Academy Hunting Homework #3: Ze Mario Esfiha Brasa BJJ

It has been an amazing few months for me as I explored different academies in Austin. I've learned so much being out on my own discovering new territory. Things have not been what I am used to but I enjoy being out of my comfort zone. However, I am slightly embarrassed for being so ignorant about not knowing much about the traditions and customs that go along with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since I came from an academy that didn't observe many customs. Over the past six months I've gotten to know a lot of amazing people, had exciting new experiences, grown as a person and Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, and involved myself in the Jiu-Jitsu community more than I ever have before. It's been a great year. I've really learned a lot about life, people, myself and what really matters most. Most of all, I have found a direction to go in and I am running full speed ahead!

One if the biggest lessons I have  learned is that things really do work out as they are supposed to. Patience is a hard skill to learn in this fast paced world we live in. We are accustomed to instant gratification and when things don't work out right away we can get discouraged. It is  okay to be upset, but the trick is to never give up. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep on rolling!

The best way to describe Ze Mario Esfiha is as a teddy bear with some very valuable old school knowledge and phenomenal skill.  My introduction to Mario began with my involvement with Girls in Gis. I asked Mario to invite the women and girls from his academy to our Girls in Gis-Austin event last September. We got to talking and next thing I know I was making plans to come train at his academy. This was shortly after I left Relson Gracie Austin and I hadn't really been training due to my knee. I figured I could do the technique, but not roll and my knee would be OK. I'd never met Mario before and I was excited to check out his academy.

Of course I got lost going a block away from my school campus. Driving and navigating an iPhone can be tricky. Eventually I found  his academy about a 1/2 HR later. I hate being late although I tend to live on Brazilian/ Hawaiian time and I especially hate being lost too! It makes me flustered and anxious. Thankfully Mario was super understanding and it turned out to be a great class even though I missed half of it. However, I was able to catch the entire no GI class which  I found incredibly interesting. I was later able to check out a few week night, noon classes and the black belt promotions. Although I haven't trained at Mario's as much as I'd like to, I learned a lot in a short time.

Mario is a really big guy compared to me. I hate to say it, but I'd expected he would have completely different Jiu-Jitsu style than the smaller guys I was used to. I was pleasantly surprised. Although he may have size on his side, he is also amazingly technical and doesn't have to rely on his size to dominate a match. After all, it makes sense, he's been around for a long time so he's seen a lot of techniques and studied them. He's trained among Brazil's best black belts growing up and is full of entertaining stories about the "motherland" back in the day.  He's also one of the most accomplished black belt competitors in Austin. You can tell he genuinely loves Jiu-Jitsu. It is all he does for a living. He is an easy going guy that likes to joke around and laugh. However, the quality of Jiu-Jitsu at Brasa Jiu-Jitsu isn't a joking matter. It is the real deal. 

Mario creates an adequate amount of time for training although the academy may not be open seven days a week for eight hours a day like I was used to at Relson Gracie.  I do wish there were a few more classes that worked with my schedule, but  as I've visited more academies, I've realized that no one has nearly as much training time as I was used to.  I have also realized that it is not so much about the quantity, but the quality of training that counts.   Mario's GI classes ran from 6-7 and no GI 7-8 Monday and Wednesday nights.  I also caught a noon class from 12-1 on Tuesday-Thursday.  Both classes were relaxed with great technique.  I learned some new moves, transitions and submissions to add to the arsenal.

 Everywhere I go these days I see familiar faces. I think it is just further proof that we are still a small and tight knit Jiu-Jitsu community . My first day at Mario's, I ran into this guy named Doug that I trained with years ago at Relson Gracie. Everyone at Mario's was super cool and helpful. It is a total family style academy. They all seem to get along and seem to be content with their training. It's a positive environment and has a lot of potential for only being a year old. I see good things to come.

  Mario is one of the founders of Team Brasa. He studied under a few different instructors and has a very real and honest take on things.  Mario straight up told me on my first day of classes, that if I was looking for a belt to be handed to me that wouldn't happen at his place. After he said that, I knew we'd get along great.  I don't understand why some academies think that by handing out belts it some how gives the academy more credibility.  For instance, if your brown belts are not really brown belts at heart, it will reflect on the mats.  I respected the fact that Mario said that to me because the last thing I am looking for is a hand out.  I think it is important that your instructor believes in the same principles and standards that you do. It is crucial that you are honest with each other.  I agreed totally with Mario on a lot of points we discussed.  It was refreshing to hear his take on things and his advice as I look for a new academy.  I appreciate the insight and guidance he shared with me.

Perhaps the most eye opening experience at Mario's was at the One Year Anniversary and black belt promotions.  I have seen my share of promotions over the years at Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, but I never saw so many customs observed before.  At Relson Gracie Austin, when someone is promoted, the person is given a belt in front of the class and then it is followed by a gauntlet where the guys bear crawl and are whipped on the back with belts.  The whole process never lasted more than 30 min tops.  While observing Mario's promotions, I was educated on other customs that go along with promotion.  First the person being promoted is called forward, the belt or strip is awarded and then Mario, takes them down with a sweep.  Depending on the level of promotion, the sweep varies.  For the higher belts they were asked to jump and then be swept.  After each person goes through this process they are each given an opportunity to say something.  Next, all of the higher belts sweep those that were promoted.  Lastly, there is a gauntlet of walking through as they get whipped with belts.  It took over an hour to get through the whole process, but I found it really interesting to see how things were done on team Brasa.

I have not been in a rush to decide on what academy to join.  I've been taking my time and considering all options which has helped in teaching me patience.  Life can move really fast and can easily slip by if we don't pay attention. My advice, slow down, take a break and check out a class at Brasa Jiu-Jitsu! They've got some awesome Jiu-Jitsu, good people and a relaxed and encouraging environment.  


  1. I had great experiences training with Mario. He has some nice and talented students. Nelson, who was promoted to black belt the day you attended has been a valuable friend and mentor throughout my journey.



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