Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Crows Nest head instructor Bruno Alves recently won gold at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championship — but he also coached three others to medals at the prestigious event: two gold and one bronze. Blitz spoke to the BJJ Black-belt about his winning formula.
Since moving Down Under from Brazil, how have you adapted to having fewer high-level belts to train with? Are you able to get enough competitive rolling partners needed to sharpen your skills before a big competition like the World Pro?
In the beginning it was hard; most of my students were lower belts. There were a few higher belts who moved from other schools to train with me but most of the time I had a lot of White- and Blue-belts to train. So I’d try to teach attacks to build my defensive game — I think teaching is a good way to improve your skills.
But I brought my cousin, Igor Almeida, who lives with me now; he’s a top-level jiu-jitsu [fighter], a Purple-belt. He just got third place at the World Pro as well. I train with him every day. And now I have a lot more students and some of them getting really tough…doing really well in the tournaments. I think that in the future we’re going to have a really strong team here in Crow’s Nest.
I understand you have been a grappling coach for the Manly Sea Eagles NRL club, a role that is usually held by your friend and Gracie Barra Sydney head coach Marcelo Rezende. How did you end up in that position?
I coached them through two pre-seasons. I met the boys and the coach by the invitation of Marcelo, then he was away for two pre-seasons and they contacted me to give them a hand with their grappling off the ball, you know? I had a great time with the Sea Eagles, they are really good to work with because they are professional: they don’t complain, they work hard all the time. It was good to see how they improved and how they could apply what we worked on in the games.
What benefits does jiu-jitsu bring to the game of rugby league and the players?
I think the grappling part of the game is always there. They get takedowns [tackles], they avoid takedowns, and as they train [in BJJ] they become able to use the technique, the leverage, the hooks. The more technique, the more energy they save to go back and run again, you know? Like in jiu-jitsu, if you use just strength to take someone down, you won’t have the same energy to then keep going on the ground. But [the athletes] have the skill, so they’re able to fight on the ground with full energy.
What sort of things can’t you teach the rugby league players? There has been some controversy in the past over players being taught dangerous moves like neck cranks…
We don’t teach to [lever on] the neck or the head…and I do teach a lot of breakfalls, ways to fall. In jiu-jitsu when we’re falling we always tuck the head inside, and I see a lot of rugby players who don’t have that instinct, and when someone grabs their arms, they go into the field directly with their heads. We work a lot on those movements: someone holds the player and they try to tuck their head inside and roll over their shoulder — that’s going to prevent a lot of injuries, you know?
When Blitz interviewed you after your first Australian tournament — a win at the Melbourne International Open in 2011 — you said that maybe one day we will have an Australian-born world champion in the Black-belt division. Do you feel we are any closer to that goal now?
I see the girls are doing really well and I think in one or two years we will have the first world champion in Black-belt division. They are a few years ahead of the boys. At the last world championships we had a lot of medals from the girls — I’m really impressed. I think the boys need to find a different approach to get there; I’m sure we’re gonna have [a male world champ] but I see the girls are a bit ahead. I’m sure that when the girls get there, the boys will come along as well.
Why do you think the girls are doing better on the international stage right now?
I think they are really keen and believe they can get there. Maybe the boys don’t believe in their training, and keep changing ideas and changing schools. The girls really believe in their coaches and that they can become the best, and invest in going overseas a lot. They are also doing [female-only] comps to train together and it’s great to see that movement from the girls.
Do you think the girls being more open to training together across different clubs, through groups like Girls in Gi, which runs open training days and comps, is the difference, or do you encourage that for guys too?
I believe that can be one way to help the boys as well — but it can be complicated, because a lot of the guys fight against each other. Like, if I’m training [in that way], my partner could be my opponent in qualifying to get to Abu Dhabi, you know? The community is small…but that [sharing/training more widely] for the benefit of jiu-jitsu could still be one way to help create that world champion Black-belt.