João Santos is professor in Lisbon, if you are visiting the city don’t miss the chance to visit his place!
- Tell more about you? When your jiu jitsu journey begin? How you find out about bjj?
I am a black belt under Robin Gracie, who is my teacher since 1999. I had my first class in BJJ in 1996 with Odir Torres, a Rickson Gracie purple belt. I only had a few classes with him, but I was hooked. I was training Japanese Ju-Jitsu, but quickly moved to GJJ/BJJ. I started travelling to Barcelona to train with Robin every time I had some money, in 2007 I opened the Gracie Lisboa branch and got my black belt in 2012.
- When you start Brazilian jiu jitsu there wasn’t YouTube videos neither social medias. How people in that time were able to improve?
The only way to train was to get proper instruction, so I looked for the best I could find, and Robin Gracie had moved to Barcelona so all I had to do was travel. There were some VHS tapes, but that never worked for me, nothing beats the feeling, sensitivity, explanation, details that you get in a class. During all these years I traveled also to Rio de Janeiro to train at Humaitá and also de la Riva, Roger Gracie and London Shootfighters in London, Caio Terra (along with the Ares crew when they were all training together at Caio) in California. Even today, I prefer to travel to learn.
- Who are the people who helped you (still helping) during your journey?
Robin Gracie, obviously, he is still my instructor since 1999. My students, because I needed to train after spending 3 to 7 days abroad learning, and they believed in my project.
There is also a person responsible for my journey, Kevin Pell. He was my instructor in a version of Ju-Jitsu (Ishin-Ryu). The reason why he is important in my journey, is because I was disappointed with the martial arts scenario, politics, corruption, lack of values and instructors misleading people into stupid theories that would get them killed in a fight. I was going nowhere, I wanted to train something that I could trust in a fight and Kevin Pell showed me that there were still honest people in the martial arts, made me believe that I could be someone. He is not a fan of BJJ but became the responsible for my quest and journey in BJJ due to his influence.
- Can you compare bjj now with back in the time ? How the bjj involve and how you see it after 5-10 years?
Back in the old days, it was a lot different. People didn’t know what Jiu-Jitsu was, sometimes people would come to training with crazy theories that they would do pressure points on us… The environment in training was more intense, although Robin always had a relaxed atmosphere in his classes. We had less available techniques and Jiu-Jitsu has evolved a lot since then, and became a worldwide phenomenon, a bit like a cult, similar to surfing. Today is mainstream and we have all kinds of people on the mats. 5-10 years from now… the level in competition today is out of this world, who knows how will it be in 10 years. There is a new generation coming up and they will take Jiu-Jitsu to another level.
- Tell us more about Gracie Academy Lisbon and your affiliations. Can people come and visit your training if they are training under another academy?
We have a few affiliations, both in Portugal and abroad. People visit the Lisbon academy all the time, travelling for holidays, work and also during the European BJJ Championship. This “us and them” idea of academies only exists in competitions, we get people from other academies visiting us all the time. We have friends from other academies in Portugal coming to train with us regularly, we all learn, we all get better and we all have fun on the mat. Divisions is for insecure people.
- Travelling and globetrotting are trending in bjj what is your opinion about this?
It’s part of the culture of BJJ. You get to meet great people, visit places you wouldn’t normally go, make friends all over the world. The culture is much better now, we are all part of a community, and welcome almost everywhere.
- You have been nutritionist, with whom you have been working? Where and how you were able to learn so much about this very important topic?
I started by studying acupuncture and got interested in nutrition because it prevents a few health problems (you are what you eat) and also helps recover. It also helps getting better performance in training, competition and life. I just started to study and do all the courses I could have access. My focus is on health, not losing weight like most of the concepts we see around BJJ. I have worked with the average person, athletes and also the BJJ community, Caio Terra, Samir Chantre, Vicente Junior are just some of the names, also people from white to black belt, competitors and non-competitors. It’s another (very important) tool to have health.
- What is your opinion about the supplements? Do you think they are healthy and why people need to be careful with them?
I don’t use much, I prefer to get what I need from nutrition. For the average BJJ student, they are not necessary. For top athletes yes, but not too many things and you need quality. 20 pills and 6 different powders a day makes no sense!! You need the right things for the right objective.
- Can you give simple nutrition advice for people who train every day?
Ahahah, my youngest students can do that, I try to get them to value proper nutrition and don’t fall for the social pressure of eating crap of the advertisement. Basic things, water is very important!! Don’t eat fried food, reduce meat intake, half your plate should be vegetables. Fruit is important. Make sure you have quality protein source, eat whole foods, not white flower (when you have a choice). “Super foods” are important. Do not drink milk!!! Milk is good for baby cows!
- Tell us more about your daily routines/habits that helped you and still helping you maintain your condition.
Train wisely and smarter, not training harder, will keep you having fun in BJJ for many years. I try to do Yoga when I can, surf or longboard skate to have fun. I try to eat healthy without being fundamentalist about it. Very important, get good people with good energy around me, they will start smiling more and so will I.
- You are doing acupuncture too, can you tell more about it?
I started to study it because I wanted to fix my injuries, but ended up just fixing other people and it became my profession… It’s a great therapy and prevention method. In China and Japan, many masters of martial arts were also the only “doctors” around, they used massage, acupuncture and herbs to treat people. For me it just makes sense, brings balance to my life because I can help a lot of people, sometimes with problems that conventional medicine couldn’t solve or prescribes chemicals. I also show my students some acupressure points that they can use on common situations, this way they can have a positive impact also. There is no point in having a black belt and then someone has a common situation like a headache or a back pain and your black belt is useless.
- Everyone speaks about white belts and that they should never give up. But the most % of the people who drop down bjj are Blue Belts. Do you have any advice for Blue Belts and why they need to keep rolling?
Blue belts, it’s just another step in progression, they are no longer treated as white belts but are not skilled yet as purple. Sometimes becomes a tough spot. Make sure you enjoy what you are doing and know your objectives. Jiu-Jitsu is a school for life, get used to tough times and difficulties, learn how to surpass them, persevere.
Do you have any tip for our readers to improve on and outside the mat.
Jiu-Jitsu has been the single event with more impact in my life, in all areas. It’s a great tool to improve people’s lives. Enjoy your journey in this magnificent art, train in a way that you will be able to train all your life. Your best friends will become the ones who try to dismember and choke you 3 times a week and they will know more about you than your family. You will learn a lot about yourself, the good and the bad, understand that and you will be a better person, enjoy better this average of 650000 hours that is your life and have a positive impact on the ones around you 🙂