“It is just an absolute dream come true, to be able to come to this country and not only train with someone of the top professionals, but to be able to teach the younger generation,” said João Figueredo, “that is the true gift.”
As a 20 year-old aspiring martial artist, Figueredo is part of a worldwide Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Association known as Gracie Barra. With over 500 schools across six different continents, this academy is highly respected for their dominance in the sport.
Figueredo, along with 10 other individuals from the original Gracie Barra in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has been given the opportunity to relocate to Tempe on an athletic visa to train and teach Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The group will be here for 5 years total as they will be traveling to different cities around the country to instruct youth martial arts.
“I get to wake up everyday, better myself through training, and then share my knowledge with the kids,” said Arian De Melo, another instructor from Gracie Barra. “I talk about it all the time with João… we still can’t believe we are in America and this is our job.”
These men and women mainly work with children ranging from 3 to 10 years, but it is not uncommon to get a teenager or young adult who is interested in learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Lessons are available to people of all skill levels, but there is one thing that always stays constant during training sessions. “You have to start out simple, otherwise they are not going to pay attention.” said Figueredo. “Some of my students come in with no experience before, some want more professional training. It’s all about finding the balance.”
Despite teaching during the afternoons, these men and women often spend their entire mornings training, hoping to climb the ranks of jiu-jitsu to obtain the coveted brown belt. This achievement takes 5 years of dedicated, non-stop service to master the sport. Most spend up to 20 hours a week practicing their craft, taking only one or two days off to rest. These martial artists also frequently participate in competitions across the country, usually taking place on the weekends.
“We travel a lot,” stated Lucas Zuzarte, an 18 year-old Gracie Barra prodigy from Rio. “I have been to Seattle, Chicago, New York City, Boston and so many others… and I’m still only 18. Learning to sleep on the road is key to staying healthy.”
While most of their time is spent in the gym, these athletes do enjoy their rest time. Sedona is often the place of leisure as Figueredo and De Melo make their way up I-17 to the red rock kingdom at least once a month. Soccer is also huge amongst this group, as many played back home in Brazil before coming to the United States. The game serves as an outlet from the rigorous workouts at Gracie Barra.
“We usually just want to do something fun and easy when we are not training,” said Zuzarte. “Our world does not always revolve around fighting.”