Marcio Feitosa Talks Techniques, Training and Teams
Marcio Feitosa is the head instructor Gracie Barra, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu team headed by Carlos Gracie Jr. that has produced such competitors as Renzo Gracie, the Machado brothers, Nino Schembri and many others. Marcio himself has extensive competition experience, and has won the prestigious ADCC championships, the World Brazilian Jiu-jitsu championships and the Pan American championships.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I started to train with Carlos Gracie Jr. when I was 12. I grew up at the academy – my father left my family, so my brother and I took care of my mother and two sisters.
We were living in an expensive apartment in Barra, so my brother and I decided that we were going to pay the bills for this place. Carlos knew that I had to make money, and he always gave me jobs as a jiu-jitsu teacher. I’ve earned my living from teaching jiu-jitsu since I was 15, teaching every day. I am 28 years old and have had my black belt for 9 years.
I did not get ready to be a great fighter – I got ready to become a great teacher. I prepared myself as a fighter when I had a bit of extra time. I never had two or three weeks to get ready for a tournament: I always teaching the classes, and at the end I got ready for the tournament.
I have always been with Gracie Barra. Barra is a neighborhood of Rio – that’s why the school is called “Gracie Barra”. I have gone to a few different states in Brazil and started academies there. I’d stay there for 4 or 5 months, and then go back to Rio. So when I am ready I will open a big gym somewhere and try to do something at least as good as Gracie Barra in Rio.
Does Gracie Barra have a characteristic style of jiu-jitsu?
I don’t think so, because we never train primarily for competition – at the academy there is no incentive for students to specialize for competition, because we think that when you teach this way you limit a student’s game.
For example, some academies spend all their time on guard passing and guard defense, because that is where you are most of the time during competition. Or they try to find a certain talent that a kid has so they can improve that talent, score points and win the tournaments. Our biggest goal was never to win competitions! Our biggest goal is to improve people’s minds and spirits through jiu-jitsu; that’s what we are trying to do. We try to use jiu-jitsu as a mirror for the student’s life; we try to work the whole picture: the techniques, the way of life. If you limit the techniques because you are preparing only for tournaments imagine what else you are going to leave out of that student’s training.
Regarding the training at the academy – today we do things in a certain way, and I’m not sure if it is the proper way to practice jiu-jitsu. Long ago jiu-jitsu used to be more individual, but it used to be really expensive. Today we have much bigger classes with up to 80 or 90 people, so there is no way you can let the people spar for half an hour at a time. Today we make interval training, and usually we use10-minute rounds. We encourage them to let the game flow, to fight from every position and to feel safe whatever position the person is in.
In the old days you didn’t really spar in rounds: the guys used to spar once or twice, but when they sparred they kept on going until one person tapped or asked for a rest (which was like having tapped). Carlos Gracie Jr. still trains that way today – he never does ‘interval training’. He trains every day – he calls a partner and they spar for 25 or 30 minutes. If he’s feeling good, or if the other guy taps early, then Carlos might train twice.
Does Gracie Barra emphasize vale tudo (no holds barred)?
No. Carlos never wanted to push people to go out there and fight in no holds barred because you can hurt yourself bad. Vale Tudo fighting was very important in jiu-jitsu history, but Carlos didn’t want anyone to take vale tudo as a way of life because he didn’t take it for himself.
I did one no-rules fight, but Carlos never pushed me to do it. He said, “if you want to go, that’s OK”. He always showed us the techniques for vale tudo, but never pushed us to specialize in it.
Then vale tudo became a big business and very popular, and a lot of our students started to ask for it. Our students were saying “I want to make money from this, I want to make it my way of life.” So Carlos said “OK, you guys are asking for it – I am not the one who started this. I don’t want you to go out there an mess up your face”. He helps with all the jiu-jitsu techniques, but doesn’t want to be the figurehead of the team. Now they have a wrestling coach, a Muay Thai coach, and a manager who takes care of the team.
Do you train gi and no-gi?
We used to train only with the gi: nowadays we do no-gi every Friday. But even on Fridays at least half of our students show up with the gi: guys like training with the gi much more than training without it.
Myself I also like the gi much better. After a while training without the gi you don’t have as much to do, it’s not as technical. With the gi you have to think much more and it keeps your interest alive. With the gi you can continue to improve for your whole life, and without the gi there is not as much technique involved.
Do you believe that there is an old jiu-jitsu and a new jiu-jitsu?
Not really – there isn’t an old and new jiu-jitsu, but the techniques are always improving. There aren’t rules that limit your moves on the ground, that’s why jiu-jitsu is amazing. Jiu-jitsu is infinite: people are always developing new techniques. For example, I learn a lot from my students. I teach at a big academy with a lot of students. Even an average guy has at least one area that he is very strong at. If you pay attention to this area you will learn something from him. This way the technique keeps on developing
The biggest difference that I see between the old school and the people today isn’t so much about techniques like half guard, butterfly guard, certain sweeps or grips. Today many of the clubs just focus on competition and to make good fighters – they just concentrate on a few techniques and conditioning. There are so many other things included in jiu-jitsu that people are forgetting:
Before they used to do it much better: they involved you in a way of life. They used to be good on the ground, but they also used to know the complete self-defense program and the takedowns.
Today people are mutilating jiu-jitsu! Some guys have no stand-up fighting: they come out and are almost lying down on the mats in their eagerness to jump to the guard. If they are on top, they are dead! These competitors should be safe at least to grab the gi and, when he feels ready, to pull to the guard.
On the ground at a lot of gyms a lot of people only know how to pass the guard and defend the guard: if you let a guy from the old school pin you in side mount you’re going to tap for sure! You see, they used to train longer, so they spent much more time in mount, side mount and on someone’s back. So today, if you don’t have as much time to spend sparring, you should at least do specific training and drill mount, side mount and the back positions.
Does training with the gi help your ability when you compete no-gi?
I’ve never seen a person with a complete ground game who has only trained no-gi: someone who feels comfortable on the bottom, in the open guard, closed guard, on top, and so on. When someone has trained his whole life without the gi his game is different. The gi gives you a different mobility and teaches you to work at different angles that are impossible to learn just doing no-gi,
Of course this doesn’t mean that people who have only ever trained no-gi won’t be very tough in competition. Competition is one thing, and to be really good and a complete fighter is a different thing. If you took all the champions from gi and no-gi competition and let them fight without a time limit it would change things and other people would win.
What do you think of the trends like half guard sweeps becoming popular in jiu-jitsu?
When I was a purple belt we were taught that in half guard you should never swim under the armpit, because people might choke you. And from there we used to only defend ourselves and recover full guard. Now people are lying on their sides so they can’t be choked and working a lot of sweeps from there. But it is hard to say what will be the next trend. I guess the latest trend is all the lapel techniques: new chokes using the lapel, different sweeps using the lapel – that is the latest thing that people are developing.
What I think is going on is that fighters are getting much better. In one match a fighter might win because of his takedowns and in a different match he is winning by pulling to the guard and using a sweep. The champions that are winning the tournaments cannot be lacking in any area, because if they are lacking in an area then their opponents will exploit that weakness.
Do you think there’s been a big influence in the last 10 years on jiu-jitsu from things like sambo, freestyle wrestling and other grappling arts?
Of course there was an influence – I saw it happening. I saw when the first foreigners came to visit Brazil. Our single leg and double leg takedowns used to be completely different from today, because it was enough to take the other person down. So once another person shows up with a different balance and a stronger sprawl we stopped and we studied the moves and angles. That’s just one example of an influence from another style.
I remembered when the first guys showed up going for kneebars and this sort of stuff – I think it came from Sambo. We stopped and studied these moves. If this guy made someone tap with this, then it means that this move works – let’s see what is going on.
The Gracies were always very intelligent. They never limited jiu-jitsu: they never said, “We don’t practice techniques from another system,” unless those techniques didn’t work or were dangerous for training partners. They always absorbed things that work well.
Do you think that leglocks are cheap techniques?
It’s true that footlocks don’t let the game flow as nice as it can flow, but they are moves just like any other moves. The only thing we tell our students not to use is anything that rotates the knee to the inside – it’s not that we don’t like that move either, it’s because it can damage your partner. With the rotation when you feel the pain your knee is already injured, so that is why we stopped teaching this move. We also don’t teach the cervical (spine lock) because you can hurt someone really badly with it.
It’s true that some people don’t like the leglocks, but they work. So you’ve got to use them so you learn to defend them. If you don’t allow your students to use leglocks they will not learn how to defend against them.
You also see a lot more leglocks in no-gi grappling…
Yes it’s true. It is harder to get an arm, because it’s so slippery, and other things too. When you train footlocks with the gi you must be much more technical, because the other guy will grab your collar and be able to defend much better. If he does this you can get tired trying to pull his foot all the time.
Without the gi it’s harder for the person to defend. Your foot is slippery, but once the guy catches it is harder to defend, since you don’t have the gi to hold. Also without the gi you have less submissions – you don’t have the collar to use all the time, so you have fewer armlocks and chokes, so you use more footlocks, kneebars and leglocks.
What is your method of teaching?
In our method of teaching we have a sequence that we follow. We want to show the self-defense, the takedowns, and the ground techniques. We want to develop this in a formal curriculum so if you go to any Gracie Barra dojo you get these techniques and the mentality
Even at our own gym I know that not all our students understand what is going on. We have classes with 100 people, sometimes – if I had a gym with 30 or 40 guys it would be so easy to make everyone understand what is going on. So if we can do it at our gym it’s a good test of the system to work anywhere else. Our gym is the hardest one to do anything at, because we have a lot of guys who have been doing jiu-jitsu for a very long time. If I go to a guy like this and tell him that we should do a formal warm-up he’ll say “Man, what are you talking about? I’ve been doing this for 30 years without warming up!” So even small changes are hard to accomplish.
What would you suggest to someone who wanted to get ready for a big competition if they had two months to prepare?
I cannot give you a program that I would give to everyone. Some teams might have certain routines that you have to follow to stay on the team, but it doesn’t work! Often times this really destroys people, especially in no holds barred teams. For example, if I do certain wrestling exercises I will get injured for sure; I won’t be able to walk for two weeks. I would need a lot of time to strengthen my ligaments and muscles to do these exercises, but I just don’t have this time available. All the time I see fighters complaining that when they get ready for a fight people start to push them and then their ability to fight starts getting worse, not better.
It also depends on his game. A teacher has to have the eye to understand what is going on with your student’s mind, and that is what makes it hard to be a teacher. If you figure out why a student isn’t doing well in competition then you can change that – sometimes just through conversation you can make someone a champion.
One guy might need a strong conditioning program because technically inferior fighters are beating him. Another guy might already be very strong but not very technical – say he isn’t very good on his feet – then you want to have him do a lot of standup training so at least he feels a little bit safer and more confident there.
You might have a good training routine worked out, but listen to your body. If you didn’t sleep well this week then you can’t do as much as you did last week. The first part of training is the sleeping. If you don’t sleep you can’t do anything, unless you are using chemicals and steroids. Steroids will let you train hard without enough sleep, but in 10 or 20 years time your body will complain.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ve been a fighter and I’ve been a teacher, and I have been involved in jiu-jitsu for a very long time. Carlos has told me “you’ve got to do something better than me: you came after me and I tried to tell you everything – now take these things and do something.”
Our plan for me to go somewhere other than Rio and open a gym. I have many ideas that I think would work so well for a jiu-jitsu academy. Right now we teach in a really traditional dojo – there are black belts there who have had their black belt for longer than I have been alive: 28 years! So sometimes it is so hard to make even the smallest change in our dojo: you have to have meetings with all these people, talk to these senior students and make them understand that times are changing. Nowadays you need to train no gi once in a while, have a different warm-up, and so on. There are a lot of good ideas that I cannot practice at the dojo that I teach at.
So where are you going to do this?
We don’t have any plans yet. When we go ahead with this we have to make sure that all the instructors share the same mentality. It is easy to train someone to teach the techniques, but there are certain things that I learned from Carlos and from other great guys who have been doing jiu-jitsu for a long time but are teaching out of the country now. So I got to make sure that I spread the mentality – for instance almost none of the guys who came after me use any kind of drugs.
You know that there are a lot of schools where the teacher hangs out with the students, drinking and maybe even smoking drugs… We don’t do these things: when the boys see me, sometimes they are even too embarrassed to drink alcohol. I drink sometimes – on the weekend I have fun with my girlfriend – but I don’t drink with my students, especially with the teenagers. If I am somewhere with my young students I try to set a good example. I am trying to be for them as Carlos was for me: still today most of his black belts don’t drink if they are out somewhere with Carlos. So running a school is more than just teaching the techniques – it is a general mentality that you try to convey to your students.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Loyalty doesn’t have anything to do with the moves and techniques. Sure you show the students things on the mats, but maybe that’s not even the biggest part of teaching. There are people in Brazil who started at our academy who are always going to be Gracie Barra – they’d rather stop practicing jiu-jitsu than go somewhere else. It’s not even really about jiu-jitsu – it’s about friendship.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that Carlos gave me a private lesson, or showed me some techniques on the side. But he had a lot of conversations with me, and conversations with everyone, and that’s how he got our respect. That’s what I try to do at the academy – I am still very young, and I am sure I still commit a lot of mistakes, but the students see someone who is trying to be a better person.
We want to start another school out of Barra, because in Barra everyone knows our work and the things we do. So we have big plans: first we are organizing the school – it is not as organized as it could be, and then we want to organize all the guys who are connected to us. What we want to do is take our method of teaching and organize it. We want to put it somewhere where each student can access it.