Christy Thomas is the first female black belt in Relson Gracie’s Organization. Relson Gracie is a Jiu-Jitsu red belt, second eldest son of Helio Gracie. In this interview with BJJ Eastern Europe Christy talks about her Jiu-Jitsu journey, learning straight from Relson Gracie, Her academy in Austin Texas, Combining sports Jiu-Jitsu and self defense, and her experience using Jii Jitsu in real life situations:
Hi Christy, can you please introduce yourself to the BJJ Community of Eastern Europe?
Hello BJJEE! My name is Christina Thomas, I own and operate the Relson Gracie JiuJitsu Austin Association. I’m a native Texan and I’ve lived in Austin since 1998. I started training in 2001 and I’ve been an active competitor and loyal practitioner ever since. I train on my own mats here in Austin, with our team around Texas and our team on Oahu, HI at any given chance. I’m 34 years old this year and I’ve been on the mats since I was 22 years old.
My main competition accomplishments have been at the Arnold Gracie World Championships in Columbus, Ohio between 2002 and 2006; also the IBJJF Worlds/ NoGi Worlds and Pan Ams from 2007-2009. I placed 2nd in several IBJJF events making that my highest award as a brown belt in the brown/black division and absolute.
My proudest moments as I have journeyed through my JiuJitsu have been the following:
As a blue belt putting my competitor to sleep with a baseball choke in Ohio. Relson loves seeing fights finished with submissions and it is fun to impress him. I clearly remember his reaction and his delight when Robin Geisler also sub’d his guy with a baseball choke that day in the brown belt division.
Tapping out black belts as a brown belt. I’ve always been told that girls are all
promoted to different standards depending on whom they train with and where
they train. I think that after blue belt the larger divisions have been the
most fun as a competitor and I feel so lucky to train at a time when the female
numbers are high in all ranks.
Fighting to second place of the female brown/black division in the 2007 IBJJF Gi Worlds. That was my first time fighting that rank and the event had just moved to CA. I always like to fight Penny Thomas, especially in the gi. That podium felt
amazing even at number 2.
Witnessing Relson Gracie become a 9th Degree Red Belt Grand Master. I had never witnessed him being promoted prior to that day. I was and am still very proud of him.
THE #1 proudest moment for me so far has been receiving my black belt from then Master Relson Gracie. It’s incredibly special on so many levels. I can remember so many things when I take time to reflect into that belt, my time and my many experiences. I am truly grateful for that part of my life.
Please guide us through your Jiu-Jitsu journey.
I was introduced to Jiu Jitsu when I met my ex-boyfriend. He trained, competed and fought NHB. I supported his hobby and learned it was his passion to become great under his instructor. An opportunity came to meet this man and train in a small group session. I drove the guys, borrowed a kimono and took the class. The guy was Relson Gracie and that day changed my life. I was hooked on what I still know as, the best thing ever. I changed my schedule, diet, priorities, everything. I began competing in January 2002, about a month after my consistent training
started. I was one of two female competitors and we had to agree to compete.
She was a four degree blue belt and I was about 50lbs. heavier than her. We
agreed and had our match. I was only trying to submit her with a triangle and
after the timer ran out, her hand was raised. That’s when I discovered there
were points! Coming in second helped my team secure the first place team
trophy. I fell in love with competing and that became my focus in my training.
Over the next several years, I competed a lot. The lack of women in the sport affected me in a negative manner less than others since I have always been above the cutoff weight in the highest divisions. Most of the time, I’d have weight and they’d have rank. I always fought both my weight and the absolute because Relson always did.
I felt obligated to stand for the women who showed up to compete and the potential for our future and once had to negotiate with Carlos Machado to count the women’s division wins towards the total for the team points. We agreed that he would count our points starting the next event in order to let his team know. I
agreed and at the next event there were almost 20 ladies! I was happy to have
more matches, exposure to other games and even more motivation for my
I have traveled to Rio twice, 2002 & 2003 to compete in the Mundials. In 2002 my match was controversial. The referee made an inappropriate decision – not in my favor. Relson climbed over the VIP section to speak to his cousin Carlos Gracie Jr. and Carlos agreed with him about the mistake. Instead of letting me
continue, the referee was removed from his duties on the mat. That judge came
up to me in the madness of the black belt division that year and apologized to
me. In the roar, my ears where deaf but my eyes saw him say “I’m sorry”. I
yelled, “what?!” and he repeated himself and shook my hand. This memory has
stuck with me since it happened but I can honestly say that the experience of
my trip enveloped the disappointment from that match days earlier on the mats
at Tijuca Tenis Clube.
The day before that 2002 Mundials, our small group (of about 10 guys & myself)
was finishing a relaxed breakfast when Relson turned to me and asked, “What’s
your guy’s plans for today?” I said, “I don’t know”. He asks, “You wanna go to
my Daddy’s house?” I just smiled and said, “Yeah!”
That day we spent a long time climbing a skinny mountain road. We made it to the valley and up to the house. A Fila (Brazilian Mastiff) was chained near the door barking it’s slow long barks so I patiently waited for Relson to knock on the door. After a short pause, Helio Gracie opened the door, came out and welcomed us into his sunroom.
He spoke with Relson for a little bit. Relson told him who we were, where we’d
traveled from and how we were prepared to participate in the following
weekend’s event. Helio lead us into his home, through a massive main room
crowded with statues, beautiful gifts, books, and things he obviously
cherished. We followed down a long corridor of dorm type rooms stacked with
bunks, all the way to the end where a small room with almost all the surfaces
covered in plaques, memorabilia, awards, medals, trophies, news clippings,
signed photos, etc. Beyond this small room was another small room and there
were mats there. This room had minimal photos, other special items and some
chairs and pillows around the edge.
Helio sat and spoke with Relson showing the moves. They exchanged moves and
understanding and I felt the tenderness from the father to son. Hearing Relson
get spoken to in that certain way was unforgettable. Being present for that
session and getting on those mats was unreal for me. Training in the little
matted room at Relson’s Daddy’s house was so special that I don’t even find the
right words to convey my awe.
My pant string broke that night and Helio saw it. He ran back into a room and
reemerged with a pant string for me to replace mine with. I was melted by that
gesture and hugged that precious man. I retired those pants and consider them priceless.
Following the first trip to Brazil, I got even more into competition but I was having a terrible time in my personal relationship and discovered how having my JJ instructor and boyfriend being the same person was taking a toll on my performance.
I continued to compete, usually going alone and meeting up with the tournament crew – usually the boyz from Hawaii and Robin Geisler. I did well and placed several podiums in the brown/black heavy & absolute divisions of the
Worlds, Pan Ams and NoGi World Championships.
As my personal situation continued to shift, I became more obligated to the daily
class schedule at the academy I shared ownership in. When my business partner
exited, it was in an interesting manner. Not ideal or one which I’d wish on any
other person. I took the reins, did what was right and went to work. I have my
academy open seven days a week and in doing so, I have lessened my competition pace to almost none.
Currently, I’m working to further my technical savvy all around and to bring up my students with the very best understanding of what we consider the most crucial part of our martial art. The anti-sport side is the self-defense. It’s the priority and it should be focused on with intent to be used in a moment’s notice.
Of course, I do love to spar and enjoy the chess-like play that everyone else gets their excitement from. I’m naturally competitive and don’t even like to be left out of any chance to compete.
Please tell us about your academy and your team.
My team is amazing. They are kind, technical and seem to never tire of sparring,
drilling or soaking up the knowledge. The guys and gals are tough and have
endless curiosity of the art and how it may further benefit their lives.
My academy is a very special place. We’ve been tucked away from the street causing people to search us out. I see the eagerness in each person who makes it through our doors. They quickly notice the clean simplicity of my facility and
the lack of air conditioning. This has been a great help to build and maintain
endurance, conditioning and health in our student population.
Bringing Relson to Austin made us the first Gracie academy in the Central Texas area, Royce has had Hawk Hardy in East Texas for quite the while and Carlos Machado is in Dallas, which is roughly 3+ hours from Austin.
Since 2000 Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Austin Association has been local and the trusted source for legitimate training under the Gracie name that people were searching for. We’ve been through seemingly all of the ups and downs of our industry and have made it through to push past the growing pains of Austin. As it is now, I am confident in my academy and have learned to let people come into our lives and only remain if they deserve to. I am pleased to have new faces in any of my classes and for anyone including women or young adults to train with any of my members. I trust the people around me and, in my opinion, that’s a really great thing to be able to say.
You train the self-defense aspect but also compete in sports Jiu-Jitsu.
What is your view on these 2 aspects of Jiu-Jitsu. Can they be mixed together
Of course! There’s a fine line between self-defense and sport. In the game, when
or if someone taps or screams, we may let go as a rule and as a show of good
sportsmanship. There are so many degrees of how this can be abused. Nobody
wants to be the spas or the less technical one. People tend to try to have a
flow and finesse.
In self-defense, there may likely be cause to push through a point that would never be allowed in a sport setting. To hold without help from any outsider and to complete what you must to come out safely or for all persons involved to not only come out safe but also explain to any authorities. 100% of the self-defense curriculum is JiuJitsu. If you know self-defense, you can further develop to play on the ground.
I learned backwards. I played first and invested in myself after. I recommend for
every single person who spends their precious time on the mats to invest in
their own actual safety and become proficient in the Helio Gracie true
curriculum of self-defense.
Please tell us more about Grandmaster Relson Gracie and your relationship with him.
Relson Gracie is one of the most authentic people I have ever encountered. We are very close and share a deep bond in our friendship. When we put the Gi on, he’s very strict. He takes the utmost care in conveying his daddy’s methods and wisdom.
Somehow he remembers everything from EVER. He knows what I train, who with and where. He’s seen almost every one of my matches and yelled the loudest. He’s hugged me, stood up for me and pushed me when I’ve needed it. He is patient when I am being stubborn. I find it special how he will listen to and consider your side/point of view.
We share interests in music, cooking, growing fruits, trees and other plants. He should be next to the definition of – living life to its full potential. It feels like we have a certain side language and I find myself sometimes translating what he says to other people (with delight). He’s got such a presence and he’s always been so down to earth. He’s a true friend.
I am so blessed to have all of his important ladies in my life as some close and
valuable friends. I’ve also developed a deep love for his family and keep in
contact with many of those great people. I enjoy spending time in Hawaii and
getting his granddaughter on the mats. I also have the pleasure of getting to
see his youngest daughter here in Texas when she visits with her mom.
I’d count him in my most important people. He won’t ever leave that list. I love
him to death!
Have you ever used Jiu-Jitsu in a real life situation? (please detail)
For sure …
I have used my JiuJitsu to keep safe and not get hurt in some fights I have
been involved in. Honestly, I use it all the time, when I’m walking alone or
with others. When I go to a public grocery or other gathering where people can walk up to you or out on the street when you are approached. Basically the assessment and the confidence in your safety are what have formed as habits in my life.
What is next for you and your team in 2013/2014?
Well, this year Relson was promoted to Grand Master. Since this time we have been building inside of our own team. There are some priorities like pushing the
progression of our self-defense curriculum to our newer students versus the
popular concept of focusing mainly on sporting events. We have all been working
together to make this a more conformed process. I’m looking forward to watching my guys flourish in their art and game on the mats as well as their character and patience both on and off the mats.
If you want to thank somebody or sponsors, feel free
I’d really like to thank my students. The drama and politics of JiuJitsu have
revealed to me some of the best and worst in people. I am truly grateful to be
surrounded by people who have such high character in the sacred place in which
I spend most of my time.
Sometimes I feel like I can’t open up to anyone and knowing that that is not true, I’d like to specifically give thanks to Richard Giberson and Relson Gracie, as well as, my always wonderful family and my beloved non-JiuJitsu friends.
One other special thank you must go to my fellow Relson Gracie black belts.
Thanks Christy and all the best!
Thanks, Gui! Thanks, BJJEE!