I was able to be re-united with my old friend, catch-up and ask a few questions concerning his past, present and plans for the future.The first weeks of the half year I wound up living in Brazil were strange ones, indeed. It was right before the 2004 Mundials, so the Gracie Barra mat was crowded, to say the very least. Fighters had come from all over the globe to compete in the most prestigious and challenging arena in the Jiu-jitsu world. Collisions were impossible to avoid while training and you could see the academy favorites mentally preparing for the days ahead.
In spite of the fervor of the crowd, there was one local brown belt who went out of his way to make me feel that though I may have been just one more gringo on the mat, he was glad I was there and more than eager to train.
Since that time, Mario “Busy” Correa has since received his black belt from Gracie Barra patriarch, Carlos Gracie Jr. along with his degree in electrical engineering. In addition to serving as an instructor at the esteemed Gracie Camp, Mario has also traveled extensively to share his knowledge with students in England, Sweden, Southern California and Colorado.
I was able to be re-united with my old friend, catch-up and ask a few questions concerning his past, present and plans for the future.
OTM: So starting out, you were very young. Tell me about your experience entering competition at such an early age.
MBC: My whole life I had my father stimulating me to do sports. He was one of the first surfers in Brazil and he had graduated in sports. So I started Judo at 4 years until I was 6 and then started surfing. Starting so young resulted in more flexibility. Then at 12 I decided to return to Judo and practiced for a year when I discovered the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. All my friends were training BJJ already and I was the youngest and weakest of all. That helped me because I needed to learn the technique since I didn’t have the strength to fight them. After a couple of months, I got my yellow-belt and my teachers put me in a competition in which I was champion. I remember my teacher, Draculino, telling me that I was very talented and that I should train hard to become a big champion. And that’s what I did!!! So I was always training a lot to improve my physical condition, which gave me more confidence.
OTM: Draculino is renowned not only as a first rate competitor, but teacher as well. The same can be said for your other coach, Gordo. Tell me about the strengths and differences between these two as teachers and coaches.
MBC: I always had great teachers specialized in the guard. As I said before, I did Judo before BJJ, so I always wanted to be on top because I had a good base. But having so many good guard teachers made me start playing on the bottom and that was good for me because it made me a complete fighter.
Gordo was always a very calm guy and that was important because he always showed me the basic moves with precision. Draculino always liked to submit his opponent, so I got this from him. And that was a perfect combination because I was learning the basic and indispensable moves from Gordo and learning the dangerous and fast moves from Draculino.
OTM: So how has your game and your strategy evolved to the present day and what are the goals you have set for yourself?
MBC: Even coming from Judo, and having a good top base, I started to fight on the bottom and became a guard specialist. When I got my brown belt I started to work towards being a complete Black-Belt. And to do that I had to improve my top game. At that time, I was a Marcio Feitosa student and learned from, in my opinion, the best top fighter in the world.
OTM: I would have to agree with you there. Tell me, after having such amazing teachers, what is your perspective when it comes to the subject of teaching others?
MBC:I always loved to teach. Every time I see somebody studying some sequence I go there and give them my input or tell them what I do on that particular position.
Teaching and training at the Gracie Camp and Gracie Barra, I met all kind of fighters from different parts of the world. And I noticed that the Americans are perfectionists and that’s very important for BJJ. That’s why I decided to quit my Engineering job in Brazil to try and teach Americans and spread BJJ for the rest of the world, not only in Brazil.
OTM: So what was it like to teach and train both at Gracie Barra as well as Gracie Camp. How was it to be able to teach Jiu-jitsu players from other continents?
MBC: It was an honor to teach at the best academy in the world and I’m very proud of that. To see world champions learning from you and using your techniques in championships is very rewarding.
Teaching foreigners, it was very interesting to see how BJJ is different in every country. They appreciate being taught by a Black-Belt. I met people from many different countries: United States, United Kingdom, Poland, France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Mexico, Panama, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, Korea, etc. I had not only students but they became friends. I always kept in contact with my students and they always ask me about techniques, information about tournaments and where they should go to train in a specific country.
OTM: Do you notice any differences in habits and mannerisms between the game as it is practiced in Brazil and other parts of the world?
MBC: I think there are still some differences between Brazil and the rest of the world because in Brazil there are many good teachers and fighters, and in other countries we still have students learning from magazines and DVDs. This is changing with the immigration of Brazilian Black-Belts. Hopefully someday we are going to have not only Brazilian Black-Belts all over the world, but Black-Belts from different cultural backgrounds. Our goal is to spread to every single country in the world, this great Martial Art called by many “The Chess Fight” (because you have so many moves in so many different situations, like in chess).
OTM: So, what was it like to teach abroad — namely in the United States and Europe? What was it like to train and teach Jiu-jitsu within the context of different cultural backdrops?
MBC: I’ve learned a lot teaching in different cultures because one has to teach in different ways, adapting to what your students want and can learn. In America the students are perfectionists, so you have to teach the technique with as many details as you can. In Europe I found myself teaching people from different levels in the same class, so I couldn’t teach advanced moves because of the beginners, and the advanced students didn’t want to learn basic moves. So I had to teach basic moves with specific advanced details to satisfy both. Each academy has been a unique experience and I have learned a lot from them all.
OTM: What are some titles of which you are particularly proud of winning in your competitive career?
MBC: I’m proud of ALL my titles, but if I had to choose one it would be the IX Atlantico Sul Jiu-Jitsu Cup because it was a classic tournament and it doesn’t exist anymore. At that time, we didn’t have world championships or even the Brazilian Nationals and this was the biggest tournament in the world. It’s also my favorite because it was a really hard tournament in which I had to win 5 fights to be the champion. I won the final in 30 seconds with a flying armbar!
I remember when I was a kid going to the Atlantico Sul Coup to see the best fighters facing each other like Renzo Gracie, Ralph Gracie, Gordo, Draculino, Royler Gracie, Amaury Bitetti, Murilo Bustamante, De La Riva, Wallid Ismail and many more. It was amazing!!!I also really like the team competitions because all your team mates depend on you and that makes you fight harder. Also you become very attached to your teammates since we support each other during the competition. I placed third in the 1999 Brazilian team nationals as a purple belt submitting all my fights and second in the 2004 Brazilian team nationals as a brown belt, winning all my fights against Black-Belts (brown belts and Black-Belts fight together in the Brazilian team nationals)!
OTM: As a competitor it isn’t very difficult to understand Jiu-jitsu as a sport, but as a lifestyle… what has been your experience? How has Jiu-jitsu shaped you into who you are and what are the benefits you feel Jiu-jitsu has to offer in this context?
MBC: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu totally changed my life! When I was a kid I was very shy and fearful because I was always short and slim. When I started Jiu-Jitsu not only did my body start to fill out but, even being a small guy, I was able to beat the bigger guys and that gave me confidence. Another way BJJ helps a lot is to train you to think and act at the same time. In BJJ you have to react quickly in many different situations and in life you have to do the same.
In the world today you see a lot of kids drinking and using drugs and I think BJJ helped me to stay out of this. I was always a responsible kid, but when I was a teen I saw all my friends starting to drink and when you are a teen you want to do what your friends are doing. As I was always competing and focused on training, I stayed away from parties and drinks. I always sought a healthy life with good food and exercise. And wanted my friends to have this kind of life too.
So the main benefits BJJ offers is to have a healthy life and being able to do exercise using, not only your body, but your mind too. BJJ gives you self-esteem, self-confidence, improves your general fitness, strength, flexibility, coordination, reaction time and, of course, you will learn to look after yourself.
OTM: As a teacher, what is it you hope to offer OTHER than just technical prowess and insight? What are your long-term goals as far as Jiu-jitsu is concerned, both as a competitor and teacher?
MBC: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is my passion and I want to divulge this great lifestyle (like you said before) to as many people as I can. My dream is to have my school and students and one day my students will become Black-Belts and have their own schools and students, and try to bring here what we have in Brazil. My academy in Brazil is not just a place I go to workout. It’s like a home to me. My teammates are like brothers and my master like a father.
As a competitor, I love to compete and I think I’ll compete for the rest of my life! You learn so much competing, winning or losing.
OTM: It seems the Jiu-jitsu world is blowing-up with the UFC, reality television, etc. BJJ is showing an influence on not just the martial arts world, but popular culture in general, especially here in the U.S. Where do you see things going from here and what would you hope to contribute?
MBC: This is a very difficult question and my feelings are mixed on the subject. On one hand, I think it’s great that BJJ is getting popular and, as I said, I will do my part. MMA fights are proving that BJJ is the most efficient ground fight in the world and you can see all the best fighters in the MMA tournaments using BJJ moves. Not only fighters have been watching MMA tournaments and that’s another way how BJJ is proliferating through popular culture. So, as soon as we have more BJJ academies, we are going to have more people join this great Martial Art. On the other hand, personally, I am particularly against MMA fights because they are too brutal. People only see what happens in the “cage” but you don’t see what’s happening with the fighters’ body. I wouldn’t like to see a student of mine being destroyed and going to the hospital. My students are like my sons and I care about their health and well-being. Jiu-jitsu has so much more to offer someone than just a means of physically dominating another person in physical combat, though as a method of self defense, it has proven to be most effective in that regard.
If you want a taste of Mario’s seminar (and see him choke his humble interviewer to the point of semi-conciousness) go to the following YouTube link: