Marcelo Garcia with Kon Ying, the author

On a cold windy day in January, 1969, the Beatles treated the public to a impromptu concert atop a  London rooftop.   This was the first time they had played live since 1965, and they thrilled and captivated the startled passersby as they sang for 42 minutes, before the police stopped their performance due to noise complaints.    

When legendary basketball player, Michael Jordan, entered the NBA in 1984, he had a stipulation in his contract, now referred to as the “Love of the Game” clause.  This clause allowed Jordan to play basketball anytime he wanted to during the off season.   This was unique because prior to this, teams were adamant about allowing players to risk injury playing in unsanctioned games. 

Armed with this superfluous information, I’ve wondered what it would be like to stumble upon a free concert performed by the greatest band in history- or, how amazing it would be to see Michael Jordan shooting jump shots and doing acrobatic dunks in the neighborhood basketball court. 

These thoughts and feelings became a reality for me in the summer of 2006. 

At the time, I was working and living in New York City.  For several months prior, I had read on various internet message boards that Marcelo Garcia, one of the most beloved and admired competitor and teacher of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was moving from Sao Paulo, Brazil to New York City, to begin teaching in the USA.

I was elated when I heard the news, and I was counting down the days until Marcelo would begin teaching classes a few miles from where I lived.  That prior year, he had won the ADCC World Championships (the most prestigious submissions grappling tournament) in Long Beach, California.  Through a combination of his skill and domination on the mats and his ever present smile after each victory, he had captivated the audience.  I was equally affected, as I was also in the stands, attending my first grappling tournament.    Marcelo made a huge impression on me that weekend, and from that weekend on, he became my favorite grappler to watch and emulate.      

During Marcelo’s first week of classes in NYC, I took a long lunch break and attended one of his afternoon classes. As I eagerly changed into my kimono and walked onto the mat, I did not know what to expect.   Although I was already in my 30’s, a college and business school graduate, and a manager of a team of people at work, I was still anxious to meet this 25 year old.  Not only was I meeting a superstar in the prime of his competitive career (in a sport that I was engrossed in), he was going to be leading class and personally teaching me his techniques. 

Looking back, it seems silly that I had any anxiety at our initial encounter, as Marcelo proved to be one of the friendliest and most polite person I have ever met.  A few minutes before my first class started, Marcelo bowed and walked onto the mats.   He greeted all of us with a big smile, shook our hands and welcomed us to his class. Moments later, he led us in a spirited warm up- where we  jogged, did a variety of jumps, tumbles, and rolls, and other various grappling movements.  The remainder of the class consisted of him teaching several techniques and us breaking off into pairs to practice these new  moves.  With 30 minutes remaining in class, Marcelo announced it was time to do live training/rolling.    During this time, Marcelo and the students were paired up for 5 minute intervals, where we rolled and trained together,  1 on 1.   Because the class was still relatively small in size, Marcelo was able to train individually with each of us before the class ended.  To me, not only was I experiencing the thrill of watching an impromptu Beatles concert,   I was now playing guitar with Paul McCartney.

It has now been over 5 years since the day I met Marcelo Garcia.  After spending countless of hours on and off the mats with Marcelo, I’m proud to say that not only is he my jiu jitsu teacher and mentor, but he is one of my closest friends.   You can only imagine my disappointment when I read Sam Sheridan’s book, The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game.  In the book, Sheridan writes that Marcelo Garcia is so charismatic, friendly, and likeable, many people come away from their encounters with him, thinking they are best friends with him…So maybe our close friendship is a just figment of my own wild imagination? 

Nevertheless,  when I am on my deathbed and my life flashes before me, aside from the precious moments spent with my family and children, I will always remember the first time I was at Marcelo’s school and we followed behind him as he was leading us through the class warm ups.

With the recent popularity of the UFC, MMA, and BJJ, many Jiu Jitsu academies are expanding at a rapid pace, bursting with new students.  Before many of these BJJ teachers become too busy with their huge academies, now is the perfect time for any enthusiasts to seek out a class, seminar, or personal training session with one of these legends.  Whether you go to New York City to see Marcelo Garcia, Los Angeles to see Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles, Chicago to see Hannette Staack,  or London, England to train with Roger Gracie, they are on the mats nearly every day, waiting to teach and train with you. 

In closing, the Beatles rooftop concert was the last public performance the group ever did.  Take heed!  Before it is too late, do not hesitate to visit your favorite grappler on your next vacation.  Sure, it might take some convincing, bribing, and cajoling to the rest of the family, but trust me, it beats going to Disney World.