Ulpiano, a modern day Robin Hood

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You hear a lot of complaining today. People are unhappy and dissatisfied with life. Times are tough and fulfillment is tougher to find. Many hang on tightly to what they have, afraid that it’s going to slip through their fingers and disappear like a thief in the night. That’s the story in the world today, so it’s refreshing to meet a man who lives his life in opposition to that; earning his way and giving back to everyone he meets.

Photos: Deb Blyth; Ulpiano coaching by Mike Pesh.

Meet Ulpiano Malachias. He’s a 1st degree black belt and the Head Instructor of Gracie Barra Santa Ana. He started training in BJJ at the age of 17, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, under his friend and Professor, Erik Wanderley, who was the 1st in his state to win the World Championship as a black belt. Malachias became a GB black belt under Vinicius “Draculino” Magalhaes.

By all accounts, nothing has come easy to Malachias, yet his philanthropic philosophy and his contentment with work and life belies all that, but don’t get me wrong: Malachias is no push over. Although this “diamond in the rough” has a very sweet and kind personality under his hard exterior, this truly is a tough-minded, hard working, prideful, authoritative man. He did not float through life on a song, with people giving him hand-outs until he ended up in a “cush” position at GBSA.

On the contrary, this man has worked hard for everything he has. That being said, Malachias is the first to say that he couldn’t have done anything on his own and is extremely grateful to those who’ve helped him along the way, “Everything I have and everything I am is because of Master Carlos, Marcio Feitosa and Flavio Almeida. I say this to them all the time. Without them, this is not possible.”

Malachias says the trio has helped him in many ways, from teaching him how to manage his school, to instructing him on how to interact with his students, “Before, nobody liked me. I’m so competitive, they thought I was mean. I had to change the way I act. Master Carlos, Marcio, and Flavio showed me how to talk to people to earn their respect. They made me understand that BJJ is a gentle art.”

Ulpiano (front and center) with his group at GB Santa Ana

Malachias says his early hard-core attitude came from his rough BJJ upbringing in Brazil, “The first month I started training, a guy got me in an armbar and I tapped. He ignored it and broke my arm. One month later, when I got my cast off, I was back on the mats and tougher than before. That was just the way of life in Brazil.”

In 2002, Malachias came to the U.S. to compete in the Pan Ams and decided to stay, “I wanted to try life here. I knew it was going to be hard. I have a business degree and everything I needed in Brazil, but I gave it all up to come here with no support. I worked as a dishwasher and a bouncer at a Brazilian bar, just to be able to make money and train.”

Malachias had a turn of good luck when he met Rorion Gracie’s daughter, “She was a bartender and I was the bouncer. We became friends and she took me to her dad’s school to train, but I couldn’t afford the tuition, so she introduced me to her uncle, Royce. He was my hero. I started training BJJ because of him. I became his training partner, taught in his school, and he took me all over the world, to every fight he had, while I was with him. For three years I was in his corner.”

Malachias says traveling with Gracie was memorable, “We were in Japan for one of his fights and it was my first time there. We were on a train going to our hotel. I had no idea where I was. Royce stood in front of the open door, and right before it closed at our stop, he jumped off, so me and the other guys couldn’t. Royce and Royler knew Japan really well because they’d go there all the time, but none of us did! We were on that train for over an hour going from stop to stop until we found the right one.”

Malachias says he loved his time with Gracie and made some great friends, too, “Royce’s cameraman, Arthur and I are still friends and we talk almost every day. I learned a lot from Royce. To have the opportunity to train with him and be his training partner was a dream come true for me.”

In 2005, things changed when GB Lake Forest opened. He went there to train as a brown belt, “Although I was grateful for the opportunities I’d had, I was ready to give BJJ up because I couldn’t find a place to teach and I was broke. I lived in Redondo Beach and had to drive 40 miles every day to train. I’d get home at 3 a.m. from work, and then would leave my house by 10 to train at 11. Professor Tussa and Professor Dande convinced me to stay. We were all living together at the time and they said, ‘you can’t stop. You’re too good.’”

So, Malachias stuck it out and more good luck and hard work ensued, “In 2006 Master Carlos surprised me with my black belt. It was one week before the Asian Championships. I was registered as a brown belt, but I had to compete as a black belt! Master Carlos said he believed in me and thought I could win. So, I went to Japan, won my fights, and took home gold.”

Malachias went on to open his own school, GB Santa Ana in December of 2007. As history has dictated for Malachias across time, he chose Santa Ana because he was trying to find low rent that he could afford, “I love this school and location. Like my upbringing in Brazil, this is a rough neighborhood and the environment here makes you tough. My students work hard for the little money they have, and I’m humbled that they spend it training here. They are loyal and dedicated people.”

Malachias says he’s labored over his school, “When I first opened GBSA, I was owner, instructor, program director, cleaner, and billing company. Now I have over 200 students and I’m happy to be changing people’s lives. Sometimes I almost cry on the mats because a movie goes off in my head and I replay how hard I worked to get here. I’ve had to do things that people have never had to do. I look around and see all that I’ve accomplished and I’m so grateful.”

Malachias has made a life of giving back to others and it shows. While GracieMag was at GBSA, his young students continually hugged him and handed him pictures they had drawn for him in school. His adult students bowed to him reverently and shook his hand, coming and going from the school. Their respect for their Head Instructor was obvious and it’s no wonder: Malachias often goes the extra mile for his students. He goes to their schools and explains the art of BJJ to classrooms. To help one particular student, he goes to the gym with him at 6 a.m. to help him lose weight. If they don’t show up for class a few times, he calls them to make sure they’re ok. But that’s not all, “I met a guy on the street today. He was overweight, so I told him to come to a class and he did. He just texted me and told me that after one day of training, I’d changed his life. That’s what I live for. I care about all my students. They are my family.”

And that’s what makes Malachias so special and beloved. He treats his students like family. And like a lot of other Professors around GB, this year is bringing another new baby girl into the GB family and to Malachias, “I live for my fiancé, Sophia and my daughter. They are the most important things in my life. I’m excited about being a dad. I love kids and have a passion for them. Kids like me and I like them.”

As for his future, Malachias says he’s going to pursue his MMA goals (he’s a natural at the sport and recently submitted an opponent in 42 seconds), and wants to keep teaching until he can’t anymore. He also wants to open more GB schools, “I want to be a successful guy. I want to give a good life to my family. It’s all I think about. I’m not rich, but I love what I do. I’m happy. I go home everyday knowing I do good things for people.”

Malachias is a class-act. He may not be monetarily wealthy, but he is rich in heart and soul, for sure.

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There are 8 comments for this article
  1. craig michael turner at 11:33 pm

    great piece, lots of well deserved praise. one could go on and on about him it still not find enough good thgings to say about professor ulpiano.

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