Brazilian-born jiu-jitsu instructor Professor Marcelo Rezende might seem to have it all, as far as martial arts goes: a successful school in Sydney, a strong competition team and a coaching position with former rugby league premiers the Manly Sea Eagles. But in recent years he has had to draw deeply on the martial spirit he’s forged throughout his life, to deal with the tragic loss of his wife and later the razing of his school in a fire.
Marcelo, can you tell us a bit about your time training at the famous Gracie Barra Academy in Rio de Janeiro under Master Carlos Gracie Jr? What was he like to train under?
It was a really good atmosphere, as we had everyone training together at the time. I say ‘together’ because all the students became professors [of jiu-jitsu] and started opening schools everywhere in Brazil and around the world. Master Carlos was always a great master, guiding us in a good direction. Even though we had a very strong competition team, he always taught us to live a healthy lifestyle, to look after ourselves and to deal with losses; he didn’t prepare us just for victories, but to be able to deal with defeats as well. It was always a fun and friendly place, despite everyone training very hard.
What do you think the main reasons are for the success of Gracie Barra across the world?
We have a very united group: friendly, passionate about jiu-jitsu and Gracie Barra, and we all share the same vision of Master Carlos Gracie Jr and his teaching methods, and the way we should run a GB school.
You have lived in Sydney for more than 10 years now. Why did you decide to move to Australia?
I decided to move to Australia to study English for three months, but when I arrived everything pushed me towards BJJ. My passion, advice from my Master Carlos Gracie Jr and the opportunities at the time helped me to make a decision to dedicate my life to BJJ and Gracie Barra.
What was your impression of the BJJ scene in Australia when you arrived and how does it compare now?
My impression was really good because Australians like sports and everyone seemed open to learning. When I arrived back in 2001, BJJ was really small but with huge potential for growth. Now we have a lot of competitions, a lot of schools, UFC is everywhere and there are a lot of Australians who are addicted to BJJ, so we are growing every day with a very strong team.
Since moving here, you’ve had some personal hardships involving your family and even your academy tragically burning down. How did you motivate yourself to rebuild and move on? Has this made you a stronger person?
For me, it is still hard to believe when I stop and think about what happened. I think my son, family, and my school with students and friends helped me a lot to rebuild my life, and to feel important — I believe this was a really important thing for me to motivate myself. People say that time cures everything, but I personally believe that time hides from you those bad moments from your memory, because we have to move forward.
If you believe that you come to this life with a mission to develop yourself as a better person and help others to do the same, I believe you are on the right path. What happens during your life is to give you important lessons, bad and good. If you have the discipline to keep going forward, eventually the good things will come. You can’t torture yourself with any losses or bad moments in your life. Of course, some things will leave a huge mark, but they are beyond your control. It’s made me stronger, but the main thing for me was to appreciate in my heart, more than before, all the good moments.
We interviewed fellow Gracie Barra Sydney fighter Bruno Alves in the August issue of Blitz. How has it been having him around in your club?
It is really good! He likes to train really hard, is a great training partner, is humble and is a great person. I think with these qualities, everyone likes to have him around.
We’ve seen some controversy in the news recently regarding AFL players using BJJ ‘tricks’ that they’ve learned in training. You do similar training with rugby league team the Manly Sea Eagles. What techniques do you teach them, and do the players pick these up easily?
I teach a lot of rugby-specific techniques, takedown defence/attack, side- control escapes and holds, and transitions on the ground. Over the years, through trial and error, I came up with a great system specifically developed for the sport of rugby league. Since I started training them back in 2008, they won one world championship and two national titles. This system that I’ve adapted for their game uses BJJ drills to improve their functional strength and fitness, and we sometimes do BJJ for fun too. They enjoy it, and they feel fitter and more confident when they are in contact with the other players. They are professional athletes and they learn very fast. I wish I could have them training in my school as regular students!
What do you hope to achieve in the coming years in BJJ?
I hope to spread more BJJ and Gracie Barra all across Australia and New Zealand. We have a big project to open a lot of GB schools and we are working on this right now.
The goal is to contribute to the evolution of our coaches, professors and their students with the continuous improvement of BJJ. With the help and usage of the Gracie Barra Brazilian jiu-jitsu system, I believe that we will achieve these goals.