By: Felix Rodriguez, Staff Writer
HOUSTON, TX, December 3, 2012 – Part I of our interview with Romulo Reis Pereira ended with him explaining why Brazilian black belts that receive promotions ahead of time and those who promote themselves to higher ranks in America are harming the sport and doing a disservice to their students. If you haven’t checked out the first half of this very candid conversation you may want to give it a read before starting at the deep end of the pool! We continue Part II of the interview right where we left off. If you were hoping Romulo would elaborate more on this controversial issue then you are in luck, here is the rest of what Mr. Reis had to say.
Interview Pt. 2 – Romulo Reis Pereira (Rilion Gracie / Gracie Elite)
It’s funny you mention self-promotions because here in Texas there was an instance where an instructor was thought of as having given himself a promotion to black belt before opening his academy. What do you think happens once the trust between teacher and student is compromised?
(Laughs) Bye Bye, Baby! This is unacceptable. I would imagine that this person is no longer in the business of teaching jiu-jitsu, right?
We’ll tell you who he is if you tell us who the black belts you were talking about are; do we have a deal?
I don’t think so my friend.
Fair enough, going back to the credibility issue. In the 1980s and 1990s Tae Kwan Do had a similar problem that you describe. All of a sudden every strip mall had a TKD school with a flabby 19th degree black belt who claimed they could kill you with one touch. Do you think the credibility of jiu-jitsu could devolve in this way if this problem continues unchecked?
Possibly, but your example is extreme. These guys are hurting our history, tarnishing our name. This doesn’t happen in the academies of Rilion or Rickson. Royler or Jacare [Cavalcanti]. You know in the big names’ house you got to work for that. You can’t promote yourself and you can’t expect to be promoted because you are a friend of the professor; you earn what you wear. There is truth to the saying that the belt covers two inches of your butt and you are responsible for the rest, but the belt is serious. One day you’re a black belt for real and more so if you have on the same patch as me when I go compete, but even if not, if you show yourself to be a mediocre black belt I will also be judged by your level of knowledge.
Why do you think that this level of knowledge, or lack thereof, will affect how you will be judged as a black belt too?
Let’s say a guy with some college level wrestling comes into a school looking to try BJJ for the first time and he gets one of these fake black belts. If the black belt doesn’t correctly apply the concepts of momentum and leverage a person of this level should fully understand, there is a chance that the wrestler will dominate him or her. This wrestler will then leave the academy unimpressed by the art and will either think it is not worth trying or worse will not try it and will tell others of this as well. It is bad in every way, bad for the reputation of the Art and bad for the business of jiu-jitsu. This is one of the reasons why I still compete now, I like for my students to see that I talk the talk and I walk the walk. I will always test myself against the other black belts in tournaments if my body will allow for this.
You used to compete under Rilion Gracie, but now you compete under Gracie Elite; why the change and can you tell us more about what Gracie Elite is?
I compete for Master Rilion Gracie even when it is under the Gracie Elite name. Gracie Elite is just a group of academies that are united for competitions; Master Rilion is like the captain.
Can you tell us, which academies make up the Gracie Elite Team, and the reason why they all came together?
Gracie Elite is one group of the Gracies that have a similar philosophy and they are working together in the competitions. The team has members from the academies of Rilion, Renzo, Roger and Ralph Gracie. Some of the big names that compete are Rolles [Gracie], Igor [Gracie] Gregor [Gracie], Roger and Kyra. Also the academy of Gordo [Rafael Pereira] and a few others I can’t remember right now. The purpose of coming together was in order to bring equal numbers against bigger teams like Gracie Barra, Alliance and Gracie Humaita who always made the team podium helped by the huge number of people they had in the competitions.
Can you tell us about some of the new generation of competitors you enjoy watching at tournaments like ADCC or the Mundials?
My favorite person to watch compete are Roger because his game is simple and predictable but usually unstoppable; Takedown or sweep, mount and choke. I also like watching Cobrinha [Rubens Charles] because his game is great. I love how Kron Gracie fights to win by submission instead of points, to me these are the type of guys who are the fun ones to watch because they embody the real philosophy of jiu-jitsu even in competition.
What do you think about what we’re seeing with more people focused on berimbolos, the deep half-guard, the 50/50; do you think this just a trend or is it the next evolution of the art?
I think lots of intelligent guys are out there creating these new moves, but I don’t see this as very efficient. Jiu-Jitsu should work everywhere not just competitions, you see this in a street fight or in MMA and the fight’s over. Try to understand, lots of people have strayed from the foundation of jiu-jitsu. I see this a lot, students after three months want to start learning berimbolos and 50/50 sweeps. No man, learn open guard, learn how to sweep from guard, learn a lapel choke…to pass guard. Learn posture! No disrespect to anyone, I just have a very old-school perspective passed on to me by my master, Rilion Gracie and that is belief in a solid foundation first and foremost.
In your opinion when breaking down the time spent on each facet of BJJ what importance should be put to takedowns, street self-defense, competitions, cardio, etc?
It depends, I try to teach everything, but it really depends on the level of the student. In the beginning I try to focus more on self-defense, judo, the small transitions from one guard pass to another. Teach how to use the arms and legs, get the essence of posture, stuff like that. After a little bit of mat time when they understand about protection then I throw them in with the rest, train the gi, train in no-gi. Learn competition pointers, but they don’t come to my school to compete, they come to learn real jiu-jitsu, which is the meal and the competition is the dessert. Not everyone that eats at the restaurant enjoys dessert but everyone eats the meal and is satisfied at our house!
The beginner class is very important, my master always describes it as the foundation of the building, if your foundation is weak, it doesn’t matter how much time you invest into your building it will eventually fall. Real jiu-jitsu isn’t learning to earn points for a medal, real jiu-jitsu is a balance of many aspects and, in some ways, competitions decided by points take students away from the real path to the black belt.
Did you watch the recent Metamoris show? What were your thoughts on the event and would you like to see more submission only type tournaments that take the focus away from point scoring in the future?
I watched Metamoris, man I liked that show a lot! I want to see more competitions like this in the future. Everyone came out aggressive, good jiu-jitsu shown, the problem of too much stand up and too much stalling went away. This is a better system in my opinion. Since we are talking about tournaments and better systems I want to say also that I think that only black belts should be considered world champions. This is just my personal opinion, but first, black belts that are competing should be paid like every professional athlete. These professionals that compete for no pay should be put in a separate professional league where their fights count for a world championship and are compensated properly. I’m not saying they should not compete in tournaments with other belts, I’m saying that the black belt is the highest level and is the only one that should be world champion, everyone else is trying to become a black belt, they deserve the medal and the recognition, but to call them the world champion is disrespectful to the black belt. This is just my opinion, nobody has to agree with this. I like competing with my students, but I have deep respect for hierarchy and I truly believe that only adult, masters, senior black belts and eventually coral belts if they wish to compete should receive the title of “world champion.”
What advice can you give to people in their late 30s and 40s who want to begin competing or remain active in competitions?
Train jiu-jitsu every day, eat healthy and stay active! I try to train two hours a day, I love surfing and swimming, water relaxes my mind and body. If you don’t have access to waves then ride a bike or go running, stay active and complement your jiu-jitsu training with other activities that will help improve your cardio. This is one of the most important elements of tournament training, the cardio. You should not train for cardio, you should train for jiu-jitsu, seek activities outside of your mat time for improving cardio and focus most of your time on the mats to improving your techniques. If my students want to train for tournaments and want to improve I make them do more exercises geared towards explosion and resistance but all specific to jiu-jitsu, not burpees and pushups or things like that, they help but you can do that on your own time; I can help your uchi-mata and your armbar better than your burpees you know what I’m saying? I’m almost 40 and this has worked for my career as a competitor and allowed me to stay healthy.
Thank you so much for your time, is there anything else you would like to add?
I want to thank everyone who practices the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, keep training and remember that if you learn jiu-jitsu you can learn to compete, but if you learn to compete you don’t necessarily learn jiu-jitsu!