7 lessons of Jiu-Jitsu, education and success, by Flavio Canto

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Flavio Canto does armbar repetitions during Jiu-Jitsu training. Photo: Gustavo Aragão (GRACIEMAG archives/2006).

Flavio Canto does armbar repetitions during Jiu-Jitsu training. Photo: Gustavo Aragão (GRACIEMAG archives/2006).

An Olympic medal-winning judoka with a slick Jiu-Jitsu game, founder of an institute that has changed the lives of 1,200 young people for the better thus far, a television anchorman for Brazil’s Sportv channel, the boyfriend of Brazilian actress Fiorella Matheis., not to mention he’s a good surfer too—there are plenty of reasons for you, GRACIEMAG.com readers, and normal mortals alike to admire Flavio Canto, 36.

Obsessed in training and his professional life, the bronze medalist from the Athens Olympics laid out a series of lessons that led to his becoming the successful competitor/teacher he is today, in an article in “Trip” magazine. GRACIEMAG took the chance to sort the highlights of these teachings from Canto’s career for you.

1. LEARN TO BUDGET YOUR TIME

In 2011, Flavio Canto had to live with a knee injury, a serious bacterial infection in the injured area, four surgical operations and a lengthy period of recovery. But that didn’t diminish his discipline and dedication one bit, as he kept up his training, presented on the “Sensei Sportv” TV program, taught judo and Jiu-Jitsu at his Instituto Reação outreach project, and took seventh at the Judo World Championship in Paris. Canto is a master of the art of getting the most out of the hours of the day, living by the credo, “If I like it, I’ll find time to do it.” You can do it, too. Concentrate on what’s important, eliminate wasted time, and live a more fulfilling life.

2. GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF GREAT, AND OF SUCCESS

Flavio always wanted to make a difference and fight against the plight of the underprivileged that was stuck in his face every day, living amid the inequality rife in Rio de Janeiro. He’d hand out meals, collect clothing, trudge up favelas to try and teach the kids to read, and only after years of this did he realize that the martial arts were the greatest weapon he had for his cause. “What I did wasn’t much, it didn’t make major changes in anyone’s life,” he told reporter Pedro Só of “Trip” magazine. “I found myself when I came to the understanding that judo could be used as a tool for social inclusion,” Canto often says. Don’t waste time with what you only do well. Focus on what you’re great at, and you’ll make a difference.

3. HOW ABOUT A CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE?

Canto was born in Oxford, England, and his move to Rio was decisive in shaping the way he sees life today. He breaks it down: “The misery in Brazil, which to many is just a normal part of life, always shocked me.” If you’re feeling disheartened or stuck in a rut, one reason could be that you’ve been looking at things from the same perspective for too long. Take a trip, compete against different people, practice aspects of Jiu-Jitsu you used to scoff at. Changing your point of view is always a healthy thing to do, and often it can revolutionize a life.

4. REPEAT THE TECHNIQUE TILL IT’S PERFECT

Flavio designates obsession as his greatest flaw. “If I can’t get a position into perfect placement, I very well may stay up all night till I’ve got it the way I want it.” Be loaded with defects like Flavio Canto is. Perhaps with your game will get more and more like his, as shown in the video.

5. A LOSS IN JIU-JITSU IS AN OPPORTUNITY

“In 2000, when I lost the tryouts for the Sydney Olympics, I realized my world hadn’t come to an end,” begins Canto, “I saw that I could use the extra time for a bigger project. That was when I started Reação.” Today the institute Flavio oversees is installed in four major low-income communities in Rio de Janeiro: Rocinha, Tubiacanga, Pequena Cruzada and Cidade de Deus.

According to close friends of his, Flavio knows every one of his students’ names.

6. FLAVIO CANTO WASN’T BORN PERFECT

Reação came to be when Universidade Gama Filho university invited the judoka to teach at the Rocinha favela, for an outreach project called Educação Criança Futuro (Children Education for the Future). “That was when I realized the power sport carries, from the feedback I got from the parents,” remembers Flavio. “The more aggressive and rambunctious kids became more stable—sort of like what happened with me. I wasn’t easy, I went through a phase where I’d get into a lot of fights. And I got beat up a lot too.” The lesson is that it’s never too late to change your ways. Withdraw from what does you harm, and dedicate yourself to growing as a person, Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and a professional.

7. DISCOVER THE PLEASURE OF CHANGING SOMEONE FOR THE BETTER

The pleasure Flavio Canto gets from teaching isn’t limited to discovering gems like world runner-up Rafaela Silva, 19, of the Cidade de Deus favela, polished up by Professor Geraldo Bernardes. Rafa, tipped by experts to be an Olympic champion down the road, is just another one of the students Flavio learns from every day. “I learn much more from them than I teach them. They make me a less selfish person, more humane, basically a better person,” Flavio told “TPM” magazine one time. And he wraps up by teaching what drives him these days: “For every life we see transformed there’s the feeling we’re doing so little, that so many more lives could have undergone such changes. It’s a feeling sort of like the one from ‘Schindler’s List’. That’s why we keep demanding more an more of ourselves.

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