Can you tell the Inside BJJ readers about yourself? How did you get started in Brazilian Jiu-Jistu?
I’m originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil and started in Judo at age eight with Red Belt Luiz Catalano Calleja at the Sao Paulo Futebol Club (SPFC). I did Judo for 4 years for self defense and coordination, and participated in some competition just for the taste.
When I was 11 years old fighting the Zonal, City Tournament FPJ (State Qualifying) I placed third, which qualified me for the State Championships. This sparked the competitor in me. I was lucky to win the National Qualifying Tournament known as the Paulistano. I started training with a goal to compete in the Judo Nationals.
One afternoon on my way to Judo class on the back of my father’s motorcycle, a car hit us in front of the club. I didn’t have any fracture but my right leg was swollen and bruised for almost 4 months. I was 12 years old.
I lost the opportunity to fight the Judo Nationals. I became very unmotivated and stopped training in Judo. I started skateboarding instead, but every time I passed in front of a Martial Art Academy, I stopped to check it out.
While I kept skateboarding, I also did 2 years of kick-boxing with different small academies and gyms. I started to do Kyokushin Kaikan (which is a karate style who inspired the creation of the K1 in Japan) at the age of 14.
I trained in Kyokushin for about 2 years competing as a Juvenile Blue Belt (which competes with Blue, Green and Brown Belts), winning fights against higher belts and placing on the podium. I was a strong stand up fighter and competitor.
Jiu-Jitsu and I had been flirting for a while now. Friends of my older sister, and guys from my neighborhood, Freddy Sabitini (Cia Paulista Monrovia) and Paulo Gazze (Huntington Beach Jiu-Jitsu), were already training Jiu-Jitsu. But I was a stand up guy who loved to kick.
A close friend after a trip to Rio de Janeiro training Jiu-Jitsu with his cousin came back to Sao Paulo telling me I had to try Jiu-Jitsu.
After some stubbornness I went to check out one class with at the time Brown Belt Eduardo Leitao at Cia Paulista. After watching one class, seeing a couple of sweeps and the armlock (armbar) I was sold, and began training the next day. That was in 1994.
I used to love stand up fighting but after one Jiu-Jitsu class I almost stopped thinking of it. Even then, my goal was at some point to put the two together.
Early in your training, you were in a motorcycle accident and almost lost your leg. Roberto Abreu has a similar story of being in a car accident and suffering severe injuries. Doctors told Roberto Abreu that he would never be able to do Jiu-Jitsu again. What did the doctors tell you? Can you talk about the challenge of recovering from the accident and getting back on the mat?
In May 27th, 1995, I suffered my 2nd motorcycle accident which completely smashed my right leg. I was 17.
It was late afternoon, I had spent the day playing football, skateboarding and was taking a friend on the back of my bike when I was hit by a car taking a quick turn. I was in my neighborhood when it happened. The car came speeding into the turn going the wrong way, and the fender sliced my leg. It took an hour for the ambulance to arrive, and I was surrounded my people from my neighborhood who waited with me. I never once looked at my leg. The expressions on everyone’s faces was enough.
When I got to the hospital, the doctors (Orthopedic, Nerve, Blood and Plastic Surgery) after a meeting voted that the best thing to do was to amputate my leg.
At the time without me knowing any of this, my father told them, “if he has any chance to keep the leg we will do it.”
One weekend before my accident I had won the qualifying “Internal Tournament” at the main Cia Paulista school to represent the team on the City Tournament (F.P.J.J.) as a White Belt. I remember when I woke up after my first night and surgery in the hospital I opened my eyes and my first question was “Am I going to be able to fight next weekend?” It was a very innocent question, I didn’t know that this kind of injury existed.
I was kept on bed rest in the hospital for 2 months. I had completely lost the movement in my foot. The doctors told us that I was not going to be able to walk, or fight. They kept advising us that a prosthetic leg would be the best option to have life quality back.
I lost a big chunk of muscle on my calf. I lost around 12 inches of bone in my crash that the doctors had to remove (9 of those inches I grew back with the use of the “halo” brace). I lost the movement of my foot and toes due to permanent nerve damage, the sole of my foot got hyper-sensitive, I lost the cushion and support of the ball of the foot. The only part of my foot that does not hurt when I step on the ground is my heel. And ironically, due to the height difference, the heel is not the first thing that touches the ground when I walk, like it’s supposed to.
After 2 years of many surgeries and wearing the “halo” which kept my right leg and ankle immobile from the knee down, I was able to bend my leg, which all the doctors of the hospital told me would not happen. I surprised and impressed some of them that I kept in contact with. “It hurts but I can walk!”
I don’t have any inside information about Cyborg’s (Roberto Abreu) injury, but I know the challenge that is to come back on the mat after a severe accident against the odds.
At all times during my injury I believed that I was going to get back, but sometimes I doubted it.
What is your advice for BJJ athletes who suffer injuries and get depressed or consider quitting Jiu-Jitsu because of injury?
My advice for people who been through an experience like mine is that we have to believe and insist in doing what you love. You have to be persistent, stubborn and not be swayed by other people’s opinions and judgments. If it is in you, you will be back, probably never the same as you were, but to compensate for that out of necessity you develop the other side, another game, and adapt a new style. I was lucky and stubborn enough to be able to train equally with my team mates and win tournaments in all my belts.
At the same time, unfortunately at some point you have to accept that you are not 100% anymore, recognize your physical limitations and try to stretch them.
Jiu-Jitsu is great, and there is not only one path, you can get to the top, you just have to find or create your own way.
You spent some time teaching and training for BJ Penn. Can you share any experiences or interesting stories you have from that time? You were offered a long term contract to stay but you declined. What made you decide to decline the offer?
To talk about my time in Hawaii I have to first thank my good friend Rigan Machado who opened the first doors of Jiu-Jitsu for me here in the US.
Rigan got me this opportunity to spend a month teaching in Hilo at the BJ Penn school.
BJ and his family were great and I had the opportunity to train with him before his comeback fight.
The Hawaiian people are awesome and made me feel very comfortable right away. I went there to spend one month. After a couple of weeks Mr.. Penn (BJ’s father) offered me a piece of land if I stayed there teaching for the next 8 years. I decided to try to make my own future and build my own path instead, but I was very happy and flattered by the offer. In the end, I stayed there for almost 4 months.
Besides the training and hanging out with BJ and the core students, something that marked my stay there was when BJ awarded his brothers JD and Regan their Black Belts in my class. I’m pretty sure that they and I will not forget that day ever.
You trained under Master Max Trombini. Can you give us your perspective on what it was like to train under Master Max?
Training with Max was pretty tough, it was exactly what I needed. He never treated me different because of my injuries, actually, it was the opposite.
He always told me that for me, my leg was not an excuse, that I could be a great fighter and a Champion in Jiu-Jitsu with my performance and will power.
Master Trombini always trained with the Olympic Brazilian Judo team and always put an emphasis on conditioning, training, physical and mental endurance and stamina in his classes. Learning to go to the edge of your own physical and mental ability, and then go further, these are fundamentals for enhancing your training and your confidence. Max’s training is very tournament oriented.
In my teaching and for Team Cia Paulista, there is also a strong emphasis on physical conditioning and training, though each individual’s rhythm and limits are recognized and respected. Everyone trains at their own rate, but everyone is equally encouraged to find their limit, and start from there.
Growing up in competition class training as well, I foster a training space that breeds Champion competitors and fighters. The battle is always with the Self, and that is always a solo experience. What I learned from Max as a teacher is how to cultivate the tools in my students that they can help themselves and find their own path to excellence through Jiu-Jitsu.
As a referee for the IBJJF tournaments, what is your feedback on the recent rule changes regarding Gi colors? Is there anything else about the current rules you would like to see changed? How do you respond to Jiu-Jitsu athletes who criticize the referees?
I think that the new rules for the Gi colors are very reasonable. In 2003, I had the opportunity to work with Fernando Lopes, aka “Fepa”, to produce the Black Belt Challenge of the Lightweights in Sao Paulo. The champion of the R$7000.00 award tournament was Leonardo Santos.
On that tournament all of the athletes had to bring 2 gis, one white, one blue. It is good for the audience and the general public (especially via TV and live webcasts online) to understand more about our great martial art, giving more opportunity to grow.
In regards to the rules one thing that I think may be addressed by Professor Alvaro Mansour (IBJJF) soon, and should be, is about the 50/50 guard.
At the Worlds finals this year a lot of the fights lost the rhythm because of this kind of guard. One solution that I can think about it is that the athlete who does the 50/50, sweeps and comes on top has to open the “guard” to get his points. Without this requirement, the fight tends to become stagnant as each fighter wants to hold their position and play safe.
Athletes who criticize referees sometimes may be right but most of times they don’t know the rules and think they are getting “robbed”. To convince these guys or explain the decision is like hitting a brick wall. And also, some coaches would rather blame their ref for the student’s mistakes, passing off the responsibility, as it is easier that way. Those are the worst in my opinion.
But I know that the quality of some refs is far from good. And like everything sometimes people make mistakes. I think it is very important that IBJJF rules and regulations be followed in all tournaments consistently and in the same manner in order to help the sport gain further legitimacy and standardization in competition, especially in the journey to bring BJJ to the Olympic level.
The IBJFF recently announced preliminary plans for drug testing. Do you feel like performance enhancing drugs are a problem in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
I think more and more people are using shortcuts to get stronger faster. I think that there needs to be “random” testing in some competitions, for both male and female athletes. I do not think that competitors should be required to pay an extra fee for the testing, or have to submit to a pre-screening in order to register for tournaments, even though unfortunately few tournaments in Jiu-Jitsu pay awards to their competitors.
You have recently opened a new facility, Team Andre Cia Paulista, in Sacramento, CA. What are the realities and unique challenges of owning and operating a BJJ school? What makes a BJJ school successful?
Opening my own school is great and I’m proud daily, but to teach and manage is very challenging, especially in the beginning when you are setting the bar. It becomes smoother as you gain experience and learn, preferably before making mistakes, and I have a tight team behind me helping me with this new challenge.
Working in the past with other partners and investors, and working as an employee at other academies through my career has given me a great deal of experience in the daily running of a gym, in what is necessary for the students and the Team to have the best training experience and facility that they can, as well as where to invest and spend as well as where to be cautious and careful.
As part of the Cia Paulista International family, I am able to seek advice and share with my Sensei’s in Brazil and here in the US, as well as providing support to the other academies and Professors as we spread our love of Jiu-Jitsu and knowledge of the Cia Paulista fighting style and lifestyle to our students and in our communities.
What makes the gym successful, above all, is believing in what you are doing and keep doing the best way you can. Keep always evolving. Give care to what you are doing and put your heart and soul into it.
Tell Inside BJJ readers about Team Andre Cia Paulista. What does your team have to offer? What can new and existing BJJ athletes expect from joining your team?
I believe that what I have to offer is what Jiu-Jitsu did for me. Change my life for the best providing train to your body and spirit. But everything starts with the technique of the best martial art and self defense by itself that you can get.
I offer a real and honest training. At Team Andre Cia Paulista men, women, kids, competitors, non-competitors are all given equal teaching and opportunity to explore and learn the art of Jiu-Jitsu in a respectful, dedicated and serious training environment. This is not to say that it’s not fun, Jiu-Jitsu is great fun. I always make jokes and like to make my students laugh while teaching the techniques, for the fun of it and also in a fighting situation helps remind him the right positioning of his body just like the environment that I grow up in Jiu-Jitsu.
It’s also hard work, and requires dedication and commitment from the student to the art and the training to get results. There are no short-cuts. And at the same time, what I can provide is the techniques, the conduct and the line of thoughts of Jiu-Jitsu. I cannot do the Jiu-Jitsu for you, everyone has to do their own. The journey of Jiu-Jitsu in here is real. We have team spirit sharing the knowledge to help the others and themselves.
For individuals seeking to train for competition or just as a hobby, for weight loss, or conditioning, or professional fighters seeking to add the skills of Jiu-Jitsu to their game, for kids who need more coordination, confidence and discipline, for all ages and for both men and women, Team Cia Paulista is a family united by the art and sport, and by our individual and shared journey in Jiu-Jitsu.
In joining Team Andre Cia Paulista, both beginner and existing athletes will be training to keep improving and keep learning their technique with a champion team. Everyone has equal opportunity to become a Champion in Jiu-Jitsu. All it takes is consistency in your training, honesty with yourself and others, and a willingness to keep evolving in your journey as an athlete and as a human being. Jiu-Jitsu will give back to you whatever you invest honestly in your time, your energy, your body and your spirit. Just keep showing up.
What else are you working on? Is there anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
The new Team Andre Cia Paulista academy and gym is a very exciting chapter in my life that is being written right now. I am looking forward to the Team growing, the ranks of Belts expanding as my students continue to evolve in their Jiu-Jitsu, and the further growth and expansion of our Competition Team. I plan to get back on track with the MMA Program now that I have this new facility.
As well as this, I hope to share our Jiu-Jitsu with more individuals and communities in the Sacramento area, and provide a space for friendly exchange and sharing of techniques and experiences across academies.
In 2012, Cia Paulista will again host the California State Open BJJ Championships, after taking this year off, as all my focus and attention has been on the Team Andre Cia Paulista new facility. We plan to run a series of smaller qualifying tournaments throughout California and then the finals will be held here in Sacramento.
I would like to thank Inside BJJ for this opportunity. I would also like to thank all my Sensei’s and friends who helped me to get here: Eduardo Leitao, Waldomiro Perez, Jr. & Master Max Trombini. And a special thank you to my friend, legend and one of the pioneers of BJJ in the US, Rigan Machado, for opening his gym door for me and the opportunities that he provided for me.
Above all, my deepest thanks to all my students for their trust, dedication and support to their training and the Cia Paulista Team.
2nd Degree Black Belt Cia Paulista