You won the world light featherweight title upon shutting out the final with Ary Farias, and Rafa had a stellar season both with and without the gi himself. What brought the Mendes brothers the most joy in 2011?
The year 2011 was excellent! More than being just a victorious year of competition, it was a year of personal conquests: together we won won the European Championship and the Pan with our friends; and then there was the Worlds, where we managed to win in two different weight classes, something no brothers had ever done before at black belt on the same year. A few months later, without taking any rest, Rafael started an intense marathon of training and won the ADCC for the second time, becoming the youngest athlete ever to win the title twice, at the event in England.
What’s your assessment of it all, having achieved such conquests?
Little by little we achieved our objectives, and that makes us happy. Bringing pride to our family and being role models to our fans has been marvelous. We also noted how more and more people are adhering to our style of fighting, with “berimbolos” and “leg-drags,” at competitions. We’re still young but the incoming generations are already using our positions; kids are competing and winning the same way we do. And at our seminars they show respect and admiration; we got a sense we’re contributing to the sport, helping it to evolve, and that, to us, is a lot more grandiose than simply winning championships. So we wrapped up 2011 fulfilled, happy and grateful to God and the marvelous people we have around us, as well as for making the cover of GRACIEMAG at the end of the year!
It’s a new year. Is your training any different at this time?
No. Rafael was picked by GRACIEMAG as the most consistent athlete of last year, and in 2009 he was voted the revelation of the year. That shows how solid a job we’ve been doing. We never take time off training; we’re training hard with the crew to kick off 2012 at full steam, and we’ll see action shortly!
But you won’t be at the European Open in Lisbon, will you?
Unfortunately I think we’ll have to sit out the Europeans to bring some of our plans to conclusion. But we’re anxious to get in there; the seminars around the planet have refined our Jiu-Jitsu. In recent years we’re made contact with people in a variety of different countries, from different schools, and that makes the questions always different. With every seminar we get more experienced and more open minded about each position, since we seek to train with the students so they will get the chance to train with us and see how we really do teach the moves we use when we compete, and also so we can train with different people with diverse styles, which helps us to evolve.
To wrap up, have you had a look at the new Jiu-Jitsu rule book on the IBJJF website?
Of course, and I don’t feel there were any major changes, just some improvements. The rule book is a lot better now, with images, which makes it a lot easier to understand. But regardless of the rules, we’re always adapting our style of fighting to our greater objective, which is to win. And to win we have to train hard, that’s our main strategy. We wish everyone great training this year and that they follow us on Twitter, where we’ll be posting all our news in 2012!