Renzo Gracie

Just Another Day in Paradise

Every year at this time, martial artists face a dilemma:
Which summer seminar should they attend? There are no may choices that it makes for a tough decision. I chose the Paradise Warrior Retreat, held at Renzo Gracie's spacious Manhattan jiu-jitsu academy.

By: Mark Jacobs

The retreat is the creation of longtime martial arts enthusiast Yoram Gazit. I suspect he came up with the idea of bringing multiple experts together for a weekend blowout primarily so he could sneak in some quality training of his own because I frequently caught him on the mat, attending every class he could manage.

"We started back in 2004 with Gene Lebell, Gokor Chivichyan and Benny Urquidez teaching a seminar together," said Gazit, 60. "Since then, we've done aobut three events per year across the United States and Canada, feature many different martial artists."

New York's 2012 version of the training op included a host of martial arts luminaries, including UFC standouts Frankie Edgar and Rory MacDonald, kickboxing legend Bob Kaman, jiu-jitsu stars Renzo and Igor Gracie, and elite coach Firas Zahabi.

HANI DARWISH, who runs a school in New Jersey, brought several students to the two-day event. "It's a great opportunity to interact on both a technical and a personal level with some of the greats," he said. "Even though I teach, I'm still a student. When you start believing you know it all, that's when you should quit the sport."

More than a few of the instructors seemed to concur, viewing it as an opportunity to sharpen their skills. For example, on one corner of the mat I watched Georges St-Pierre's brain trust of head coach Zachabi and ji-jiutsu mentor John Danaher work through some holds. I wondered if they were just doing what good martial artists do: training.

"These seminars are not just for the students," Zahabi said. "I pick up so much every time I come to one. I'm always amazed how amny things there are to learn. There are just so many possibilities to be explored."

Zahabi, whos thought at several Paradise Warrier Retreats and will host the October event at his Tristar Gym in Montreal, taught two classes. On Saturday, he covered takedown defense, and on Sunday, he hosted a Q-and-A in which students inquired about subjects that ranged from methods for getting more power in punches to preferred ways to effect a ground-and-pound.

When it came to structured classes, most were designed to provide students with a few fundamentals they could add to their arsenal, along with the strategy behind those techniques. In that vein, former UFC lightweight champ Edgar taught basic defenses against punches and takedowns, providing insight into how best to stuff a leg tackle. He showed himself to be a patient and detail-oriented instructor as he moved around, giving personal advice to every attendee.

"Its a great opportunity for us to sharpen our teaching skills because you get such a wide range of students here," Edgar said.

Igor Gracie agreed. "You can get all levels at a seminar like this, so you can't really plan what you're to teach ahead of time," he said. "I think the important thing is to just make sure you link one technique to the next so even beginning students are able to remember what they're being taught."

The 40-Plus People in attendance seemed to appreciate that attention to detail. Aspiring MMA fighter Madison Hobbs traveled all the way from North Caroline with his father, Barry. "I was excited to meet the fighters, but I just opened my own school, so I was even more interested to meet all these great trainers and see how they teach," Hobbs said. "It was an awesome experience."

Opinions varieda as to which instructor was the fave. "It's tough to say [because] each had something special," Darwish said. "Kaman was the most personable, Firas the most detailed, Rory the most enthusiastic--they were all great."

For Ottavia Bourdain, wife of Anthony Burdain (who hosts No Reservations on the Travel Channel) and a student at Renzon's school, picking a favorite was easy. "I train here every day but had never gotten to train with Renzo before," she said. "He's just special to train with."

Moral of the story: If your instructor is a legend with whom you have trouble scoring some training time, get down to a Paradise Warrior Retreat--maybe you can finally catch up with him there. Even if you don't, you'll find some other coaches to teach you a thing or two.