interview by: Stanley Tam
Professor Tony can you tell us something about your background and how you got started in BJJ?
I was born in Florianopolis, Brazil. At the time of my childhood the Gracie brothers Rilion and Crolin had just moved to my town to open up an academy. One of Rilion’s students at the time was a family friend and convinced my father to introduce me to Jiu-Jitsu. My father always liked BJJ and saw it as a great opportunity to motivate me to start training with Rilion. After my first class I knew Jiu-Jitsu would be a part of my life forever.
How long did it take for you to get your black belt?
I started training when I was 12 years old and received my Black Belt at the age of 23.
What are some of your notable competition wins?
Some of my notable wins would have to be, 7 X South Brazilian Champ, South American Black Belt Champ, 2 X Worlds Mundials bronze medalist, ADCC 2005 first Brazilian trial champ.
You have trained with many members of the Gracie family such as Rilion, Renzo, Ralph and Roger. How do their styles of BJJ differ?
They are all highly technical fighters and very tough. It think the only difference would be their body type. Roger is a very big guy with a great foundation in BJJ. So, he is really a hard guy to beat, that’s why he is the number one competitor in the world.
Why did you decide to come to Shanghai, China?
My friend Ryan Melchiano was moving back here to Shanghai and convinced me to travel with him. I knew Shanghai was a very modern city with a lot of opportunities but I didn’t know how the growth of BJJ was in Asia. I also have a good friend in Beijing, Pedro “Bebe” Schmall. He is training the fighters from AOW and he really motivated me to move out here.
What do you think of Shanghai so far?
So far Shanghai is an amazing city. I see a great future for the sport of BJJ.
Your friend Bebe Johnson came to Shanghai to train and hang out with us this weekend. Can you tell us a little about your relationship with him?
Bebe is a great friend that I met in Brazil. We trained together for many years and he is a Royler Gracie Black Belt. He has a really technical style and he is also a strong guy. Those things together make for a great fighter. I enjoy training with Bebe because he is a nice guy that helps to push me hard.
BJJ is obviously a very young sport/art in China, how do you see BJJ progressing and do you think it will become as popular as it has become in the US?
I strongly feel that once you start training BJJ you fall in love with it. This has been happening all over the world. So, I don’t see China as being any different. The people just need to be exposed to it, then they will realize how great of a sport/martial art it really is.
What advice would you give to a new student when choosing a BJJ academy or teacher?
Make sure that they are a member of the IBJJF. The IBJJF really helps to organize BJJ through out the world and sets a standard for all gyms to follow.
Can you tell us what your requirements are for students to progress form white to blue belt, blue to purple belt and all the way to black belt?
BJJ is a very competitive sport. Everyone is trying to get better to obtain the next belt, but I wouldn’t get fixated with that thought. I think if you train hard, you are motivated and really enjoy BJJ then the belts will come naturally. To earn a belt is a combination of Training Time, Technique Level and Sparring progress.
Nowadays people are always talking about “old school” BJJ and “new school” BJJ, do you think there is such a thing and what are your thoughts on it?
I don’t believe there is such a thing. It goes against the philosophy of BJJ. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was founded on being open minded. That’s why and how the Gracie family was able to develop it. They allowed this collaboration of students to build and manipulate a new Jiu-jitsu. So, by saying this is new or old school BJJ sounds inappropriate.
What is your advice for students wanting to excel in BJJ?
You need to train with your body, mind and heart. You have to dedicate yourself.
Do you think it is necessary for students to compete in order to be competent at BJJ?
No, people that compete enjoy more the sport aspect of BJJ, but that doesn’t mean that you are any better of a fighter. There are some great fighters out there that just don’t enjoy competing and some that do.
Any closing remarks?
We are all going to be fighting in Copa de Hong Kong next month. So, I hope all my student from Shanghai BJJ Academy have a good time and enjoy our trip to another city. For all the other fighters out there, I hope you can make it to HK and support BJJ in Asia.