Seeking to expand the frontiers of Jiu-Jitsu and open doors to a new generation within the competitive scenario, black belt Marcelo Ribeiro, leader of RMA Jiu-Jitsu, conceived his exchange project, Xchange, with the support of our partner Braus Fight.
In a chat with GRACIEMAG, the black belt revealed details about the method used to select athletes, the challenges of opening his gym, and how GFTeam helped to carry out the initiative, generating fruit that reflected in the Jiu-Jitsu of prodigy son João Marcelo, who is still at purple belt, has been appearing in the biggest tournaments in the USA. Check the lines below!
GRACIEMAG: At what point did you and your family migrate to the US? Was it your intention to teach Jiu-Jitsu lessons?
MARCELO RIBEIRO: We came to the United States in 2006. I always wanted to migrate here, intending to provide my family with a more peaceful life. Jiu-Jitsu was also part of that dream, I always wanted to bring Jiu-Jitsu to my city and neighborhood, to further increase Jiu-Jitsu’s contact with me and my family.
What were the main challenges of founding your academy?
We opened our first academy in 2011. We focused on creating our teaching methodology, marketing, sales, and, most importantly, understanding our audience. There is a big difference between the Brazilian public that practices Jiu-Jitsu and the American public. My wife, Renata, who has a degree in psychology here in the United States, helped me with the behavioral part, which aims to understand people’s perceptions about consumption decisions. Our goal was to get a sense of how our customers feel, what they think, and how they act concerning our brand, our service, and our products. From this study, we created every detail of our brand, curriculum and established a connection with our customers. We created a company that provides customized Jiu-Jitsu classes, separated by age. Today with more than 400 students in Nashville county, we have our RMA Headquarters.
How is your relationship with GFTeam?
We started our partnership with GFTeam in 2019. In addition to having been the IBJJF arbitration coordinator for many years, I am a friend and a great admirer of master Júlio César, who leads the team and with whom I had the honor of establishing a friendship while still in Brazil. After the great success that RMA had, we dreamt of sponsoring Brazilian athletes to participate in the biggest competitions here in the United States. After many conversations and spreadsheet analyses, we decided to start the Xchange project, an initiative that aims to help young athletes manage their careers and learn the English language. Through this project, we brought GFTeam athletes and thus started our partnership and connection with the team.
Where did the idea of taking young athletes from Brazil to train at your academy come from?
Initially, it would be a small, unnamed project, open to all teams, but with only one athlete per year. Our oldest son was aiming to go to college in Southern California, so we had a limited budget at the beginning of the project. However, he was offered a scholarship to an excellent college here in Nashville, the same college my wife graduated from here, and he decided to stay close to home. Thus, we decided to increase the project and, in 2019, we received master Júlio at our home to share ideas and set goals for our teams. After sharing experiences and other conversations about business, we decided that the Xchange project would be exclusive to GFTeam.
And how does the selection process work for the athletes who will participate?
Some apply to participate in the project on our Instagram or email, while others come to us by referral. The process is arduous and time-consuming as we hear and read all the applications. It’s difficult because there are so many moving stories and unfortunately we can’t help them all. After the final selection is completed, Master Júlio gets in touch with the athlete’s teacher or even with the athlete himself, to extend the invitation. It is important to emphasize that, despite being integrated into the project, the athlete continues to represent his school and teacher. The goal of Xchange is to bring a different experience to this athlete and allow him to experience the management part here in the United States, while still training and competing. Athletes receive an experience of living abroad, with our family and being involved in their chosen sport. We have English classes, physical preparation, and specific training for competitions. We also include leisure trips so that they can experience the whole experience.
Who are the current members of the Xchange project?
Xchange 2021 currently has three athletes. We have Ismael Santos, a brown belt from GFTeam Ceará and a student of Professor Elinor Batista. We also received Luis Fernando Carvalho, a purple belt from GFTeam Merck, and a student of Professor Serginho Miranda. And finally, we have João Pedro Rodrigues, also a student of Professor Serginho at GFTeam Merck.
This exchange of knowledge ends up favoring not only the young people who are going but also your young and avid athlete João Marcelo, current champion of the American Nationals. What changed in his game and Jiu-Jitsu vision after the project?
Not only is it excellent training, but also an immense exchange of experiences, culture, and language. João Marcelo has only studied English all his life and his daily life with the boys helps him a lot with Portuguese. Our academy also made a difference in his career. Even before the project, he prepared for all of this year’s events, including the American Nationals in which he was champion at weight and open weight, with our RMA students. I would say that the experiences helped not only João Marcelo but the whole family.
What did you, teacher and experienced black belt, learn from these exchanges of experience?
I learned that the human connection is the most powerful thing in the world. Even though they’re much younger, around my son’s age, I learn daily from them. The life stories, the difficult moments they went through and the incredible strength that each one has developed to pursue their dreams help us to grow. Today I take on the role of “master”, which is what they call me, but I also function as a father figure, using this period of closeness to guide them towards success. Sometimes I am a little tougher, taking on the role of instructor and father, but my wife, like a mother, is more flexible. We talked a lot and developed a lot of affection for everyone. This exchange ends up being as special for us as it is for them and we know that, although our time with students is limited, the friendship and admiration will be forever.
And what are the next plans for Professor Marcelo Ribeiro and RMA?
In addition to continuing our partnership with GFTeam, which helped us in the development and execution process of the project, we intend to hold an Xchange camp in Brazil, but we are still defining the details of this new adventure.