Some kids as they begin to crawl, before even the first steps, usually have a cushioned floor of some type, carpeted preferably. In my case, glimpses of mat pieces and matted areas still bring me back to my childhood. I began my journey in motion by crawling on mats, and eventually taking my first steps on them. Never would I know it would become the most common ground I would step on, and remain part of, throughout my entire life.
When I was four, I had my first lessons ever with the late grand master Helio; he was teaching me the basics of self-defense. After this I went through a long line of my relatives, taking pieces of their knowledge along the way. Late Masters Carlson and Rolls, and eventually Carlos Jr, to name just a few. I shared many great (and often really hard) moments on the mats with my four brothers and my cousins. At that time, we were all quite young and impressionable, learning from our elders on and off the mats. The most intimate conversations were had between myself and my late uncle Carlos Sr; his philosophies and mentorship still guide me to this day.
Despite all of the success that I saw in tournaments and being acknowledged amongst the top students at the academy I represented, those momentary accomplishments never fulfilled my expectations. It was only when I started to assist with teaching and become a junior instructor, (when I was a blue belt), that the perspective regarding my purpose started to change. At that time, I was also fluent in English (albeit as a second language), which made me the preferred instructor to assist any foreigners who happened to visit our dojo. I still remember the very first foreign student that I began to teach: a tall, skinny American from the East Coast named Duncan!
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I climbed the ranks all the way up to Black Belt. I never had much time to think about it after the fact and took it as something quite natural for someone who spent an average of eight hours a day on the mats between teaching and training. I was so thankful though, thankful that I had my brothers as my main training partners throughout those years. We kept each other honest and humble; we would always be there for one another in moments of hardship, and we built what eventually became a powerhouse of a team. The love and friendship that we experienced with our students over the years forged a vision for our future, one that would not become known right away, but the seed had been planted.
Sometimes in life you outgrow things, and I reached a point in my life where I realized that I had hit the ceiling for accomplishments in Brazil. My brother Rigan left two years before I did, in 1988, and his departure showed me that I had to make one of the most fateful decisions of my life, to leave behind all that I had in my home country of Brazil and embark on a journey to help spread the art of jiu-jitsu throughout the world. What a bittersweet moment that was. As tears were shared with students and relatives during my farewell, I remember my final moments at the airport. I gave my dad a hug, not knowing that it would be the last time that I would ever see him, and I left for the United States. As the saying goes, one door closed and another one opened; in fact, many doors have opened for me since I arrived in the United States all those years ago – and I am grateful for each and every one of them. My mission to share jiu-jitsu with the world continues!!