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Life Lessons on the Dojo Mat

Gracie Barra Brazilian Jui Jitsu teaches students self-defense, along with discipline, self-confidence and mental strength.

Life Lessons on the Dojo Mat Life Lessons on the Dojo Mat


About 100 years ago, a Japanese Jui Jitsu master arrived in Brazil in an effort to establish a Japanese colony there.

He began teaching classes and doing demonstrations and met a boy who had trouble concentrating and sitting still. (This was before Attention Deficit Disorder became a common diagnosis for little boys.)

The young man quickly took to the martial art, developing mental focus, self-esteem and patience.

His name was Carlos Gracie and he and his family would go on to become the founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, eventually running a franchise that today boasts around 300 schools around the world.

The company is now known as Gracie Barra (pronounced “baja”), the second part of which takes its name from a neighborhood in Copacabana, Brazil where the family opened a school.

There are 12 schools in California, including in Rohnert Park, which in November moved into a 6,000 square space in the University Square Shopping Center. 

Inside the dojo, students young and old are taught grappling techniques similar to wrestling. But unlike wrestling, karate or taekwondo, this martial art teaches students to find weak points in their opponent—such as the elbows, wrists and neck—and not rely merely on strength in order to win.

The idea is self-defense, but Professor Aparecido “Bill” Ferreira says what students learn on the mat is a lot more than just how to ward off an attacker.

“What I teach here is life,” says the 37-year-old Ferreira, who moved from Brazil six years ago to open the school, which today has about 200 students.

“People come to me and they are looking for help; their kids are bullied or have discipline problems or they want to know how their life can improve…What Jui Jitsu teaches you is that whatever happens, you can handle yourself. You learn how to think on your feet and deal with any roadblock.”

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also one of the foundations of Ultimate Fighting Championship, with the very first trophy won by a member of the Gracie clan, Royce Gracie in 1993, who beat a sumo wrestler, boxers and karate athlete for the title.

Some students come because they are inspired by UFC and the physical and mental toughness the martial art requires.

Forty-year-old Benito Rodriguez travels all the way from Clear Lake to take classes at the Rohnert Park dojo and says Brazilian Jui Jitsu has taught him how to deal with any stressful situation, including ones that arise at his work.

“If someone is aggressive and comes at me, I know I have two choices,” he says. “I can be aggressive back or I can use my words to calm the situation. It’s always better to make a friend than to make an enemy.”

This is part of the Gracie Barra philosophy, whose tenets are framed inside the Snyder Lane studio. Winning is not the ultimate goal here, but having the mental focus to do your personal best is. In fact, losing makes for an excellent teacher, if you are willing to learn from your mistakes.

Kind of like in life.

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