Top Seminar 2018 – A White Belt in Rio

Top Seminar 2018 Day 1 Participants

What an amazing experience I had at the 2018 Top Seminar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!  Jealous? Well, you should be because this was the Seminar to end all seminars, hosted by 5 of the world’s greatest Mestres and joined by dozens of top notch students, all of whom were gathered to learn techniques and celebrate the art we all live and love.

I didn’t think it would happen this soon in my Jiu-Jitsu journey, but even as a white belt, it was my dream to train in Brazil. When Mestre Soares announced he was teaching at Top Seminar 2018 in beautiful Copacabana I knew this would be the opportunity of a lifetime.  Mestre Soares, together with 4 other Carlson Gracie Team legends Fernando Pinduka, Marcio dos Santos, Murilo Bustamante and Amaury Bitetti would be teaching the seminar, hosted and organized by Mestre dos Santos.

I figured I’d share the experience with my friends back home, so gather round and read about this incredible stop on my Jiu-Jitsu journey.

The Mestres

The Top Mestres

Firstly, it goes without saying that the instructors were top notch, world class Mestres, that few rarely have the opportunity to train with let alone have them all in the same room.  Anytime anyone in Brazil asked who I was training with would be in awe when I replied – this was the real deal.

Mestre Marcio dos Santos, whose gym we were hosted at, was one of the friendliest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  But from him I got a real treat – a one on one lesson in old school self-defense. For 90 minutes on my first day I received some amazing self-defense training from a man who lives by the old school Carlson Gracie training that focused heavily on a self-defense foundation.  This session is something I will never forget and was a real highlight of my trip.

Shane with Mestre Marcio dos Santos & Babu Arthur

Mestre Fernando “Pinduka”, a red belt, was warm and welcoming and treated everyone like his sons, while in fact his own son Victor was also there and became a friend of mine during training.  Mestre Pinduka also treated the whole class to some self-defense training on our last day, something everyone appreciated, a sort of bonus session for everyone.

Mestres Fernando “Pinduka” & Marcus Soares

Mestre Murilo Bustamante leads the world famous Brazilian Top Team, and has a number of World and National Brazilian championships under his belt in both BJJ & MMA, and his teachings were useful for both Gi & No-Gi.  Mestre Bustamante highly encouraged interaction and welcomed questions from everyone throughout the seminar which was incredibly helpful.

Mestre Amaury Bitetti also has a number of World and Brazilian championships and it showed in his techniques – his teachings at the seminar were well thought out.  He seemed to have a number of variations for many of the techniques he showed – a possible alternative for defenses your opponent may use.  Mestre Bitetti was also an incredibly friendly guy and I was grateful for his warm welcome

Shane with Mestres Bustamante & Bitetti

Finally our own Mestre Marcus Soares.  I have to say I have a whole new appreciation for the man who has done so much for me in my Jiu-Jitsu training as well as for me personally in life in general.  Everyone at the seminar, including the other Mestres, held Marcus in such high regard and showed so much respect.  The black belts in attendance all listened intently to his teachings and watched enthusiastically as he demonstrated things that even they had not seen before.  Being in Brazil amongst such incredibly serious Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts, made me realize that much more how fortunate we are here in Vancouver to have someone not just at Marcus’ level, but someone who puts as much passion and thought into his lessons as he does.  Many Mestres have great techniques (although few as good as Marcus), but none are as skillful in teaching as our Mestre Soares.

Marcus Giving Demonstration at Top Seminar 2018

The Seminar

Top Seminar

The format was well structured and gave everyone the opportunity to participate and ask questions.  In fact this was encouraged; it was basically a round table of questions and answers where everyone could work with each other to improve their game.  The seminars were a solid 4 hours each day and there was no shortage of incredible techniques to learn.  Each of the Mestres took turns illustrating a position, and went into great detail about each one.  Even as a non-Portuguese speaker (I said “eu nao falo Portuguese” so many times that I began to sound like a native speaker hahaha) we all became friends quickly and almost like a family, all there learning from our wise Mestres, and everyone was more than happy to help translate for me. In fact a surprising majority of people there spoke at least some English.

Walking in on my first day, I will say, was a little intimidating.  As a 2 stripe white belt, I looked around the room and realized the next lowest belt was a 3rd degree black belt lol.  But these guys took me in as one of their own, were incredibly patient with me and taught me an unbelievable amount of information that I will never, ever forget.  So not only were the Instructors world class, the class was full of serious pros.  This was, in my opinion, such a huge bonus to the seminar, the fact that everyone there was serious students of the art.  Having the opportunity, as a white belt, to roll with and learn from black belts at this level was an incredible experience.  And there were no shortage of people there who were more than happy to train with me regardless of rank.  The world class teachings from the Top Five Mestres was absolutely priceless, but there was huge value for me in having such amazing people to train with.

Brazil, Rio, Copacabana

Copacabana Panorama

I can’t write about the seminar without saying something about Brazil and Rio.  Mestre Soares’ home town of Copacabana was incredible. It’s a vibrant and bustling place, with people everywhere all times of the day and night, I never ran into a single problem.  The beaches completely live up to the hype – absolutely spectacular with beautiful views and gorgeous people.  The city itself has an old world, European feel with a ton of historical charm, but of course warm and tropical.  The food was amazing, and as a foreigner and with the exchange rate where it was I found prices to be great – you could eat a top notch meal for under $15 Canadian that would easily be $40 here in Vancouver.  Getting around was a breeze, taxis were everywhere and a 15 minute ride was no more than $5 CDN.  And if you are into it, the nightlife was wild (or so I heard hahaha)

I also had the honour of meeting two of Mestre Carlson Gracies brothers, Reylson Gracie & Robson Gracie.  In fact Marcus gave a brief “impromptu” demonstration of a few techniques at a class Grandmaster Reylson was teaching.  It was an incredible experience.  Robson Gracie was incredibly friendly and spoke English to me, and even bought me an Acai!

Marcus giving demonstration to Grandmaster Reylson Gracie’s students

Heading Home

This was truly an incredible life experience, made memorable by the incredible hosts and world class Jiu Jitsu taught by the Top Five Mestres, the great city of Copacabana, and most importantly the great lifelong friends I made.

But the trip was made so much more memorable travelling with Marcus, who really went above and beyond making me feel welcome and a part of the team.  I even had the pleasure of meeting his family and countless friends of his.  In fact, you couldn’t walk down the streets in Copacabana without hearing people yelling out “Mestre!” or “Marquinhos!” – old friends who were delighted to see Marcus in town.  And when Marcus took me to a local bar to meet up with some friends of his, walking into the place was like walking in with a movie star.  The whole place lit up and I realized some 50 people there were all there to see Marcus and pay their respects.  It was truly an awesome thing to see.

The Jiu-Jitsu I learned in Brazil was absolutely invaluable, the life long relationships I formed with the great people in Rio were really meaningful, but the friendship I grew with Marcus really meant the world.

See you in Rio for Top Step Seminar 2019!

Top Five Team Canada