1. Hi Master Luiz, can you please introduce yourself to the BJJ community of Eastern Europe ?
I was born in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on January 19, 1959. I started training in Rio De Janeiro in 1977 at the age of 18 under Rolls Gracie and continued to train with him until Rolls died in 1982 in a hang-gliding accident. After Rolls passing, I continued my training under Rolls’s brother, Rickson Gracie. After 7 years of practicing BJJ I was awarded the black belt in 1984 by Rickson Gracie together with Grand Master Helio Gracie. Currently I am a 7th degree Coral Belt (Black and Red belt) in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I received my Coral belt in 2010 by Grand Master Carlos Robson Gracie, Red Belt 9th Degree (President of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Rio de Janeiro). In 1999, then a 6th degree black belt, I was asked to move from Brazil to come to the United States to teach at Rickson Gracie’s Academy in Los Angeles. After teaching there for almost 8 years, in 2007, I opened my own Academy “Jacksonville Gracie Jiu Jitsu” in Jacksonville FL, where I currently reside.
As a competitor I have won the Rio de Janeiro championships several times and in 1998 was the Brazilian National Champion in the heavy weight senior division and open. In 2002 I took 3rd place in Masters and Seniors International. I have also won the Pan American Champion super heavy weight senior division and open in 2000, 2003, and 2004.
During my teaching career I have been involved with introducing BJJ techniques into combative training in the military and with law-enforcement in the United States as well as Europe. I am a certified Army Combative instructor and have initiated the development of an on-going Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu based Combative training program inside the US Navy SEALS compound in Dam Neck, Virginia Beach, VA. In 2010, in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan, the 3rd Battalion 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) invited me to conduct a five month long training program at Camp Blanding. In addition to teaching BJJ in the army, I also provide BJJ instruction to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO).
In 2006, I released two instructional DVDs featuring Closed Guard Attacks, as well as techniques for progressing from White to Blue Belt. I have also founded the BJJ GRAND PRIX (www.bjjgrandprix.com) website since 2008 and in conjunction with the Florida National Guard started conducting two tournaments every year at the National Guard Armory in Jacksonville, FL, to promote BJJ in the NE Florida area. One in the spring called the JAX BJJ OPEN, and one in the fall called the SUNSHINE STATE BJJ OPEN.
2.How did you start training Jiu-Jitsu?
The main reason that I started training jiu jitsu was because of my younger brother. He was the one who first started training jiu jitsu, and, being competitive as I am, I started to train the very next day. Until today I am very grateful to him.
3. Please tell us more about academy in Florida, and also your other ones. Are you planning to have more academies in the U.S. as well as in the world?
In Florida I have two academies that I run together with my sons, and besides that I have academy affiliates across the country, and a few in Europe where I often teach and promote. This way I help to develop jiu jitsu around the world. One of my biggest goals nowadays is to create a strong association in Eastern Europe. This way I can help to develop jiu jitsu in this part of the world. One of the next steps is for me to find partners to start official BJJ tournaments in this part of the world.
4. How and why were you involved with the development of BJJ in Albania?
My brown belt student Paulo Rigon, spent almost one year Albania in 2010 together with his wife who is originally from that country. While in Albania Paulo met with Rezart Spahia who was already a blue belt under Roger Gracie and together opened a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy at Tirana MMA Center. For the opening ceremony which took place in October 2011 they invited me to come, visit Albania and help promote Jiu Jitsu in Albania. That was a very nice surprise because the people are very friendly and the country is beautiful. During my visit we were featured on the national news introducing Jiu Jitsu to Albania and I was also invited to teach with the Albania Special Forces.
Now, after almost one year, I am going back to Albania to hold a seminar and see the development of the Albanian BJJ students as well as continue to help promote our art in that country.
5. How do you see BJJ growing in Albania over the next few years.
The future of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Albania will follow the natural path of how it’s been growing all over the world. It’s been the fastest growing martial arts in the world since it was introduced to the world at the UFC by the Gracie family, that I had the honor and pleasure to learn from them since 1976. Although BJJ as a martial art is not yet as popular in Albania as in the United States or some other European countries, Tirana MMA Center has some talented athletes who have fared well in international competitions and with work and dedication will most likely continue to succeed. For sure the seed that my student Paulo Rigon planted in Albania and is carried forth by Rezart Spahia and his colleagues has all the elements for continued success.
6. What were the main lessons that you learned from Helio, Rolls and Rickson Gracie? How was it training under such distinguished martial artists?
There wasn’t any specific lesson that I could even explain, because Jiu Jitsu is like a chess game. You need to understand the body mechanics, mixed with the techniques and timing. At the same time we have to use the opponent’s technique against themselves to gain the advantage. Regarding the training with my masters, it was tough and gratifying because they were always ahead of my moves. The biggest lesson was that they never satisfied with their own game and were always making improvements.
One of the special experiences while training alongside Rolls and Rickson was that they were competing at the same tournaments as I was. It was a very rare experience to have my instructors be co-competitors and team mates. Most of the instructors nowadays do not compete for a lot of different reasons. Seeing you instructors put their butt on the line, risking their reputation and always competing forces you to follow their philosophy.
Besides jiu jitsu tournaments we had a lot of opportunity to prove that jiu jitsu is the best martial art, by challenging different martial arts to compete against us in vale tudo (everthing goes), which is now called MMA. From Grand Master Helio Gracie I learned the most valuable lesson that the most effective submission is a choke, simply because a guy with a broken bone can still fight. With a choke, our opponents only have two choices: tap or sleep.
7. Please tell us about the work that you are doing with the US Army and police.
I talked about this a little bit in the previous questions, but I just want to add that the US army has been including jiu jitsu in its hand to hand combat curriculum for more than 10 years. The police introduced jiu jitsu as well, because it was the best way to restrain the bad guys without punching or kicking.
8. What are other BJJ players that you admire, and why?
Over the last few years the best competitor that consistently has stood out is Roger Gracie. Off course there are many other BJJ practitioners that I admire, but I don’t want to start naming them because I don’t want to forget anyone.
9. How would you describe your game?
I love taking down, passing guard, mount and submit.
10. What your favorite guard passes, submissions?
It is impossible to speak of a favorite guard pass without knowing the opponent’s guard. I have to be prepared for all different kinds of guard passes. But if I have a chance I always I like to smash and pass very tight, controlling the hips. And my favorite submission following Grand Master Helio Gracie’s philosophy is the choke. I really like to look in the guy’s eyes when I choke.
11. What do you think about how sport/competition BJJ is developing nowadays?
Regulating BJJ to fight sport rules that are understandable and attractive for the spectators it’s not an easy task. That is why the new sport competition is starting to stray far from the roots of jiu jitsu — time limits favor strong and athletic guys, the points system has created room for spectacular techniques that are attractive for the eye but aren’t very applicable in the street. While I fully understand the practical limitations of sport BJJ and also recognize its value to the evolution of the art, BJJ practitioners throughout the world should not forget that BJJ first and foremost is a martial art rooted in self-defense. We should not allow for BJJ to go along the same route as certain other martial arts that have lost much from their origins and have stripped down their arsenal to please the public or the Olympic committee. I say this because, unfortunately, the large majority of BJJ black belts don’t know enough self-defense techniques and therefor don’t spend enough time to practice and to teach them, in search for that next competition medal…. We should always remind ourselves that the main idea of Brazilian jiu jitsu is for the small, weak, not very athletic person to be able to defend himself or his or her family from a bigger, stronger, opponent.
12. What are your opinions on the Metamoris Pro event?
It was a very good idea to have a competition without points but decide the winner only by submission. I actually would like to see an event like this but without time limits at all, so that nobody can stall and let time run out.
13. If you want to thank somebody please feel free.
I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to your readers. I invite all of them to join me in the seminar I will hold in Tirana, Albania on November 24th and November 25th. I will teach Gi, No GI, and of course, self-defense, as well as a session on rules and refereeing. Please contact Rezart Spahia at firstname.lastname@example.org or see the posted flier on your site for further details and information.