BJJ pioneer in Sweden: Marcelo “Yogui” Santiago: “Sweden is one of the powerhouses of European BJJ”

Source: grapplerinfo.pl

1  -Could you tell us how your adventure with BJJ started? How did you get involved in BJJ?

First thank you guys for the oportunity to share a litle of my life.
The first contact with Jiu-Jitsu was in my house,back in 1981,my father was trainning with Carlson at Gracie Academy in Copacabana and became a good friend with Master Carlos Gracie and started to follow the Gracie diet developed for Mr. Carlos. It’s a combination of different types of healthy foods; and also with diferents Teas from herbs,like a natural medicine.
One day back home  from School and Master Carlos was having a dinner with my father and he asked me if I had trained Jiu-Jitsu? I answered: no, and he said to me to go and talk to his son Rillion and start trainning JJ with him in his house in Ipanema(at Redentor Street).
After the meeting with Mr. Carlos i decide to start trainning and two days after my birthday i start train at Gracie family house. It was on the 3rd floor, they had  a big tatame where the guys were sleeping and we trained some privates classes.
After a litle while we started trainning also at the Gracie academy in Copacabana where Carlinhos Gracie was teaching the Classes and also Rillion had openned an academy at Ipanema and then we trained at both places.

2 -You have had an opportunity to train with Rillion Gracie and Carlos Gracie Jr. You took the first steps under the watchful eye of them. Please descibe them. How do you remember that time? What is the point of BJJ for them?

Not only me, there was a big group that had the opportunity to enjoy that unforgetable moment of Jiu-Jitsu. We have so many good fighters around like all the Gracie brothers and cousins, The Machados Brothers. We have so  many members there but Jiu-Jitsu wasn’t famous like is now. It was much way smaller if you compare to the dimension we have now all over the world. In the time since I started i have had the opportunity to make friends for life.
Training with Carlinhos,Rillion and all the members for the family,was an amazing experience and that’s what has changed my life forever.
The opportunity we had back in that time,to learn so much from everybody,thats what we now spread around the world and always representing the Gracie Family.

3 -What brought you to Sweden? Please tell us something about the history of your academy in Sweden. What was the direct cause of your coming to Sweden and opening the academy over here?

In the Year of 1997 I met a guy who came to Brasil and rented a flat. He came to see my academy (Gracie Ipanema) and he came with a girlfriend who was Swedish but spoke good portuguese and asked if he could train Jiu-Jitsu with us for two weeks and I said of course,welcome.
I arranged a gi for him and for two weeks ,everyday he came to train and two days before going back to Sweden he asked me if i could come to Sweden and teach them. I said no problem and he came back with a ticket 10 days later for Stockholm. It was hard to say to my girlfriend that I’m leaving in one week for Sweden and would stay there for two weeks. She went crazy 😉
When i came to Sweden to teach Jiu-Jitsu for the first time ,I was teaching at Kampsportskolan. It was a muay thay club,and now its called Stockholm Muay thay and still going good and strong.
After the first visit, I was trying to improve my English( at that time I didn’t speak at all). I came back many times to Sweden, Norway and Finland, teaching seminars all over Scandinavia, USA and South America. In one of my visits in Sweden I got a chance to meet August Wallen and started some colaboration and started to teach at Fighter Center( Gladius MMA) seminars and some of the members of his club would also come to train with me like Martin Janson, now one of my black belts here in Sweden.
When I moved here permanently 3 years ago, I first stayed in Jonkoping teaching with one of my black belts here in Sweden,Paul person at Samurai JJK. He suported me in the begginníng of my life here and then I moved to Goteborg to teach at Gladius MMA,where I’m based now.  I’m responsible for the BJJ section here we have classes for kids, adults and a competition team. We have many members and we will be one of the big BJJ teams in Europe.
A big part of my history here in Sweden its connected to Dynamix fighting sports(former sport ju jutsu association) and Ricard Carneborn. Back in 2001 on the way back for the world championiships in Uruguay,the Sport ju jutsu swedish team arrived in my city in Rio for vacation and I welcomed the guys in my city and showed them the best we had here. They were training alot and had a great time.
The connection with Ricard started with Johan Blondal,who had been training with me before and recomended that the group come and visit me in Rio and after that we started the cooperation and now I’m the BJJ head coach and we have 3 black belts here in Sweden and a lot winners in diferent martial arts. I’m glad to be a part of a family.
So many diferent things happened with the sport here in Scandinavia,and it grew so much. I’m happy to be one of the pioneers to start the sport here in the north of Europe and big thanks for Peter Zethraeus who gave me the first opportunity to come here and show my sport to so many people all those years.

4 – Sweden is a cold country. How did you manage the low temperatures?

That’s a good question. I’m never going to adapt to temperatures like 25 below zero and i dont think anybody can. The problem its not the cold,we miss the light, when it gets dark everybody feels a little down, but you get used to it. Nobody dies 😉

5-  Your swedish academy is not the only one you counduct. Tell us more about the rest of your academies, where are they situated?

Marcelo Yogui with Martin Janson and students

I work For Gladius MMA from Monday till friday, and I’m responsible for the BJJ section here. We have many groups and I’m teaching kids,regular adult class,the competition team and also work with professional fighters like Victor Cheng and Tommi Blom. I’m also head coach for Dynamix Fighting Sports,were I introduced BJJ and worked on their ground game. They are a former Scandinavian Sport JuJutsu association and since we started the cooperation 10 years ago we have made good progress and now we are 16 Academies. Ricard Carneborn has been doing a good job there.
I have now also started the cooperation with the Academy Randori in Denmark,who now are also representing Yogui BJJ. The instructor there, Bo Pedersen is doing a great work and will grow very much.
I also have my student in Argentina, Cesar Carceglia who has been doing a great job over there and now we are in Peru and Chile as well and once a year I come over there and we have the Annual meeting and all the academies get togheter trainning and meet each other to keep the family tight.

6 – Where about swedish BJJ in your opinion? Many people think that Swedish BJJ is one of the top European BJJ nations. Do you agree with this statement?

I hope so 😉   for that we have been working here very hard to spread the word and make Jiu-Jitsu bigger and with a nice structure. People here very often go to Brasil for camps and also many good Brazilians teachers also move here now and we with no doubt we are one of the big powerhouses of BJJ in Europe and will be even better soon.

7 -How would you compare Swedish BJJ, then and now?

When I came to Sweden, Jiu-Jitsu did not really exist ,many people had no idea what is was all about. In that time, some teachers have been here like Renzo Gracie, Murilo Bustamente and Alexandre Paiva.  Now I cannot imagine how many academies have people representing them here. There are really many and what I see in competitions, the level is improving all the time.

8- Please share your opinion about swedish people. What do you think about Sweden?

Swedish people are nice. A little hard to open up in the beginning but when you start to know people better, they are friendly people.
Sweden is a Beautiful country,with good and bad things,with good and bad people like anywhere else,but what they do for humanity helping so many foregneirs here is great. People come from war torn countries and get a chance to build a new life here,its a beautiful thing.

9 – Nowadays in Poland, the number of black belt is over 50. How many black belts are there in Sweden? Polish and Swedish fighters are among the top European BJJ countries, but there are much less Swedish fighters with black belts than Polish. Why is that?

I don’t know what is the diference between the Countries because i have never had the oportunity to go and visit Poland. It will be my pleasure anytime. What I can say is that you guys have excellent professional teachers working in Poland like Roberto Atalla ( my old friend and academy collegue), Felipe Costa,my good friend and I Believe Alexandre Paiva also has some afiliates in Poland. What I hear about BJJ in Poland is that it is very popular and has everything to be a big BJJ power in Europe.
Here in Sweden i can only speak for myself; I only promote people who really deserve it. It doesn’t matter who you are or if you like to compete or not. It’s more about what you know and if you really understand the sport, the moves and the leverage. I have been teaching in Sweden since 1997 and i have promoted 3 black belts: Martin Janson, Ricard Carneborn and Paul Persson.

10 – If you want tell some words for Polish readers or greet someone, go for it.

I want to say thanks for the opportunitty to talk about my experience and hope that we have a chance to meet and do some BJJ trainning.
Big Hug and my best Regards

Marcelo Yogui  Santiago