Marcio is a multiple time world, national, Pan-American, and state champion as well as the winner and third place finisher at the prestigious ADCC Submission Wrestling Championships. This interview was taken at the newly opened Gracie Barra America Academy in Lake Forest, California with head instructor Marcio Feitosa. Marcio is a multiple time world, national, Pan-American, and state champion as well as the winner and third place finisher at the prestigious ADCC Submission Wrestling Championships.
Kevin Howell: What are your goals in jiu-jitsu?
Marcio Feitosa: My goal is to build a jiu-jitsu community just as Carlos Gracie Jr. has in Brazil. I would love to earn the respect and admiration that Carlos has. I wish to see jiu-jitsu as popular and widespread in the US as in Brazil.
KH: Why did you choose the United States and California in particular?
Marcio: I think that the US has the largest amount of people practicing jiu-jitsu outside of Brazil and California has the most in the States. Rio is the center of jiu-jitsu in Brazil, California is the same center in the US. We want to have our HQ on the center where we can exchange info, learning, and also contribute to the growing of the sport.
KH: Can you elaborate on the problem between you and Tinguinha?
Marcio: First of all, let me state that I have no hard feelings against Tinguinha and I have a lot of love and admiration for Tinguinha. I grew up with Tinguinha and we always dreamed of getting our blackbelts and traveling the world to teach jiu-jitsu; he has a beautiful family and I am the godfather of his daughter. Most importantly, I respect his perspective. Basically, Tinguinha became offended when we opened a school that he felt was very close to his (in Anaheim). I respect this point, although I do not agree with it. I feel that much of this philosophy comes from the past, when jiu-jitsu teachers wouldn’t allow their students to open academies within close proximities to their schools. However, Carlos Gracie Jr. was the first instructor to open up his area of Barra to all of his students to teach in and Tinguinha had a school very close to the main academy. When Carlos and I decided to open this school, we thought that this philosophy would have allowed for this, but Tinguinha became upset and it is his right. We felt that Lake Forest was far enough from Tinguinha and so the school opened. I need to focus on something. Tinguinha and I have a long history and we are like brothers. All brothers have their problems, but he is always my family and I wish to make up with him and help him in anyway possible. I think time will help and we will become friends again.
KH: Lately, the Internet forums have been buzzing about the happenings at the former Gracie Barra USA school and your alleged termination, can you tell us what exactly happened there?
Marcio: First of all it is important for people to realize how we came over here. We had to obtain work visas to work in the US and we were hired by a business owner (who paid for our visas) to come over here and work for his company as employees. After we began working at Gracie Barra USA, it became clear that our philosophies did not mix well and we had some business disagreements that led to the firing of all of us. We could not protest this decision because of us being only employees. We were so stuck!
KH: Was there an attempt on your part to diffuse the situation before it got to this point?
Marcio: Definitely, we’ve been here for ten months, but since week one it was obvious that we did not see things the same. We would try to be flexible to all of his (the boss’) requests, but in the end he would not change and we would not sacrifice our dignity or philosophy.
KH: Can you address the rumors about you getting deported and how you were fired?
Marcio: Well, we received “separation of employment” letters from the employer, the locks to the academy were changed, and our visas were canceled. About the deportation, this is something that I am not concerned with. After the story about our firing came out, a lot of students and friends came together to help us figure out how to continue what we started here.
KH: Have you received a lot of support?
Marcio: Man! Everyone came out to help us. When our students first came to the old academy and found that our pictures weren’t there and that there were new instructors, all of our students began calling and came to my house to show support. It was so weird for them to go to that school. Other students set up mats and training for others and we were able to continue training at one place 30 minutes away. Students who were not even training would show up to these meetings just to show support, this makes me proud. We had friends fly here from other states and my phone was ringing all day with calls from Brazil. We’ve had lawyers offered help and some other businessmen, we have got new visas and a new academy. We are very lucky to have such great friends. I have a great story to about this friendship… Renzo Gracie, who is a person I have always looked up to while growing up in Barra has offered so much help and we are very grateful. You see Renzo was there when the original Gracie Barra was divided when a student tried to take other students away; Renzo stayed then and has always showed himself to be loyal to Carlos. When he found out about the recent situation, he called so fast and wanted to fly down here and kick some ass! Of course, this couldn’t happen, but he also offered to help us with money and whatever we needed. He called us everyday to make sure we had everything we needed. Renzo was an idol since my teens and after that my admiration for him grew.
KH: What is Rigan Machado’s role in this situation? How did the school change from Gracie Barra USA to Machado USA?
Marcio: This was another big surprise when we woke up on Monday morning and saw the Gracie Barra USA website with Rigan’s picture on it using our flag. This probably was the most upsetting thing, to see our name being used by someone else. All that I can say is that every blackbelt that taught in that building with our name on the walls, flying our flag with Carlos’ name on the walls, know exactly what they did. You can’t teach using someone’s flag without his permission and that only devalues the blackbelt that is worn by these instructors. Really, it felt like someone had been sleeping in our bed- this was very painful.
KH: In a recent article, Rigan explained that he had no knowledge of what was happening when this went down.
Marcio: First, I don’t want to talk only about Rigan. Rigan was just the person who was disrespectful enough to put his face up on the website. There were other blackbelts involved. I do not know if Rigan is telling the truth or not, I find it hard to believe when there are pictures of us all over the academy and everyone knew that this was our academy. No one had the right to teach under Gracie Barra, not even Rigan Machado, because he teaches as Machado Jiu-Jitsu. It is hard to accept that anyone would teach here under Carlos’ name without his consent.
KH: Do you have anything to do with the purported break in at the old academy?
Marcio: I have nothing to do with this. I can only state the facts that I know of. We were told that there was a break in at the academy, but I find it crazy. First all of the locks were changed and we no way to get in the school! Second, it was few days after when everybody refused to stay there they came up with this story. It doesn’t make sense to me! It is weird!
KH: Why did you choose to stay in Lake Forest?
Marcio: We have start a serious work with people here. They are very committed to us as we are with them. Here now is my home!
KH: What do you think sets Gracie Barra apart from other schools?
Marcio: Many schools have very good techniques and great jiu-jitsu, but Carlos has created a philosophy in this school were everyone want to achieve the blackbelt and use jiu-jitsu as a study for life. He manages many different types of people at the academy and many different styles of jiu-jitsu. Many great champions have come out of this philosophy to make jiu-jitsu a way of your life.
KH: What do you think is the key to acquiring jiu-jitsu?
Marcio: You need to find yourself a good instructor. This doesn’t mean that you have to come to a Gracie Barra school, I know my way isn’t for everybody – but I try my hardest to help everybody. What is most important is that you find a school that you fit in well at and get good instruction. It is important to stay at this school through most of your belts. In Brazil, you see guys who kill everyone at blue belt and they keep change schools and go away before purple belt. Jiu-jitsu is a long journey and there is no easy way or fast ticket. I feel it is better to be a samurai than a ronin.
KH: Do you need competition to attain a high level or to become a good blackbelt?
Marcio: This is one of the biggest myths in the sport (that you need to be a good competitor to be good at a belt). Competition is great for testing yourself , but competition is a very limited aspect to jiu-jitsu. We have so many guys at Gracie Barra who are top level blackbelts that kill everybody but do not like to compete. It is okay if you don’t wish to compete, because jiu-jitsu is a lifestyle that everyone can enjoy. I see a lot of students that are held back because of competition in the US. The teacher’s have white belts for 3 years and blue belts for 6 years and this is too long. If the person is training regularly there is no reason for this. This is why I follow the CBJJ guidelines where most belts move on after 2 years. This is the system we follow at Gracie Barra in Brazil as well as most of the Brazilian academies, and I see no reason that it should not be followed here. Of course, you do have to train hard! If you are not improving after 2 years per belt either you are probably not focusing, your instructor is not helping you, or you are not training. Remember, it is a good thing to change belts, it allows you to pressure yourself to bring yourself to the next level.
KH: What is your opinion of blackbelt ranks in the US?
Marcio: I have a lot of blackbelt friends in the US and their skill levels great. But, I also see some blackbelts that award themselves rank and degrees on their blackbelts that should not be. The stripes on the blackbelt are something to be proud of and they should take a long time to achieve. How is it that I have 3 stripes on my blackbelt when I have had it for 10 years (3 years per stripe) and others who have had their blackbelts for 3 years already have 3 stripes? How is it that one of Carlos’ students who has been teaching in the US for many years has the same amount of stripes as his master? I would like to ask these people about these things and see who is rewarding them their rank. I am sure many are awarding it to themselves. I follow the original ranking system of Helio and Carlos Gracie Sr. and I will not change this system out of respect to these great masters. It has worked well for many years, and many great teachers and champions have come out of this system.
KH: Your school has gained a reputation for having many different visiting blackbelts that are willing to train with your students. How do you manage to get so many top level guys to come though your doors?
Marcio: These are all friends and family and I’m honored by them. At Gracie Barra, we encourage our students and instructors to train with everyone. It does not matter who taps who, only that you are training and trying to learn. With the visiting belts it is the same, they are friends who are trying to open jiu-jitsu up to everyone. It is good to be exposed to different styles, and it is good to see everyone with the philosophy that Carlos showed us.
KH: Can you tell me something about Andre Fernandes, the co-instructor at your new school?
Marcio: Andre is a good friend and he has helped so much at the school. His skills exceptional, but his personality and teaching skills are just as good. He does not compete, instead he works for the CBJJ organizing all of the big tournaments, but he is definitely one of the great blackbelts to come out of Gracie Barra, he is an example of how good you can be without focusing on competition.
KH: Any future plans to compete again?
Marcio: Getting ready to compete at the top level is very difficult, always weights and cardio and diet, and right now I will focus on teaching. But I will not stop I will be there for a long time. I love it! I am honored to have competed against such great competitors in such great events, but now I am ready to spread jiu-jitsu and bring my guys to that level.
KH: Do you have a current favorite amongst the current generation of jiu-jitsu competitors?
Marcio: That’s easy, Roger Gracie. He has a very basic jiu-jitsu that is beautiful. Because he was very skinny, he would always have the upper belts putting him in bad positions. His father who is a famous Gracie Barra blackbelt has an incredible knee on belly position and he would also work a lot with Roger. This made Roger’s defenses become incredible and he is now practically invincible from bad positions. When he gets to a good position, he always submits his opponents very fast. His jiu-jitsu is old school and shows how important the basics.
KH: Marcio, Thanks for the time with the interview and last words?
Marcio: Thank you for the time, I hope you check out our new website: www.graciebarraamerica.com . We our in Lake Forest, California and our doors are always open. Remember, never quit and see where jiu-jitsu will take you.