“It’s time to worry about my students, not myself”

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Rominho using tooth and nail at 2011 Worlds. Photo: John Lamonica.

At the last World Championship, in June, Romulo Barral, 28, intrigued and stirred emotions in a lot of people upon leaving his gi and belt on the mat, as he left the match areas beaten by Alliance’s Sérgio Moraes (by a takedown) in the medium heavyweight final.

A title collector, the Gracie Barra teacher living in Los Angeles demonstrated through the gesture that his body was too tired for any further battles. Following a week of reflection and doing what he loves most, which is teaching his students – from unknowns to movie star Kevin James –, Romulo had a chat with GRACIEMAG.com. And the good news: he will be competing again, so long as the competitions don’t get in the way of his greater goal. Here’s what he had to say:

Did you really quit?

It’s way hard to stop once and for all, isn’t it? Truth is that I’ve been thinking about taking a break from competition, to focus on other things. It had nothing to do with what happened specifically at this last Worlds; I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now. These days I’m focused on other things, but next year, if I can manage to train without having to travel all the time, I may well show up to throw some weight around. But it’s not my main focus.

What is your main focus then? Teaching class? An eventual career in MMA, where you already have two wins in two fights?

Look, I’m really happy teaching class. I’ve been teaching for a long time now, but now things are different. These days my greater focus is conveying what I’ve learned; now it’s time to worry about my students, not myself. I had my moment, when I was a competitor and teacher. Now I’m a teacher first and foremost. Of course I’ll be a competitor for the rest of my life because it’s in my blood – I’ll always be training, always be ready to compete. But MMA is off in the distance; no, no I’m not going to be fighting for now.

What was your happiest moment in the gi? And your most unpleasant?

The moment that marked me most was when I got my black belt (in 2005, at 22 years of age). Unpleasant? I haven’t had one. Losing, getting hurt, referee errors – that’s all part of the journey. So no, I’ve never had an unpleasant moment; I’d rather take it all as a learning experience. Unpleasant is a really negative word.

Speaking of error, do you think the refereeing influenced your match against Sérgio, the medium heavyweight final at the Worlds?

I don’t like talking about refereeing. I don’t know if there was an error or not, but if there was it’s over and done. I’m not concerned about it. Props to the champion.

Alliance won the 2011 Worlds by a large margin as a team. Do you feel GB is preparing to usurp the throne in the coming years, through talent like your purple belt Felipe Pena, the younger brother of Augusto “Tio Chico” who turned heads and won the absolute?

Yes, Felipe will tear things up at black belt soon, you’ll see. He may be an excellent example for the new crop to train even harder and stand up to any team out there. Alliance has a really strong team and is focused on competition; it’s to be congratulated. But I always believe in GB as the major champions factory that it is, and I’m certain the team will get back its throne.

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