Tag Archives: Saulo Ribeiro

Interview: Saulo Ribeiro on Jiu Jitsu University & Teaching

Following on from part one of Can’s interview with Saulo, conducted during his June 2013 trip, it’s time for part two. This week, the BJJ legend talks about his immensely popular book, Jiu Jitsu University, widely seen as the gold standard for instructional BJJ volumes. He also shares his thoughts on teaching, drawing on his vast experience of running a class.

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. Along with the two parts on ArtemisBJJ.com, the third part is still up on the JJS website, here.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian jiu jitsu in Bristol Saulo Interview  IMG_9228

ARTEMIS BJJ: Kevin Howell said that discussing the “if you think” principle with you led directly to writing your book, Jiu Jitsu University. It is widely regarded as the best instructional book out there: why do you think your book has been so successful?      

SAULO: Because it’s real, it’s about my life. It’s about the problems that I had when I was a white belt, blue belt. A great group of people came together and said “Let’s do the best jiu jitsu book in the world.” It’s like in jiu jitsu, you don’t win by yourself. It’s an individual sport, but if you don’t have the best friends to train with, if you don’t have the best sponsors to support you, if you don’t have the best family at home.

Everybody asks me, “Saulo, why don’t you do another book?” I say, because I don’t want a comparison with my first child. Let me have another version with another identity, where I can reach way more people. That is BJJ Library. That’s why the book now, I have already pretty much all written, the second one. But the second one is about mental toughness. It’s different. In this new generation of YouTube, all these jiu jitsu practitioners, they are getting very empty inside, about all the things that motivate the machine to work. About self confidence, discipline, respect, honour, attitude, family, principles, about everything!

That’s the core of martial arts. And you want to sell all this nonsense before you start to really touch the human being? That’s a tragedy. What kind of society is this? It’s not American jiu jitsu. It’s Brazilian jiu jitsu, with the culture and the principles and everything. It’s like when I go to the Kodokan, I’m not learning Brazilian judo over there. I’m learning the traditional judo from Kodokan. That’s what I’m going there to do.

That’s why here at the University, everybody has to count to ten in Portuguese. They have to know the eight basic takedowns, because every single person in the world training jiu jitsu has to know how to fight standing. These are several things that you must know. There are a lot of things to be brought back.

I’m glad that we have a reputation for this and we still can improve, still can provide the real traditional Brazilian jiu jitsu. That’s why we’re here in the States. We didn’t move here to adapt. We moved here to set a culture of Brazilian jiu jitsu. That’s what it is all about. We’re not going to bend to any gi company that wants to put a yellow gi, a brown gi. A pink gi? This is not traditional jiu jitsu. Here, we have white and blue: it’s tradition.

That’s what we’re doing with jiu jitsu nowadays, and I think that BJJ Library is going to help us a lot to be the voice. And guys like you, that work and have the vision that we have. We are not here to try and convince anybody or anything. We are here as an option. When I wrote my book, the guy gave me twenty books to study. You know what I did? “Take this out!” I don’t want ideas from somebody else, I don’t want to see the opinions of this guy. I’m not this guy. They haven’t done what I’ve done in my life, they don’t have my history. We are different.

ARTEMIS BJJ: There is a very clear structure in Jiu Jitsu University, moving from survival through to escapes, the guard, passing and finally submissions. Presuming this is a structure you also use in your teaching, is it difficult to encourage that mentality for each belt?

SAULO: It is very difficult if they are not my students from day one. It’s like having your ex-boyfriend still on your mind, or ex-girlfriend. Their behaviour with you today is going to have the remains of what passed between them and that other person in the past. So we’ve got to clean the whole thing. That’s why we used to say – when they would come as a blue belt, a purple belt, from a different school – “Are you ready to let go of everything that you had until now, in order to accept this?” You might not get it now, but you’re going to get it very soon. Then you see that they have already developed certain instincts, reactions, that has nothing to do with what we preach. Then they have to re-adapt everything.

But if this starts from white belt, it’s pretty easy, because from day one, they see the mentality working. “Wow, I already don’t let this guy mount on me, because my elbow and knee are connected? That’s incredible!” Why? Because when you put somebody on your back, the first reaction is like they are babies again. So when they start to develop this, they are like, “Wow! This by itself is already totally new for my body reaction.” They are already on the journey, they already believe in you.

It’s like when you get a puppy and a big dog. To be a big dog, it will take a while.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You have a lot of experience as an instructor: what are your thoughts on developing a solid teaching methodology?

SAULO: The best way to teach is be yourself. Don’t teach what you don’t know, don’t try to impress all your students or anybody else. Be confident in what you’re showing, respect everyone and every question that comes your way. They are not a threat, they are maybe just a misunderstanding. You’ve got to really take it to the best of your ability, because that’s the only way you’re going to give your best. If you are giving your best and you really love jiu jitsu and believe it, there is no wrong. Period. There is no wrong.

Everything that we discuss below that, is just bar talk, is just “do you like black or yellow?” It doesn’t matter. But the main, the core of the thing, is what it is. Don’t come to America, put an assistant to teach your class and expect all your students to love you. They won’t. They’ll leave. They want you, they want the truth, what you have to show them. You came to America and you don’t like to teach? So what are you doing here? What kind of business are you doing? You can’t lie in jiu jitsu, you can’t lie.

You have to be honest, because your student may be a white belt in jiu jitsu, but they might have a lot of skills that you don’t. They are watching you. That’s why I say when we put on the gi, we are the same. What makes us different is the heart, your experience and your skills. Everything I need for my life, I have from jiu jitsu. Lawyers, doctors, real estate, mothers, cooks, DJs. All the specialists are here, it’s your army. The people that you go to the next level with.

If you don’t teach, that’s a problem. It’s not about the methodology, teaching jiu jitsu is like teaching your fingerprint. Everybody has a different one. You can choose a book, or maybe a system, like Gracie University. Or you can choose an instructor. That’s your truth of jiu jitsu and you’ve got to have no doubt.

If you have doubt, it’s better you shop around. That’s ok, that’s ok to shop around if you’re not that attached, if you feel like you belong to somewhere else. That’s completely fine. It hurts, but that’s the way it should be, because before you can be loyal to somebody, to a sensei, you’ve got to be loyal to yourself. Do I really believe that I should stay here? If you can say ‘yes’, good. If you have any ‘no’, go see what’s up, because you’re not 100%.

It’s a whole different thing. What was our first marketing in America? Teach the best American jiu jitsu guy how to be a world champion. That’s our marketing. I came to your country and I’m going to make an American a world champion, just to pay my dues to America.

So, we make Rafael Lovato, went back to Brazil and won. In Brazil! That was a wake up call for all the Brazilians. Hey, fighting in Brazil is important to influence this new generation of fighters. Don’t just come to America and fight for money. Fight for your country. Now, for all you guys, who has the crown in Brazil? An American guy.

That’s our silent way to make a statement, you know? Oh, we come to America. Thank you, thank you America. But let me do what I do best. Teach somebody to kick everybody’s ass.

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

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.

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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