Romulo Barral reflects back at one of his best years ever - 2013, and tells us why a jiu-jitsu athlete can consider that a year to remember.
2013 was a great year for me. I usually like to start planning my training in December before the year officially begins, so I competed in the pro league against all of the best guys. Once 2013 was underway, I started in the Euro championships in Portugal, and I won those, then after that I competed at the Pan Ams. I did okay there, but not like I had planned; I placed third. It wasn’t my best performance, but it gave me more desire moving into the next competition. Then I competed in the World Pro in Abu Dhabi; I had a good tournament against some top guys. I won my first four matches all by submission. But then I got really badly injured in my hamstring and in the match against Galvao, I tore my hamstring as he tried to sweep me. Many people thought my year was done, but I rested a lot, both my body and my mind. I actually started training right before the Worlds, only two weeks before hand in fact, but I wanted to win so badly to have another world title for the hall of fame, so I competed anyway and ended up winning my weight class; four fights until the final and I closed it out with my teammate Braulio.
From that moment forward, I focused on my nogi training leading up to ADCC. This focus helped me to finally win the gold, which I had never done before in ADCC. It was one of the medals missing from my mantle. After ADCC I was finished competing for the year, as my daughter was born, so I planned this time to just hang out with her and wait for next season.
I think it’s important to always try to mix things up in terms of technique prep, as everyone in your division gets to know your game. It’s helpful to keep them guessing, so you should always be trying to make changes to your game, updates, innovations. I train a mixed bag of everything. I have my A-game of course, my basics and favourites that I tend to stick to most, but every year I try to make some big changes so that my opponents won’t know what to expect. This year, I improved my game with a lot of wrestling and a whole host of new takedowns. Every year, your game needs to get a little bit different, and a little bit better.
My master, Draculino, manages my training in an overall sense, but I am my own coach, so I take care of my day-to-day training regimen with the help of my students. I also like to train with some black belt partners like Rodrigo Freitas, Bruno Antonio, Lucas Roxa, and those guys help me a lot. This year, for ADCC, I also had a lot of help with my grappling-specific training from the guys at Calgary Chapel Wrestling with Coach Jacob. He was the one who managed my whole training regimen, diet, conditioning and all. Training with him really took my mentality and skill to the next level.
GI vs NOGI
I’ve competed in the gi almost every month for the past 15 years. Nogi was never something that I focused on. I always trained nogi with Draculino in Brazil, but we’d have just three nogi classes per week, only one of which was well-attended. Compare this to my gi training, which was always more like three times per day. Needless to say, I was never so focused on nogi tournaments in the past, rather it was always like “OK, lets go compete”; I never did actual tournament prep. For this ADCC I had to make some big changes; after the Worlds I took the gi off completely, and focused on nogi alone. My nogi game is completely different from my gi game. I used to be much more confident with the gi, but as my wrestling has improved, it feels like I’m starting to feel equally confident competing both ways. I’m now dedicated to developing my nogi game even further, so I’m looking forward to the next ADCC two years from now, and I’m already preparing for it. I’ve had to rethink a big part of my game, which is my use of spider guard, since I can’t use it in nogi tournaments due to the lack of available grips, but one way or another, I will be way better for the next ADCC.
The various international tournaments are really very different from one another. All of the IBJJF events have the same familiar rules, and I’ve been competing in the IBJJF since 2008, so I know the lay of the land. ADCC is a completely different animal; it’s in fact not a jiu-jitsu tournament, as you have to know how to do absolutely everything pertaining to the grappling arts. This includes wrestling, sambo, jiujitsu, etc. The ADCC competition experience is still relatively new to me, so I’m still more confident when it comes to competing in the IBJJF. I can’t say that I prefer the experience of one over the other, just that they are so different.
But at ADCC, I had never medalled before, which is why it felt so good to win gold there this year. I can’t really compare the first time I won the Worlds at black belt in the IBJJF to the feeling of winning at ADCC; it’s hard to say which was more special for me. But winning at ADCC was so great because it took me so long to win. I had a lot of fun and it was perhaps the best-feeling event of my career.
I’m not particularly interested in things like super fights at this point, not for myself at least. I like to see the new guys in action, the rising stars, and I think that those events that are running super fights and exhibition matches are definitely helping to build and improve the sport and the talent pool. But I’m focused on breaking my own records, which means channelling my energy to IBJJF and ADCC training.
NOTABLE OPPONENTS AND COMPETITORS
I think my toughest match of 2013 was my final against Rafael Lovato Jr. at ADCC. I scored in the last 20 seconds, but he was extremely well-prepared and it turned out to be a real war. I managed to get the points, but it was 30 minutes of intense scrambles. He is always hard to fight. For me he is the quintessential American jiu-jitsu athlete.
Cobrinha is my absolute favourite jiu-jitsu competitor out there. I think he is so real and so legit. His technique is amazing, but there is something more about him; he is such a real person and he has the heart of a true champion.
I’d say that the toughest guy I’ve ever rolled against would have to be Roger Gracie. That was not fun at all, the guy is a monster.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF JIU-JITSU
Honestly, I don’t like doing anything outside of jiu-jitsu. It’s everything for me; it’s my job and my hobby. On my day off, I go and watch my students train. I don’t do much else; I don’t surf, skate, snowboard or even play soccer. I guess I’m just very focused.
A NEW FOCUS
As my daughter was just recently born, my life has changed a lot. Until now, it has always been about me, and my wife supported me with everything, including both my training and my teaching. Until now, my sole responsibility was to wake up in the morning and do absolutely everything I could do in order to be the best that I could be. I train, eat and rest. I spend time studying my opponents too. That has been my routine for the past 15 years. So needless to say, this is a big change for me; it’s not about me any more, it’s about my family. My wife needs me now more than ever, and our main focus is on the baby. This means that my career now comes second, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I won’t stay on top. This is my new challenge.
Photos by William Burkhardt