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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

05 April 2012

Interview: Mauricio Gomes on Teaching in the UK & Japan

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In the previous instalment of this four part interview, Mauricio spoke about his son, Roger Gracie. This week, he reflects on his time as a teacher, especially in the UK. You were a pioneer of BJJ in the UK. Did you ever meet Chen Morales, who was here a little earlier?

Mauricio Gomes: Chen Morales used to teach in London, I met Chen. I brought Renzo over for a seminar, and Chen attended the seminar, that's where I met him. He used to teach at the Budokwai, the club that later on was given to us, we're still there. I'd heard of him, and then his students used to go to Birmingham once a week on Saturdays, to train with the guys there. I think I did one lesson in his academy, he invited me. I think he moved to Spain after that. So you didn't have a chance to check out the other schools in the UK at that time?

Mauricio Gomes: No, I started my school, and I used to work so much, all day. You put all those classes on, you have to be there. Even if only one or two students show up, it doesn't matter, you know? That's what I tell these boys now. The classes are full, there are always a lot of people. I had a zillion times where I had one person show up, or sometimes two. You've still got to do your job, right? [laughs] I guess because you taught in various other places around the world, like Japan, you already knew what it was going to be like, so you had the motivation to get past those small numbers. Or was it just that you knew jiu jitsu was good, so classes would eventually start expanding?

Mauricio Gomes: You always have the motivation, as when you start something, you want to see it through. When I started that school in Japan, in about two months, I had 290 students, something like that. But Tokyo is an easy city to have a lot of students: one block around you, there's a zillion people living there! [laughs] It's a very populated city.

I think once you're confident in the work that you present, you don't worry so much. People have to understand that a jiu jitsu school is like any other business. It's like having a shop. You open up your door in the morning, stay there all day, close the door at night, go home to bed. The only difference is that we fight all day. [laughs] As you've been teaching for many years now, do you approach it differently, to try and maintain your interest level, or has it become your job? Is there still that passion?

Mauricio Gomes: I still have the same passion. I teach today as if I was teaching for the first time. I care a lot about the quality, trying to do the best I can. Also, we are so few, that came from Rolls, I to this day still try to give exactly the same I was given. I think I've succeeded in that. I can go to bed and sleep calmly at night, thinking to myself "ok, I've tried my best to pass on the information as I received it." Do you have any other favourite memories from the early days of BJJ in the UK?

Mauricio Gomes: I've got a lot of good memories in the UK, in my school, students that are doing well, sometimes when you have a visitor from another place and your student takes care of it, that kind of thing. It is very rewarding. The compensation of a teacher comes in seeing their students. It is like when you are trying to grow something. You plant it, and if you plant it well, it will grow nice and strong. That's what jiu jitsu does. You plant a little seed, then you see that flourish. Speaking of growing, there are quite a few home grown black belts in the UK now, thanks to pioneers like you: do you think the UK has reached maturity in BJJ, or does it still have a long way to go?

Mauricio Gomes: There is still a long way to go. The maturity will come. It is very big, it has grown a lot, but I think the maturity of all of this will come when you have loads of kids and adolescents participating, competing and all that, like they have in the other martial arts. That's your future. It is when you get a six, seven, eight year old and see them all the way through to black belt, that's maturity.

For now, you see that the ages are getting lower. There are a lot of young people now, and that age needs to get lower and lower. It's a long process, but I think it is already starting. It will mature pretty soon.

[Pics included by kind permission of Amari Stark]

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