With over 400 blackbelts, Oswaldo Alves is among the most famous and influential BJJ instructors of all time
OTM: Master Osvaldo Alves, first off, thank you for the opportunity to interview you. This is a pleasure for us. You are known as the encyclopipa of Jiu Jitsu and great Judo Master. Which came first Judo or Jiu Jitsu ?
MOA: I started them both a year a part. I became a Judoka at the age of six and started Jiu Jitsu seven years old. I was a good friend of Reyson Gracie growing up. He told me that I was the only guy on our street where we live who practiced Judo. So he invited me to start training Jiu Jitsu with him and his family. So, I started to train Jiu Jitsu with judo both Martial Arts.
OTM: Master Alves, you started both Martial Arts before the age of 8 years old, so you were a just a kid. Was there any confusion created by practicing both Martial Arts at the same time?
MOA: I did not, I found it easy to adapt each game to other. Judo works on your stand up game unbalancing your opponent and taking him down and I think I got the technical development at the age of 16, when I brought Judo`s game to my teammates inside Jiu Jitsu. In jiu jitsu we only had only around 5 unbalances on the feet. I then introduced more than 40 new movements of Judo to jiu jitsu, which developed the Jiu Jitsu game.
OTM: When exactly did you get the Jiu Jitsu guys to start training Judo ?
MOA: Due to my friendship with Reyson, I suggested that he speak with his family to train Jiu Jitsu. Reyson already done some Judo and he knew as was important to train both, Judo and Jiu Jitsu. The Gracies did not immediately accept the idea of training Judo. But, after a few more invitations they started training and soon they saw the importance of Judo. After Reyson, came Rolles Gracie; who surprised everybody. He adapted well to judo and became University and State of Rio de Janeiro Judo champion. After everyone saw Rolles's performance & skills others thought If he's doing well, we can do well too! Rolles was a kind of reference to the other Gracies.
OTM: What kind of difficulty did you have introducing the Gracies to Judo ?
MOA: There was no specific resistance it was more of a natural resistance. Jiu Jitsu is a sport that gives you a large possibility dominates over your adversary. So the Gracies said "There is no need of to learn other Martial Art for control our adversaries". I think they were right. But, Also if you know something more this will only help to improve your game. I am not speaking only about sport Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu fighters who fight Vale Tudo have all started training Muay Thai, Boxing, Judo, Wrestling and other Martial Arts without losing their Jiu Jitsu essence.
OTM: Who were your first master in Judo and Jiu Jitsu ?
MOA: In Judo it was Shikaru Kurashiin of SÃ£o Paulo, this academy still exist on Bairro da Liberdade (a very known Japanese colony in Brazil). After him, I keep training with his student named Fujimata. In Jiu Jitsu I had several excellent masters like George Gracie, Carlos Gracie, GastÃ£o Gracie and Osvaldo Gracie. These were very important masters in my development of as a Jiu Jitsu fighter. When I was 17 years old, I went to Japan twice looking to improve my Judo. I knew about Kimura's school and that is where I trained with one of his best students Isao Okano. At the time he was one of the best Judo fighters in the history of Japan. I trained also with Yamashita, who in my opinion was the renovating the techniques of Judo`s stand up game. He was also very good on the mat too.
OTM: How did you start training to become a fighter?
MOA: My father first put me in Judo classes because he was a fighter too. I was also a unique kid, so Judo was a good way to contain my energy. I loved training since the first moment I started. Martial Arts worked well for me, because of this I became a respectable Master with students in all corners of the World. I am happy and proud of that fat. I am always prepared to teach and ready to prepare any fighter who wants to train with me.
OTM: When you were friends with Reyson and the other members of the Gracie Family, did you have any idea that they would turn out to be such a famous Martial Arts family?
MOA: I was a kid at the time but I felt I was a part of Gracie Family because Reyson and myself were very close. I was the only one who was in the group and did not train Jiu Jitsu; Reyson always invited me to come & train Jiu Jitsu. I think I might have been the only guy who was not from the family directly that was treated so well. I can tell you this because, to this day they trust in me and in fact I taught some of the Gracies.
OTM: Who was the best Gracie that you trained?
MOA: Rolles Gracie. This guy was a legend, only the guys who got to see Rolles in action can understand his fame inside Jiu Jitsu.
OTM: Well we never got an opportunity on seeing Rolles in action. What can you tell about him?
MOA: He was very good on his feet, the level of his stand up was equal to a Pan Arm Judo champion. He had a consciousness about fighting that developed quickly for a young fighter. He had what I think that it is most important in JiuJitsu, he passed the guard very well. Rolles had a insurmountable guard, I never saw nobody get to his side mount, he fought very well from the mount position and he had one thing that no one other fighter has had, he fought very well from the side position. This is a characteristic of Japanese Jiu Jitsu, because we worked very hard on the guard and on stand up, but our side control was not good. I When I met Kimura I learned that characteristic and I have since added this on to our Jiu Jitsu.
OTM: You had a lot of success in the 80`s by introducing these new techniques to Jiu Jitsu, this attracted a lot of guys to you. You created a lot of very good fighters can you tell us how they were?
MAO: Sergio Penha who had the same level of Rickson Gracie, Paulo Caruso, Fabricio, Pasqual MagalhÃ£es Duarte. I also gave classes to many other fighters such as Amaury Bitetti, Vitor Befort, Paulo Filho, José MÃ¡rio Sperry, Pat Miletich, and others. I have more than 300 black belts.
OTM: When did you meet Miletich?
MAO: The first time that I went to USA. Miletich was very young and he came to ask me if he could watch my seminar. After that, I also gave him some private classes and we have become good friends. Miletich has good students.
OTM: Your student, Paulo Caruso, is the main conditioner of a lot of fighters. Did he learn from you?
MOA: Caruso started Jiu Jitsu classes with me when he was just a kid. Caruso and my others students all have a great physical preparation; gas is never their problem. Caruso is well schooled in Physical Education and has his powders graduation, but I can affirm, the things that he introduces for the fighters were taught by me. Meantime I did not invent that, I passed to my students what I learned in Japan and in USA.
OTM: You trained Judo in Japan, what were the differences between the Brazilian and Japanese Judokas?
MOA: In my opinion neither Judo nor Jiu Jitsu has changed. What has changed is the system of training, for example our Judo is technical and it has subtleties, and the Japanese's Judo was very strong when I went to Japan.
OTM: Why did you go to Japan?
MOA: Because I was young, a Brazilian Judo prodigy and the owner of the best techniques in South America. Everybody had a lot of hope for me. I was a complete fighter with my Jiu Jitsu background.
OTM: Did you try to compete on Olympic Games or Mundial of Judo?
MOA: I did. I was plagued with injuries close to important events, one time I broke my leg on the mat at the Trials for the worlds, I won my match, but I did not get to proceed for the main event. I have a Pan Arm medal from Cuba.
OTM: OK Back to Jiu Jitsu. Who are the best Jiu Jitsu fighters in your opinion?
MOA: I admire Royler Gracie and Nino "Elvis" Schembri. Nino represents the best of Jiu Jitsu of the old times, because the Jiu Jitsu has changed a bit, but Nino continues to practice the Jiu Jitsu of the good times.
OTM: What do you mean with good times?
MOA: Let me explain. The training system has changed and it has changed for better, nowadays a Jiu Jitsu fighter has to do more than more than just to learn from his master. He also has to do conditioning, weight training and other things to make sure he is improving all the time. In the past you did not fight against the time. Nowadays people fight against the clock. We have time and the regulation of points, with that the Jiu Jitsu has a new intelligence. You know, you need to think fast and be the fastest. I think Nino is a new fighter of Jiu Jitsu way but with the same explosion of position that we fought in the time before. He will in 10 minutes, makes 50 attacks and if he mistakes 15, this is good because he get his points and still get to submit his opponent. This is the real Jiu Jitsu and not just get an advantage and to stall the fight like we see so many doing now.
OTM: Why do you think this new style has developed?
MOA: Jiu Jitsu was an art in the past and developed. Then some person had to adapt new winds to Jiu Jitsu. I introduced conditioning ot Jiu Jitsu. I first made a program of physical preparation for Rolles, to work his heart, then his pace and his muscular explosion. Jiu Jitsu is explosions and balance. So after Rolles, Rickson and Sergio Penha, all fighters began focusing their trainings to that system. So some got to improve positively and others only got strength and make an ugly Jiu Jitsu style. But Jiu Jitsu is growing anyway, actually we have more than 400,000 Jiu Jitsu fighters.
OTM: Why did some improve and others regress?
MOA: I do not want to speak bad things about anybody. But a lot of Jiu Jitsu instructors need a recycling, when you get a University diploma, then after that you go to Masters-degree and then Doctorate. In JiuJistu the instructor get his black belt and then goes to teach Jiu Jitsu or open a school. But don`t forget that the sport never stops evolving just like life. So if these same instructors stop at a point, then their games will be quickly surpassed. Thank God that the main Jiu Jitsu champions are tigers and continue to train fighters such as Nino, Marcio Feitosa, Fredson Paixao, Fernando "Margarida" Pontes, Leonardo Vieira, Robson Moura and others. I think that the Gracies has this methodology. You arrive in Gracie Barra and you can see the all the students of this academy training Muay Thai, Wrestling and conditioning because this is the sport`s evolution and it will only survive those who have this philosophy. Fighters like PaixÃ£o, Feitosa, "Pe de Pano", Roberto "Roleta" MagalhÃ£es are always are good fighters to watch because they fight 6 times and make their 5 or 6 opponents tap out in the tournaments. They are not just looking to win on a few points.
OTM: How can the game be changed to solve this?
MAO: I think that the Brazilian Confederation should give seminar to recycle these instructors and to keep their teachings up to date. But I think that these fighters also should look for a more capable professional Jiu Jitsu Master. For example we have 500 Jiu Jitsu academies in Rio de Janeiro but only 10 are showing good results on the events, why? Because this is the result of the instructors of these academies, this is a lack of technique of the instructors. We have a lot of guys who put a purple to black belt and then go to the inland of the Brazil to teach Jiu Jitsu, so his students will be his mirror, limited.
OTM: We hear that you made Marco Ruas wear a gi, true?
MOA: This is a very interesting story. Reyson, Arthur Netto and myself introduced the Jiu Jitsu to Manaus. There are fighters from other Brazilian states who challenged the Manaus's fighters and nobody had accepted these challenges. Then one day when I arrived in Manaus, the people told me that there was a fighter named Rei (King) Zulu. He was known as such a terror. So I went to a TV show and I replied to Rei Zulu's challenge. I came back to Rio and looked for a Jiu Jitsu fighter to fight Rei Zulu. But nobody wanted to fight him. So I asked Ruas who was training Jiu Jitsu in my academy and already had skills in Muay Thai. Ruas agreed to fight and did so representing JiuJitsu. We arrived in Manaus and Rei Zulu backed out of the challenge. So Ruas fought twice in Manaus and brought Jiu Jitsu a lot of success through out the land.
OTM: Why did you want Raus to fight as a Jiu Jitsu fighter?
MOA: He was not well accepted because he already had his background in other Martial Arts. But, Ruas is my friend and he has a good heart, character, and he is a good Brazilian, while fought representing us, Brazil.
OTM: Tell us abou the rivalry between Jiu Jitsu and Luta-Livre in the 80s?
MOA: Both sides liked me at that time and I had to settle a lot of brawls on the streets.
OTM: Do you have any good Jiu Jitsu x Luta-Livre's stories to tell us?
MOA: I do not. But I can tell you, Jiu Jitsu has things that the others do not. It's the leadership is the critic element. Things were hard at that time and the leaders of Jiu Jitsu worked to make thing happen and everybody followed them because they had respect for the leaders. I respect Masters Helio Gracie and Robson Gracie because they have this attitude. There was not a middle term with them. I remember when Luta-Livre fighters challenged Jiu Jitsu once in the State of Rio championships tournament. Master Robson accepted in a second without hesitation. And everybody applauded Robson Gracie, this is the Jiu Jitsu's soul, never to back down from a challenge.
OTM: You introduced Jiu Jitsu to Manaus. What are the differences between the Jiu Jitsu of Rio and Manaus?
MOA: Rio is the Meca of Jiu Jitsu. Here are the great masters and the great fighters. Manaus is growing up, they have good titles in kids and juveniles divisions, but when they fight in adult, Rio stops them and Sao Paulo is strong too. I think that actually the big competition is between Sao Paulo and Rio. But some times Manaus creates good fighters like Saulo & Xande Ribeiro, Fredson PaixÃ£o, Bibiano Fernandes, Paulo Coelho, Leopoldo, Fredson Alves and Omar Salum. All tough guys with important titles. My ranking is Rio, Sao Paulo, Manaus and out of Brazil, USA.
OTM: What do you think of the USA`s progression in Jiu Jitsu?
MOA: I am not worried with that and Carlos Gracie Jr does a good job with USA. Carlos told me that the best way for Jiu Jitsu to get to be an Olympic sport, it's with the USA's support. Jiu Jitsu as an Olympic sport will be good for Brazilians, because out of 10 gold medals for sure we will get 8 of them. USA is a country that likes sports and now others France, Korea, Japan, Italy, Spain, Canada, and all South American countries; Australia and Portugal will help Jiu Jitsu to have more propagation.
OTM: Where are you from? Manous?
MOA: No, I was born in Acre and came to Rio when I was a baby.
OTM: So how and why did you bring Jiu Jitsu to Manaus?
MOA: Arthur Virgilio Netto, who actually is a republic senator, and Reyson invited me to go there. When we arrived there we went to a Club named Rio Negro, where there were masters of other Martial Arts. I do not know how exactly but Reyson got pissed off with a guy there and Arthur Netto brawled with a big guy. So everybody saw the Jiu Jitsu efficient and started to looking for this martial art, then we founded an academy. I am now very welcomed in Manaus. Nowadays there is not a guy who comes from Manaus that did not train at one of my schools. If he did not train with me, he trained with my students. There is even an event named Copa Osvaldo Alves that is held there once a year for the last 15 years. There is also a room at the Police Academy of Manaus in my homage and I do not know, personally who the person who dedicated the room to me I believe it was the actual governor of Amazonas.
OTM: You gave a lot to Manaus` Jiu Jitsu. But you have had some problems there too.
MOA: In everyone`s` lives we will have deceptions and cheers. Of course I have had deceptions with persons who thought that already were great fighters and they turned their back on me.
OTM: More and more people are coming to train with you from outside Brazil, how did you get this reputation?
MOA: I have students in almost all parts of the world and I am known outside of Brazil as the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu encyclopedia. For me that is a great honor. The most interesting thing is that I never paid attention to that title. I am only concerned with practicing the Jiu Jitsu of high quality. But now I am moving forward and I will make a web site soon, because if I got recognition without anything, you cannot imagine if I make a site. (Laughs)
OTM: Nowadays, Fredson PaixÃ£o is your top guy. Was he thought to start train when he arrived in Rio?
MOA: All Fredson's game is mine, since he trained with my student in Manaus and then he came to Rio and Bibiano Fernandes, Leopoldo and Rodrigo as well.
OTM: Fredson PaixÃ£o is a special fighter, how is he different?
MOA: PaixÃ£o is not my best student ever, but at the moment he represents the top fighter in Jiu Jitsu around the World. He has beaten all the top 10 ranked guys more than once. When Fredson was a purple-belt everybody asked me to promote him to a black belt, because he had beat everybody with just a singular talent. So when he was skilled to be black belt I gave him the belt and he beat everybody. Proving he deserved the black-belt..
OTM: This was not the first time you promoted a purple belt to black right? Who else?
MOA: Sergio Penha. When he fought Rickson, he had just gotten his black belt. Master Helio Gracie asked me to promote him because Penha was beating all the black belts.
OTM: What is your secret to find the hot new up and coming guys? What is the secret?
MOA: There are no secrets. Last year 20 students came to fight in the Mundials, we got 18 gold medals and 2 silvers. I believe that we always need to surpass our limits because there is always a guy training harder to be the number one.
OTM: Do you have any plans to leave Brazil to teach Jiu Jitsu?
MOA: I would like to be invited to give some seminars outside of Brazil. I am honest at my seminars. I don`t hide anything. I show what the students want to see. I do not know if some people when they give seminars deliberately teach bad or if they really don`t have capacity to teach well. I have seen seminars where, they only show three or four positions and finish the seminar with no details. Because of that I think that the students learn more watching an event or videos than watching some seminars. I know that there are blue and purple-belts giving seminars and even classes of Jiu Jitsu. This is very incorrect. I am open to receive invites to give seminars anywhere. When I was in USA I gave a seminar in Iowa with the best Wrestlers in the world, and they loved it. Also I am open to teach foreign students in my academy with private classes or in class.
OTM: Will you do DVD or tape of Master Osvaldo Alves techniques in the future?
MOA: I have an interest in that. This will be very different type of tape than what is being made nowadays. I will make tapes where the all elements will be shared, one tape with stand up Jiu Jitsu moves, another one just on taking the back, another one with just passing the guard, each tape would be very different and detailed.
OTM: What are you most proud or happiest with in your life inside Jiu Jitsu?
MOA: The talent that God gave me, I got to become myself a student of Jiu Jitsu. I have the ability of developing specific positions. I am proud to without any vanity, have created 30% of the moves that Jiu Jitsu showed in last 25 years.
OTM: Thanks for this opportunity Master Alves, We are all anxious on seeing your tapes when you make them.