What does it mean to be a real Jiu Jitsu teacher?

I remember it like it was today, the first time I started training Jiu Jitsu. I was 13 years old and a school friend took me to a small gym in Posto 6 in Copacabana.

The Academy was originally a Judo academy run by Professor Carlos de Tarso, and the Jiu Jitsu was taught by a student of Master Carlson Gracie, Toninho.

The gym was very small, I believe the mat was no more than 50m2.

We were pretty much the first Jiu Jitsu class there and it was less than a year before the gym closed.

One detail that I didn’t know until many years later was that Toninho had also been Jacaré’s first instructor at the Gracie Academy.  In the year that I trained there (I received my yellow and orange belt) I never had to wait for the teacher, I never saw him raising his voice to a student, I never saw him without a clean kimono. I never saw any kind of lack of respect or indifference to students, parents or visitors — it was an extremely pleasant environment to be in.

However, the gym closed and I was forced to relocate. Toninho went on to teach classes far away from my home and a friend who was already a Jiu Jitsu champion at the time suggested I train with Jacaré who had just opened his school in Ipanema. On the way back from the English school where I trained twice a week, I would stop at the gym which was on my way home.  Jacaré also taught in a Judo academy, but unlike Toninho’s, Jacaré’s school prospered allowing him to buy the academy and offer many classes. Jacaré Jiu Jitsu was founded in 1985. By this time, I was already 15 years old, and I had received my blue belt. I started helping Jacaré with classes: beginners, kids, and even advanced classes.

The standard of respect for the student remained the same, and it was the student who was the focus of attention, and that is why the gym worked so well. There were more and more competitions and I was introduced to a different profile of teacher that also got some prominence, although never achieved any real success. He was the “champion” teacher, more concerned with his ego than his service, more concerned with black belt status than the evolution of the students.  Teachers in essence need to work against vanity and the ego trip, they need to be there for others.

Once talking to friends about how young people should choose work, I heard a suggestion that I thought was very wise— people should choose as a line of work something that allows them to be of service to others, doing whatever they like in their leisure time.  It’s true that sometimes this is confused in Jiu Jitsu because people don’t understand that training Jiu Jitsu and teaching Jiu Jitsu are very different things.

The difficulty comes because the champion needs to be a little selfish and to put himself first when he is in search of excellence, the teacher needs to be 100% committed and concerned with the evolution of others, they are totally opposite mindsets. Today I have contact with hundreds of academy teachers and managers through “Live off Jiu Jitsu” and I believe this understanding is still the biggest barrier to their success, preventing them from having the openness to learn new things, and the humility to recognize that they are not superman always trying to show off — no one is.

Making your student the reason your school exists is the surest way to have a successful academy that is a benchmark for where you live — this has the power to transform so many lives for the better. This in my opinion of the true essence of a Jiu Jitsu teacher — doing things for one another.

The result is that your students will not only give back to you in abundance, but also to each other and this creates a chain that explains the wonderful feeling we get with our tatami friends when we are part of a real Jiu Jitsu academy.

Is that you? Do you give classes just for yourself, or for others?


Fabio Gurgel



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