Bernardo Faria is a 5 x BJJ World Champion (and a good friend) so I was very excited to sit down with him and have an in-depth conversation about his competition, training and conditioning routine.
The full transcript, audio and video are below on this page, but here’s a quick preview of some of the things talked about:
- Exactly what a world champion’s day to day training regimen looks like,
- Who he spars with and how that changes over the year
- Why he’s skipping all competitions other than the Mundials this year
- How he’s balancing his training as he gets older,
- How his training regimen changes as he gets closer to competition,
- Whether you should do extra conditioning or not,
- How he gets his signature guard pass on everybody,
- Health and nutrition for competition,
- And a whole lot more.
Here’s the video of the interview…
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Bernardo Faria Interview Transcript
Stephan: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Today is a really special day because I’ve got Bernardo Faria on the line.
Bernardo is a multiple time world champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Pan Am champion, but he’s also a super nice guy, and my friend. He’s a great instructor and can really articulate issues, techniques and strategies in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so we’re going to pick your brain until it bleeds today Bernardo, I hope that’s ok.
Bernardo: Hi Stephan, it’s a pleasure to be here. I think the first time we talked was three years ago and it was a great friendship that I made with you and I’m looking forward to this broadcast.
Stephan: Yeah me too! I’ve got to warn you in advance that I sent an email out to my email newsletter asking what questions people had for you, and I’m just getting hammered with emails. I’m seeing them come in right now so I hope have a lot of time and you can talk very quickly…
But first of all, how’s your training going?
Bernardo: My training is going well. I started training harder in January. Now that I ‘m kind of getting older—tomorrow on Sunday the 29th of January, I’m turning 30. I’m starting to get old, so nowadays I’m trying to balance my training a little better.
When I was young I would train for about 12 months super hard. But thhis year I might compete only in the World Championships, so I’m starting to train hard right now, but I’m going to try to train super hard in May, April, March, but I’m not training that hard yet. So I started on January 1st, and I hope by June that I am 100% ready.
Stephan: Just for context, what does “super hard” mean? Does that mean training twice a day? Does that mean training 6 times a week?
Bernardo: I’ll try to train twice a day but right now I am training six or seven times per week. My goal is to train nine or ten. So, I hope that by April or May I’ll be doing nine or ten sessions, including physical conditioning, wrestling, and Jiu-Jitsu.
I haven’t really started wrestling yet, so I’m doing pretty much five Jiu-Jitsu sessions and one or two physical conditioning sessions per week. And during the training, I am training as hard as I can—going super hard against everybody. I’m always picking the toughest guys on the mat to train with. That’s what I try to do.
Stephan: So what did training look like before January when you started ramping things up? Because before January you were still training, you were still teaching, you were still doing seminars…
Bernardo: As I was saying, before I used to train for 12 months. Nowadays, I was training probably four times per week with my students and there were some days that I was not even training. When I saw the tough guys on the mat, like Marcelo or and Matheus, I wasn’t even rolling with them, and instead I tried to train more with blue and purple belts, just to keep my body rolling and to make sure I would not push my body too much.
Now since January, in all of the classes I’m doing, I’m always trying to roll with Marcelo, Matheus, and all the tough guys. If you train with those guys, one after the other, then at the end of the training you’re not feeling that good. I joke that it’s always a humble day because sometimes you go against somebody and then the next one will come and kick your ass really bad. So, you are always humble.
Stephan: It’s funny that you’re talking about mostly training with blue belts and purple belts. Some guys always s want to train with the black belts the toughest guy in the room. But I’ve always said that you should also spend time going against easier people because that’s where you can develop your new technique. That’s where you can try stuff out.
Bernardo: I agree. It was hard for me to accept that. I think from white to black, I was always training with the toughest guys. Every day always picking the toughest guys on the mat.
But man, at some point our bodies cannot handle that anymore, so, I started going against the easier guys probably like one or two years ago. Nowadays, I feel I have to do that because if I don’t my body starts falling apart.
I agree 100 percent with you; when you train only with the tough guys on the mat, your best position is going to become very good but it’s going to be hard for you to come up with new stuff, because it’s hard for us to try new stuff.
Stephan: Because you’ll get smashed if you make the slightest mistake…
Bernardo: Exactly. If you try something new in there you will get completely smashed. So I agree with you 100 percent.
Stephan: It gives you a safety margin. “Oh I totally screwed that up and this guy passed my guard but I can still get out and put the guy back in my guard and try it a second time“.
Stephan: Do you know if other champions train that same way and have periods of easy training and the periods of hard training?
Also do you think it’s pretty normal for new guys, or young guys, to just train super hard all the time and then for guys who are ‘ancient’ like you—which I’m laughing at because I would chop my arm off to be 30 again – to adjust the intensity of their training?
Bernardo: In Jiu-Jitsu we don’t yet know what the perfect way of training is, with high level studies of what you should do and what’s the best thing.
For a soccer team, by contrast, there is pre-season and the main season. But in jiu-jitsu the season is 12 months and the athletes kill themselves for 12 months.
I think nowadays people are beginning to change. For example, I was talking with Lucas Lepri and he was telling me that he was not even doing physical conditioning. He was training just to train, not to kill himself.
So I think it’s starting to become more and more professional now, because to peak we’ve got to balance our training a little more.
But there are always exceptions. For example, Marcelo’s theory was to train hard, twice a day, for 12 months of the year. So it depends.
As with everything in life, there is no formula. You got to figure out your own formula and if its working for you, you keep going and if it’s not working for you, try to change the formula until you find the formula that going to work.
Stephan: You have to experiment…
Bernardo:Experiment. Exactly. Testing stuff.
Stephan: As we’re talking it occurs to me that maybe this is a bit equivalent to all those MMA guys who are no longer training with heavy head contact. They’re either only punching pads or they’re doing super-light sparring.
Unlike back in the day, when the game was ‘I punch you in the head as hard as I can and you punch me in the head as hard as you can,’ they’re worried about brain damage.
You’re worried about orthopedic damage and not brain damage as much, but it seems like people in both sports are trying to figure out how to train without literally killing themselves.
Bernardo: I think that makes a lot of sense. I remember talking to a guy who used to do ultra-marathons and triathlons?
They run like hundreds of kilometers, then they swim for a long time and there is no way to train for that. There is no way I can run 50 kilometers per day. So what I got to do is run 10, or 20, or 30, or whatever.
In MMA if you train the way you are going to fight every day, you’re going to end up not fighting because you’re going to break yourself. So, I think we’ve got to be smart at this point and figure out what’s the best way to train to achieve and accomplish the goal.
Stephan: Maybe you have to go through a phase of that stupid hard, crazy hard training. Like maybe you wouldn’t be the world champion that you are if you hadn’t gone through that phase of fighting all the super tough guys every class for a period of 5, 6, 10 years.
And similarly, that MMA guy wouldn’t have gotten there if he hadn’t been trading heavy leather early in his career…
Bernardo: I think that makes sense. I agree with you because when I was in that phase and training crazy hard for 12 months of the year I was in my early 20’s so my body could handle that. Maybe you’ve got to pass through this crazy phase.
Stephan: Let’s get to some of these questions. Like I said, there are quite a few, and hopefully I want to get to as many as we can. I’m cherry picking here because the first question comes from a friend of mine, Jeff Paul, who asks, “What advice would you give to white belts with regards to what they should be focusing on when they’re just starting out?”
Bernardo: Oh cool. It’s funny because I just made a video talking exactly about this for my YouTube channel, one or two weeks ago.
But anyway, for the first year you should focus only on the fundamentals. That’s my opinion at least. When I started Jiu-Jitsu, my first teacher would make me do 20 sweeps to the side, 20 to the other side. Then my partner, would do 20 to one side and 20 to the other side. Then I would come back from the guard, do 20 more on each side and then my partner the same thing.
So I believe that the fundamentals in the first year of Jiu-Jitsu is super important. It’s going to be a little bit annoying I know. Like you go to training and then do a bunch of scissor sweeps to one side, and then scissor sweeps to the other side, armbar to one side, armbar to the other, and so on.
I couldn’t handle doing that anymore. But if Jiu-Jitsu is new for you, I think it’s going to be even fun you know. Because if you know the fundamentals really well, it’s not that hard to learn the rest of Jiu-Jitsu.
If you understand that you have got to learn the closed guard, then you’ve got to open your guard, then you’ve got to start putting your hand on the collar, then foot on the biceps, you go out there, you learn all the fundamentals and then it’s not hard to learn these new crazy techniques.
But if you try to jump right away to those techniques, it just doesn’t make sense. So, I really believe that it’s really important to focus on the fundamentals. What do you think Stephan?
Stephan: I agree, but I bet there are techniques that we now consider fundamental, that 20 years ago people didn’t think of as fundamental.
The example I always use is in white-water kayaking. 40 years ago, if somebody flipped upside down in a rapid and they rolled up using the Eskimo roll or the kayak roll, people would stop and applaud and cheer and freak out, “Oh my God, the guy did a roll”.
As of 10-15 years ago, you had kids who could only roll and they didn’t know anything else. They didn’t know how to paddle, they didn’t know how to brace… But rolling became a new fundamental and it elevated the level of kayaking hugely.
So I think I agree with you but I also think that sometimes fundamentals change. I have friends who trained at Rickson’s in the 80’s and 90’s and they were told to never open your closed guard…
Bernardo: I know what you mean. That makes sense because even the fundamentals change.
Stephan: What do you think is an example of something that’s fundamental now that might not have been fundamental before?
Bernardo: I followed the Alliance curriculum and there are some techniques in the fundamentals that I learned as a black belt. I mean, because I moved to Alliance when I was already a black belt.
I feel like Jiu-Jitsu’s growing so much that the way of learning is being developed, and the fundamentals of today might be more developed than the fundamentals that were considered fundamentals 20 years ago.
So, that makes sense, but I think it’s part of the Jiu-Jitsu growing. People are finding better ways to teach Jiu-Jitsu. People are finding better ways to teach the guy who is starting Jiu-Jitsu in the first two weeks, in the first month. So, I agree with you but I think it’s a good thing. It means that Jiu-Jitsu is growing and even the teaching aspect of Jiu-Jitsu is getting better.
Stephan: It sounds like you had a really good foundation as a white belt, but is there anything that you wish you’d done instead, or you wish you’d known?
Bernardo: I don’t think so because I never thought about it. So I think probably not. Oh, there is one thing, I wish I had done more Judo.
Stephan: Doing that might have torn your body up more though. All of my big injuries come from Judo. I did Judo for a long time and love it, but man it beats the body up. How are you finding Judo on your body? I know you’re doing it fairly regularly…
Bernardo: Yeah. It’s tough. It hurts the body and I think even the Judo class is tougher than Jiu-Jitsu. Because for example if in Jiu-Jitsu someone catches you in a submission you would just tap. In Judo it’s probably going to be a big throw – Ippon! [Laughs] So it’s not good.
So Judo is more aggressive to the body than Jiu-Jitsu but I still wish I had done more Judo because if I had learned Judo right in the beginning – when I was 14 years old – today I would be a very good level standing. Nowadays, I’ve got to pull guard every match or wait for someone to pull guard. I cannot be standing for too long.
Stephan: I haven’t done the analysis but of all the matches that you’ve had since black belt. What percentage have you pull guard in? And what percentage have people pulled guard on you? Do you have any idea?
Bernardo: In the beginning, I was the one pulling guard every time. And then when I became know of the half guard then some guys were like, “I better pull guard first”. And then I think people started pulling guard more against me.
I don’t know what the percentage is. It’s funny because if I check my computer here, somewhere I have all my matches categorised during my whole career. If I won, if I lost, how I performed…
Stephan: I don’t know if you can reveal your secret formula that decides whether you pull guard or whether you stay on top. At your level you know who you’re going against….
Bernardo:Exactly, so we make a plan. If I’m going to fight someone, I know pretty much who the guy is and I make my own plan. But I always keep in mind that the plan can change at any time.
For example, I make a plan that I am going to pull guard against this guy and then he pulls guard, and now I have to deal with that. And sometimes I make my plan, I start my plan and the plan doesn’t work as well. It’s all part of the game.
Stephan: To quote Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face“.
Bernardo: I have a quote for Jiu-Jitsu. For Jiu-Jitsu it is, “Everyone has a plan until they get tired“. When you get tired there is no plan anymore. It’s just to survive.
Stephan: So Bernardo Faria and Mike Tyson… you need the facial tattoo next. I think that’s a good idea!
Bernardo: No. [laughs]
Stephan: No? maybe I’ll talk you into it.
Ok, John asks, “What’s your favorite point from side control?” You’ve finished a fair number of matches from side control so what’s your favorite choke from side control?
Bernardo: It’s the scarf choke. I used it in the finals of the Pan Am’s open class 2015 against Leandro Lo.
Stephan: Yes, that was a big win.
Bernardo: Yeah that’s my favorite. I like it a lot.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m heavy or because I am not too talented in Jiu-Jitsu or whatever, but I don’t like the submissions where if I miss them then I lose everything.
For example, I don’t like to go to the side control and then right away try an armbar. If I miss it, if the guy escapes, he ends up on top trying to pass my guard. So I love the scarf choke because if it works great, but if it doesn’t work then I still stay in side control. So this is my goal.
Stephan: Another reader question, and I am interested in this as well, is “In the last week before you compete, in the last week of the Worlds. If you’re competing on a Saturday, what are you doing for the last 7 days?”
So during that time are you training at all? Are you doing any conditioning? Are you doing mental rehearsal? What’s that last week look like?
Bernardo: Honestly, this is the week when I am more worried because you’ve already got all your work done, you did the hardest part and you’re not going to get better in one week and all you have is the risk of blowing up all your training.
In 2015, my last year, I had a very bad experience. I won the Pan Am’s, I won the Worlds, and then when I went to compete in the ADCC. I had done all my training and was feeling very good, and Fabio Gurgel invited me to give a seminar. ADCC was on Saturday and I gave the seminar on Wednesday.
Fabio asked, “Bernardo, you’re going to roll?” And I was like no. I’m 100 percent ready, I don’t want to have the risk of getting hurt.
Stephan I swear to God, I was showing a double leg, I was just showing a technique – not sparring – and the guy fell over my leg and I broke my foot three days before the ADCC. I was not even training, I was not sparring, I was just teaching.
I couldn’t compete and I broke the foot.
So this last week, I always try to be super careful. For example, in the week before the Worlds I try to train Monday, Tuesday and that’s it. I rest Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then I compete on Saturday.
Even on that Monday and Tuesday, I try to train completely without ego. I try to be super careful with my body because that’s the most dangerous part. You trained for one year. You are ready. You are super well prepared and if you get hurt on Monday or on Tuesday it’s going to hurt you in the tournament.
This last week, I always try to be super, super careful. I keep training. I keep moving my body but I don’t go crazy.
Stephan: So are you going to do ADCC again?
Bernardo: This year I’m opening my school in the Boston area in Bedford, right after the Worlds. So, I’m not sure yet if I’m going to do the ADCC which is going to be September.
First I’ve got to see if I’m going to get invited, and second, how it’s going to depend on how everything is going. Everyone says that the worst time ever to open up a school is during June, July and August So I had to choose between training really hard here with Marcelo and then opening the school after Worlds in June, or I opening the school before June which would mess up my training for the Worlds. So I’m going to do the Worlds and open the school in June and there you go.
Stephan: Congratulations on opening your school! I’ve been in Boston a few times. It’s a beautiful city. How far is Bedford from downtown Boston?
Bernardo: Thank you!. I think it’s like 20-25 minutes. And it’s a very good location. Close to Whole Foods and Starbucks so I think it’s a very good area. There is a very big parking lot. So, I’m excited.
Stephan: Awesome! That’s very exciting news and I hope it goes super well.
Bernardo: Thank you. I wait for your visit.
Stephan: A reader called Steve wanted to know if in training, if you ever do any slapping or punching during your rolling to simulate self-defense situations?
My personal guess would be no because you have to focus almost 100 percent on competition at this point, but have you ever done that ?
Bernardo: At some point in my career, I was helping MMA guys and so I got some experience with that. I did kind of like a sparring and punching and kicking. And when I was 15 or so, I had done one year of Muay Thai, so I have some idea.
Also when I’m teaching the warm up, I do some self-defense moves and I don’t ask them to punch each other, but I do ask them, “Guys, let’s try to make it as real as possible”. So imagine you’ve got to punch your partner and he has to do this move. Because I think it’s important when you learn Jiu-Jitsu that you understand what the reality is like as well.
I mean if someone tried to fight you on the street he’s not going to pull guard, he is going to try to punch your face. So, I think it’s good sometimes to do that self defense in the warm up for everybody to be aware of what can happen and how can we use Jiu-Jitsu.
But I always try to focus very much on the basics. I say, “Guys, if someone tries to fight you and he’s trying to punch you, the goal here is to close the distance“. If he has that distance then it’s dangerous because he can punch and kick. If you’re able to close the distance, then you’re bringing them into your world. We focus more on the concepts and what you should do with it.
Stephan: So you’re anti-pulling inverted guard on the street? [Laughing]
Bernardo: Yeah, you cannot do that. I cannot play deep half guard on the street.
Stephan: Well, Minotoro did pull off deep half guard in the UFC – I think it was in his fight against Tim Silvia! I had just finished writing an email saying how although different kinds of guard were good for self defense nobody had successfully used the deep half guard for self-defense; maybe somebody will make it work someday.
And then I think a month or two later an Minotoro went and pulled it off in MMA!
Bernardo: I read an article showing the percentage of sweeps that work in MMA, and half guard was the number one. I think half guard is a good one because you end up in a single leg takedown from there often, so it’s a great way to finish but definitely like a Berimbolo would be tough to play.
Stephan: There was at least one guy who pulled it off! I think he tripped or got knocked down, or the guy was passing his guard and he Berimbolo’d then ended up in a rear bear hug standing. So, just as we say that the berimbolo sucks for MMA and self defense some guy goes and pulls it off, there is a guy who’s pulled it off!
Bernardo: There’s no rule like it’s never going to work but it’s not that common. But I watched the match with Ryan Hall and he was pulling guard and pulling the 50/50 and making that work also. You can always make things work but if I had 100 students of the MMA, I would not tell the 100 to try to do the Berimbolo. But if one guy wanted to start doing it then, well, then ok.
Stephan: You’re known for your killer half guard, both the knee shield half guard and your deep half guard. What drew you to that position, as opposed to the de la Riva guard, the spider guard, or some other crazy type of guard. Why the half guard?
Bernardo: It was one of those things that I don’t even know how to explain well. I remember the day I learned my first half guard sweep. My first teacher, the one who gave me all my belts and was like a brother or father for me, was that type of guy that he would not teach only his game.
His game was more focused on the closed guard and the open guard and things. But he was also that type of guy that he would show everything when he was teaching.
So one day he showed the half way sweep that leads into a single leg takedown. I would bump the guys butt with my knee, come up in the single, and finish.
When I started Jiu-Jitsu, I had a really hard time finding things that worked for me. I quickly realized that there were 10,000 techniques in Jiu-Jitsu, but I would never be able to be good at all those 10,000 techniques.
So, I wanted to find one thing that works for me always. When I was a white belt, in all my tournaments as a white and a yellow belt, I would jump into the closed guard and try to do the sweep where you come up, grab the belt, and go over to the top of mount. And I was doing that well, but at some point I couldn’t do the closed guard anymore. Nobody let me close the guard around them.
So then I was like, man, I’ve got to find another position. I’ve got to find another position that works for me. But it was always hard: for spider guard I was not flexible. Butterfly guard never worked for me; I don’t know why – maybe I didn’t have all of the talent to handle all those things that you’ve got to handle in the butterfly guard.
Then the half sweep was it! I was like, “Man, I’ve got to lock this man’s head in between my legs and then I go from there and figure out something from there“. So the half guard was the easiest type of guard that I found.
And then I started doing it all the time and nowadays I love half guard and I do some closed guard as well.
So I have my white belt and my yellow belt game (the closed guard), my blue belt game (the half guard), and then the deep half guard started at purple belt. So my jiu-Jitsu is pretty much white, blue and purple.
Stephan: [Laughs] Except that your game works against the best people in the world at the highest level of competition. We should point that out just in case some people don’t know that.
And then of course, you’re also known for the over-under guard pass and the passes that come off of that. So, you’ve got one or two or many three guard positions and a couple of sweeps.
What drew you to the over-under pass? Is it just how well that guard pass works together with the deep half guard position?
Bernardo: Getting a guard pass I could rely on was pretty much the same process as the guard..
Knee-cut guard passess never worked for me. I never felt comfortable in that position: I was always falling down and getting stopped from doing the knee cut.
I also saw that that the torreando works well but if the guy has his foot on the biceps or has the lasso or if he has the last foot, there is no torreando from there.
So, once again, I had to find one position that worked for me. There was a guy from my home town — nowadays he is a black belt but at that time he was a blue belt – and his nick name was Coke because he uses to work with the soda, Coke, the company. And when I was a yellow belt he showed me this position. He was like, “Man, look at this pass in here. You’ve got to go over one leg. You’ve got to control the leg. You’ve got to control the hip. You’ve got to drop the leg and you pass the guard“. And then I started it and started feeling very comfortable with it.
Also the over-under pass matched with my half guard. Most of the times to finish a half way sweep, you end up in an over-under position. And most of the times if I get swept from the over-under, I fall right into the half guard. So they’re related.
If I get swept from the knee-cut guard pass I don’t know where I am going to fall. Maybe I am going to fall into a folding pass. And if I get swept from my opponent’s closed guard, I might end up on the bottom of mount…
But with the over-under pass, most of the times I get swept, I end up in the half guard because I have the guy’s leg, and so everything matches really well between the half guard and the over-under.
In a seminar one student told me, “In my opinion, your game is the best game for the older guys because you can slow down the action in the half guard, and when you are on top you can slow down the action again in the over-under“. And then I was like, “Man, I never thought about it like that“.
And then I started to think and realize that that makes sense. When you start getting old, it’s tough to do spider guard because you’ve got to be flexible. It’s tough to do Berimbolo, you cannot do upside-down. Even for butterfly guard, in my opinion, you’ve got so many things to do and you’ve got to be fast: breaking this grip here, going there, and so on.
Half guard sweeping is a pretty slowed down game. Pay attention and you’ll see that most of the time when there’s a 55-year-old guy on the mat, he does half guard. When I started to realize that that is true I asked my partner who make DVD’s what was the average age of our customers was and we found out that it was the old people who were over 35, 40. I think the old guys like my guard. I didn’t plan it, it just happened.
Stephan: So if you end up in somebody’s spider guard, say with a lasso on one one arm and and foot on the biceps on the other, what are your your mental priorities for getting to your over-under guard pass position? What goes through your brain?
Bernardo: That’s a very good question. I have been doing over-under since I was a yellow belt, since 2002.
First, I learned how to do the over-under. Then I learned how to do the over-under better. Then I started learning how to get to the over-under from all situations. I’m not saying it’s going to always work but if you put me in any type of guard— de la Riva, spider guard, lasso guard, half guard, butterfly – I have a way to go to the over-under. It’s not going to work 100 percent of the times but I’m always going to get to the over-under and pass the guard.
For example, if someone is putting me into spider guard, then in my mind I have at least one or two variations to get to the over-under. If someone put me in the lasso guard, then I have a way to get to the over-under from there. If someone put me into the de la Riva or butterfly it’s the same thing – I always have options to get there.
Its Jiu-Jitsu so I’m going to try my options, my opponent’s going to try his options, and whoever is better trained and has better timing is going to get it.
Stephan: But it’s probably even more specific than that, isn’t it? For de la Riva you probably have options for if the guy grabs your left sleeve, if the guy grasps your right sleeve, if the guy grabs your lapel. Do you break it down that far, to the level of specific grips? Because each different grip changes the guard as well.
Bernardo: I agree. De la Riva guard is a good example… I don’t wait until the guy puts his foot between my legs, controls my belt and controls my sleeve. When he is going into the de la Riva initially that’s the time I’m going to the over-under.
If you wait for him to adjust everything that he has, it’s going to be really tough. If you wait then someone who does 50/50 guard and gets that position tight – locks the legs, locks the triangle and controls it – then it’s going to be hard to go. But in that time that he’s getting into that position, if that’s when you go to your own position, you have a much higher chance. So, it’s a lot about the technique and about the timing as well. You’ve got to do it in the right timing.
Stephan: So, it’s a little bit like the question of what’s the best way to escape from the side mount? The answer is number one don’t let your guard get passed. And number two, escape in the first second you’re in side mount before the guy can make all his adjustments and make it really tight…
Bernardo: That makes sense. Or even if you cannot escape in the first second, adjust yourself before him. Don’t let him adjust his side control. Adjust your defense.
Stephan: I think you’re the example that I always use when I’m talking to people about a game plan. There are a million different game plans but your game plan is so clear and easy for people to understand.
Now with the game plan, how do you drill it? Do you just do it every time in sparring? How do you refine the game plan in your sparring and in your training?
Bernardo: I am more a sparring guy than a drilling guy. Drilling doesn’t work super well for me. Instead of spending 30 minutes drilling, I would rather spend the 30 minutes sparring.
Some people like drilling but for me it’s kind of like a punching bag. If you just punch the bag, the bag doesn’t react. So with drilling, the bag is not moving. I like to do those moves in sparring much better.
What I like to do is this: if I come up with a new position I want to test if it works. Now during the drilling time, I ask my partner to put up some resistance. I tell him “Put some resistance and let me see if this works“. And then the guy might say, “Oh I would do that“. So now he resists and then I am going to try this and do that. So I like better when my partner is reacting.
But again, there is no formula. I know a bunch of very successful Jiu-Jitsu guys that do drilling for hours and it works really well for them. I heard that, for example, that Rafa Mendes does a lot of drilling and he is a super tough guy who is making history. So I think there is no rule.
But I know also a bunch of guys that they don’t drill at all and they are who they are. For example, Marcelo Garcia doesn’t drill. I heard that Roger Gracie doesn’t drill at all either. Even Lucas Lepri, who is a lightweight, doesn’t drill at all. So, it depends. For some guys drilling works very well, and for other guys, it doesn’t.
I think the most important thing is to find the formula that works for you. So try to drill and see if you’re getting better. Try to do more sparring and see if you’re getting better. Try to do that thing with the guy putting some resistance and find the best model for you.
Stephan: Realistically, it’s going to take you years to find that out. If you’re a white belt and you’re losing sleep over should whether you should be drilling or sparring, I think that the answer is yes. Do both because you’re just a white belt. You won’t have a game plan yet. You won’t know what works best for you.
Bernardo: Especially for white belts. You have got to do everything and see what’s working better for you or not. I agree 100 percent.
Stephan: So we’ve been talking about your offensive game, your sweeps, your guard passes, your submissions —but what about the defensive game?
What if you get trapped in a terrible position in a big match? What goes through your mind? And then what are the steps that you’re taking to get out of there?
Bernardo: I think I’m going to come back to the sparring a little bit more because I feel I have a good defenssive game. Maybe not the best one on the planet but I have a very good defense. The reason why is because I always try to train with the toughest guys that are on the mat. If I that there are a bunch of tough guys on the mat then I am going to try to train with all of them.
So every day I get my ass kicked. Everyday! Someone is going to kick my ass, 100 percent sure. So every day I get my guard passed and everyday someone gets the mount on me. Everyday someone chokes me.
So then you start developing your defense because I start to see that someone choked me in a certain way and so the next time I am going to defend somehow.
So it’s really important in training to put yourself in a position where people will kick your ass. If you are winning every roll, then in my opinion you are not training right. You are not getting tired enough so that the next guy is going to beat you. That’s how I think and I think it makes sense.
Stephan: I’ve seen you do that at your seminars too; you’ll often spar everybody back to back, one after another. And all the people that you’re sparring are taking it easy because they know they’re about to be going to be going against you. So at the end of 15 rolls, you’re tired, even if it’s just been blue belts and purple belts and brown belts. They’re still going really hard. So you do put it into practice even in your seminars.
Bernardo: I agree, and it’s good that you reminded me of that. I remember that day that we first met – it was at a seminar, and on that day I was sparring with everybody. It was one week after I had won double gold in the Worlds. There was one guy there – a white belt – and he was super tough. He gave me a hard time. He even went to my back. This was like my sixth or seventh roll and I was getting very tired. But in my mind, I was like, “Man, I was double gold in the Worlds last week and now this white belt is giving me a hard time“. [Laughing]
Stephan: I know that guy. At most of the schools, he would be a brown belt by now. He’s a phenomenal athlete and a killer and he has also been held back in his grading of course.
Bernardo: That guy then ended up living in San Paulo for 6 months where he was training under Fabio Gurgel. And Fabio told me, “He is crazy tough. You will see, he is going to win Worlds.” And then he won it.
It’s very funny but it shows how Jiu-Jitsu is. One week before I was double gold in the world, and one week later, this one white belt was training hard against me and giving me trouble. I ended up tapping him out that day, but it was a good training. It was tough. It was like, “Man how can that be possible?“. He was a white belt and he is giving you a hard time. So it was very fun.
Stephan: I had a very similar experience 10-15 years ago. I went down to California to train with Erik Paulson and some big guy showed up – he was just a blue belt and he absolutely killed me. I was a blue belt and he was a blue belt and he murdered me. And I was like, “Man I just don’t deserve this blue belt“. And then like a couple of months later Ricco Rodriguez won Abu Dhabi.
Bernardo: It was him?
Stephan:Yes, it was Ricco Rodriguez. After finding that our I felt a little bit better.
Bernardo: That’s funny.
Stephan: So, in the big matches, let’s say that you’re about to go and face a really tough guy… What’s going through your mind as you step on the mat? When I watch you compete you look like you’re pretty happy. It seems like you’re actually in a pretty good and excited mental state of mind…
Bernardo: That’s why this year I might do only the Worlds. Because I want to compete in the tournaments that I am very happy in, and that I really want to win.
If I compete too much then I am not excited enough to go to other tournaments. The Worlds in the one that has the biggest value for me. There is not even money in it, but it’s the prestige.
I believe that the toughest part is the training. So, if I train hard and I get there, then I have to be happy on that day. Because I did all that hard part of the training and I cannot be sad on that day. You prepare yourself to go to the party and now you are at the party. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to win the party but you are there so you’ve got to be happy. That’s how I try to think…
Stephan: But you don’t find that in MMA… In MMA if some champion retires and then comes back, they give him an easy fight as a warm up just to get his head back in the game…
You see people who have had long lay-offs, like Ronda Rousey, they come back and they’re just not mentally there.
Don’t you find the same thing for Jiu-Jitsu, or have you just done so much competition in the past that you don’t need those warm up competitions to get you ready for the big event?
Bernardo: I was thinking a lot about this year – I was having exactly with these thoughts. I was like, “Man, should I do at least one more tournament before? Maybe I’m going to be cold, not ready, and not warmed up enough for Worlds because I haven’t competed in a year since the last Worlds…”
But then I started thinking about the other guys who do this. For example, Bruno Malficine won last year and he only did the Worlds. From one Worlds to the other Worlds, with no additional competitions in between. And he beat all these guys who were competing in everything.
And the Roger Gracie, it was the same thing. Even Buchecha, he won the Worlds in the last tournament. Those guys who do only the Worlds, many times they do well too. So it shows that this warm up mostly has to do with your mind.
Stephan: Well, maybe the difference is that Bruno Malfacine and Roger Gracie have fought hundreds and hundreds of tournament matches in their career, from white belt through to black belt. How many matches have you had from white belt through to now? Hundreds I’m sure…
Bernardo: I think probably over 500, or so.
Stephan: And so MMA guys don’t have that; Ronda Rousey didn’t fight that much more than 10 times. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that maybe that’s the difference – the vast experience competing earlier in your career…
Bernardo:That makes sense. I am not 100 percent sure, though, if Ronda Rousey is the perfect example because she came from Judo so she might have competed a lot.
But I agree with you there. There are a bunch of MMA guys who didn’t have any background in any other sport, so in their entire career, they might have like 20 matches in total, putting every match in every sport together. So that makes a lot sense.
But even if you have a bunch of tournaments in your past in jiu-jitsu and now you’re planning on not competing for a while, then you lways feel a little scared, “Man, how is it going to be on that day if I have not competed for the last 12 months? Am I going to get more nervous than the normal?”
But I think it’s going to be ok. Because I want to do what I’m excited to do. I don’t want to compete in something just because I want to warm up.
Stephan: For you is being excited pretty similar to nervous? Is it similar to a little bit scared? Is that all one big emotion? Basically it’s just adrenaline and hormones, right?
Bernardo: Yeah, of course you’re going to have adrenaline if that thing is important for you, and the Worlds is super important for me. It’s kind of hard to explain but I like that feeling. I like to be there and I always try to remember that I have trained all my life to be where I am right now. So, now I don’t want to quit and stop doing it.
It was really hard to get to this top level, and now I want to try more and to keep doing it but I also don’t want to do it every month. I want to do the ones that really, really matter for me.
Stephan: Who’s the toughest guy you ever faced?
Bernardo: Without a doubt, Rodolfo Viera. He was the toughest. Crazy tough. I don’t know if it was about games – maybe my game didn’t really match very well with his game – but he is super strong and with clean Jiu-Jitsu as well…
Stephan: He’s not competing in Jiu-Jitsu any more is he?
Bernardo: Yeah he is starting to make his career in MMA. I think his first match is going to be in one or two weeks in Brazil.
Stephan: If you guys ever meet 5 years from now or 10 years from now in the Masters division I’m sure you’ll have a new plan…
Bernardo: I have tried a lot of plans against him and they haven’t worked yet but maybe one day. [Laughing] But I am cheering a lot for him in MMA. He is a very nice guy and he is going to represent Jiu-Jitsu very well.
Stephan: Ok. I know that we had covered this in our last interview (go here for the transcript and audio of my first interview with Bernardo), but I’m still getting a lot of questions from my email readers about exercise off the mat. I know you also just did a YouTube video for this on your YouTube channel, but let’s talk a little bit about exercising, conditioning and what people should do to improve their Jiu-Jitsu…
Bernardo: It comes back to finding your own formula but for me, I like doing some type of strength conditioning. Because when I don’t do strength conditioning, I feel my body is a little weak, so I feel I can get injured very easily.
And also, when I am doing strength conditioning I feel things in Jiu-Jitsu are a little better, and just a little bit easier. I have that extra strength, that extra conditioning, that extra gas and it works really well for me.
Nowadays I have a personal trainer – Kevin Paretti and his studio is called Kinesthesia Phyio. He is a really good trainer for me. So the first part of the training is strength, the second part is like power and speed. The third part is like specific trainings for Jiu-Jitsu…
Stephan: So those three parts occur all in one session? Or do you do those three parts spread out over a few months?
Bernardo: A few months. It’s kind of like a one and a half or two months per phase.
Right now it’s January and February and that’s all about strength.
Then March to the middle of April, it’s all about power and speed.
Then in the middle of April until June – when it’s time for the Worlds – I’m going to be in the peak of my conditioning. And I think that works a lot for me.
All of my career, I never had a personal trainer at all. Then I got one three years ago and it makes a huge difference. But even if you don’t have one then here’s what I would suggest. For sure you know someone who is a strength conditioning guy: make a deal with him. Maybe he can write a plan for you so you know what you should work on for the next 2-3 months. What exercises should you do? Should I be in the studio? Or should I go to the gym?
He might not even charge you, or if he does charges, it would not be expensive because he would work for one day and then he’ll give you a plan for 3 months. And then you can do the actual exercises by yourself.
Having a personal trainer is great because he is going to push you. If you have to do 10, he is going to force you to do 12. When you do it by yourself and you have to do 10, you will end up going to 8. So it’s good to have a guy pushing you but if you don’t have it, you can still do it all by yourself as well. I did all my career by myself up until 3 years ago.
Stephan: Well, you’re a super star now. Every super star needs a personal trainer. [Laughing]
Bernardo: No. No. No. [Laughing]
Stephan: So, let’s go a little bit deeper. You said for the last month and a half or so, you’re doing mostly strength, so what does that look like? Is that squats? Deadlifts? Bench press? Heavy pull-ups? Or is it something else?
Bernardo: OK, the exercise that I have been doing…
I start with the squat. Then I do kind push ups, but every push up has to be 10 seconds. So I’ve got to go very slow and come up, very slow and come up. It’s got to be 10 seconds for each push up which is really tough. Try to do that. I hold some sort of handles for those, but you could do them on the ground. I do 12 pushups: when you’re finished you’re really burning.
Then I do deadlifts.
And then I do dumbbell rows with one knee on the bench.
Just those 4 exercises, 3 times for each one and I do 1-2-3-4 and then I re-start everything again, three times. That’s my strength training for right now.
The next part of my training is going to be power and speed using a bunch of exercises where I’ve got to use speed as well: it’ll be “Jump here, jump there, do this, do that.” It would be kind of similar to some type of CrossFit but it’s not CrossFit because it’s not a group of people, its only me.
And then the last phase is going to be specific movements for Jiu-Jitsu. So he pretty much analyses my game. For example, he says “Oh you like to do over-under guard pass“, so he’ll put a punching bag on the mat and I pretend like I’m doing the over-under but there’s a bunch of resistance behind me, pulling me back.
Stephan: Yeah, you showed some of that on your Instagram a couple of years ago. Again, I’ll link to some of those videos on my site because it was really cool. For example, you had the exercises designed for your deep half guard sweep for standing up there.
Bernardo: The last phase of the training is all exercise designed for this.
Stephan: Do you do any cardio per se? I realize you’re getting tired when you’re doing this sort of conditioning but do you ever just run on the treadmill or go to the elliptical or stair climb or anything like that?
Bernardo: Not with my current coach. I’ve done that in other phases of my career like when I was training by myself, but with my coach I don’t do any of this. He says that I’ll be getting all the cardio I need from rolling and doing Jiu-Jitsu, and I agree with him. In my opinion, the most important part of training is the Jiu-Jitsu sparring.
The conditioning helps but the Jiu-Jitsu, if you do the conditioning and you’re not training well then it’s not going to happen at all. But sometimes if you do the Jiu-Jitsu perfectly and you don’t do the conditioning at all then you can still win, because the Jiu-Jitsu is the most important part. Marcelo doesn’t even do any conditioning, it’s unbelievable. He doesn’t do anything. Just Jiu-Jitsu twice a day and that works great for him.
Stephan: Well, Marcelo certainly is a minority. It’s hard to argue with somebody as successful as he’s an exception: it does seem like almost every other competitor does some sort of physical conditioning…
Bernardo: I agree 100 percent because every sport and every athlete seems to do some kind of strength and conditioning, so if you take the numbers, it’s very rare to see someone who doesn’t do anything.
Stephan: What makes Marcellus different in that regard? Is it crazy genetics? I have no idea how he can pull it off…
Bernardo: I think on his level it’s a lot about mental game, and his mental game is really, really strong. He believes in himself a lot. In his mind he can beat anyone.
He is also humble – he’s not arrogant – but you how he believes that he is going to beat anyone. He trains crazy hard as well. He has his own way of training which involves hard training twice a day, every day.
Nowadays, he has family, he has kids, he isn’t competing so on occasion he only trains once a day. But when it’s time he is training twice a day, every day.
He has different type of mentality: for example, he would win the ADCC and he would train twice a day the very next day. He wanted to take those positions that worked well for him in ADCC and the very next day make those positions work even better. And that works for him and you can see that his good positions are super tight. Like the guillotine, or when he takes the back, they’re super tight).
He does a move move in a tournament and then the next day he does it more. He becomes kind of like a paste; he’s pasting that position on you.
The way he thinks, the way he believes in his training and his ability, it’s unbelievable. He believes that that thing is going to work and he works really hard with that belief. So it works. [Laughing]
Stephan: But if you did that, you’re saying that your body would break down?
Bernardo:I don’t know if it’s because I’m heavier but man, when I compete in those tournaments, the next day, I can barely walk. It looks like I was in some kind of war.
Many times after the tournament I have a bunch of injuries. My groin is hurting. My ribs are kind of popping. My shoulder is in pain – because all of the adrenaline and all of the stuff. To train the next day of the tournament and kill myself doesn’t work.
So, I can’t believe how Marcelo trains twice the next day. But that’s what I am saying – each person has his own way.
But everyone is different and that’s that thing. You’ve got to find your own formula you know and Marcelo found his. His formula is good.
Stephan: We’ve talked about your formula for conditioning and we’ve talked about your formula for training but what about for food? I’m sure you’ve tried different dietary experiments over the years, so what are you eating these days?
Bernardo: I have tried all types of diets to cut weight, but at the same time I never needed to cut too much weight. So, normally what I do is I try to eat healthy and I try to eat a little less. When I have to cut weight, I just eat healthier and with less quantity, and that ends up cutting my weight.
It was never a huge deal for me because I only have about 8 or 9 pounds to cut until June, so it’s not hard.
And also I don’t like to drop weight too much and fight in a division that I am not used to. For example, I don’t want to fight in the heavy division at 205, because that’s not how I train. I train for 220, 225, 230, so if I cut to a new division then I won’t be used to training on at that weight.
So, my advice is to make sure you cut weight way before and then you can get used to the weight that you’re going to compete in. This is one mistake that I see many people make.
Stephan: What do you mean when you say “I eat healthy?” Different people mean different things when they eat healthy. Some people say they eat healthy and that means that they eat nothing but vegetables. Other people say they eat healthy and that means going on a ketogenic paleo diet. And for other people eating healthy means having only have salt and vinegar chips and cutting down on Coca-Cola. So what does eating healthy mean for you?
Bernardo: Eating healthy for me is super healthy for me. I go to Whole Foods for dinner. And then, instead of eating rice, I eat quinoa. I eat a lot of salad and some chicken breasts or something like that. This is eating healthy for me. A lot of salad, quinoa, and some chicken breasts.
But when I am good on my weight, then I start eating Japanese food like sushi. It’s still healthy but there is white rice and stuff.
Eating unhealthy for me is eating Mexican food, sandwiches and stuff like that —this is what I do in the off season. I don’t do that every day but I do it once in a while. In the off season I eat a sandwich here, drink a soda over there but when I am trying to eat very healthy, I try to eat like at Whole Foods with my quinoa salad, chicken breast or fish diet.
Stephan: Its really interesting because you see so many different diets, so many different people going, “I do the warrior diet. I only eat in a 2-hour window“. And it goes back to exactly what you said, experiment.
I have experimented and I have tried that warrior diet, and it was something I could only do when I did not have my kids around. I could work and train on that diet, but as soon as the chaos of family life get into it, I ended up getting angry with my kids due to my low blood sugar. So that diet just does not work for me when they are kids around, and yet there are other people for whom that’s their best diet. So it just goes back to experimenting and seeing what works for you.
Bernardo: You’ve got to experiment and see what works good for you. Try and play around with the fat percentage as well. Try to not stay too high. A guy can say that he is eating very well but he’s still overweight and has a very big percentage of fat in the body. So, I always try to keep my fat percentage low and then I know that I am healthy and I am not lying to myself.
Stephan: There’s no way we’re going to get through all the questions I’m still receiving. I’m going to ask you a couple more technical questions, and then maybe we’ll try and get some of your other answers onto my Youtube channel if you’re willing to do that.
Bernardo: We will do that.We’ll figure something out…
Stephan: More than one person has asked me to ask you some variant of this question… The question typically goes like this, “Man, I like doing deep half guard but I keep on getting arm-locked. I get Kimura’d or I get Americana’d when I am fighting from the bottom in half guard. So what do I do to protect my arms from those guys who are hunting for those bent arm-locks from the top?”
Bernardo: That’s a very good question. I would need to show this on video.
It’s kind of hard explaining but normally if you’re doing deep half guard and you let the guy get comfortable on top then he can attack your arms. So every time I feel that he’s thinking about attacking my arms, I try to bump him and force him to place his hands on the mat. Once he has his hands on the mat, there is no Kimura and there is no Americana.
So, I want to have his hands busy. I don’t want to allow his hands free so that he can take his time to do whatever he wants. Every time I feel that he is thinking about an attack, I force him to busy his hands and then there is no attack. That’s pretty much it but I would need to show it.
Stephan: You’re a reasonably big guy and your guard passing game is attrition based. You’re putting a lot of weight on the guy and you’re tiring them out. Maybe you pass his guard once and if he manages to re-guard he’ll still be tired. Now youu pass his guard a second time and now he’s really tired.
But what about lighter guys using the over-under pass, fighting people bigger than them? Is that a useful pass or is it mostly a big guy pass and a big guy strategy?
Bernardo: I think that will help more big guys because you can use your weight in your favor. But it’s also possible for a lighter guy to do.
I remember in my hometown for example, there was one guy, Leonardo—nowadays he is living in Canada, in Montreal – and all he used to do was the over-under pass. And he was very successful; he won the Worlds as a purple belt. He got second as a brown belt. As a black belt, he got third place (he lost to Cobrinha) and he won the Brazilian nationals twice using the over-under as well. He was very tight with it and he was a feather weight.
So, I know that works for both lightweights and heavyweights, but I think it’s easier the heavier you are. Because you’re going to put weight on top of them.
Stephan: So you’re talking lightweight guy fighting another lightweight guy. What about a light guy fighting a big guy? Can a smaller guy use it against a bigger guy?
Bernardo: It’s pretty much the same answer, because you can still do it. It’s going to be the same thing. You’ve just got to keep pushing until the big guy gets tired of defending and then you’re going to pass. So it’s pretty much the same answer
Stephan: I think it was one of our mutual friends who pointed out that this pass is an attrition-based game that wears your opponent down, Some people have this idea that you should just be able to use technique and magically appear on someone’s back. But grinding the guy down is part of the game too, is it not?
Bernardo: I agree. Because if you have a good game and your techniques are always working against the guy, he is going to get more tired than you and that is going to open a bunch of doors for you. Getting a submission in a tournament in the first minute can be really hard. But after the 5-6 minutes when you are passing the guy’s guard and you got him on his back, then he will start giving up things and that’s the good time to take the opportunity.
Stephan: Awesome. Thank you so much. I think we got through a good hunk of the questions. We’ll do a few more with YouTube and maybe we’ll do a third interview and you’ll be the first ever three-time visitor to the Grapplearts Radio Podcast!
Bernardo: Thanks so much. It was a big pleasure. And also again, congrats to you for the huge work that you do online for the Jiu-Jitsu community. It’s very cool.
Stephan: It’s my hobby and it’s my passion. So I’m enjoying the work. Thank you so much Bernardo. Good luck with your training.
Bernardo: Thank you Stephan.
Three quick things to finish up this great interview.
First, if you listen to podcasts on your phone or in your car when you’re commuting make sure to subscribe to my podcast too. It’s called the Grapplearts Radio Podcast and you can find it on Apple App Store, Stitcher and Soundcloud.
Third, thank you to the many great questions I received from the Grapplearts email newsletter readership for Bernardo. I really appreciated them because it allowed me to guide the interview in a way that helped as many people and answered as many questions as possible.
If you want to get on the Grapplearts Email Newsletter so that you can contribute questions for future interviews then click here for more information about signing up (it’s free and I send out a ton of great jiu-jitsu related information.