Big money is everything? Not for this GB brown belt

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Paul Barbosa was once a successful realtor making a lot of money in the housing market. Although he didn’t have a passion for his work and he felt a “lacking” in his professional life, the financial rewards held him to it. Personally, he was also having some problems. He was overweight and wanted to lose 50 pounds. He was grateful for all that he had in life, but he knew he was eventually going to have to deal with these issues to truly be happy.

Paul (right) and his GB Fullerton black belt instructor, Maycon Carvalho. Photos: Deb Blythe

One day, Paul discovered a small martial arts school by his house, and decided to give it a shot. The main focus of the school was karate, however he found that he loved taking the Jiu-Jitsu classes they offered.

Then, Paul watched Marcio Feitosa compete and win at the Abu Dhabi’s in Long Beach, in 2005. He held him in such high esteem, he drove to his Gracie Barra school in Lake Forest to check it out. He loved the atmosphere so much he immediately signed up. “I learned Jiu-Jitsu from master Carlos and professor Marcio. I loved it. When I became a blue belt, I decided in my mind that I wanted to have my own school.”

Paul (right) and some of his GB Fullerton students

He just walked the whole day – he didn’t have to use a wheelchair. His mom called me crying because he recently submitted another kid on the mats” Paul Barbosa

Eventually the housing market crashed and Paul knew it was time for him to do what he needed to do. He started looking for locations and saw the potential in Fullerton. “The first place I looked at is where we are today.” In April of 2008, Paul received his purple belt from Carlos Gracie Jr and a year later, he opened GB Fullerton.

“The main reason I opened the school was to help change people’s lives for the better,” Paul says, “Jiu-Jitsu made such a huge difference in mine, I wanted to give back.” Before Jiu-Jitsu, Paul was overweight and very shy. “It made a positive change in my confidence level and after six months of training, I lost those 50 pounds. I wanted to share my good fortune with everyone.”

At first, Paul was uncertain if he’d made the right choice. “It was really scary in the beginning,” Paul says, “It was such a big change from real estate. I’d never done anything like this before, but people always say, ‘if you do what you love, you’ll be successful.’ That statement is true. I have such a big passion for the school. We built it and now the students are coming.” GB Fullerton currently boasts about 170 students.

Paul with some of his GB America training partners

What took Paul by surprise were his reactions to his smallest students. “I would want to cry when parents came to me and said Jiu-Jitsu had changed their children’s lives,” Paul says, “I never thought I could have that kind of impact on someone’s life.”

I’ve really never stuck to anything in my life except my wife and Jiu-Jitsu” Paul Barbosa

Like most people, Paul found himself drawn to something he couldn’t explain until he explored the psychological implications of it. He realized how much he loved the kid’s classes and how passionate he was to help them in any way he could, but he didn’t know why. He didn’t understand why he felt this way until he really contemplated his motivations and then it struck him.

“When I was about 13, my parents got a divorce,” Paul reflects, “I didn’t see it coming. It was hard on me because I felt very alone. I was in 7th grade. I withdrew from everything. I lost all my happiness because I was close to both of them. We always did things together as a family. We were always close. They got back together my senior year, but those years in between had such a big effect on me.”

Paul didn’t realize what that experience had meant to him or how long he’d been harboring those emotions. What he did discover is that Jiu-Jitsu gave him his confidence back and elicited in him the desire to help his young students out. “I really take to the kids on the mats,” Paul says, “They touch a cord in me. I want them to have what I have now. I don’t want them to have to go through what I went through.”

Paul training at GB America

Paul goes on to say, “We have a kid named Leandro. He’s about 9 years old. The first time he came in to train, his mom told me that he was a little deaf in one ear and had a little bit of a speech impediment. He also had a few other medical issues that he had to deal with, like he had to sit in a wheelchair when he went to Disneyland, because his legs would cramp up.”

Leandro’s mom was upset because he was teased on the playground. Paul told her they would treat him like every other child so he didn’t feel different on the mats. “He’s now caught up to all the other kids and he’s just like them,” Paul says, “He just walked the whole day at Legoland – he didn’t have to use a wheelchair. His mom called me crying because he recently submitted another kid on the mats. She was so happy to see his confidence build. His behavior’s completely changed at school. He used to be very shy, but not anymore. He’s just a normal kid. Jiu-Jitsu changed his life.” Paul says the story represents his dreams coming true. “Changing kids’ lives is my greatest reward.

Paul with members of his GB family

Another reward Paul values and likes passing on to his students is being a part of the Gracie Barra family. “People aren’t sizing you up and wanting to kill you on the mats,” he says, “They make you feel welcome. We never have to tell our students to be nice to new people coming into the school. I hear them in the locker rooms greeting new people and offering to help them on the mats. We treat people like family here. Gracie Barra is my family. All my friends; everything I am and everything I have is because of Jiu-Jitsu. It’s changed my life in such a positive way.”

Paul recently had two very important events take place. He received his brown belt and GB Fullerton enjoyed its one-year anniversary. “Getting my brown belt was a milestone,” Paul says, “I’m one step closer to my black belt. I’ve really never stuck to anything in my life except my wife and Jiu-Jitsu, so it was really emotional for me. I felt a big sense of accomplishment.”

Paul thinks that many people just live their lives one day to the next, hating their jobs, their lives, and where they’re at, but they don’t do anything about it. “When I decided to dedicate myself to Jiu-Jitsu, it was one of the best choices of my life,” Paul says, “I wish I’d started it a long time ago.”

As for the one-year anniversary, Paul threw a big party for his students at the school. “Watching all my students enjoy the party made me realize what that one choice, to try a Jiu-Jitsu class, has done for me. Everyone was there because of it. If there’s one thing I learned from my journey through Jiu-Jitsu, it’s to follow what makes you happy.”

Paul says he has found his true passion. “The feelings I have about this school and my passion for this life are indescribable. No amount of money could ever compare to it. I live the life I love; I love the life I live.”

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