopping bullies

Rener Gracie and Brian Ortega are famous for their jujitsu and mixed martial arts skills respectively, but they are also making a big impact outside of their sports by helping kids to deal with bullies through the 'BullyProof' summer camp.

Kids may not listen to their parents about making smarter food choices, but it’s amazing how fast they line up to eat kale on the advice presented by Rener Gracie, who comes from “the first family of martial arts” and his right-hand man, mixed martial arts fighter Brian “T-City” Ortega. 

This is the classic parenting issue of seeing kids ignore your message, but happily accept the very same idea when delivered by a celebrity or someone they think is cooler than Mom or Dad.

I watched in awe this week as 65 inner-city kids, attending a week-long "BullyProof" Camp in Norfolk, Va., hosted by Norfolk Karate Academy, got excited about beets and juicing as part of a very holistic approach to combat bullying.

Parents, like me (whose son attended the camp in the past), have a name for what Mr. Gracie exudes during his sessions: “Renergy.”  It's a term that plays off Gracie's first name, and the enthusiasm and inspiration he instills in kids.

Add to that the fact that kids get a bit star-struck by the Gracie family name, and you have a one-two combination for helping kids down both veggies and bullies.

According to an ESPN documentary on the Gracie family, who are originally from Rio de Janeiro, “The Gracies have created a dynasty as the unchallenged first family of martial arts.” Gracie’s dad, Rorion, cofounded the Ultimate Fighting Championships in 1993 with promoters Campbell McLaren, Art Davie, and Bob Meyrowitz. 

Today, Gracie invests all of the collective social capital from his family’s legacy into kids, gaining their attention, cooperation, and respect.

He has a YouTube channel full of Gracie Diet DIY recipes like “Renergy Sandwich 2.0” and “Fruit picking techniques” to teach kids how to figure out when a melon is ripe.

Gracie makes kids as young as 6 years old take responsibility for their future health, which he offers to them as “The Ultimate Prize.”

I can tell you from the experience of having a child attend one of Gracie’s sessions years ago that this guy, who’s built like a six-foot-four-inch tall fugitive from a Marvel comic hero lineup, could arch an eyebrow and my kid would eat the vegetable he hates most in this world and love it.

Gracie and Mr. Ortega, both of Torrance, Calif., are crisscrossing the nation to share some old-world Brazilian family values and dietary practices with kids at the behest of various sponsors.

These camps, now in their second year, are a week-long effort to prep kids for going back to school “Bullyproof” via the confidence that comes from both physical training in jujitsu self-defense and a junk-food-free eating plan.

Watching the sessions I admit that I got a recharge myself, which resulted in hitting the farmers market on the way home.

The Gracie effort reminds me of first lady Michelle Obama's “Let’s Move” campaign, with a whole new level of effectiveness due to the incorporation of Ultimate Fighting Championships star power and a micro-mentoring touch that comes from having these influential young men pack a lot of powerful advice into a brief time with kids. 

“OK, so tomorrow I want you all to report back to me about what new food you tried tonight,” Gracie instructs the 65 kids. They have just spent the morning learning how to talk a bully out of attacking them and also what to do as a purely defensive maneuver if the bully decides to have a go at them anyway.

A table outside the workout area, or dojo, are laden with bananas, granola bars, and bottled water. The kids are eyeing the table as if it were laden with ice cream and cake.

“I want you to try a new food, and that means you must try it on five different occasions before you can say you don’t like it,” Gracie adds. “That does NOT mean taking five quick bites and spitting it out! Riiiiight?”

Kids I usually see in the neighborhood wearing a network of paths from vending machines full of candy to McDonald's and Taco Bell are now seriously considering bananas, kale, beets, and maybe even drinking these things from a juicer.

Between the new diet and all the “Renergy,” any schoolyard bullies are going to be hard pressed just to keep up with these kids.

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