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Jiutopia 2021: 5 Insights From A Unique BJJ Experience

big group of martial artists

As the days pass after having returned home from what I perceived to be a beautifully challenging experience, I struggle to compress all the wisdom and all the impressions I was exposed to into this single blogpost. From the very first training, where Professor Marco Canha stressed the importance of always staying positive in a fight, to Ffion Davies joyful and clinical approach to the sport, to Leo Vieira’s incredible attention to details, to Romulo Barral’s unfiltered and infectious energy, to Felipe Pena’s stoic patience and uncomplicated style of teaching. You could fill entire books with the knowledge that these guys have.

big patch on back of white jacket

I think of the techniques we learned and am still amazed by the small game-changing details I keep stumbling upon in my notebook. “Knees and elbows together” seems so obvious, yet when Leo Vieira shows you how to apply this while passing the guard, it just hits differently. Suddenly this old concept becomes new and not only your passing gets better, but your whole understanding of the sport deepens. This was just one single moment in one single session. Now imagine this kind of high-level mentorship infused into a seven day long, incredible wave of Jiu-Jitsu-good-vibes energy packed into a sports camp located in the rugged coastal beauty of Kassandra, Greece.

In order to provide you with the most possible value from reading this article, we here at MTG decided to consolidate our experiences into 5 key takeaways from Jiutopia 2021.

man teaching brazilian jiu jitsu

1. The Difference Between a Black Belt And a White Belt

At the end of a focused intense two-hour No-Gi session, Leo Vieira announces the rules for the upcoming specific sparring. The goal of the top player is to pass the guard from standing. The goal of the guard player is to retain guard. No sweeps, no submissions. Two minutes in each position. The bell goes off and the work begins. With a time limit of two minutes, you can keep a fairly strong pace for the entire round, especially if it is the first one of the evening. Speed comes at the price of precision and so the first round quickly turns into an intense exchange between both players. Scrambles are going off, forcing some of the bottom players onto their feet. “Almost guard-passes” happen as much as mistimed efforts, that cost the attacker precious energy or even worse, put the bottom player in a dominant position. At the height of the intensity of the roughly 100 people on the mat, Leo Vieira’s voice expels a loud “Time!” across the room.

As the pairs change positions to take on the opposite role, Leo Vieira stops the exercise to explain the following point. The bottom player can go as fast as possible to reach his only goal: prevent having his guard passed. Less precision is needed as you anticipate and react explosively, re-acting your way towards your goal. In this scenario reacting requires less technical effort than acting, since you´re playing a destructive game. Remember, no sweeps and submissions. The top player has to choose and adapt his technique. He provides the primary impulse for each situation, acting his way towards his goal: passing the guard. Being proactively engaged in a fight requires more resources than staying reactive, yet it brings with it the possibility of advancing your position. High risk, high reward. Could this be the first nugget of BJJ / Life wisdom?

martial arts coach kneeling on mats

Precision however comes at the price of speed and so the game exposes a new layer. The guard-passer’s decisions are a balancing act between applying speed and applying technique. Pay too much attention to one and you´ll begin making avoidable mistakes. This balancing act, says Leo, is what is the difference between a black belt and a white belt. Black belts can maintain a high level of speed, while making sensible decisions in a given situation.

As you can probably imagine, the second round was a lot tamer in explosivity. The level of intensity however hit a new level, as the top players began making intelligent efforts towards accomplishing their goals. With this single idea Leo created a new understanding in me of what it means to be a good BJJ player. The difference between a black belt and a white belt is the speed, at which you can still make intelligent decisions.

a big group of martial artists

2. High Performance Mentality

Romulo Barral would step on the mat half an hour before each training session to do his warm-up routine. As he progressed through the exercises, he got more and more in the zone, often singing along to Brazilian songs that were playing in his headphones. Just by observing his pre-training ritual, you got a sense of Romulo’s approach to Jiu-Jitsu and, as we’ll see later, to life. Once he finished, drenched in sweat, he put on his Gi jacket and usually started the class with some thoughts, that he wanted to share with everyone.

One of the concepts he presented during his opening speech, was the idea of High Performance Mentality. This, I believe, is where the raw and infectious energy I mentioned in the beginning, comes from. You can observe this in every area of life. Whether it is the arts, sports, science or anything else that requires a constant acquisition of skills. Only through a complete dedication of time and effort to your discipline, can you reach mastery. In Romulo’s words, High Performance Mentality basically means aiming to be better than you were yesterday. He takes this concept and applies it to everything in his life, whether it’s teaching, being with his family or even making breakfast. “Today’s breakfast has to be better than yesterday’s!”, Romulo said half-jokingly on one occasion.

two men practising brazilian jiu jitsu

The idea of always aiming to be better than you were yesterday, is something that all high-level individuals live by. The only competition you have is you. I am convinced that all the other professors, that were teaching at Jiutopia, have the same mindset. The reason I use Romulo Barral to talk about this concept is, because of his enthusiastic way of manifesting it. He is loud, he is happy, he is excited, yet structured, humble and kind. Besides learning the secrets of the half spider guard, what stayed with me the most from Prof. Barral’s class, is that undying enthusiasm he puts forth in everything he does. If we can bring a fraction of this High Performance Mentality into the things we do in life, we can truly start walking the path of mastery.

3. We Are Tougher Than We Think

The first thing we practised in our opening training session was a guard-pull into a modified collar-sleeve guard. For two hours we pulled guard and tried to maintain the position, gripping and holding sleeves and collars. After the session was over, I could not make a fist with my left hand anymore. I went back to my dorm, to take a shower and relax before the evening class. No-Gi with Leo Vieira and Marco Canha. Porrada. My body was not used to this amount of training in a single afternoon. Arms, shoulders, legs, hips, everything hurt. In a good way, but it still hurt. Finally, after what felt like ten hours of training, I had two giant portions of whatever we had for dinner that night and went to bed, to get some well-deserved rest.

people practising brazilian jiu jitsu

As I opened my eyes the next morning, that old familiar feeling of did-I-just-get-hit-by-a-bus inhabited every cell of my body. I loved it, but it still hurt. Brush your teeth, drink some water, put on your Gi and go to training – the Jiutopian morning routine. As I dragged myself to the mat area, my walk bore closer resemblance to that of a 90-year-old man, than to a young and nimble jiujiteiro. Training began and after 10 minutes my body started to regain its vitality. The pain goes away. With so many enthusiastic people around, it´s hard to not to give everything you got. So, you keep rolling. Hard and focused rounds. Everything is possible when your’e in flow. And so, the cycle of peak performance, cool down, fatigue and rest continued throughout the days.

two men fighting on ground

The shift came around day three. My general sense of strength and awareness reached a new baseline. I was still tired, but the pain diminished and recovery periods got shorter. Whereas in the beginning, I was able to do 1-3 rounds of sparring, I later kept losing count of how many rolls I had in a single session. My mind had accepted a new reality, where I can do more and for longer. Some days had three training sessions. The first 9-11 am, then 1-3 pm, and finally 7-9 pm. I´m not going to lie, I definitely skipped a session here and there, to relax at the beach or just hang out and do nothing (shout out to all the warriors, who did every single session).

The point here is, that the more resistance we expose ourselves to (within our human boundaries), the more resistance we will be able to handle. Oh damn, another piece of mat-wisdom, that is applicable to life! The wonderful thing is, that I was able to experience this change in my own physicality, thus fundamentally being able to understand this truth. I am sure many of the other participants had a similar experience. We actually are tougher than we think.

4. The Five Second Rule

two men in white judo kimonos

We already touched on the subject of being proactive in a fight. As we intelligently work to accomplish our goals on and off the mats, we will be faced with many unpredictable challenges, that come our way. Some of them we will be able to master graciously, others will expose our weaknesses. To remain in a proactive (warrior) mindset, we must honor our mistakes and consciously choose to react in a way, that aims to constructively improve the situation.

Leo Vieira’s Five Second Rule is an idea born out of that warrior mindset. If you are in a match, you have to react to any new threats within the first five seconds. It means fighting the hooks as soon as they come close to you. It means breaking grips as soon as your opponent gets a hold of your collar. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to defend. If you wait too long, your opponent will begin to dictate the fight.

The same idea was expressed independently in another training session by Marco Canha. We must always stay positive and work to improve the situation at hand, whether it’s in training or in our daily lives.

5. The People

I think I subconsciously saved the best for last. All the wisdom, lessons and techniques are immensely beneficial to our development but it was actually the people I got to share the insights and lessons with, that really made this experience special. There were some nights where I couldn´t fall asleep, because of the hilarious banter in our dorm room. I fondly think of the times after a training session, where people were showering together under the open sky, talking and getting to know each other. There is a different kind of sense of community when white belts, black belts and everyone in between are sharing stories, while washing their Gis next to each other under the Greek sun. People became friends. Not the kind of friends you make at work or at the bar. Here you became friends with people who share the same love and passion as you.

group of people on a beach at night

Jiutopia brought many people together, regardless of affiliation and rank, to share their enthusiasm for our sport, to grow as athletes and as people, and to learn from one another. We at MTG would like to thank all of the 115 participants, that came from all over Europe, to join us in realizing our dream of Jiutopia. It was a hard and winding road to make this event happen and we would like to take this chance to express our heartfelt appreciation for your trust. There are many lessons we have learned as a team, and we will use our newly gained understanding to improve everything we do in the future. If you were one of the people who came to Jiutopia, we hope you were able to extract value from this experience. Special thanks go out to all the professors and instructors: Thank you for sharing your knowledge and energy with everyone. Obrigado!

We would also like to thank our sponsors: More Than Grappling, Ground Force, Defense Soap, Anthrax Machines and Devrelogic.

We hope to see all of you next time! OSS!

Artur from Jiutopia. 

group picture of martial artists