Currently in first place at the brown belt ranking of the IBJJF, the largest and most respected Jiu-Jitsu organization in the world, Ismael Santos is one of the young prospects in the gentle art’s competitive scene. Under the tutelage of black belt Marcelo Ribeiro, he has joined a select group of athletes in the Xchange project, which supports young talents to participate in championships in the United States, to provide an international level experience for a new generation of competitors.
To tell his story, the 2021 Pan American champion chatted with GRACIEMAG and spoke about his dream of popularizing Jiu-Jitsu in American soil, his experiences on the USA and how these contributed to his maturation inside and outside of the mats. A real gem that, with its knowledge of the sport and the competitive scenario at a professional level, has plenty of baggage to use the sport to further the premises of health and self-confidence to future students. Check the lines below!
GRACIEMAG: How did you get to know Jiu-Jitsu? Already joined thinking about competing?
ISMAEL SANTOS: I was introduced to Jiu-Jitsu through a friend who was already training. I was already aware of the benefits of sport, so I joined him to learn about self-defense and live a healthier life. Also, I could expend excessive energies on the mat and, consequently, become more centered and focused on my studies. I started competing at age 13, still at white belt, and after three months of training, I was champion for the first time. At 15 years old, at blue, I was champion again, this time at the CBJJ Brazilian Team Nationals, by GFTeam. I won state and regional titles until, in 2015, I received the title of best youth blue belt in the state of Ceará.
At what point did you understand that you would become a professional?
I think the moment Jiu-Jitsu changed for me was at age 14, when I took my first trip to São Paulo. I received a lot of encouragement from my teacher Elinor Batista, who saw my potential early, encouraged me to pursue this future and do my best to be successful. Suddenly, for the first time, I was leaving my state to compete. That was very important for me. From there, I adjusted my mentality and felt in my heart that this would be my mission in life, that my destiny would be on the mats, showing Jiu-Jitsu to the whole world.
How does your family understand your profession in sport? Did you have their support at the beginning?
I am very grateful to my family as I’ve always had their support. In addition to encouraging me to follow my dreams, they always taught me to work hard, never give up and achieve my goals through merit. I learned a lot from seeing my father, who lost one of his legs when I was ten years old and still walks to work every day, and my mother, who never lost her smile despite living a difficult life and without running water in the interior of Ceará. If I got where I am, it’s all thanks to them.
And the mission to win the United States? How was the invitation?
I met Professor Marcelo Ribeiro through the project he has in Brazil, to help athletes compete and manage their careers in the United States. I arrived in the US for the first time in 2020, still as a purple belt. Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t compete and went back to Brazil. In 2021 he invited me again to spend a season at his family’s house and visit new places, practice my English and, of course, compete. I came back, worked hard and now I’m number one in the IBJJF brown belt ranking.
What has changed in your Jiu-Jitsu and has it changed in your life by joining the project at RMA?
I feel I evolved in different ways. In my personal life, I have matured because of the experience of getting to know a new culture and being so far away from my family. As a professional, the training routine and traveling to compete helped me to have a more professional point of view towards my career. Above all, I am grateful to Professor Marcelo, who recognized my efforts and allowed me to participate in this project.
With this new experience in the bag, what are your next plans for Jiu-Jitsu?
I intend to keep working hard and giving my best in all training and championships. I want to reach the ranking of the best black belts on the IBJJF and make other people see, as I do, the benefits of Jiu-Jitsu. My goal now is to be very successful and, through my results as an athlete, inspire adults and children to come to the mat and learn that Jiu-Jitsu can change lives.