Brazilian jiu-jitsu traces its origins back to Japanese samurai, judo, and Shaolin kung fu, but Gracie’s grandfather, Carlos Gracie Sr., developed the martial art that sets today’s standard for mixed martial arts and military hand-to- hand combat training.

“When I was born, the doctor turned me upside down and tried to spank me…so I wrist-locked him,” laughs Gracie. She was raised “to be intelligent and avoid fights before they begin. But if there’s no way out, show no mercy.” She started boxing at age 14, and her mother wasn’t too happy, but Gracie was hooked. At age 18, she learned jiu-jitsu from her uncle, Grand Master Reylson Gracie.


Gracie doesn’t compete. “I don’t see it as a sport,” she says. “Martial arts are tools of war. War does not decide who wins; war decides who’s left.” But she does grapple frequently. “[Competition] rules have created a lot of ‘sport jiu-jitsu’ practitioners who fight for points, using techniques that may win them the fight but would hardly hold up in real combat,” notes Gracie. “You need guts, heart, and stamina to deal with equally skilled fighters.” Still, she says, “a lot of people want to see a Gracie girl step into the Octagon, especially at my division [135 pounds]. So, never say never.”


Strength, speed, and agility have to be a totally balanced triangle, all equally strong in MMA. “Big but slow muscles, or fast, lean ones with no power, or overall loss of flexibility will cost you—so you have to find your perfect balance,” she says. “I stretch, lift, and do a lot of cardio. Between reps I do jump squats and knee-highs.” Gracie’s core strength drills are “fairly insane,” she says. Her daily abs routine includes cable crunches, knee-highs, hanging leg raises, and medicine ball leg raises (six to eight sets of 30 reps each, all done back-to-back). “And I never skip leg day,” adds Gracie, who leg presses more than 400 pounds.


A vegan for 10 years, Gracie knows her diet can stand up to her training. “If athletes don’t study up on [veganism], they will eat the wrong things and lose strength and muscle mass. Pound for pound, the gorilla is one of the strongest mammals on the planet, and it’s an herbivore, as are elephants and buffalo. Herbivores have the muscle mass and stamina to go the distance,” she says.


In her free time, Gracie hangs out with her four pit bulls. “I delivered all of them myself. I used to breed dogs, but I can’t do it anymore in good conscience, seeing how many poor dogs end up in or die in shelters. Now I’m a huge adopt-a-dog advocate. I wish I could save them all.”