Tag Archives: Fabio Santos

Interview: Fabio Santos On Teaching

Continuing Can’s June 2013 interview with Fabio Santos, the BJJ pioneer moves on to his thoughts about teaching. You can read the first part of this interview here, covering Fabio’s background and his early years in the USA. The last part will be appearing on Groundwork BJJ.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You have a lot of experience as an instructor: what are your thoughts on developing a solid teaching methodology, class formats and the like?

FABIO SANTOS: I pay a lot of attention to stand up, I do a lot of judo with my guys. I do a lot of self defence with the white belts. A lot of times I have the higher belts help out, because they already know the self defence, they help during the warm up.

We have a methodology for the white belts, the lower belts, when they come in. If they have no knowledge of jiu jitsu, they are going to be off to the side. I will get somebody to help them do the elbow escape, upa, arm defence, pass the guard, off to the side. When I feel that they are ready, I will throw them in. They will go spar with everybody else. Everybody is really nice: if I see anyone brutalising the beginner, I’ll stop.

I play it by ear a lot. Some guys are naturals, so you want to get them out there as soon as possible, get them good. Some people take longer, so we have to protect them, whereas others don’t need any protection. They’re going for it, they’re tough naturally. But some you worry about them getting hurt. Those you protect, give them some gentle people to train with. That’s how I saw Rolls teach. All the time I saw Rolls’ teaching and Rickson’s teaching, Relson’s teaching: these are my teachers.

I think I’m just automatic, just like them I’m automatic. I try to put the bigger guys together, the guys in the same age group together. That’s important, so you don’t lose students. I try to have a methodology that doesn’t hurt anyone, that is acceptable. Sometimes you have a guy that is so much better than another guy, and this guy just trashes him and it’s discouraging. That’s why I try to match levels, so they can give each other a hard time, not one annihilating the other.

Of course it happens, when you change partners and all, but I always try to maintain the fairness.

ARTEMIS BJJ: In terms of actually teaching technique, there seems to be quite a bit of variance on that from school to school. I noticed in class today, you went through it fairly quickly, relying more on the drilling and sparring, rather than going into the fine detail.

FABIO SANTOS: Yeah, I show the position three, four or five times, and I like the guys to do repetitions a hundred times. That’s what is going to make them fluid, the movement fluid. The details come with time. If they are holding like this, holding like that, they will see that the position is not working smoothly. Then they’ll ask “What am I doing wrong?”, and I’ll tell them “Well, you could hold like that instead of holding like this.” He’ll ask the guy next to him, “What am I doing wrong?”

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol Fabio Santos Interview1I have around five or six black belts in class, which helps a lot. I don’t have to correct each guy any more, but I used to. “Stop. What are you doing here? Put your hand there. Now do it,” and they’d say “Oh yeah, now it feels smooth.” It takes a lot of watching and observing. You might not correct them today, but tomorrow or the next day. You see them again making the same mistake, you go over there, “All right, this is how you want to do it.”

It’s personal, you know? Some people immediately get it, they copy perfectly what you’ve shown, no problem at all. Then there is the other guy who has more difficulty copying, because of his background or whatever. Teaching is really personal. Some guys, they take forever to show the position, they take like half an hour. “Do this, make sure you do that, make sure you do this.” But their student is still going to make the mistake. You can’t make them do it perfectly the first time.

So, I show the position five times, “Ok, it’s kind of like this.” Then like this one, this two. On the tenth time, they should be doing it perfectly.  I always tell people to ask questions. If you think you are doing something wrong, ask a question and we’ll fix the situation. That’s how I see it.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Would you treat it the same way in a private lesson, or would that be a different kind of format?

FABIO SANTOS: The private lesson, if it is me and them, I like to feel their jiu jitsu. Then I can give my input on what they need to do. Sometimes, in a semi-private where you have more than one person, watching them train can be more effective. That’s because of the level, I don’t have to play a role with the guy, like if I have to play the role of a blue belt to see what this guy is doing. It is better sometimes having two blue belts, then I can see exactly what that person needs to do.

It can be more effective than having them train with me, because I’d be playing a role. I could just smash the guy, but that’s not what I want to do, so I play like a blue belt and see what they are doing wrong, at their level. It can be complicated to improve somebody.You have to see what they are doing wrong, then little by little you adjust.

Sometimes you leave your arm out to see if they notice, or you leave your neck exposed.There’s also why do they want to get better: do they want to compete, do they just want to be effective if somebody attacks them on the street. What do you want to do with your jiu jitsu? Then we’ll train accordingly.

I believe that you should always start on the ground. There are guys who insist “Oh no, you have to do throws!”, this and that: no. If you don’t know how to get out of the bottom, all that you’re learning is going to be worthless! [laughs] It’s like not knowing how to throw a jab. If you’re a boxer, that’s the most important thing, to have a good jab! So you’re going to train ten years to come out with one good jab. It’s the same thing, in jiu jitsu you’re going to try to get out of the bottom, from the mount, from the guard.

You’ve got to know sweeps, elbow escape, upa. Those are the most important things, because you can be a good puncher, a good thrower, but if you don’t know how to get out of the bottom when somebody is holding you down, then all that training is useless.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol Fabio Santos Interview2 with Kyle Maynard

ARTEMIS BJJ: Does any of that methodology and class format come from your university degree in Physical Education?

FABIO SANTOS: Pretty much judo and jiu jitsu, it’s very specific. But I use a lot of physiological aspects, like interval training, you know. I’ll do very short rounds, like a minute and a half, where the guy has to explode the whole time, they cannot just sit back. Sometimes this is more tiring than the long training. So I try to cover all aspects to improve my students. All they have to do is come to class, they will improve. Their only job is just to get here. [laughs]

Photos courtesy of Can’s Instagram and Dagney. For more interviews, go here

Interview: Fabio Santos On The Early Years of US BJJ

Back in June 2013, Can flew out to California for the first time. That gave him the opportunity to finally meet some online friends, like Caleb from the Fightworks Podcast, along with a few big names from BJJ. Along with Rener Gracie and Saulo Ribeiro, Can had the great pleasure of speaking with a pioneer of BJJ in the US: Fabio Santos, a 7th degree red-and-black belt (also known as the ‘coral belt’).

This is the first part of the interview, where Fabio spoke about his memories of the beginnings of BJJ in the USA, something in which he played a central role. That will be followed by a second part next week, with the last part appearing on Groundwork BJJ. For a cool introduction to Fabio’s history, from his time in Brazil onwards, have a listen to his recent chat with Saulo here (from Can’s favourite instructional site, BJJ Library).

ARTEMIS BJJ: In your old Fightworks interview from 2006, you mentioned you started teaching in New York, with small classes of just 12 guys. Do you remember when that was and how it came about?

FABIO SANTOS: That was right in 1983, just after I got my black belt. I was offered a job in New York: I graduated in Physical Education, so I have a specialisation in bodybuilding and weight training. So, I went to New York to teach weights, at a very famous academy with lots of movie stars and stuff. At the end of the class, I would put down some mats in a corner, maybe nine o’clock at night and bring a couple of guys. We would start training then.

Some people would start to get interested in it, but we could never get it off the ground. I had to work so much, I was working twelve hours a day, seven days a week. I simply couldn’t fit it in. Time passed, then I met Sherry in Utah, my wife, and we moved to Oregon to get married. I’m in Oregon – this is around 1989, 1990 – and I’m looking at Black Belt Magazine. I see Rorion, Royce and Royler, doing seminars in California. I contact them, and they were like “Oh man, you’re here! I didn’t know you were here! You’ve got to come down and work with us!” They said they were building a school, which was the Torrance Academy.

That’s how it all started here, in the United States. Then the UFC came and everybody knew about jiu jitsu. It was like we had to put barricades at the front door of the Gracie Academy, there was a stampede to learn jiu jitsu. It was incredible. Then I came down to San Diego, as a Gracie Jiu Jitsu affiliate from Rorion Gracie. But business didn’t work out very good – we’re still good friends – but today I’m with Relson. He’s been my friend for thirty years.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Do you know if any of those guys you taught in New York are still training, or are you not in contact with any of them?

FABIO SANTOS: I know one of them moved to Florida, Sergio. He’s a Brazilian guy and still trains here and there. The other guys I pretty much lost contact.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You told Caleb your next move was to Utah, where you trained with Pedro Sauer. Although he now has a huge association, you mentioned that back then he was just teaching from his house, so only had a handful of students. What was it like training in that atmosphere?

FABIO SANTOS: Yeah, Pedro and I used to train together before, in Brazil. It was very strange to be in the United States training, just me and him! There was nobody else out there [laughs]. But almost immediately, he moved, I can’t remember where. I stayed in Park City for a couple of years, before moving to Oregon like I said. It was only a short time with Pedro Sauer. It would have been around 1986, 1987.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You also said you were at the Gracie Academy in the early 1990s, teaching a lot of the classes while Royce was preparing for the first UFC: what are you memories of the Academy at that time?

FABIO SANTOS: I taught all the classes, pretty much. That time was really tough, because we used to get a lot of challenge matches. Every single day there would be wrestlers coming in, punchers and kickers, kickboxers, all wanting to test that out against us. We had five or six guys that were always “Can I go? Can I do it? Let me do it!” We had a few brown belts out there. Also Royce himself, it was good for his training because it was one hundred percent real. The only thing you couldn’t do was eye gouge and bite.

Nowadays, it is not really vale tudo, it is entertainment. The guy only has to fight one time, it is completely different. I believe in tournaments, I don’t believe that someone can be a world champion after just fighting one time! [laughs] Like Brock Lesnar, comes through the window and fights two guys, then he is world champion in that division. That’s very strange to me. To have to go up the ranks, then you become a world champion. But here, they want everything in a microwave, so they do whatever is good for them financially.

That is probably the main reason Rorion and I got away from all this UFC thing. The guys were champions before, now the guys are drunks, drug addicts, you know what I mean? They do crap, they get arrested. It is a different breed of people from before. All the guys that fought before had trophies in their houses, they were real martial artists, proud of what they did their entire life.

Now, the guys take drugs, they take a bunch of steroids and get in there. Then they get caught, they come back again, get caught a second time: it’s like the shame is zero! [laughs] It’s not like a martial art any more, it is a different thing. I don’t think we belong there anymore, it is completely against jiu jitsu. As soon as they go to the ground, they get stood up. They don’t give the time necessary for the jiu jitsu guy to get going. Then you have a submission on and the bell rings. This is a fight. There is no bell.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Getting back to your personal history, you were going to move to Philadelphia, but were put off by a snowstorm, so came to San Diego in 1998 instead. You also said Nelson Monteiro was the only other guy around in San Diego at the time. What do you remember about setting up your school back then?

Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interview with Fabio Santos June 2013 class

FABIO SANTOS: Oh yeah: my school was right there, down the block about halfway. We started with pretty much nothing. Rorion gave me those mats that I have on the wall now. He gave me as a present and said, “Never give the fish, give the fishing pole.” I started there, we put them on the ground and I had rent money for three months. That was it, paid in advance. I told the guy, “Hey, if this doesn’t work, I don’t know dude, I’ll have to wash your car or whatever.”

Luckily it was successful. In the first month, we had a hundred students, right off the bat. I was busier then than I am now, because today we have fifty schools in San Diego. There are not that many people that like jiu jitsu. I think it is a dumb move to come to San Diego and open a school, at the moment. But people don’t care: they just opened another school recently. It is saturated. I think if you open one more here, it is going to go under.

It is impossible that you can have that many schools in a place that has a million inhabitants. I’m sure half of that is not interested in jiu jitsu! [laughs]

Photos by kind permission of Dagney. For more interviews, go here.