In our new interview, we had a chance to speak with none other than Felipe Costa, a World Champion who is loved by almost everyone in the Jiu Jitsu community, and a competitor who won his first gold medal at the World Championships in 2003.
The reason? By his own words – he did not win any „major“ tournaments until he was a black belt! Felipe never backed down and continued training hard, winning multiple titles and gaining a big following of students. He was more than enthusiastic to share with you – our readers – on how he achieved this.
BJJEE: Dear Felipe, thank you for being a part of this interview and for offering your insights to our readers.
To start, do you remember how was it that you got into BJJ? Was it a friend that introduced you to it or someone else?
Felipe: As a kid, I wanted so much to learn self defense. I was probably inspired by movies such as „Karate Kid“ as well. But, looking back at it now, I think it had to do with my personality as well; I am very protective of the ones close to me and I think that that may have contributed. I chose BJJ because it was close to my house, even though I didn’t know much about it. So I guess I can say I was pretty lucky.
So, what got me into starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was the self defense aspect of it – but what made me stay was the sport side.
What I mean by that is that I was surrounded by teammates that were competitors and I loved the challenge. I can say, without a doubt, that the sport aspect of Jiu Jitsu is what made me stay for so long. It’s so much fun and both physically and mentally challenging! It’s like playing chess with our bodies.
BJJEE: Could you tell us, who was the most influential figure at the beginning of your BJJ journey and why? Was it one of your teachers, perhaps?
Felipe: The biggest influences I had were my teachers and training partners. They were so good – both as teachers and competitors – that they were always setting a standard to which I was trying to aim for. I knew that by looking up to them, even if I could not get that far, I would be the best version of myself.
If I had to pick one example, it would be Rodrigo Comprido. He started as a student, just like me, but his progress was so fast that he soon became an instructor and, eventually, a leader of the academy and my teacher as well. He is such a good teacher and an amazing competitor in which I always had plenty of inspiration to look up to.
BJJEE: He must have been a really inspiring figure! But, looking inwardly now, what was the most important lesson that you learned yourself – through training and competing?
Felipe: We learn so many lessons on the mat, right? I’m afraid to pick one as the most important, but what jumps out in my mind as a very important lesson is that YOUR EGO will be an obstacle on the way of your progress.
I learned that very fast, maybe because I was usually the smallest one in the academy and didn’t have much of a choice but to accept that, most of the time, people will overpower me. Or, maybe because I was the youngest brother and that I got used to losing to my older brother in many games or situations, and that didn’t bother me as much…
But, I definitely learned that because I became a competitor – and once you make that transition, getting tapped in the academy totally changes its meaning. It becomes a perfect opportunity to see what and where to improve. People who never compete tend to make the gym their competition, whereas the ones who experience tournaments tend to make the gym into a laboratory, into a place to improve.
That simple mentality shift, in my understanding, will make a difference on your progress both in the academy and in life.
BJJEE: That is such an interesting and invaluable piece of advice you gave us, thank you. Now, your climb to BJJ stardom was unusual; prior to the World Championships in 2003, you were relatively unknown. But you outperformed everybody and won your first gold medal as a black belt on this tournament.
What do you think has attributed most to your success? Did you have a mental upper hand against other competitors, for some reason?
Felipe: I was completely unknown and the last person people would bet on to win in many tournaments and, even more so, the Worlds. But, what I believe to be the reason behind my success as a black belt has a deep relation to the answer I gave previously about ego and the way I carry myself.
I was never a gold medalist in the colored belts at IBJJF; the best I did growing up was conquering minor tournaments that were not impressive at all. But still, I was super proud of them.
I lost so many times and in all kinds of different situations that you can imagine. It’s not even a joke – think of a way to lose a fight. What came to your mind? Yep, I have lost that way. That is how confident I am of my losses. (Laughs)
But, even without a gold medal around my neck, I behaved like a champion, I carried myself like a champion, I trained like a champion, I focused on improving my technique as a champion. So when the opportunity came, I was ready to take the gold and officially become the number one.
Of course, I would love to have won everything possible on the colored belt, but I didn’t. Most people would have given up before their black belt. I didn’t stop because I enjoyed the training process and getting ready for a challenge, more than anything. Winning or losing will always only be the side consequences.
I have won a gold medal in ALL major gi tournaments of the World as a black belt, but even that didn’t come easily. When I speak about my results, people think I was winning gold after gold instantly after I got promoted to the black belt, but the truth is that I failed many times as well. But that is what made me into who I am today.
BJJEE: In relation to this, you also have a documentary about your path to success. Could you tell our readers why you’ve made it? Why is it important for them to watch it?
Felipe: We are used to hearing only about the stories of the super athletes and people who are amazing – I want to show that there is hope for everyone in Jiu Jitsu.
I know that there is a physical aspect to any sport, but in BJJ that alone is not enough and improving your technique should be your goal. I’m so proud to have conquered everything I did without ever cheating by using steroids or drugs of any kind. Everything I did was through hard work, sweat and tears.
If you ever had doubts about your path in any sport, I encourage you to look for the documentary on Youtube.
BJJEE: Likewise, from your own experience, what do you think are the most important factors for someone to become an excellent jiujiteiro? Why?
Felipe: When I was starting Jiu Jitsu, I heard someone say: „If you want to become good at BJJ, you have to be the first one to arrive, and to leave when the teacher shuts the lights out.“ I think this is true. Not that it has to be taken literally, but the idea is there.
Be punctual, show respect to your teacher’s and training partner’s time. Don’t stop before you are told to do so, don’t rest because you are a little bit tired – but don’t be stupid either, if you are injured or REALLY need to recover, then that is something else. Learn to become comfortable when in bad positions. Ask questions… I love answering questions my students have. But also learn to know when it is an appropriate time for them.
Roll, roll, roll. Gain mat time in the same way the pilots want to get flight hours.
BJJEE: Thank you. Now, on a slightly different but still related note – if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Felipe: I would be afraid to change something and mess up the result (laughs).
My failures made me who I am today. But I see what you mean. Knowing the situations in which I got serious injuries, I would try to avoid them if I could. I feel as some I could have avoided, by better listening to the signs my body gave me; as well as others that would happen when I’d try to overpower someone stronger.
Also, maybe I would have done a shoulder injury when I was young. I didn’t get it, and that has limited some of the aspects of my game. But, yet again, I can’t say it was too bad.
BJJEE: Now, we all know that BJJ is made out of amazing memories with people we train side by side and spend time with. Do you have a favorite, most treasured memory?
Felipe: This is what is fantastic about Jiu Jitsu, the moments and friendships we make along the way. I have traveled so much to teach and compete, that every trip with my Brasa team has given me a special memory.
Comprido and I have been organizing a BJJ Camp ever since 2004, and we have done it in many different places. People from all of the countries join together and some of our best friends came out of these moments.
We often hear about BJJ lifestyle and it is true that, once people become practitioners, they change their lives for the better in every aspect.
BJJEE: Thank you for putting your time for this interview. Is there anything else that you would like to mention to our readers before we conclude?
Felipe: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about these things. I would like to take the opportunity to invite everyone who visits Brazil to come and train at my „BrazilianBlackBelt“ academy, located in the best area of Rio. You can find more info at BrazilianBlackBelt.com, or contact me @FelipeCostaBJJ.