Who would ever think that a successful dentist would give up his career to pursue Jiu-Jitsu as a full-time profession? Logically, it doesn’t make sense. The money, the prestige, the social standing, and the security: these are the earthly, material, and ego-oriented things we all strive for in life. After all, we are earthly beings.
However, when you take into consideration the nonmaterial, soulful, more spiritual side of life, it is understandable that someone might let go of the pressure and demands of a profession like that and choose to follow his heart instead. Choosing a life in Jiu-Jitsu means choosing fulfillment in the most elemental of ways – enriching your mental, physical, and spiritual health, connecting your mind to your body, enhancing and elevating your sense of self, giving back to others in your own personal way through the gentle art, whether it be as a training partner, a coach or a friend to others on the mats, or gaining a family that fills in the holes of your life that would otherwise be left open.
It is a classic example of the struggle between fulfilling your earthly desires and quenching your spiritual needs. It is difficult to balance the two sides. Sometimes you are lucky in life and can find both, give or take a little on either side. Felipe Guedes is one of the lucky ones.
Guedes started Jiu-Jitsu in São Paulo, Brazil, under Roberto Laje. Guedes was about 18 years old at the time. He trained for a little over a year and got his blue belt. Then he went to university to become a dentist, which at that time, was his dream. However, to pursue that desire, he had to give up Jiu-Jitsu. There just wasn’t enough time in his day to do both. Balance was hard to come by. Dentistry school is a very arduous and difficult education to obtain.
Guedes went to dentistry school for five years. As part of his studies, he had to go to the favelas (Brazilian slums) to treat very poor children. For one year, every Friday, Guedes traveled to the favelas, gave a presentation to children and their parents on dental hygiene, provided them with toothbrushes and toothpaste, and examined their teeth and gave them fluoride treatments.
For the next four years Guedes was required to go back to the favelas once a year for a week at a time to examine those same children and record their progress, which was always positive. Guedes says he’s always been into giving back. “It’s why I went into dentistry,” he says, “I always wanted to help people.” Guedes says working in this program was rewarding. “I felt good about the impact I was making on these kids’ lives. When they live in a place where society doesn’t give them any kind of chances, it’s good for them to know that people care about them and that they’re not forgotten.”
Once Guedes completed his studies, he began his profession as a dentist. He worked for the government and provided dentistry services to all female employees who possessed dental benefits under the government’s health care plan. Although Guedes enjoyed his work, he missed Jiu-Jitsu, and found himself back on the mats with Laje.
Six months later, he decided to move to the U.S. in 2002 for a year to learn English. “Roberto Laje took me to the embassy in Brazil to get my visa,” Guedes says, “He connected me with his friend, Joe Moreira, who lived in Costa Mesa. Joe was the pioneer of Jiu-Jitsu in Orange County. I lived with him for a month until I got settled.”
Guedes liked America so much he decided to stay, but it was another four years with no Jiu-Jitsu. “I was working as a manager at Outback Steakhouse, just exchanging time for money. It wasn’t my passion.” Once again, it was Jiu-Jitsu that was missing from Guedes’ life, so he went in search of it.
Guedes had always been a big fan of Marcio Feitosa and Master Carlos Gracie, Jr. He knew the Lake Forest school was close to his house, so he went there and met Feitosa. “I remember when I first saw Professor Marcio,” Guedes says, “I couldn’t believe I was going to get to train with him! He was like a hero to me.”
Guedes was more mesmerized by the presence of Master Carlos at the school. “After class he would sit on the sofa and tell stories to everyone,” Guedes says, “I would always try to stay after class so I could hear how he thought and to learn from him.”
Guedes spent his first two years at GB Lake Forest as a blue belt. He met Flavio Almeida in 2007 and says the two became fast friends. When Almeida opened Gracie Barra San Clemente in February 2008, he invited Guedes to be his program director. When they first started working together, Guedes thought he’d just be training and teaching. He soon discovered it was more like a business lesson.
“I learned how to manage a school,” he says, “I was taught how to take care of students on and off the mats. I learned everything about the business first, then I started teaching.” Guedes started with the kids classes. “I love the kids,” Guedes says, “To be able to touch kids’ lives and get to be a positive influence, while guiding them in the right direction is priceless.”
In 2008, Guedes received his purple belt from Almeida. He says because of the road he took to get there, getting past his blue belt was very emotional for him. In December 2009, Almeida opened Gracie Barra Dana Point and appointed Guedes General Manager of both schools. Guedes says he’s very grateful to Almeida for their partnership. “Flavio is one of the best professors I know,” he says, “I try to be a mirror of him in all ways because I respect him so much.”
Along with assisting in the management of the schools, Guedes also competes as much as he can. His attitude about it is healthy and positive. “I love competition,” he says, “I think it’s a good way to challenge myself and learn Jiu-Jitsu. Every time I step on the mats, I feel I’m already a better Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. I train hard, test myself, and try to do my best. The preparation for the tournament is what makes the tournament exciting for me.”
After the 2010 Pan, Guedes attended the GB Instructor’s meeting with Master Carlos. At the end of the meeting, he was promoted to brown belt. It was a much-appreciated surprise. “Having Master Carlos there was so special,” Guedes says, “Flavio gave my belt to him so he could put it around my waist. It was a great feeling. It was touching to see Professor Flavio become emotional about giving it to me. I’m very proud to be his brown belt. There’s a lot more responsibility that comes with it. I will try to do my best.”
Looking back on his journey, Guedes sees the connection and similarities between his dentistry path and his chosen Jiu-Jitsu course. “I have always been interested in people,” he says, “The connection between body and mind, and ways to learn more to help them. That was my main drive when I decided to become a dentist. I wanted to help cure diseases and to help them feel better physically, to fix a smile and raise their self-esteem – overall, to help people improve their lives. And with Jiu-Jitsu I have the same feeling, I can help people to be physically healthier; and a lot more than that, I can help them to fell better about themselfs, more confident, help them to build stronger relationships with family and friends, to guide them in the right direction and be a positive influence on their lives, so with Jiu-Jitsu it’s not just the physical and mental, but also the “spiritual” path to reaching people’s hearts. And it is very exciting.”