By Felix Rodriguez, Staff Writer
HOUSTON, TX, November 26, 2012 – Romulo Reis Pereira has been training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for more than 20 years. The Florianopolis, Brazil native is a third degree black belt under Master Rilion Gracie. Professor Reis is one of the head instructors at the Rilion Gracie Academy of Miami and a frequent featured professor at Master Rilion’s Houston facility.
The 39 year-old Reis is an advocate of tournaments and he leads his students by example competing in the Medium-Heavy Senior 1 division. Professor Reis’ most recent additions to his already overflowing trophy case include a gold medal in the 2012 Panam Senior 1 division and a silver medal in the Senior 1 division of the 2012 Worlds. During his most recent visit to Houston, Reis sat down with TXMMA.com to talk about the jiu-jitsu lifestyle and some of the differences between jiu-jitsu in the U.S. and Brazil; we hope you enjoy his insight as much as we did!
Interview – Romulo Reis Pereira (Rilion Gracie / Gracie Elite)
When you were still living in Brazil were you focused on competition or were you also teaching?
I’ve never been completely focused on competition. Not even at my physical peak, Master Rilion’s philosophy is that competition is great for you, but a true black belt must be equally comfortable teaching so I have tried to pay careful attention to that aspect as well. I opened my first academy as a brown belt in South Brazil with my brother Alexandre and have had to learn to balance my roles as instructor, competitor and business manager from early on.
How has the balance between these three parts worked out for you?
It has not been easy, but I’ve had good guidance and the balance has worked out great! I have many black belts who are helping spread the message of Jiu-Jitsu that Grand Master Carlos Gracie passed on to Master Rilion and I taught to them. I am living my dream here in the U.S. with many new great students starting that same journey and I have won many gold medals in almost every major competition; the only one I’m missing that I really want is the gold at worlds. Next year!
You grew up in South Brazil, what made you want to come to the United States?
I decided to move to the U.S. about two and a half years ago almost by a coincidence. My Master (Rilion Gracie) had already moved here, I called him one day and he wanted me come help with the teaching and to test myself competing here. What the Master wants…[he gets]; this was something I always wanted to do anyway so I came to check it out and now I live here with my family! Today I couldn’t be happier living in the U.S. with my wife and daughter.
How big was your school at the time you were invited to come to the U.S. and was it a hard decision for you to pack up and leave the life you were accustomed to?
I had gone from Florianopolis to Criciúma when Master Rilion asked me to join him. At this point I had already promoted about more than 20 black belts so the network of students I had developed was pretty large.
Have you thought about a time to stop competing?
I love competing, I’ve fought in Japan twice, I was the champion of my region for many years and don’t remember the last time I lost in my hometown and I’m still doing well in competitions now. I love competing and this is a great time to fight and compete. I never stop competing because I believe competitions are a great learning opportunity. This is where the best guys reveal their best techniques; it is a great place to scout the details of these moves and also to learn to control your emotions. Achieving this is a feeling that I enjoy and try to pass on to my students to make them better. Also, I think it is very special to compete with your students side-by-side. It makes me happy to motivate them by going through the things they go through because they know I don’t ask anything of them I don’t do myself. For these reasons I think competition is very important and I will continue competing for a long time.
You are based primarily in Miami, but have been showing up in Texas more and more; what do you think of the level of Jiu-Jitsu we have here in Texas?
My first competition here was the IBJJF Houston Open where I got a medal, but the competitors were incredibly tough. I have a ton of respect for how Jiu-Jitsu has developed in Texas. I didn’t know what to expect the first time I competed here, but the event was packed with lots of high-level guys. There technique shows me that they have benefited from good instruction. There are many big names in Texas now that are well known in Brazil.
Can you tell us some of the guys you think are doing a good job of bringing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu from Brazil to Texas?
My first choice of course is Master Rilion Gracie, it [his jiu-jitsu] is the closest to the source, but other great guys are here too like Draculinho and Carlos Machado have carried the jiu-jitsu torch well here from Brazil. There are other guys too, it used to be that people would come to Brazil for good training, now with so many high-level guys here a lot of the times Brazilians need to come to the U.S. to get the really good training because these guys are out here looking for opportunities.
So you think the jiu-jitsu in the U.S. is stronger than Brazil’s now?
Not yet. I think a lot of the older professors are living here now and so are some of the bigger names competing from Brazilian competitors are living here now, but they are still Brazilian. Maybe in the future, these older professors are the guys with the best understanding of attention to details, they have given their black belts the benefit of more experience, and theses black belts are starting to produce black belts as well. Between this and the big Brazilian names that are leaving our country to come live here, it is a matter of time before the jiu-jitsu becomes at least equal level if not better.
Who are some of the people that you looked up to when you were working towards getting a black belt that made you want to emulate their styles?
Master Rilion’s level of technicality is amazing, his mental toughness and overall calmness on the mat and his attitude outside of it make him my point of reference and inspiration when deciding my preferred style. I have never seen him use strength in training, he’s like a modern samurai and really embodies the spirit of budo. I also have nice amount of respect for Rickson [Gracie] he has been a role model for so many people and a good ambassador of the art. I think there jiu-jitsu is very similar in their purity, but Master Rilion is less known because he has been less of a public figure for jiu-jitsu than Rickson. Master Rilion and his cousin [Rickson Gracie] are the two best examples of pure traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, I have to say that because Master Rilion is smaller and lighter I find what he is able to do that much more impressive.
The old school path to the black belt was decided by the student’s professor and took an average of 10 years, nowadays in the U.S. we are seeing more and more schools adopt a belt-testing protocol that results in belts being awarded at a far quicker rate. What are your thoughts on this practice?
This depends on the intention of the school. Graduation for the students should be a careful process. If you promote a student to fast you destroy them. A lot of professors give out belts to control students and keep them in their academy. It took me four years to earn my blue belt and another four to get my purple. I got my brown and black belts faster, but the middle belts took forever because I needed to develop a strong foundation. Promoting too fast doesn’t allow for students to have a solid fountain of skills, this is why you see “brown” and “black” belts being submitted by blue and purple belts. This should not happen, that said, the belt is for tying the gi.
Do you think that it is OK to make students pay for their belt test?
I never paid for a belt exam and I would never make a student of mine pay for theirs either. The belt promotion is something special, it is something the student works very hard for and to be surprised with a promotion is like receiving a special gift from your instructor because it is not expected. This was not part of my jiu-jitsu education, our school’s philosophy puts jiu-jitsu as a lifestyle so when you pay to change the belt in my mind this is not correct, maybe other people think different, but to me the belt is something you earned so I don’t think I should I should charge you for what you earn.
Can you tell us about other things done differently here that you don’t agree with?
For me the biggest problem regarding jiu-jitsu in the USA is of students coming to this country from Brazil and putting stripes on their own belts. This is wrong. These guys putting stripes on shouldn’t be promoted like that. Right now there are guys out there that have magic or a time machine because they are more high level than my professor.
Do you mean that people who have started training after Rilion Gracie did have a higher rank than he does? Can you tell us who?
Yes this is what I mean, After a black belt promotions come after a certain amount of time, it is impossible for these black belts and even coral belts sometimes to have the same or higher rank than Master Rilion because he received his black belt before them. I won’t say who, but they know who they are and it is not hard to figure out. Everybody knows these names, and it is not good for the sport, it is not fair for the students who believe the instructor. These fake promotions hurts the credibility of all of us because when one person gets discovered doing this and word gets around this creates mistrust. For jiu-jitsu to be taught correctly the student must have full confidence and trust in their instructors and mentors.
Professor Reis was very candid in his opinions, what do you all think about the method of promotions in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world? Do you prefer the standard subjective 10-year method or a streamlined process with tangible benchmarks to work towards? We’d love to hear where our readers stand on this topic so feel free to chime in!