Interview with red-belt Pedro Valente Sr.

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[First published in 2006.]

Theory and practice

Pedro Valente reveals how he used Helio and Carlos Gracie’s teachings to help Romário become Brazilian Soccer Championship’s top scorer at 39 years old.

What’s the link between the creators of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the oldest top scorer in Brazilian Soccer? It’s a two words answer: Pedro Valente. Surgeon, father of four athletes (two of which own Gracie Miami Academy), he is a man of strong points o view. Follower of Brazilian Labor Ideology, a fan of Vasco da Gama (soccer club from Rio de Janeiro) he is a relentless Jiu-Jitsu disciple. On his third term as Medical-director of Vasco da Gama, Dr. Valente once again applied the Gracie Diet to the soccer players. Romário, World Cup Champion in 1994, instigated by the criticism he was getting, adopted the method. World’s biggest top scorer in activity, o Baixinho (Shorty), as he is known in Brazil, did what many people never expected: proved that he is in fantastic shape and as far as he can be from retirement. Romário begun as an underdog on the running to be the top scorer, but at the end, overcame his opponents and got the position of top scorer.

In this interview for GRACIE Magazine # 107, published last January, Pedro Valente, 67, one of the Gracie Diet masters, talks about his life, the relationship with the Gracie clan and the method that builds talents like Romário, Royce,  Royler and Helio Gracie, his best friend….

How did your relationship with the Gracie family begin?

My father took me to the Gracie Academy in downtown Rio back in the 50’s. I was 13 then and started to learn Jiu-Jitsu. Later on I participated at some fights at Maracanãzinho (indoor gymnasium next to Maracanã). Helio Gracie himself gave me my black belt, as well as the teacher’s degree and the red and black 7th Dan belt.

How was your first contact with the Gracie diet? 

Soon after I joined Gracie Gym, I noticed that the teachers – Carlson, Joao Alberto, Helio Viggio, and Helio Gracie himself – were on a special diet unlike any other I had seen before. Based on white cheese, fruits, and the combination of food. They would eat salt only one time a day. I got curious, approached Carlos Gracie and started learning the diet and to practice it. Years later I got to National College of Medicine, where I got interested in plastic surgery, nutrition and biochemistry. At that time, I was close to Carlos Gracie and we started to talk about feeding. He gave his favorite book – “The Cure through Fruit Medicine”. My relationship with the Gracie clan comes all the way from the 50’s. I even performed surgery several members of the family, including Master Carlos Gracie, when he had a skin problem. He also used to get medical advice from me. I treat Helio Gracie to this day.

How did you apply the Gracie diet to Vasco soccer players and to Romário in particular?

That’s the third time I’m Medical Director of Vasco. The first time was back in the 60’s, when I started to introduce some principles of Gracie diet to athletes. In the 70’s I was back and once again I applied several principles of hygiene and feeding. At last, in 2004, when the athletes did their annual check up, Romário presented some problems; he was getting injured very often. He is a smart guy so I asked him whether he wanted to get on an athlete diet that worked with food combination.  He agreed immediately. I believe the diet played a major role in his performance during the championship. No injures and setting the record for oldest top scorer in history. Maybe even a world record, if we consider the relevant competitions. The diet is crucial for that kind of performance. There are other examples like Renzo Gracie, same age as Romário and still in perfect shape, and Helio Gracie, 92, still active and giving out lectures throughout Brazil.

The diet was imposed to all players?

Vasco does not impose anything to its players. Each one knows what’s best for him. What we do is to explain the advantages the diet will bring. Some adopted it, others don’t, but at least they replaced Coca-Cola for juice or coconut water. They understood that alcohol does not belong in our body. It destroys our cells. They also learned that sleeping is vital to an athlete. That’s necessary to take real good care of the body, once it’s their bread maker. I can’t say they follow it to the letter, but at least 20% they do. Romário followed about 70% of the diet. His blood tests improved on all analyzed parameters. Romário is younger now than he was one year ago.

We know the diet is effective, but to what degree was Romário’s willpower important to the achievement?

Without willpower you get nothing in life. Romário is a winner. Whoever is a winner needed a lot of discipline to get there. Romário is a warrior and opened his mind to the Gracie diet. He was very obstinate and did it answer the critics that said he was no longer able to play, that he was supposed to be retired. That kind of thing gave Romário the extra boost to pursue his goal.

Were you surprised with your son’s life choices?

My sons were born in kimonos. Master Carlson (Carlson Gracie, died last February, one month after this interview) used to say: everyone should learn how to swim, horse ride and fight. I taught those three skills to every one of my sons. My daughter Joana, became in love with horses and today is Pan-American champion and teaches in the USA. Pedro and Guilherme founded Gracie Miami Academy with great success. Joaquim, 18 now, is a Jiu-Jitsu fighter. I gave the options but did not influence the choice.

What about your political life?

I was health secretary of Rio de Janeiro in 92. I don’t think I have a political vein. Leonel Brizola (Rio’s State Governor at the time. He died in 2004) invited me. I had some administrative experience with Vasco and in college and as I was in the same ideological side as Brizola, I accepted. I believe that Work is the best aspect of life for a human being. If I could give one piece of advice for a happy life other than good feeding is work.

What is the great virtue of Gracie diet? Is it perfect?

I don’t know if it’s perfect but I have came to the conclusion, as a physician, that it prevents fermentation, which leads to acidity, that is, the lowering of hydrogen potential. That’s an entry to most infectious and degenerative diseases. The diet aims for the maintenance of the body’s stamina, which is crucial for the practice of Jiu-Jitsu. A good example of that are the fights: Royce against Severn and Minotauro against Sapp. What happened there was agility overcoming pure strength.

What’s the importance of Helio and Carlos Gracie for Brazil?

I think the country should raise statues to both. Nowadays, the US Army adopts Jiu-Jitsu as its man-to-man fight. Some soldiers even have classes at Gracie Miami. That’s right, a Brazilian art much more appreciated in the USA than in Brazil. It’s possible that, in ten years or so, Jiu-Jitsu will be called an American Jiu-Jitsu. As to Gracie brothers, its not about exceeding in a sport like Pele, Éder Jofre or Senna. Carlos e Helio created a sport – even more a martial art. Jiu0Jitsu was forgotten and, thanks to then, is a fever nowadays. Carlos was a wise man. Helio is a genius.

How can you define Romário?

He is an outstanding guy. He had a daughter that has Down syndrome, something many people would prefer to hide, but he said that she was his little princess. You need a lot of guts to do that. And what about changing your whole routine at the age of 40? That’s fantastic. It was easy for me to comply with the diet because I started when I was young. My boys were born with it. Romário, on other hand, did when he was 40. In 2005, he trained much more than the years before. The diet and the hygienism give much more stamina. A guy like him is always pursuing the break of barriers. I imagine his goal now is to wrap up his career in great manner.

That’s gonna take even more willpower….

I make a distinction between will power and controlled imagination. In the east they give much more importance to controlled imagination than to will power. Example: if you put a wood board crossing two ten stories building, there’s no will power capable of making you cross it. But if you put the same board on the ground and walk it several times and then put it back on the top and imagine it is still on the ground you cross it easily. There’s no will power capable of making you overcome some problems. If you start a diet, it’s the imagination of the benefits that makes you keep on doing it. “If I do that I will be more agile, I will be a champion.”

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