How did you first get started in Jiu-jitsu and what was your relationship to Carlson?
“When I was young I lived on the same street as Carlson and played with his son Junior. I saw them doing jiu-jitsu, it looked fun and I wanted to do it so I asked my father. But at that time jiu-jitsu was too expensive and more for the upper class. However, Carlson had a big heart and he gave me a discount to train. As time went on Junior and I became good friends.”
Could you give us a short summary of your history in Jiu-jitsu?
“When I was younger, when I started BJJ the first three years I didn’t compete, I just trained to develop the technique. Carlson wouldn’t let you compete until you had a solid foundation. I started competing when I was fifteen until I was twenty five, for ten years straight. For the first five years of my competitive career there was only one tournament per year. At that time there were only a few academies, all located in Rio. Early on around 1978-79, Carlson and Carlos shared the same gym and alternated the teaching schedule. I started fighting in the early 1980’s after the main Rio academy split between Carlson and what would become Gracie Barra. Renzo’s father, Robson Gracie was president of the BJJ Federation that organized the tournaments. After a few years the federation was able to pick up corporate sponsorship from some of the big companies in Brazil. That’s when we started to have two to three big tournaments a year and BJJ really began to take off in Brazil. This was the environment I was in at the time. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost, but usually I won.”
“Around 1985 I had to leave Carlson’s academy because of my school schedule. I switched to Gracie Barra for about four years and there Rigan Machado taught me. I sparred with the likes of Renzo Gracie and Nelson Monteiro, who taught the Sheik of Abu Dhabi. Then I went back to law school and was able to resume my training with Carlson. You see, Carlson was very sad when I left, but he accepted me right back with open arms. However, he did make me pay the price for leaving. I had to stay a brown belt for four more years. After that I was 8-1 in competition and I asked Senior, “I believe I am ready for the next belt” and Carlson said, “You talk to much, wait two more years. So I continued competing. I had three more major tournaments, won the first and lost in the Atlantico Sul to Jean Jaques Machado when he was a black belt and I was still brown. We fought for seven and a half minutes. Near the end of the match I attempted to pull guard but he countered and slammed me to the floor. This knocked the wind out of me and enabled him to pass my guard. He then got mount and finished me with an armbar. Next I competed in the Pele Tournament and defeated one of Ricksons’s students with a foot lock. Finally Carlson gave me my black belt in 1995.”
How did you become an instructor at Carlson’s Rio academy?
“I had grown up training and being friends with the Gracies. My whole life I enjoyed teaching and becoming an instructor was just the natural progression of my training. In addition to the Rio academy I also taught at The Brazilian Fight Academy, The Navy School, and was part of the coaching staff that prepared the 1996 Carlson Gracie Team to dominate the Pan American Championships, where over 90% of our guys won.”
Who were some of your notable students and training partners?
“Carlson’s academy had some of the best competitors in jiu-jitsu: Mario Sperry, Murilio Bustamante, Wallid Ismail, Vitor Belfort and Allan Goes from Brazilian top Team. I promoted Marcus De Matta and gave Renato Tavares his black belt, both from American Top Team. Junior and I helped prepare Amaury Bitetti to win the 1996 World Championships. I also I taught Leo D Llha, Paulao Leite Filho, Carlao, Olavo, and many others.” After I left Brazil to come to America most of the guys split and many of my old students started to create the new generation of jiu-jitsu competitors.
Who from the Carlson academy sticks out most in your mind?
“Ricardo De La Riva was the most technical. Clovis De Souza, who now teaches out of San Francisco, had the best arm bar I have ever seen. He beat Royler with it. But Wallid Ismail was the toughest. If you made him tap, he would not let you leave the mat until he got his revenge. We went back and fourth in sparring and after I would tap him, Wallid would start to shake and say, “One more come on, one more.” He was the kind of guy you would want to take to war with you, he would lose a limb and keep going until the enemy was defeated or he was killed. Wallid is a tough guy but, he is a good man as well.”
You mentioned your match with Jean Jaques, do you have any other memorable stories from your days as a competitor?
“I was fighting Megaton in one of the big Copa’s; I swept him from half guard, and began to try and pass. But as I was attempting to pass my pants began to fall down, and I happened to not be wearing any underwear that day. I reached down to pull them up then Megaton started to choke me, I would defend the choke then my pants would fall back down. Keep in mind this is in front of a packed house as well. Long story short, Megaton choked me out that day. After the fight Rickson came up to me and said, “you never stop fighting” and I responded, “It wasn’t your ass out there!” It was all very funny.”
“Another time I was in a match and I tapped out this guy, thinking I had won I got up and turned my back to him. However, the ref didn’t see the tap, so this guy jumps on my back and tries to choke me out. There’s no way I’m letting this guy tap me out, so I jumped backwards into the judges tables with him on my back. Needless to say I was disqualified.”
How would you describe your approach or style to teaching?
“First off, I have been very fortunate to have had great teachers from both side of the Gracie family. While I have always been part of the Carlson Gracie Team, I also trained at Barra Gracie with Rigan Machado and Renzo Gracie. For practically my whole life I have been immersed in jiu-jitsu, and have had the pleasure of training with some of the sports great teachers and competitors. From each one I take a little something that has all influenced my own way of teaching. In this way I provide my own take on traditional Jiu-Jitsu. There are many important steps and details to each technique, if you miss the small details then you have no real technique. A good teacher is able to see how to change a technique for different body types and not to simply have everyone always doing the same thing. I also try to build a complete game for my students that involve both stand-up and ground, top and bottom.”
Could you tell us what your thoughts are on the state of jiu-jitsu right now?
“BJJ used to be more technical. Now many people are in a rush to compete both in sport jiu-jitsu and especially in MMA. Fighters want you to prepare them as quickly and efficiently as possible without having the proper time to build a really technical ground game. The UFC proved everyone must learn the ground game and it has been great for growing the sport of Jiu-Jitsu, but it makes people rush to quickly in their training. My opinion is that if possible, give yourself more time to spend in the Gi and learn to box separately as well. This will provide you with a solid foundation to become a better fighter. What I don’t agree with is how some people are giving black belts out to early, often for financial reasons. Seven years is the minimum for a quality black belt in BJJ, otherwise the belt is not as valuable. A true black belt has reached a certain level of mastery in all aspects of the game. The black belt is a representation of your master and the lineage. I could never dishonor Carlson by giving away a fake black belt.
Recently Carlson passed away. Is there anything you would like to say about him?
“Carlson was the best out of all the great instructors. He lived to create champions. He didn’t care if your last name was Gracie or not, he just wanted the best guys. He never held anything back from his students and that’s why many of them beat the Gracies. This was also what initially created tension between the two sides of the Gracie family.”
“My favorite memories of jiu-jitsu were Carlson in my corner, screaming and cheering me on. When he was at the tournaments he brought an energy you just don’t see anymore.