When I first began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I wasn’t aware of any of the names associated with the art. I had never heard of the Gracie family, didn’t know who John Danaher was, had never hear the name Marcelo Garcia, and had absolutely no idea who my instructor Vitor Shaolin Ribeiro was or what he had accomplished. As I mentioned in a previous post, I discovered BJJ through a chance encounter with a No Gi class I took on a whim at the Krav Maga school at which I was studying. Its effectiveness made it seem like magic, and I was instantly hooked. I went back to one more Krav Maga class after that, and I immediately signed up for a membership at Vitor Shaolin’s school in midtown. The factors driving my decision to study at Shaolin’s BJJ academy were the convenient location, the excellent schedule, and the high quality instruction.
At the time, I had no idea who Shaolin was, though it was clear how much sincere respect his students had for him. I immediately noticed that he clearly displays strong leadership qualities and the tone he sets in his academy facilitates and extremely friendly and supportive vibe throughout the school. Beyond that, I knew nothing.
Now that I’ve been studying with Shaolin’s BJJ academy for about two and a half years, I understand that he’s clearly a legend in the world of BJJ, and a true master at least on the level as the many great musicians I’ve come to greatly admire. I would consider Shaolin, as well as the many other instructors actively teaching such as Renzo Gracie, Yuki Nakai, Marcelo Garcia, and others, to be the BJJ equivalent of musicians such as classical pianist Evgeny Kissin, jazz bassist Christian McBride, or drummer Steve Gadd.
Unfortunately, such musical greats are not always so immediately available to the average member of the public. Someone who wishes to study with or even just meet such musical greats generally needs to do so via an introduction from someone who will vouch for them, or they need to already be an accomplished musician themselves.
Not so with BJJ. Now that I’m more aware of the BJJ scene and the accomplishments and depth of knowledge and skill of Shaolin and his contemporaries, I’m increasingly grateful that a complete novice such as myself can walk into an academy off the street and sign up for lessons with such titans of the sport. I can’t speak for other academies, but I can say that Shaolin is present for a large portion of the classes at his academy and makes himself available to all of his students regardless of level or experience. This accessibility is one of the many enormous benefits of the Jiu Jitsu community.
I become increasingly aware of how fortunate we are in the BJJ community to have access to such close proximity to greatness. Considering that the average time to earn a black belt in BJJ is eight to twelve years, I consider studying with any black belt instructor the equivalent of studying with someone who holds PhD in Jiu Jitsu. Add to that the ability to study with such greats as Shaolin, Marcelo, and Renzo, and we are truly fortunate to have such access.
I doubt that it would ever be possible for me to work on my golf swing with Phil Mickelson (even though we share the same birthday), so I’m especially grateful to have the opportunity to study with one of the true legends of the sport at my BJJ academy. This proximity to greatness is one of many things that makes our art so special. Perhaps having direct access to the current legends of our sport might be one of the things that helps to keep it legit and pure, and could be a key factor as to why the BJJ community is so special throughout the world.