Words by Lucio Furtado Rodrigues
Photos by Max Buzin
My dedication to jiu-jitsu has prolonged three decades, of which I have had the pleasure of witnessing and sharing moments amongst the best, very often by competing against them. By scrutinizing different personalities, I began to understand the different formulations of ‘fuel’ which precipitate the ‘driving’ motivations of people. For some this fuel is a desire to pursue a career in jiu-jitsu, while for others it is to be the best practitioner within their academy or friendship group. It became apparent to me that the all-encompassing reality is that everyone needs a dream.
In the 90’s I traveled to São Paulo to compete in the purple belt division. Also present were Roger Gracie (a brown belt at the time) and Pé de Pano (a black belt). I recall that at that moment, Pé de Pano was considered number one. It was obvious to me that in his mind he was already the champion. I wondered how this was possible. This question which I then pondered is directly linked to what I will write about: dreams and priorities. In his mind he deserved to win more than anyone. This was due to the sheer amount of hours he dedicated on the mats – a feat rarely reached by others; and because his dream to succeed in jiu-jitsu was greater than any other feeling in his heart.
Subsequent to my comment that on the following day he would fight against two world champions, his reply was simple: “Lagartão, don’t you worry, I’m going to submit both of them.” The next day rolled along and he was right - he submitted them both. After that day I understood that beyond excellent jiu-jitsu and rigorous preparation, one must believe in a dream - no matter what that is, the important point is that they wake up and fight for it, day after day. Moreover, Roger also showed me that sophistication is doing the basics in an extraordinary way.
In 2009, a Frenchman entered my academy requesting private classes. He was unwilling to learn positions, but rather was solely interested in sparring. He initially utilized a challenging tone of voice with me. After one week he changed his mind and decided to start learning proper jiu-jitsu. We became good friends and I was quickly able to discern that he was a successful businessman that loved the sport. However, despite this love, he lacked something in his heart, which was visible when he confessed to having no dreams. I’ve challenged him so many times that it reached the point that he declared: from this point my dream is to submit you. His dream hasn’t come true yet, but his goal to tap me, acted as a fuel which led him upon a path he could not have previously imagined, including becoming a jiu-jitsu black belt - the rest is history.
Dreams vs. Priorities
Nowadays upon arriving at a competition site, I am capable of reading an athlete’s purpose of attending the venue by looking into their eyes. I know who is present with the purpose of chasing a goal; an achievement; a dream. As mentioned before, our sport has now reached a magnitude that allows people to make a livelihood out of jiu-jitsu, as long as one has experience, as well as, enough background to establish a name for them selves in the “market”. This can be achieved either through sponsorship (encompassing a small minority) or as a professor (this community is growing at an accelerated pace). In both cases, focus and devotion carry immense importance. However, at which moment of an athlete’s career, gives place to the idea of becoming “just” a professor? This intriguing question was implanted into my head last June. The reason is obvious: my early loss at the Worlds 2016, in Long Beach. I’m not a crybaby as I am far too old for that. However, I have got the experience and sincerity to analyze capital issues of a loss, just like the merit that led to a victory. Upon leaving the competition area, injured, I went to the medical area to treat my knee. This was when people started to come to greet me; many people showing disbelief regarding what had just happened. Frustration was undeniable, after all, I had spent ten years fighting to get my right to enter the USA, with the sole intention to compete and become an IBJJF world champion. My visa was finally approved, and the outcome was not what I, or others, had expected it to be. Ten years waiting for that chance, just to see it vanish in ten minutes.
When I was seated in the stands I started to chat with my friend Gaba. We began to deeply analyze and deduce the reasons behind an athlete’s performance, coming to the conclusion that before stepping on those mats, every fighter is the result of a previous match: Dreams vs. Priorities.
As I’ve already said, at some point I was able, with great accuracy, to decipher by looking into a fighter’s eyes, what his main goal for entering the tournament was. However, despite this, I failed in the understanding of my own eyes. Indeed, the time I was trying and hoping to get my visa to enter the USA – ten years – had silently taken a couple of things from me, yet it had given as well. To be clearer, you cannot compare the flare of a 25-year-old fighter to one of a 35-year-old fighter. Not that an older fighter’s flare has burnt out, absolutely not, as a matter of fact an older fighter must fight with different weapons than a young heart. For example, they must utilize their accumulated experience. But what had been given to me through my forbiddance of fighting at the Worlds in Long Beach? It had completely rearranged my set of priorities. Had I turned all my focus on competitions, all year long, it would not have allowed me to establish the academy I am so privileged to have today.
Of course a “professional competitor” - those 100% committed to win tournaments – will have their stresses, including the major one being, the silent obligation of succeeding on a given competition after all of that effort and time put in to achieve their goal. There are only two options for them: win or win. Many of them go all in by pursuing the dream to be a champion and collect the glory rewards afterwards, have a strong name and build a career on top of that – from the bottom up.
Let us now turn our focus to the alternative type of competitors - the large majority. Here I am speaking of those that have a wide range of preoccupations. This is exactly the antonym of focus: having a wide variety of hobbies and obligations. Rather than deeply focusing on a given activity, this includes a constant surveillance over a multitude of activities. Often in my own routine I have lost track of how many things I think of, whether it be to solve, to maintain, to create, or to grow. It is a fact that being a world champion cannot be my number one and only priority, although it is my greatest dream. Unfortunately, quitting everything else to train as a champion is not a reasonable possibility for me. So what can I do? Quit on my greatest dream? Absolutely not! ‘To quit’ is not a part of my life. I currently have too many responsibilities to be solely focused on competitions. My set of priorities are wide and complex; and my time is precious and must be well scheduled. This is the same as the vast majority of jiu-jitsu fighters.
Scheduling time and organizing priorities – not forgetting my dream, my goal – is the key point. Given that, I have divided this year into three sections. June to August was reserved to heal my knee injury and fix my academy’s bureaucracy and financial gap. This most annoying, but necessary, part is almost done now, which gives me the peace of mind to embark upon the second section. This second section consists of a World Tour Seminar! This is something that I have always wanted to do and it is finally happening now. In September I will fly to Canada, Australia and Indonesia to give a whole bunch of seminars in a few cities and a two-week camp in Bali. This will be a very important experience for my soul. I will be in contact with hundreds of people that I have never met before, yet they show huge respect and admiration for my career and history in the sport. To visit their homeland, by going to them, is a special way to reciprocate my appreciation. Also this trip is something very important to me, as I had promised myself, mainly after beating cancer, that I would never neglect my leisure and relaxation. I told myself then, that I would always work very hard, as much as it was possible to do so, but without forgetting to enjoy life. The idea is: work to live, not live to work. It has a bit to do with my thoughts explained on a short video called “Twenty-Nine Days of Happiness” where I explain my decision to live through jiu-jitsu. I believe it is important to develop a job that truly fulfills your heart and also that allows you to break the routine eventually and free your mind of major problems. My career allows me to reach further destinations around the globe and I will be sure to make the most out of this opportunity. Finally, the third section of my year will be dedicated to fulfilling myself as a competitor. In November, when I arrive back in London, with my batteries completely recharged, my academy on track and running smoothly, then, and only then, while hopefully stress-free, I will engage in the final part of my one-year plan. This will consist of six months of intense training with the aim of capturing the IBJJF World Champion 2017 title.
Lucio Furtado Rodrigues, “Lagarto”, is a decorated and renowned Gracie Barra black belt under Carlos Gracie Jr. Lagarto was born in Rio de Janeiro on October 26, 1980 and started training jiu-jitsu at the age of thirteen years old. He has had a career of both international coaching and competing, which continued and even progressed throughout and after his battle with cancer.