It seems that the country of Peru has brought forth another extraordinary mystery for the world to consider. The Incas, whose great civilization vanished without a trace, would be astounded to see another unique culture rise to prominence throughout its country. This burgeoning civilization is presently known throughout the world as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And while most people have heard of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, no one, including the Gracies could have predicted that the country of Peru would be embracing this grappling art with a fervor and zealousness that could only be envied by its larger bordering country: Brazil. So, let me share a story with you that I heard several months ago and I assure you its not your usual grappling tale.
Last April, two of my students came back from travelling down to Peru where they saw family and enjoyed a short vacation. Before they took their trip, Miguel and Mike, both Peruvians by birth were generally dedicated students. However, since their return from Peru, they have not only become model Jiu Jitsu students, dedicated and always striving to improve, but are training at an intensity that can only be understood watching them grapple in person. Now, as I walk in the school, I will see one of them exploding into completing a submission, sweat trails left on the mat and the summer heat seems to only intensify their grappling sessions and their desire to get better. And, surprisingly, all of the these rigorous training sessions are no gi, neither Miguel or his son Mike have donned a gi since their return from Peru. Intrigued, I finally asked Miguel what happened in Peru and he shared a fascinating story with me.
Miguel explained that as they journeyed down to Peru, they were going to look for a Jiu Jitsu school and try and work in some training time. Luckily, they found a place and thus started their adventure. Miguel said the training was intense and he was getting tapped by a black belt a lot faster than he expected. In addition, and here is where the mystery begins, Miguel said the guys train only no gi and their school was run by the reclusive MMA fighter named, Tony de Souza. You mean the same Tony de Souza who trained with BJ Penn I asked Miguel? That’s him, he replied, de Souza is from Peru and has moved back to open some schools and teach his unique Jiu Jitsu.
As Miguel shared his story, he was breathless almost as if he was too excited to talk and wanted to get back to training without wasting too much time with me. Did you get to see Tony down there I asked Miguel? He said he didn’t. He told me Tony had three Jiu Jitsu schools in Lima, two in Cuzco and even one near Machu Pichu. All of these schools were exclusively no gi. I was pretty shocked to hear that. School(s) of Jiu Jitsu in Peru? I already began fantasizing about visiting Peru. Maybe I opt not to visit Machu Piccu one day and casually tell the wife,”Oh there’s a Jiu Jitsu school a block down from Picchu sweetheart, how about you visit the site and I’ll go train and we can talk can have a siesta later today.” Thus, as Miguel continues his tale, I conjure up images of Peru that begin to transform itself into a paradisiacal mecca for grapplers.
Miguel also mentions the “Peruvian Pitbull.” This guy trains only no gi and each year travels to Jiu Jitsu Mecca (Brazil) and challenges the current Mundials World Champion from his weightclass to a no gi match. Miguel said the “Pitbull” has never lost. I asked if he knew the guys name and he said he had forgotten his name. I had never heard of the “Peruvian Pitbull” but as Miguel talks about him, it slowly dawned on me where his fanaticism and urgent motivation stemmed from: Miguel went down to his country to see family and got side-swiped with a wave of grappling mania in his country that clearly excited him and gave him a sense of pride and excitement that could also be defined as nationalism. Certainly not the nationalism to go to war, but the feeling and sense of urgency was the same. Miguel sensed the pride and enthusiasm his fellow countrymen were gaining from grappling and he too caught the wave of excitement. And hearing about a fellow Peruvian challenging and defeating the best in the world, his conclusion was simple: He wanted what they had. It also occurred to me that perhaps Miguel believed his Peruvian brothers would share with him the secrets of their Jiu Jitsu. Rodney, the black belt Miguel trained with in Lima, tapped him ten ways from Sunday. He wanted to learn his own countrymen’s Jiu Jitsu: Peruvian Jiu Jitsu. Laugh if you want, but what I saw in Miguel was the same thing I saw in a family back in the late eighties who purposefully strode into the United States, started knocking on doors of all the different types of martial arts and challenged them on the spot to “Put Up or Shut Up.” The Gracie family had that kind of pride in their family and their country, Miguels’ adventure back to his homeland created that same sense of pride and excitement.
I think there is a great lesson to be learned here for anyone training or teaching Jiu Jitsu. Creating a culture of dedicated warriors in your own gym is difficult to do. We all want to have loyal students who are excited to come to class and as instructors we also want to be excited to be there. How Tony de Souza has created such a unique following in a country that really doesn’t have a grappling reputation would be interesting to to know. Jiu Jitsu is pretty fun to do and once people get hooked, they start telling other people. De Souza deserves great accolades for what he has done for the numerous grapplers and fighters in his own country. And it isnt that he established Jiu Jitsu down there, that was done long ago as Peru borders on Brazil. But Tony’s no gi emphasis and the way which he has created such an abiding interest in grappling deserves anyones admiration and it is a unique lesson in creating a grappling culture in your own schools.
Post Script: Miguel will be returning to Peru in the fall. He told me he needs to increase his training time and I told him I would be happy to train with him no gi to help him prepare. My motives are selfish: He returned from Peru with something potent and powerful. And the recipe for what has changed Miguel may be Tony de Souza or it may be something else. Either way, his present status as the crowned Peruvian Grappling Pariah is an accolade that wont be going away anytime soon.
See you on the mat… in Peru.