The Jiu-Jitsu Journey of Andre Galvao

How did you get started in jiu-jitsu? Why did you continue? 

I started in jiu-jitsu because of my older brother. Back in the early ‘90s, when he was a blue belt, he showed me a VHS tape of the very first UFC and some other footage from jiu-jitsu tournaments. After that, I began to learn more about the Gracie family, and how they learned the gentle art from Japan, and started to make it their own. This motivated me to start training judo, with the intention of learning the ground game of it.

At the time, I was a very good friend of Claudio Calasans, and we used to play together a lot as kids. We were very good friends. My brother used to train jiu-jitsu with Calasans and at his father’s academy: Calasans Camargo. Calasans’ father actually gave me my very first gi and free training at his academy, as part of his social project in the neighborhood. I started training judo first, but then a few months later, my brother Carlos Galvao invited me to train jiu-jitsu with him. I loved it right away. I already had 2-3 months of judo under my belt… but jiu-jitsu immediately became my passion.

Even then, I would train BJJ only twice a week and judo three times per week. Then I started competing in both, and I was doing pretty well. I was hooked. Every day I was learning new things, getting better and better, and I was also making new friends, having a good time while I was training, laughing… I was doing what I loved and having fun at the same time. Also, every day I was on the mat I felt like I was learning life lessons. Jiu-jitsu for me was the whole package, and that made me fall in love with the jiu-jitsu lifestyle.

What is special about jiu-jitsu? What do you think draws people to it? 

I believe people are drawn to jiu-jitsu because through the art, not only do we learn how to fight, but we start learning more about ourselves, we make friends, our time on the mat is fun, we laugh, we sweat, we fight…it is this amazing experience for us. And because we can apply the lessons of jiu-jitsu into our own lives, it becomes a lifestyle.

It is easy to make new friends in jiu-jitsu, since you must be so close to people when you train. This breaks a lot of walls. You get out of your bubble… I think the fact you can hug each other, laugh, have fun, and learn is what really makes people drawn to it. Independent of what kind of social level you are or what kind of job you have, or if you have a degree or not, everyone ends up equal, belonging to the same tribe. Your academy becomes your tribe and I believe this is important in society, we must feel we belong to a tribe… a group that helps each other and becomes family!

Did you have a plan about how your jiu-jitsu journey would play out? 

In the beginning, after almost two years of training, I stopped in order to work a normal job and support my family. I was 14 at the time, and I did it for almost three years. The entire time, every day, I was always thinking about getting back to training. I already knew that jiu-jitsu was my passion. It was when I was working on something I didn’t like to do, that I really realized that jiu-jitsu is what I loved most. But those few years gave me time to think about and plan my future! My plan was always to be a good fighter, a good teacher, and a good person.

So, I quit my job and got back on training jiu-jitsu. I knew from the beginning I would be a good fighter… I just loved it so much, and the only thing I worried about was getting better every day. I wasn’t thinking about money, I wasn’t worried about my belt; I was only thinking about being a good fighter, and being a good student, helping my professor teach classes, clean the academy, etc. My love for competing gave me a lot of motivation, because through competition I was able to do what I loved most. As each year went by, I knew jiu-jitsu was my future, because I was doing what I loved.

I believe the secret and the key to be successful is the love you have for what you do in life. If only money motivates you…I don’t think you can ever find true joy in life. I believe money is just a consequence of doing something well; every time you do something well, you are rewarded. If you love what you do, it is always easy to do it well. Everything I have was planned: my family, titles, my work, life… everything.

What kind of challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them? 

I experienced many challenges in life. I didn’t come from a wealthy family, I didn’t have money. My father was unemployed and my mom used to be a maid. Money was always short. I remember my mom making food for us, and we had divide everything between eight people (my mom and dad had six kids). It was tough but we never struggled emotionally speaking. We were happy and we kept ourselves motivated. I remember going to train without breakfast or even knowing if I would have lunch. Even though I wasn’t making any money at first in BJJ, I knew that was my work, that was my calling and I would one day provide for my family from it.

To overcome challenges, you just need to be positive! It’s all about the way you see things. Fortunately, I had great friends that used to pay for my lunch after class (especially my professor). When I look back at it now, I can see that they were tough times. But when I was living through it, I knew that the struggle wouldn’t last forever. I never thought I was struggling, even during the moments I was “struggling”, because I always knew that what I was doing was right and positive.

Things started getting better when I was able to provide for my family through BJJ, as a white belt. Yes, as a white belt I was already making money in BJJ! I had a sponsor, VINAC, that used to give me R$500 reais per month, plus paid for my trips and tournament registrations. They sponsored me from 2000 to 2009 – for nine years! – until I moved to the U.S. VINAC is a successful car dealership from my hometown, and one of the managers (Raulzinho) used to be one of my teammates. He connected me with Alexandro (the owner of VINAC). I’m so thankful to Alexandro for everything he did for me. I have no doubt that the hard work I was putting into jiu-jitsu called the attention of many people, and Alexandro was one of them.

I also lived in Rio de Janeiro for a year to improve my jiu-jitsu. My professor, Master Dagmar, brought me to train there so I could get better. I believe my professor did that for me because he saw how hard I was working, he saw that I loved it. During the time I lived in Rio, I used to be locked inside the gym from Saturday at 1pm until Monday at 7am. I used to sleep in the academy. The academy was in a business building and it had to be locked during that time every weekend. So, I used to be by myself inside the academy, locked up during the weekend. Haha!

But like I said, when I look back at that time, I think: “Man I was so crazy!” But when I was living those times, I was so happy. I didn’t feel like something was pressuring me, but it was pushing me forward and upwards! I simply knew I was doing it with all my heart and love. There are so many stories that I could share here…crazy ones. Those are just some of the stories, haha!

What do you think is the single most important factor in your success? 

Like I mentioned before, the love for what I do, the passion, the energy I have, and the ability to see on the bright side of situations. This always kept me moving forward with great joy in my heart, even when I was passing through “hard moments” (which for me always meant great lessons). I believe more than everything it’s THE LOVE!  I would not change anything I lived through. I thank God for everything. I’m so thankful for all I passed through, and everyone I met during my journey.

Do you think all jiu-jitsu journeys should be alike? Why or why not? 

Just like life, everyone has their own jiu-jitsu journey. I don’t think everyone should go through the exact same thing. I believe it is not possible. But the mindset must be the same. Working with passion, being happy, being positive, never giving up… knowing that everything that is happening to you now is for your own good in the future. The key is to not worry about the future. Focus 100% on what you can do best right NOW! For sure, you must make plans, but most importantly you need to take action. You need to act believing you will reach the goal soon or later!

Do you think jiu-jitsu is for everyone? Why or why not? 

I believe 100% that jiu-jitsu is the most special martial art that was ever created! Everyone should know how to fight, because it will help you to be a better version of yourself in so many ways. It makes you healthy, give you confidence, and a sense of seeing things differently. It is a great tool that unites mankind and family. For kids, it is the best! Everyone should know jiu-jitsu… and the great news is, it is never too late to start it!

Do you think all jiu-jitsu practitioners should compete? Why or why not? 

No! You don’t need to compete if you don’t like it. I would say you should always give it a try, but if you don’t like it, don’t do it. Again, only do what you love to do. If you do compete, that’s great! You can improve a little bit faster than those who don’t compete. This is natural in any sport. Competitors tend to learn faster, just because they tend to spend more time doing it then those who don’t compete. Just like you can be a swimmer and never compete, or a surfer and never compete, you can do BJJ and never compete. The key is to do what you love and what gives you joy!

If one of your students was struggling with his/her journey, what would you suggest he/she do? 

The first question is: Do you love jiu-jitsu? If you say yes, then I would say: Open your mind and enjoy the growth, remembering that in order to grow you must pass through bad weather. Just like a tree, it will be windy sometimes, and it will rain. But the seed must have a strong root in order to resist and grow strong. It is not every day or all the time that you will have a great day. Usually those are small moments. Most of the time, people give more value to those moments. Think about it is a process, and if you are working and training, you are getting better. A bad training day is also a great training day! Those days will keep you humble… no rain, no rainbows!

In today’s world (coronavirus quarantine), a lot of practitioners are struggling with their loss of jiu-jitsu. What advice would you give to them? 

Stay healthy, stay fit, eat well, and keep your routine (waking up on time, sleeping on time, eating on time, working, or doing exercises on time). Keep your schedule, because jiu-jitsu WILL come back, and it will be back better than ever, stronger than ever… Stay motivated!