When Gracie Barra Yakima black belt Cristiano Oliveira was growing up, he was destined to be more of a musician than an athlete. Cristiano’s father was passionate about music and wanted his son to have a music career. “My dad loves music and always pushed me to take lessons when I was a child,” he says, “I played piano, flute, and sang from the time I was five years old until I was twelve.”
It was Cristiano’s mom who was a fan of martial arts. She put him in karate, but his dad didn’t allow him to do it for very long. “My mom tried again with judo and I stayed with that for about three years,” he says, “I was doing judo and music at the same time, but when I was twelve, I quit music school and gave up piano.”
Cristiano tried muay thai for two years and capoeira for a little while, but once he began to see shows about Jiu-Jitsu on TV, he became intrigued by that instead. “A friend of mine, Eliezer Dutra, started training Jiu-Jitsu a little before me,” Cristiano says, “He pushed me to start training with him and I did. From the first day I started Jiu-Jitsu, at the age of fourteen, I fell in love with it. I gave up all other sports, and never stopped training.”
In the beginning, Cristiano’s dad did his best to discourage his son from training in Jiu-Jitsu. “He used to put my gi away all the time,” he says, “He would tell me that Jiu-Jitsu would bring nothing to me in my life. It made me more determined to make a life out of it and to become successful through it.”
Cristiano kept proving to his father again and again how influentially sound Jiu-Jitsu was to his life, and his dad began to accept his dedication and commitment to it. He eventually became completely supportive of Cristiano’s passion for the sport. This was especially true when Cristiano was a teenager. As is common for many high school-aged kids, he started making some bad choices in life. “I slowed down in my training, I didn’t study for school, I hung out with my friends too much, and I got lazy,“ he says, “But Jiu-Jitsu brought me back around.”
The lessons learned on the mats showed him the right way to live: “Jiu-Jitsu taught me respect and discipline. It influenced me to finish high school and get a college degree in physical education. Even now it effects the way I act and react to people and different situations. It has taught me to think before I act.”
Cristiano says the power of Jiu-Jitsu reaches even further out than that. “Jiu-Jitsu made me and Alexandre ‘Dande’ Santos friends,” he says, “We lived in different areas and were members of rival neighborhood ‘gangs.’ My crew used to fight his crew. We had to train Jiu-Jitsu in the same school. It made us become friends. We respected each other. Today, Dande is my best friend. Jiu-Jitsu changes lives.”
As Cristiano progressed in the sport, he discovered that he loved to compete, and participated in and won several tournaments in his state, Brasilia DF, and in that region of Brazil. He took 4th place at the Brazilian Nationals a few times and in 1999 he took 3rd place at the Pan as a purple belt. “In 2009 I took 1st place at the Pan as a black belt,” he says, “I’ve always competed because it’s fun for me. I like testing my skills against other people.”
The years have passed, but for Cristiano, not much has changed. Jiu-Jitsu is still his life, even at the age of thirty one. Cristiano eats, breathes, sleeps, and lives for Jiu-Jitsu. “To me Jiu-Jitsu is more than a sport – it’s a lifestyle,” he says, “It changes the way you run your life; the way you eat, the way you exercise, and the way you take care of yourself.”
He says the best part of Jiu-Jitsu is the essence of its spirit, and the discipline learned through it: “It’s so gentle, but effective at the same time. It gives you control over situations, without hurting your opponent.”
Cristiano owns and operates GB Yakima, located in Eastern Washington State. “There are only about twenty five thousand people in this town,” he says, “I opened the school in May of 2009 and it’s still growing. We offer Jiu-Jitsu classes for men, women, and children, and follow the Gracie Barra program and curriculum.”
Cristiano takes his professor role very seriously. He really enjoys interacting with his students, teaching them, and watching them progress in the sport with his help. “I like seeing them get better in training, compete well, and grow through Jiu-Jitsu. It makes me really happy to see their love for training”, he says.
GB Yakima has been quite successful. Business has been good and the student membership is growing. So much so that Cristiano has to find a new location and a bigger space for the students of his academy.
Cristiano has built a very relaxed and friendly school. “All of our students get along very well and are a strong team together,” he says. As his students progress in the gentle art, they’re becoming more motivated and confident in themselves and more respectful and disciplined in life. He sees them becoming better able to control their lives and make good choices. “Like I said before, Jiu-Jitsu is a lifestyle, and I can see my students adopting the Jiu-Jitsu way to live,” he says, “It makes me so proud, it’s better than any money. It touches my heart.”
Cristiano is looking forward to getting his students ready for some upcoming tournaments, but he is also making plans to throw his own tournament in Yakima to promote the sport. He has begun doing Jiu-Jitsu demonstrations in his community to garner interest, and he’s planning a 2011 summer Jiu-Jitsu camp for the kids of Yakima to come and experience the gentle art.
Although it’s difficult for Cristiano to spend any time away from training and teaching Jiu-Jitsu because he loves it so much, he does try to get off the mats when he can, to experience some other sports and leisure time activities. “I love all sorts of things,” he says, “But Jiu-Jitsu is always my number one choice.”
His students are glad he gave up the piano.