Fabio Gurgel Discusses Jiu-Jitsu as a Profession, the Value of Competition, and What it Takes to Become a Champion
Fabio Gurgel, leader of the Alliance Jiu-Jitsu Team, is one of the most accomplished figures in the sport. The IBJJF Hall of Fame member is not only a four-time World Champion as a competitor, he’s also coached some of the IBJJF’s most heralded competitors, including fellow Hall of Fame members Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles, Bruno Malfacine, Gabi Garcia, Luanna Alzuguir, and Marcelo Garcia. We caught up with “The General” to discuss choosing jiu-jitsu as a profession, the value of competition, what it takes to become a champion, and much more.
Pursuing Jiu-Jitsu as a Profession
Fabio started training jiu-jitsu at a young age, and even knew that he wanted to pursue the sport as a career early on. “Right after I started jiu-jitsu I fell completely in love with the art. I felt that jiu-jitsu was so intelligent that I just got hooked completely.” Fabio’s fascination with the gentle art went beyond the mats, he wanted to make it his profession. “My father turned to me one day and said hey what are you going to do when you grow up? Right away I said jiu-jitsu. And he said I mean for a living. And I said yes that’s what I mean. I want to teach jiu-jitsu for a living. He said ok do you think you can be good enough because there’s going to be very few spots in this market because this market’s so small. He said, look if you are good enough there will always be a spot for you. I grew up with that in mind that I needed to be different. I need to be extremely good in jiu-jitsu if I wanted to stay. I have this in mind to this day that I need to do great things.”
Lessons Learned from Alliance Co-Founder Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti
Fellow Hall of Fame member and Alliance co-founder Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti had a huge impact on Fabio’s career, guiding him early on and serving as an example for what he could accomplish. “It’s hard to quantify all the things Jacare has taught me. We’ve known each other for 40 years now. He was my coach, my professor, and my mentor during a really important part of my life. We started Alliance in 1993 and our only goal was to avoid having our students compete against each other. We had no plans to turn Alliance into the business that it is today.” The Alliance Jiu-Jitsu Team has grown to become the winningest team in history with affiliates worldwide. “One important thing that Jacare really taught me is that you don’t need to solve the problem when you think you need to solve the problem. Be patient, know how to wait for the right time to apply the technique or to apply something in your life.” Fabio has carried this lesson into the work he’s done with the Alliance team for nearly thirty years.
The True Value of Competing in BJJ
Through his own competitive career and his work as a coach, Fabio extracted many lessons from competition. While winning is often thought of as the ultimate goal of competition, Fabio sees things differently. “I think competition has incredible value and it’s definitely not in the results. Of course when you go there you search for the medal and you give your best to win the fight. But the medal and the result itself cannot be your only goal. Because if it is what happens when you get it? You can lose motivation. And if you don’t get it you get frustrated. Both aspects of getting the results when you only search for the results are bad. So the competition should be from my point of view an important process for self development. You go there, you test yourself, you’re going to win, you’re going to lose, you’re going to learn how to deal with those feelings. So there’s a lot of things you’re going to learn from the competition no matter what level you’re competing at. I think people should take the opportunity to evolve through the competition. But I can tell you the results are far from being the most important thing.”
The Most Important Attribute to Become a Champion
In addition to all the team titles Alliance won, they also created some of the most accomplished champions in the history of the sport. Fabio talked about the attributes of a successful jiu-jitsu champion. “You don’t need to be the same type of person to be a champion. There are many different champions out there. You need to be yourself. And being yourself is the most important step that you can do for you, not just in jiu-jitsu competition but in life. Try to find out what really makes you happy or makes you realize something important for you.” There is one attribute that Fabio says is essential if you want to achieve success in jiu-jitsu. “Of course there are some qualities that are important in order to be a jiu-jitsu champion. Discipline may be the most important one. People confuse discipline with motivation. We understand that motivation is something that just passes by really fast. You’re going to be motivated one day and the next day you’re not. So discipline is what keeps you doing what you need to do. This is something you find in every single champion out there. So if I need to choose one thing I would put discipline in first place.”
Preserving the Roots of Jiu-Jitsu
With the growth of jiu-jitsu and the competition scene has come a technical evolution at the highest levels of the sport. While jiu-jitsu is a sport that has been evolving since its inception, it’s important to always keep in mind the roots of the sport and recognize that it has made it to where it is today based on the achievements of our predecessors. “I think we can go back in time to understand why people are trying to change jiu-jitsu completely and forget about the roots. They believe that the technique that they are doing now that’s effective is the best technique that’s ever been created. If you have more time in the game you know that the technique will be killed in a very short period of time, as all the techniques were. This is a process. Of course we need to follow the evolution and we need to be open to learn new things. The more effective techniques should be the techniques you work more frequently, there’s no doubt about it. We’re not trying to say that the old school game is better. Of course it’s not. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn the roots of jiu-jitsu to understand what you do now better. It’s like history. Why should you study history in the first place? You need to understand history in order to live a better future.” Fabio asserted that understanding jiu-jitsu’s history requires open mindedness and a willingness to learn. “I think people should open their minds and try to understand where the techniques came from. Because before berimbolo existed there were a lot of things that were really important to make berimbolo possible. And if you don’t understand this whole aspect you only know jiu-jitsu in a very shallow way.”
The Importance of Respect in Jiu-Jitsu
Fabio’s legacy in the sport is built not only on achievements, but mainly on the values he held that impacted his actions and the actions of his students. “Everything that you do and say and how you behave is going to count. What counts is the legacy. It’s what you did and how you did it. And how you behave when you did it. When you lose, what do you do? And when you win, how was your behavior? So those things are going to build your image for the jiu-jitsu community. People are going to look at you as a good athlete or as a high integrity person. You choose the path you want to take. Every single action that you take matters. In jiu-jitsu you are pushed to the limit. Jiu-Jitsu pushes you to the limit many many times. How you behave shows who you really are. All the people that I admire, I admire them because they are good people. And good people become great champions. Being a good person is more important that being a great champion. And great champions are first good people.”
The Legacy of Fabio Gurgel
World Championship titles, a spot in the IBJJF Half of Fame, and creating one of the winningest teams in jiu-jitsu history are all a part of The General’s legacy. But to him, it’s much bigger than that. “I try to be the best I can be in every aspect of my career. I started as an athlete, and then I became a coach and a leader of a team. Who knows what destiny reserves for me. I’ll keep driving and trying to be the best I can be. I’m not concerned with how people will see me. I’m concerned with being the best I can be and I’m working for my legacy for sure.”