Braulio Estima is one of the most relaxed and approachable fighters I’ve had the pleasure of talking to. His ready smile and open nature belie the amazing determination and self-discipline he possesses and after spending some time with him you can fully understand why he’s such a successful fighter.
It looks like he’s not the only successful and determined fighter in his school either. When I ask how many fighters he brought I’m surprised.
“We’ve brought about 35 fighters which is an excellent turnout. The level of competition is also very high which is good to see. This tournament is getting bigger every year. We always do well at Seni. This time we trained really hard and worked on getting everyone like a big family, spotting for each other and it seems to have really helped everyone pull together. We’re a team, a family. We won roughly 4 Gold, 3 Silvers and 4 Bronze.
“We always do well at Seni. We’re a team, a family”
His pride is evident and well-deserved, when asked for the names of any fighters he reels of a list, smiling all the time and obviously proud of what his students have achieved. I push for a couple that really stand out.
“We have a few guys in the team. Kevin Webb he’s just got his purple and Rachel Whitely who is doing really well to name just two. We have a group of about ten fighters who I think are doing really well. They’re going to be the ones to watch in the future.”
With Brazilians being (not surprisingly) so dominant in the field of BJJ I’m keen to think what Braulio thinks of the standard of fighters in the UK and whether the standard has improved as the art has gained popularity.
“It has been very hard work for us, Mauricio was the first to come to England and the last 10 years were very slow in the first half and then it just got faster and faster in the last five years as we have more black belts teaching. Roger Gracie in London, Philip Souza in London, I’m in Birmingham, Carlos is in Bristol, Roger Brooking in London and my brother’s also over here helping out. A lot of black belts are teaching now and this means that the hardest part is over. Now we have students going through the belts and reaching purple. These students are now giving other students something to look up to and so those who set the standard now have to improve because they have so many hungry guys coming after them. They had no standard to chase when they were training and aren’t as good as they might like to think they are. Now they won’t be able to rest on their laurels any more which can only be a good thing. In a couple of years more we’ll have world class brown belts and in eight years we’ll have top competitors at the highest levels in the world.”
“The hardest part is over…”
Obviously the rules of BJJ are different to all other martial arts but the one thing that really stands out is that they have the ‘Masters’ category starting at 30. I’m 32 and I still feel young so I asked him why there was such an early cut-off point when other sports are generally around the 35 mark.
“I don’t agree with this limit either because I think that at 35 you’re at the peak of your strength, skill and experience. It is optional so it’s for those who aren’t able to compete at the higher levels. I’ll be fighting Adult when I’m well over 35!
This gave me the opportunity to ask the key question. Having been over here for three years he’s had the chance to get grounded and give himself a good base. I wanted to know whether he was here for the short-term or the long-term.
“I’m planning on being here for the long-term. I’ve started a project not just to grow BBJ in the UK but to see my students get to the top and also to carry on what I’ve started. My top students are my friends, my personal friends and I won’t let down friends by not sticking around. I’ve got a visa for the next five years which is great and I’m hoping to be here for good and get my British Citizenship.”
I went back to his previous statement that he’ll still be fighting when he’s way past 35. Everyone has their limits, but where did he think his were?
“Obviously everyone has their limits but I want to compete until I’m 40, 42 because there are a lot teachers and students who are doing this now. I’ve got another nineteen years of fighting ahead of me if I’m lucky. I’ll be competing for at least for ten years and I want to fight as often as I can. ”
This is when he drops his bombshell.
“If I’m thinking about MMA I’m going to have to slow down and focus more on the competition because I have to lose the gi, look at ankle hooks and focus a lot more. I’ll be in the cage in 2007.”
When asked why he smiles.
“First of all it’s a challenge for myself. I’ve done pretty much everything on the BJJ front and I need something different. I’m going to test the water first, see how I go in training and make a decision from there.
“I’ll be in the cage in 2007!”
Secondly; I’m looking to push BJJ and keep its presence high in the MMA. There are a lot of BJJ guys but they’re allowing themselves to fight to the MMA rules and not doing it well. They’re neglecting the ground aspect too much in their training and not giving the best example of BJJ because of this. I’m not going to do this. I aim to show BJJ working on the ground in the cage.
The question as to who he would like to fight, to challenge was one that I couldn’t ask and I was interested in seeing just how ambitious he was. Another big smile comes across his face and he leans back.
“When I was young my dad always told me not to aim too high. Learn to walk before you run. Therefore I’m going to work my way through ranks. If I lose, I’ll just keep going. I’ve set myself a goal and nothing can get in my way. I lost a lot of fights and had to fight for sponsorship all the way in BJJ but I’d decided that I was going to be a black belt and a World Champion and here I am. I’m applying this same ethos to the MMA.”
For those that don’t know, BJJ in my opinion is very child friendly, especially as strikes and kicks to the head don’t feature like they do in other styles. For some reason there aren’t that many children training and with children readily acknowledged to be the future of the martial arts I was keen to see what his views were on this.
“It’s down to advertising. I was brought over here to teach the competitive side of things. Unfortunately the level of training was too high for both children and ‘normal’ people.
All kids are natural grapplers. Look at the way babies, grab to stand, snake on the floor. It’s a healthy art that promotes fitness and there is such a good level of cooperativeness that BJJ much to offer to children. Now we’re established we can actually take the time to aim for this market as well. In fact we’re currently putting something together for just this group of people.
We’re concentrating on the 70% effort ethos, with a big focus on the cooperative training, giving them plenty of time to speak to each, help each other on techniques and train at their own pace because sharing knowledge is what made me what I am. We have a lot of games for the children using all aspects of the art whilst letting them play and laugh as this is the best way to learn. Fun is key. The plans are set, we just have to get the ball rolling.”