Cobrinha’s Renewed Passion

INSIDE BJJ
How did you get involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? How old were you when you started? What attracted you to Brazilian Jiu-JItsu?

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2000. I was about 21 years old. I was teaching Capoeira at a friend’s Martial Arts school, and he decided to add a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program to his curriculum because it had become very popular in Brazil. He asked me to come try it. Because of Capoeira I was in good condition, very flexible, and had good balance and strength so I expected it to be pretty easy for me. I was so surprised to see how easily someone else could beat me. It made me very interested and made me want to learn more. I kept returning and practicing. Before long found myself spending more time training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu than Capoeira.

INSIDE BJJ
You have had the opportunity to train with many great grapplers and fighters. What has been you favorite experience?

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
It seems impossible for me to pick a single experience as my favorite. So many represent major milestones in my life and career, and each had their place in my development.

Moving to Sao Paulo to train with Terere is what opened the doors to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a career option for me. Not only did his influence help me develop the skills to compete at the world championship level, but the training discipline help form the basis for how I approach everything in life today.

Moving to the US to teach in Atlanta under Jacare opened new doors and opportunities for me. I had the opportunity to develop my teaching skills and learn what it means to build a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu family. Finally, moving to LA to open my own school has been an incredibly rewarding experience. To see my students developing as athletes and humans every day gives me a fulfillment that I never anticipated. To see their struggles in life and in competition hurts worse than my own, and their successes on and off the mats makes me happier than my own.

INSIDE BJJ
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in Brazilian in Jiu-Jitsu? Who is your toughest competitor?

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
I would have to say either my first or my last world championship title or my last would be my greatest accomplishment. The first one because it is always difficult to win the first. It takes not only incredible discipline to be physically prepared, but it also takes the right mental attitude and confidence … which is often the most difficult obstacle to overcome in winning your first major title. To add to that, in order to win my first world IBJJF title, which was in 2006, I had to beat Marcio Feitosa who was a great athlete. I consider that a huge honor and great accomplishment. That said, I think it is even more difficult to continue winning world titles because you become the target of everyone in the division. People study your game looking for weaknesses, so you have to continuously evolve and push yourself. Winning my fourth in a row was an accomplishment I am very proud of … but I am not done yet.

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It is even harder to name the toughest competitor I’ve faced because so many in this division are great – and that has been true year in and year out. I always look at the field and see several athletes who are capable of winning the most prestigious titles. Guys like Bruno Frazatto, Marcio Feitosa, Theodoro Canal sit on that list. But I think Mario Reis has been my most consistently tough competitor. He has been near or at the top of the podium in any tournament he enters for that last many, many years – and he still is, placing third in this past year’s Mundial. Not only is he one of the toughest, but he is also one who I admire because of his approach to fighting. He is always fighting for the win … always looking for the submission. When he competes against me, or anyone else, I think he goes in expecting to win or lose by submission. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but he doesn’t ever look to stall or attempt to win by advantage or points. I like that warrior spirit and try to fight in that way myself.

Of course, over the past couple years, Rafael Mendes has proven the most difficult athlete to beat in the division. He is not only very skilled but also has a very strategic approach to competition which has contributed to his success. I have been open over my disappointment with our fights, even the ones I have won, because they haven’t always been the style of exciting, attacking Jiu-Jitsu that I want for our sport. That said, I think our ADCC finals match was a very exciting fight.

INSIDE BJJ
What is your philosophy when it comes to training? Some instructors emphasizes drilling and structured rolling and less live rolling. Other instructors emphasize more live rolling. What is your opinion on this? How do you manage your training time?

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
Both are critical to the success of a serious Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete, but drilling is probably the most overlooked. I am a big advocate of drilling positions and situations. I think you should drill as much as possible to burn positions into muscle memory so you don’t have to think about your action when the situation arises. In a normal training session, I might drill for approximately 1 hour and spar for another hour or so.

INSIDE BJJ
What is the future of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition? Many organizations pay no prize money. Athletes survive by sponsorship, seminars and second jobs. Making a career of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is similar to wrestling in the United States. It’s very difficult to work unless you coach. Mixed-Martial Arts has created an opportunity for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes to earn a living. Do you feel this will hurt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition with the best competitors focusing more on MMA and less on BJJ competition?

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
I hope our sport continues to grow and develop, which will result in more financial opportunities for the athletes to remain in the sport to make a living from competition. Already there are some events, especially the ones sponsored by His Highness Sheikh Tahnoon, that provide very nice purses for the athletes. I think as our sport grows and there are more spectators, the opportunities will also improve. It is one of the main reasons that I have been so vocal about the need for us to ensure we keep our sport and our matches interesting and fun to watch. Ultimately, this will improve the quality of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu overall as it will increase the number of athletes, the number of spectators, the number of opportunities to earn a living from the sport.

If we allow the sport to become boring, who will watch? Who will pay? Where will the opportunities come? I think that the athletes and administrators in our sport today have the opportunity and responsibility to pave the path for the future.

INSIDE BJJ
Andre Galvao recently published criticism of the points/advantage system used in IBJJF tournaments. Is there anything in the existing tournament system you’d like to see changed?

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
As I was just referring, I think the rules in our sport have led to a decline in excitement. There is much more stalling and acceptance of stalling as a strategic moves in tournaments, and I believe that is bad for our sport. I think we must change the rules to more severely penalize athletes who stall and institute rules that encourage more free flowing, open matches.

INSIDE BJJ
Recently, there’s been talk about the use of performance enhancing drugs in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think there is a drug problem in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments?

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
I suspect that in all professional sport, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is no different, there are athletes who use performance enhancing drugs to get stronger, reduce recovery time, or whatever. I am totally against the use of any illegal supplement, and I hope that the sport is able to implement an effective testing process to eliminate or reduce its prevalence. I don’t know if it is rampant as some have claimed. Of course, I wouldn’t likely know for sure as the athletes who do it do not advertise it as such. I also suspect there are athletes who people think are using performance enhancing drugs who are not. The regimen of a world class athlete in our sport is crazy and includes training and intense work outs for 6-8 hours a day almost every single day. That kind of intense training will build muscle and endurance that might seem unnatural for an average person.

INSIDE BJJ
What is the greatest lesson you have learned in your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu journey?

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
Probably my greatest lesson is that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is about so much more than what happens in a 10 minute match or during the hours of training. The lessons are not just for the athlete but extend to life. They are about having patience, determination, and discipline. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is just like life in that each position or situation you are in, you must find a way to solve your problem. It does no good to complain or sulk in the moment – we are to seek solutions to the immediate dilemma just like on the mat. It is one of the things that has led to what I say to all my students, “Do not let things happen … make them happen.” That applies whether it be in the sport or in the office.

INSIDE BJJ
What is next for you? Any else you’d like to mention? (Sponsors, etc.)

Rubens Cobrinha Charles
This was a big year for me as I opened my own school in Los Angeles, Cobrinha Jiu-Jitsu and Fitness which is located at 4929 Wilshire Blvd on the Miracle Mile in Hollywood. I am so happy with the academy and all my students and honored that they have chosen to learn this art with me. I am dedicated to growing and improving that academy. Anyone in the LA area, come check out the school. Anyone, from any affiliation, is welcome. We’d love to bring you into our family, but you are also welcome as guests. For those from outside LA, we have a great exchange program for you to train with us. You can find more about us online at http://www.cobrinhabjj.com.

Although originally intent on retiring after last year, I have found myself wanting to compete and was thrust unexpectedly into competition at the Abu Dhabi World Pro in April, and it ignited my inspiration to compete again. I then decided to also compete in the World Championships which were just a week ago, even though I really haven’t been training properly for that level event. I took third place this year, but most importantly, it confirmed my commitment to returning to competition form for the upcoming year.

Up next for me is the ADCC Submission World Championships in September. I was very happy to receive an invitation, and I will be well prepared.

Thank you, Tim & INSIDE BJJ, for conducting this interview and for everything you do for our sport and its followers. I’d also like to thank my competition sponsor, Keiko, for their ongoing support and constant commitment to quality. I’d also like to thank all the students at Cobrinha Jiu-Jitsu. They have inspired me to be a better person, teacher, and competitor, and they have already sacrificed a great deal to prove to me that they too will be champions in life and the sport. Of course, I can never thank my wife, Daniela, enough for all the support she provides me. There is no way I could have accomplished so much without her help, dedication, and sacrifice.

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