Training in Recife, Brasil + Vitor Estima

Lead by Ze Radiola, a former top Brasilian pro surfer, Gracie Barra PE is the academy that produced Braulio Estima and has perhaps the strongest brown belt team in brasil today While it is still true that the big powerhouse academies in Rio and Sao Paulo like Gracie Barra and Brasa produce most of today’s top jiu jitsu athletes, fighters from areas of Brazil not previously known for jiu jitsu are challenging the Rio / Sao Paulo jiu jitsu status quo. Athletes from Amazonas, Minas Gerais and Pernambucu are proving themselves to be among the most technical, determined and exciting fighters in jiu jitsu today. Gracie Barra, PE located in Recife, one of Brazil’s most beautiful and oldest cities has been quietly producing some of the best for almost 10 years. Lead by Ze Radiola, a former top Brasilian pro surfer, Gracie Barra PE is the academy that produced Braulio Estima and has perhaps the strongest brown belt team in brasil today (i.e. future top black belts) lead by Victor Estima, Octavio, Leandro and Hugo (currently teaching in Hungary). The training here is intense and competitive but also very positive and cooperative – Ze pays careful attention to everyone and is quick to point out technical or stragetic errors and help correct them. Unlike some academies focused on competition, Gracie Barra PE advances a philosophy focused on submission, reflected in the constantly attacking style of its fighters. Dangerous, unorthodox guard games, aggressive passing and lightning fast armlocks and back attacks are standard throughout the academy.

After spending a month training with Ze Radiola and crew, I can better understand why his academy has produced so many champions. They train hard. More so than at other academies, training is varied: from one minute and a half tournament style matches with everyone in the academy yelling for you to submit your opponent, to twenty minute marathon training rounds. Ze seems uniquely aware of how to push his students to adapt to adversity while simultaneously focusing their specific strategies for competitive success.

Recife also has the dubious title of being the shark attack capital of the world – with just under 200 attacks in the past twelve years and nearly 80 fatalities (the “official” numbers are grossly under reported). Just about every surfer I meet has witnessed several attacks first hand, lost friends to shark attacks or been attacked themselves. Bull sharks seem to be responsible for the majority of attacks although Tiger sharks are not uncommon off Recife’s beaches. If you do want to surf though Ze Radiola is the man to know and he can guide you to a variety of “safe” beach and reef breaks about an hour south of the city.

Interview with Victor Estima

PS: Lets start with the basics – how old are you and when did you start training?

VE: I’m 21 and I started training when I was 15.

PS: Why jiu jitsu?VE: When I saw my brother win his first Pan American Championships as a blue belt it gave me inspiration to start training – already with the goal of becoming a champion myself one day.

PS: How is coming through the ranks in Recife different from say Rio or Sao Paulo?

VE: For me it’s always been difficult to travel to the main competitions because I never had the financial conditions. In Rio people are training with the best and don’t have to travel to compete, most jiu jitsu people there don’t have to worry about money so much and can focus on training. Here in the northeast things are very different – I only could compete once a year so I always chose the Mundials because that is where best fighters were – so if you look, all my results are from the Mundials – not because I lost the Brasileiros or Pan Ams or whatever but because I didn’t even get to go!!! Thankfully though I stuck with it and now I have the opportunity to teach jiu jitsu in Birmingham, England with my brother. So now I get to travel and compete a little more.

PS: Speaking of your brother (Braulio Estima) the first time I saw him compete was as a brown belt at the pan ams where he submitted everyone in his weight and in the absolute and all 7 of his fights together lasted less than five minutes. It was easy to see that he was on a trajectory to become one today’s the top black belts. You have some big results winning the pan ams yourself as a brown belt but in the jiu jitsu world you’re still under the radar. What can we expect from you in the future?

VE: I plan to continue to train as hard as I can to become one of the top black belts in the sport. Win the world championships as a black belt.

PS: Vale tudo?

VE: That’s something I really have to think about……

PS: Who do you look up to in the jiu jitsu today?

VE: Roger Gracie – he has been consistently showing that he is the best. Braulio Estima – his jiu jitsu is amazing and when he finds out no one can beat him he will be the unstoppable. Jacare – because he is a warrior. If I had the combination of these three fighters I would be the best ever (laughs).

PS: Your guard is super dangerous and hard to pass because you are constantly attacking yet not relying on one particular style of guard but instead constantly changing your game, playing with different grips and angles. The only other person I see playing a similar guard in jiu jitsu today is your brother Braulio. How has he influenced your jiu jitsu?

VE: I try to copy everything my brother does (lol) so if I have a dangerous guard it is because of him – and of course my professor Ze teaching me that the essence of jiu jitsu is submission. When I train and fight almost everything I do is to submit – I don’t think about points much.

PS: You were involved in a challenge match recently – tell us about it.

VE: There was an old rivalry between our academy and another academy here in Recife where their top black belt challenged me to a no time limit match. Basically someone was talking a lot and needed an education in the basic principles of jiu jitsu. I took his arm from the triangle position in less than three minutes. I went home and he went to the hospital. I’m glad I was able to represent my academy with success.

Anything else you would like to add, any sponsors to thank? (laughs) I get a deal on film development – does that count? Unfortunately I don’t have any sponsors at the moment but if anyone is interested they can email me at Until then you can count on seeing me at the Mundials. I would like to thank family, my girlfriend, Ze Radiola, Carlinhos and everyone from Gracie Barra for supporting me over the years.

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About the author

Paul Schreiner