Interview: Saulo Ribeiro on BJJ in the USA & His Famous Quotes

During the same June 2013 trip when he interviewed Fabio Santos (go here to read that), Can also had the chance to speak to one of his jiu jitsu heroes, Saulo Ribeiro. Among the greatest competitors in the history of BJJ, Saulo has gone on to become a great teacher too, at his University of Jiu Jitsu school in San Diego.

This interview originally appeared in Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine #17, so is being republished on the Artemis BJJ site with the JJS editor’s kind permission. The second part will be popping up next week, while the third part can be read on the JJS website, here.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You founded your first US based academy in Toledo, Ohio back in 1995. You said in 2006 that the reason you went for Ohio, rather than a more typical choice like California, was to understand “the pure mentality of America”, in order to better teach Americans. What have you learned in your time in the US?

SAULO: Brazil is a third world country. You have to do a lot of sacrifice, to be able to live well. When I moved to America I saw that it really is the land of opportunity and if you work really hard, you’re going to get it. But you cannot find a bunch of excuses for not doing. In the mid-west, truly American blue-collar workers live there. These guys work 7 to 5 every day and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what built America.

I was very fortunate to have a group of people introduce jiu jitsu over there in a very pleasant way. The guys that I have there are not only my students, they are my family in America, the guys that I consider brothers. We spent a lot of time together. Over there, things are cheaper, so there is no problem to make a couple of mistakes. It costs almost nothing, the cost of living there is way lower compared to California, or the East Coast, New York.

So I knew I had to spend some time over there trying to find what America is all about. I was very fortunate to meet Chris Blanke, who today is the director of the organisation, everything runs through him. It has been a very awesome ride.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Are there any differences between how you taught BJJ in Toledo and how you now teach BJJ in San Diego?

SAULO: Completely different. In Toledo, I taught with my heart and with the experience that I had from Brazil, the toughness. When I moved here to California, I saw there was a lot of demands for jiu jitsu. These people will be your best friend, but they will also be your clients, your customers. It is not just about me, that I am good. I’ve got to offer programs and options for reinventing jiu jitsu, besides being a world champ, besides competition, besides any other stuff.

Today, you see my brother and I offering information about self defence for women, for kids, another whole chapter of jiu jitsu that we rarely touched upon when we were just coming in as the champ, just competing, with that mindset on the mat. At the end of the day, it made us better, but we still keep the heart.

For example, we just went through ‘Hell Week’ here, Rafael Lovato, Clark Gracie, Xande, the best in the business just training and having so much fun at the highest level. On the other hand, we have to provide our fans and the people that want to get close, another door for jiu jitsu. The kind of people who say “No, I don’t like sparring, I just want to do self defence,” or “I just want to drill.”

Today, we have different programs that allow us to give this to our new jiu jitsu base and also, through BJJ Library, we can show the same technique, but online. It is like having Saulo in your house. But you can’t touch, which is why we’re going to have webinars once a month, where the person who thinks “Oh, I want to ask him, why is his hand there and not here?” can save their question for the webinar of the month.

That’s when I’m really going to talk to you guys. It’s not going to be like “ok, he showed this, but…” We want to answer the “but” that nobody has been answering. That’s the difference with our online program. We’re going to be there. It’s like when the baby cries, Papa’s here. [Laughs]

I’m not flying to seminars everywhere, I’m with this project, I’m with you guys that believe in us. That’s why I think it will have a huge impact when people feel warmth through the website. “Wow, he is here with me, for real!” That I think is going to be the big thing of this online system, that for you to understand and practice is going to take years.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian jiu jitsu in Bristol Saulo Interview  IMG_9214

It’s perfect, because it was our reward for all this hard work that we did in California, changing the whole system. Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu is now a system.  We developed the Harvard of jiu jitsu, something that is going to be…it’s not just what you know, it’s being willing to do it, you know? To know Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu will take a few years. It’s a blend of my understanding, my brother’s understanding, put together, that’s a heck of a program. I’m very happy with the results. It takes time.

And another thing, to film, you’ve got to be in the mood. You cannot come there and be, “Ok, I’ve got to film this, BJJ Library sucks,” no. That’s going to be terrible. Don’t do it. Don’t cheat yourself and don’t cheat the people that are watching you. Come in the mood to show what the positions are about. The position by itself is an empty box. The details and the talk and experience, the things that you’ve passed through, that makes the position rich.

JJS: You have produced many memorable quotes. My personal favourite is from Jiu Jitsu Revolution 1, where you’re demonstrating a guard pass and say:

 “You have to think that your partner, the guy that you’re training [with], has to be your best friend. So, you don’t want to hurt him, you don’t want to try to open his guard with your elbow, make him feel really pain, because jiu jitsu is not about pain.”

 How do you go about cultivating that mindset in your students?

 SAULO: I tell them they cannot train jiu jitsu by themselves. You cannot achieve excellence, you cannot improve if somebody on the other side is not putting the leverage against you. It’s a game of leverage. At the end of the day, if somebody doesn’t reproduce the action and reaction that you need to understand the move, you won’t get it. So at first, you have to bribe your training partner. Don’t repulse them, don’t make them think “Wow, this person is stupid, this person is whatever.” Don’t let them have a bad understanding about who you are.

 That’s one of the best things that I took from one of the business meetings I went to, the person said “90% of any problem is a misunderstanding.” In anything you’re going to do in business, in life, there is misunderstanding or misinterpretation. You’ve got to make sure things are square. So in jiu jitsu, somebody that is going to be sweating on you, grabbing you, has to be so intimately aware of who you are, otherwise you’re not going to go forward. You’ll go this way, they will go that way.

That’s what I mean by make them your best friend: you cannot feel a threat from them and vice versa, so you have a perfect partnership. “Make your training partner your best friend” is not only a rule, it’s a requirement for you in order to get better. So these guys have got to be your brothers and sisters. That’s why we always say “brothers in Ribeiro jiu jitsu”. The person that joins Ribeiro jiu jitsu has got to understand that really fast.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Your most famous quote is probably “If you think, you are late. If you are late, you use strength. If you use strength, you tire. And if you tire, you die.” Now, that makes sense in terms of developing an instinctive jiu jitsu where you can quickly respond. However, jiu jitsu is also something very cerebral, so where do you feel thinking has a place in training?

SAULO: Yes, when you’re drilling. Yes, when you are learning the technique. But when it’s time to go, it’s action/reaction, like Newton’s law, the same thing. You can’t go again, there is not a gap, “Ok, then, pow,” no. It’s on. If I think I’m scared, or I’m tired, or I’m this, the other person sees it. That sends a different kind of vibration. That’s why it is very hard to fight with me, because if you look at my fights, I’m always going forward. I don’t give you time to think.

I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next, but I know that I’m going to push you. I’m not pausing to think, no. It’s a continuous pressure to force you to make a choice. “Oh no, I’m going to frame, or I’m going to scoop. I’m going to try to push, or I’m going to try and stand.” You have to make a choice, I don’t give you time. Action and reaction is the name of the game.

Courtesy of Victor Cantu Photography
Courtesy of Victor Cantu Photography

If you think, you’re going to carry your opponent, their body, because you back up. That’s why when we use strength, we stop the flow between us, because I’m just trying to stop you. I’m not flowing with you, it’s over. You submit, you don’t want any more. That’s why mentally for me, when I compete, it’s a dog fight. The first one to back up, they’re out, they don’t want to be there.

I was very blessed to be able to spend a lot of time with Helio Gracie. That guy was amazing. I don’t know if he is still in the subject of action and reaction, but he is the pure example of what it is to put pressure all the time. So, this quote I think has a lot to do with developing yourself if you want to be a competitor, the mentality of pressure. If you don’t have pressure, screw action and reaction, you don’t go nowhere. You’re going to spend a lot of energy, you’re going to muscle a lot, you’re going to get tired and you’re going to have a lot of doubt.

ARTEMIS BJJ: I can remember on your DVDs there are a couple of positions, particularly the running man escape and reverse de la Riva, where you say “Here you can take a breather, take your time.” That’s a different thing, I guess?

SAULO: Yeah, because you’re already behind. When you’re behind, it’s not an even game. You’re already on your side, they’re already past your leg, it’s not an even situation now. It’s about a hunter and you are the one being hunted. You’re not even, they are a little bit ahead. I cannot expose myself, or it will get worse. Now it is about blocking the space that will let them progress. So, you put it out the big door, boom. They are with their soldiers here, but that’s a narrow door. Keep your elbow up there, don’t let the elbow through, don’t let that get off: if that gets off, it gets ugly. They’re going to knock that door down.

That’s what it is all about when you’re at a disadvantage. They can rush, relieve the pressure, and you get out at a low cost. It depends how much they believe they are already there, that they’re going to finish you. So when you’re in a disadvantaged position, you’ve got to take your time. No more rush, they are already in the castle [Laughs]. Now you need to protect your king, your neck, and protect your queen, that’s your arms. Be patient.

Photos courtesy of the University of Jiu Jitsu. For more interviews, go here

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