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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

02 September 2010

Interview - Romulo Barral on Competition

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Last week, Romulo discussed his thoughts on teaching. In part two, he talks about competition. You began competing quite early in your training: how would you advise a new student coming to you saying “I want to compete”?

Romulo Barral: I have a lot of people who do that, and my advice is like this: the competition needs to be something natural. For example, I don’t push my students to compete. If I have somebody come to me and ask me how to compete, it’s become easy for me to advise them. My advice is always the same. The competition, it’s good to test yourself, you know, it’s a good feeling for most of the people, even if they don’t want to become professional.

The only thing I like to say to everybody, to my students – or everybody else, not only myself, all professional people – what matters for the competition is that you step on the mat and give a hundred percent, you leave everything on the mat. When you do that, win or lose, you’re going to be happy, because you put everything, you give everything you had. So that’s always my advice for people, if they want to compete.

It’s small advice, but it can be big, you know. Then of course, for people that really want to compete, it can take a little while. They first come to me, as a white belt, “I want to compete,” and that’s my advice, because I cannot put something on their head. Then they would be “oh, I’ve got to think about this, think about that,” I have different advice. So, this one, it’s general advice, I tell people to give a hundred percent, leave everything on that mat, and then you’ll be happy, no matter what.

I have different advice, for example, for people who want to be a competitor and they are a black belt already, so I have my own thoughts about competing. So if somebody ask me, some black belt, I can explain a big plan to do and then be successful. So you have black belts coming up to you and asking for your experience, if they’re a less experienced black belt, seeking out your advice?

Romulo Barral: Oh yes, a lot, I have a lot of people, they ask me what I do to be good, you know, but it’s hard for people to be focused and follow you. So that’s why I keep this, for when people ask me, what’s your advice. So, I give this one, and then I see, what they can get. If they really give a hundred percent, and then they ask me the next time, what’s my advice, I can give him a little bit more.

But I cannot just tell him everything for him, what to do, because otherwise, if they don’t do it, I will be like a bit disappointed [laughs]. Because I want everybody to be like me, not good, but to do everything as I want to be, to become good, you know. I don’t think I’m good or the best or something like that. For me, it doesn’t matter: if they work hard, that’s how good you’re going to be. There’s been a lot of talk recently about ‘self defence’ jiu jitsu, with groups like the Gracie Academy saying “Gracie Combatives, this is self defence, we don’t teach sport.” But do you think there really is that split between ‘self defence’ jiu jitsu and ‘sport’ jiu jitsu, or is it all just jiu jitsu?

Romulo Barral: I think it’s just jiu jitsu, you know, because if you want to do self defence, you can go do krav maga. So jiu jitsu is like a complete art, you learn how to punch. People think in jiu jitsu, it doesn’t have a punch, doesn’t have a kick, but jiu jitsu is a complete martial art. You learn how to punch, you learn how to kick, you learn how to have good distance, if you need self defence. It’s a martial art that involves everything. I don’t think they have jiu jitsu for self defence, you know, Gracie Academy, I think it is all the same. Everybody learns the same, at the end of the day, everybody is going to learn the same thing. Relson Gracie has recently set up a new tournament, the Gracie Pro Am Circuit, which he believes is closer to the original ideals of his father Helio. I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to look at the rules, but one of them forbids gripping both your opponent’s sleeves for more than 10 seconds. As you’re famous for your spider guard, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that?

Romulo Barral: Man, it’s the first time I heard about it, but I don’t like it all, really. How am I going to play my spider guard? [laughs] I want to stick my hands on their sleeve and not let go for nothing. It’s not only me, actually, you know? I don’t know, it’s a pretty new thing for me, but if somebody doesn’t want to let you grab their sleeve for more than ten seconds, make a no-gi tournament. I don’t think because you hold the sleeve for ten seconds you’re stalling the fight or something like that, you know? So if you want to do something like that, just do a no-gi tournament, it would be better.

I like the IBJJF rules. That’s the guys, like Master Carlos Gracie, that have worked on this for a long time, to become a better sport. Whatever they change their rule, I will agree, because I know that these guys, they work really hard to make BJJ bigger and bigger, as a sport, everything.

In the next instalment, Romulo talks about spider guard, and his opinions on dealing with injuries. For part one of this five part series, click here. To read more about Romulo, check out, and you can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter

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  1. Re tournament rules v Relson's rules - I think truly good BJJ players will adapt and use the rules to their advantage whichever system.

    Presumably Romulo - despite being a tricksy spider guard player - would adapt just fine to the grip limit rule. I on the other hand nothing else int he kit bag so would be screwed!

  2. Once again, great questions. I personally think that a jiu-jitsu player should be able to use whatever he/she has at their disposal. Isn't that the point? Sleeves, collar, shoes, helmet...whatever. If those things are there, use them. If they're not there, you can't use them. Maybe the spirit of the rule is to keep people from relying on grips too much, but I agree with Romulo on this one - why not just grapple no gi?

  3. This is really interesting stuff! Hadn't heard about that spider guard thing.So the ban is on account of it being used for stalling?

  4. Thanks guys - glad you enjoyed it.

    I find that the ability to grip in the gi helps to slow down the pace and gives you time to think. Some people might use that to stall, but it seems more of an issue with something like the 50/50 (mainly because 50/50 guard is still quite new: no doubt once everybody becomes familiar with it, it will be much harder to stall), rather than spider guard.

    Also, I'm not a competitor, but Romulo's point that you should do nogi if you don't want grips to come into play makes a lot of sense.

    After all, competitors are always going to find a way to bend the rules to their advantage, so trying to artificially impose a style of BJJ isn't going to work.

    Of course, worth mentioning that Romulo himself is well known for always going for the submission, so he clearly doesn't use grips to stall.