Many might think Jiu-Jitsu and surfing are two sports with nothing to do with one another. However, the fact so many Gentle Art practitioner’s find relaxation between training session on the waves is cause for wonder . There are the examples of Rickson, Relson and Royler Gracie, among many others. It goes the other way around, too. The greatest surfer of all times, Kelly Slater, is a confessed gentle art admirer, and nor can we forget super-champion longboarder Joel Tudor, who is a wizard on the mats, as well, and participated in the last installment of the ADCC.
But what does all that have to do with José Olímpio, better known as Zé Radiola? The master of aces like Braulio Estima, Zé was a professional surfer, but gave it up for the Gentle Art and now commands an army of champions in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, at Gracie Barra PE.
“I discovered Jiu-Jitsu through a friend in São Paulo. I was a professional surfer, but I always liked martial arts and I identified with it. I started practicing it and, as I was always traveling to Rio for surf competitions and everyone there trained, I ended up taking this path,” said the black belt.
Nevertheless, coming up with the necessary structure and know-how to build a great team, composed of champions and practitioners who also adopted the Gentle Art as a way of life, wasn’t easy.
“In Recife I had a bit of a hard time because we didn’t have the Jiu-Jitsu I was looking for. That was when I happened to meet Master Carlos Gracie Jr. at a championship and I was really well received. After that I started traveling to Rio de Janeiro, to Gracie Barra. I was exempt from paying tuition and I’m really thankful for that,” he says.
“I had this chance with Carlinhos and I embraced all the teachings he passed on to me. I put everything to practice,” he adds.
From there on, Zé Radiola started going to Rio de Janeiro every two months, to perfect his technique. “Carlinhos would also send his best black belts to Pernambuco to teach seminars. Beasts like Marcio Feitosa and Flavio Cachorrinho, among others. They would teach positions, were a huge help in our growing,” he explains.
Putting together a family – The academy was inaugurated at the end of 1996, in Jaboatão dos Guararapes, right next to Recife. One of the aims of the Gentle Art is to improve the quality of life of common practitioners. But there’s no denying the importance of having heroes on the team. Zé Radiola took special care of these, who we can call competitors.
“We live in a country where it’s hard to find companies that invest in styles that are not part of the Olympics. The know-how I acquired in surfing helped me a lot with these politics. I chased down sponsors for my athletes and, thus, Braulio Estima fought at his first Pan. The teacher has to envision the road ahead. He can’t just think about the present. There are a lot of people with extraordinary talent, but they don’t have the financial means. I had to concentrate on being a teacher and not be so vain as to think just of me,” he remembers.
“Braulio practiced judo and came over to do Jiu-Jitsu as a way of improving his ground game when he was still a purple belt. He identified with the sport and with me a great deal. We started working well together, he went on to compete and come up with results. After that, things started growing, because what we have here is like a family, everyone helps each other. Every time we would go to Rio to compete, we’d go home with some medal or another. The first year we won two, the second four and so on. We started coming up with results and the others became inspired by that. It was that domino effect at work.”
From Pernambuco to the world – The coach also does a good job of spreading the Gentle Art around the world. Through his seminars in Europe, he opened the doors for Jiu-Jitsu in several countries on the continent.
Among his students over there, Braulio Estima is responsible for Gracie Barra Birmingham, in England. Another of Zé’s other pupil on the Old Continent is Max Carvalho, in Hungary. Together, in 2009 they organized the 5th Open Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Hungary tournament, where more than 250 athletes from eight European nations participated.
At 45 years of age, Zé Radiola heads a team with several black belts. Besides the already-mentioned Braulio and Max, there are beasts like Victor Estima, Otavio Sousa and brown belt Lucas Rocha, among others who shine on the mats. But that’s just a small slice of what Jiu-Jitsu did for his life.
“These days I have the respect of my family and my friends. Jiu-Jitsu changed me a lot and people must believe in that. Gracie Barra is not just a gym, it’s a school. And those in it have special security, they create bonds that last the rest of their lives. I am so thankful to Master Carlinhos,” he says in finishing.