Roberto Atalla Interview

Roberto Atalla interview – after spending two weeks in the company of the Northern Cartel in August, Carl Fisher gets the low down on one of the friendliest and accommodating Brazilians in the business….Carl Fisher- Your two weeks in Bolton are now at an end; have you enjoyed yourself?

Roberto Atalla- Oh yes very much, I have been to Manchester, Bolton, Huddersfield, Glasgow and Edinburgh, teaching classes, privates and seminars, as well as enjoying the nightlife of each city, it`s been great. I think I`ll be going back to Scotland after attending Ian Butlin`s fight in Newcastle, Cagewarriors North and I hope to get up to Aberdeen next time and teach there.

CF- You`re heading to the Big Smoke tonight, what are your plans down there?

RA- I will be meeting my Brazilian friends and arranging my seminar for the following weekend and I`ll be checking out some places with regards to setting my own club and teaching from London. I`ll stay a week and I`ll be coming back up North for four days and then I`ll be flying to Amsterdam from Liverpool, I have a seminar in Leiden, thirty minutes from Amsterdam and I`ll be staying there for about two weeks and then I`ll be coming back to the UK.

CF- Anywhere in particular in London for a venue?

RA- Nothing yet, I have no idea.

CF- Who are your friends in London?

RA- Eduardo Carriello and Fabio Ban; Fabio is a very tough blue belt of Shaolin`s, he used to train with me a few times in Brazil and lived in the same place as me in Brazil. He`s a manager of a Brazilian restaurant and Eduardo started to train with me and I gave him his blue and purple belt; he then moved to another state and he trained with Ze Marcello and is now a brown belt.

CF- Roger Brooking is now in London, a good friend I believe?

RA- Yes, we are from different teams and friends in Brazil, we knew each other and he`s a nice guy and I think he`s the best guy living here in the UK from the guys I know out here.

CF- Let`s move on to your jiu jitsu history, starting with your belts; where and when did you get the grades?

RA- I started to train in December 1990, after watching JJ Machado beat Wallid Ismail and I went to train with him at Barra Gracie and received my blue belt from him and I stayed at Barra Gracie and won the Brazilian tournament and received my purple belt from Carlos Gracie, since JJ was in the US by now. After that I stayed at Barra Gracie and trained with Renzo in the mornings and my game improved tenfold and Renzo gave me my brown belt and he went to the US; I had a little problem with Carlinhos about a tournament I was disqualified in and after that I went to train with Murilo Bustamante and Sergio Souza (Bolao) who is now teaching in Philadelphia. They postponed my black belt as I was due the belt from Barra Gracie and I`d changed teams so I had to prove myself again, before they gave me the belt.

CF- What`s the background on Bolao?

RA- He was the main teacher at the Carlson Gracie academy and he joined Murilo as they had their own teams and they started the Rio Jiu Jitsu club and I`d just left Barra Gracie at that time and they were the strongest brown belt team, that`s why I joined and after a while they had a problem as Bolao was teaching everyone and Murilo was focussing on VT training and most of the team went to train with Bolao, but I stayed and trained with them both. I got my black belt from Sergio in October 98, just before the Brazilian tournament.

CF- When did you start to teach?

RA- As a blue belt in my home town, not only Eduardo, but Ronaldo Campos who is now in London and another guy named Peterson, who`s been winning the MECA event in Brazil, two in a row and focuses on no gi and VT training ad when I get him over he`ll be teaching these two areas. That would have been in `93 when Carlos and Renzo asked me to, as Renzo was teaching in Rio as well as the South and I taught a few days in the week and split the teaching with a purple belt and the days I wasn`t there I was in Rio training and cycled the training and teaching and did that for 18 months and Renzo got me a job in a school in Laranjeiros, a district in Rio, where I met Fabio Ban and a lot of guys who have trained with me over the ten years.

CF- Where is your home town?

RA- Sao Pedro Da Aldei, near Cabofrio, 200km from Rio.

CF- Can you talk about the State Championships?

RA- They have these events in every state of Brazil, of which there are 27 and Rio is the strongest one for Jiu Jitsu, followed by Manaus in the Amazon, which is Bolao`s hometown and Sao Paulo.

CF- Whose is the main club in Sao Paulo?

RA- I think they have 3 different teams; Fabio Gurgel`s Alliance team, Ryan Gracie`s team and Macaco has a big team out there as well, plus there can be guys from nowhere just spring up and win the championships you know, that can happen now and again, but these three are the main teams out there.

CF- Do any of the clubs communicate with each other?

RA- They are very competitive and it`s very difficult for one guy to go train in another club, it`s very political and bad for the sport, that`s why I`m not connected to any team just now, I plan to have my own team and have an open door policy.

CF- Is your club still running back home?

RA- Yes, when I left the club for Rio I left a lot of good students and one teaches in Buzios, famous for it`s beaches and some students in Juiz de Fora; after teaching for two and half years in Rio I felt it was time to move back and forwards between these goods clubs as I was very focussed on my training and competing. I have a black belt in Juiz de Fora, which was awarded by Sergio Souza and the only black belt I have graded is Marco Chuck who teaches in Buzios. I have a few brown belts as well that teach for me.

CF- You`re a three times Mundials veteran; can you talk about your experiences?

RA- The first time I entered was as a purple belt and I fought Shaolin, who`s very famous now and had a great fight and after that fight I fought some very good guys but not as well known over here; in the finals I fought ‘Esfiha`, his name is Jose Mario but not the same Ze Mario, who travels now and again to Europe and is 120K and I swept him in the first Mundials in `96 in the Open weight and also won the up to 97K category, even though I was 76K, as there were some guys from Gracie Barra who wanted to fight so moved up the divisions as I was very well prepared.

In the brown belts the names are heard to recall but I did fight a Carlson Gracie student, my first fight and had three more fights and again not well known out here. Then in `99 I entered the Mundials and beat Ricardo Almeida and then beat Suian, maybe not known out here and after that went to the finals against Alexander Paiva, who was more experienced than me and managed to keep the fight in his hands and I ended up second place.

I also had a very difficult fight in the quarterfinals in the Brazilian tournament in `99 against Carlos Machado, which I made four points and he made two if I am not mistaken.

CF- Who was your first opponent as a black belt?

RA- Nino Schembri; he`s one of the best guys and I consider him better than I, but as soon as I got my black I got drawn against Nino, but I felt it was pre arranged; I was very focused in my head and tried to be as confident as possible and we had a good fight; he passed my guard and I got a very tight knee bar, he didn`t tap, but his knee popped hard and after the fight he was really pissed as he was under a lot of pressure from the Gracie Barra guys to beat me hard and as soon as he knew he had a fight on his hands he became nervous and after the fight he had an argument with my father and didn`t fight the semi finals. Leo Vieira won the category even though he was the lightest guy as Guilhobel, his opponent didn`t fight Nino, as Nino retired after my fight and was out for three months because of his knee.

CF- Who would you list in your top five jiu jitsu players?

RA- I would make the list from guys I have actually trained with and in no order I would list Ricardo Liborio, Rickson Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Alan Goes and Leo Vieira; this is not their order, just make that known (laughs).

CF- You also train in Judo?

RA- Yes I`m a brown belt and have won the Rio state tournament and Sao Paulo state as well, with over forty matches, winning thirty one and many with submissions, but a number with throws, my favourite being kouchi gari.

CF- How did Judo help your BJJ?

RA- It improved my posture, my throwing and conditioning and overall game; I lost some fights in BJJ as I was too confident in my stand up game and made mistakes and lost points.

CF- You`re back from an ACL injury; how`s the training going?

RA- I went through painful ACL surgery and only came back to the mats two months ago and have been running and training every day and am now about 50% recovered.

CF- How have you coped here in the UK?

RA- It`s OK, no pain anymore in my knee, just back pain that annoys me a lot until I`m warmed up, but I have to strengthen my knee to avoid future injuries.

CF- What are your views on the level of jiu jitsu based on what you`ve been exposed to?

RA- I think the overall level is not really a high level, but it`s really improving and many people are wanting to take the sport up, so it`s going to pick up in the next few years; the level could be better considering the absence of black belts here in the UK, some have the basics down, some don`t but I hope to be here and help spread the word and help the level improve. You need to put the gi on at least four times a week, as the guys in Brazil are training twice a day so you need to train hard. Whilst there are no black belts here it`s good to have the blue and purple belts teaching as they are exposing people to the jiu jitsu, but in the near future we have to modify that and get more browns and blacks over to improve the overall game and learn a lot faster.CF- Whilst in Brazil you worked for the top magazine out there?

RA- Yes, I studied marketing and went to the magazine and organised the marketing and the financial side; my brother Luca is the editor and is a great writer and manages the photographers as well, so I tried to improve my side, but I didn`t have the skills needed to really implement the business management side of things; I improved the sales of the magazine and helped out with a lot of other projects as well. It was mainly office bound and I didn`t see any of the guys who ended up in the magazine, bit I kept in touch with the guys out on the competition circuit.

CF- What are your plans now for the future?

RA- These aren`t just my plans, but my goals in life and that`s to spread BJJ throughout Europe and reach and teach as many people as possible and also set up competitions and Federations where they don`t exist in Europe. For the next 2-4 years I will be basing myself in the UK and will travel around Europe, teaching and promoting BJJ in a lot of ways.

CF- How did you get your nickname ‘Risada`?

RA- Soneca was teaching me when I was a white belt and drilling escapes from side control and my face looked like I was laughing, as I was straining and trying so hard to escape, so he came up with ‘Risada`.

CF- What advice would you give to any newcomers to BJJ?

RA- Don`t get involved in politics, learn as much as possible and try to train without worrying whether you win or lose, as BJJ is a lot more than winning and losing, it`s about getting in great shape, improving your confidence and improving other areas in life, such as discipline and staying out of jail, all that kind of stuff. A real fighter fights on the mats, not on the streets.

CF- Roberto thanks for the interview

RA- My pleasure

For more info about Roberto`s plans to teach in the UK and Europe contact Roberto on 07990 636726 or email

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Carl Fisher