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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

19 January 2013

Interview: Carlos Lemos Jr on Teaching in the USA & Gracie Barra

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Last time, Carlos Lemos Jr talked about the old days of Gracie Barra Bristol, back when he founded the club. In the final part of our interview, Lemos gives his perspective on the Gracie Barra ethos, along with sharing his thoughts on teaching in the USA. Gracie Barra is among the more formal academies in jiu jitsu. What benefits do you think there are to the environment created by things like a standardised uniform, bowing to pictures of Carlos Sr and using titles like 'Master' and 'Professor' etc?

Carlos Lemos: I don't believe you can have progress without order. I don't believe you can have order without respect. I don't believe you can have respect without hierarchy. These principles, they are vital to our team. They make our schools a friendly environment, an enjoyable place to be. The uniform gives you your identity, who you are, the legacy you represent, where you come from. It gives students pride and honour to wear that. Like the samurai in Japan, they would wear their banners and their crests from their families. That is what the Gracie Barra triangle represents on your gi, it is your crest, it is your coat of arms.

The formal bowing, it is like, man, it is the respect we have for the figure of Master Carlos Gracie and Grand Master Carlos, the patriarch of jiu jitsu and the founder of Gracie Barra. I think for the youth nowadays, you see so many kids having problems in school, of discipline, at home, swearing at their parents, not following enough with their homework. When they are exposed to something like Gracie Barra, it is like they join the army at the age of five. It creates then the discipline to master perfection. Perfection has a lot to do with sweat: it is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. I'm quoting Albert Einstein.

I think that is what we're offering today. It is different from many other jiu jitsu schools. We create a friendly, formal environment, where you can bring your family, you can bring your girlfriend, your mother, and you never feel disrespected. For instance, jiu jitsu we believe is for everyone, and there are some cultures that won't feel comfortable bringing their wife, sister or daughter into a jiu jitsu academy where everyone is bare-chested. Taking their shirts off, showing their muscles, their half naked body. Even though in Brazil, we grow up by the beach with people in Speedos, it is our way to respect other cultures, to have our rash guard under our gis.

All of this creates in the school an environment that people feel like staying and hanging around, so they feel like it is a school not only for the fighters, but for the families of the fighters. That's what we want to reach, jiu jitsu for everyone. When my master came up with that slogan, he truly believes the mission of the Gracie family is to help rescue family values with jiu jitsu. That's what we're proposing to do with all of our students. You currently teach in the USA: what has that experience been like?

Carlos Lemos: The American market is very demanding, in terms of quality. People in America don't mind paying, but they pay for what they get. So if you offer the best, the American market is not afraid to back that up. I think that is the main difference between over there and over here. If you offer the best services, the best customer services, the best instruction, you can be very successful over there.

I've got a great band of students in America, I love my guys. Trust me, Chicago is not the favourite tourist destination for a Brazilian guy who grew up by the beach. Cold, windy, no sea. But over there, I have a great band of brothers, guys who support me with everything I need. Faithful, loyal students. Everything I grew up witnessing back in Gracie Barra headquarters. I love my students, so if I can stay over there, I will.

Sometimes I get a bit nostalgic, and I get homesick for the UK. There is this Irish pub not very far from my house, where they have a very good fish and chips. So I cheat a little bit on my diet, I go there and have my fish and chips. I cry a little bit, because I do miss home: this place is a second home for me. I was very homesick at the beginning, but my good students and friends over there, they compensate for that.

Still, every time I come over here, I land in Heathrow Airport, I feel like, "man, it's weird, but this place feels like home still." Is there anything else you'd like to say to the readers of this website?

Carlos Lemos: Guys, train jiu jitsu. It is life changing. You will find the best friends of your life, you'll have tons of fun, you'll get healthier, fitter, you'll sharpen your mind, and I think if you train with us in Gracie Barra, you train with the best. There are Gracie Barra schools all over the country. If you don't have a Gracie Barra in your town, research a little bit about your instructor, their background, who they are. Don't train only with champions, because that is not everything in life. Train with a good educator. Train with somebody who is going to teach you a way of life, not only a way of fighting. Become a knight, don't become a brawler. That's my message, try it out and I'm sure you're going to be hooked. It's super fun and I love it.

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  1. I am a big fan of Gracie Barra schools and I love California and usually on vacation try to train at the nearby GB school.

    I love the sense of respect and formality that Carlos is talking about in this interview but one thing I noticed however which I feel strongly about is foul language.

    How can a family academy like GB tolerate swearing I dont understand. I was in the changing room at the guys next to me start to use foul language and speak very loudly. The black belt instructor next to me I witnessed very timidly told them to mind the swearing but they basically ignored him. Its a shame that so little is done in this regard in many academies because the etiquette at the academy is really supposed to deal with this, but if a professor prefers not to deal with the situation, I dont think we can do any better

  2. Personally swearing doesn't bother me, but bigoted language does (e.g., sexist, homophobic, racist, etc). I try to always speak up if I hear people being derogatory towards women or gay people, particularly as the former group is visibly training on the mat while the latter is probably there too (if the 1 in 10 statistic can be believed).

    However, I'd agree that the instructor should keep an eye (or I guess ear) on swearing if there are children present. Very unprofessional to be swearing while kids are in the academy.