Mendes Bros and Winning Pan Kids: “Our Students Are our Family Here in the USA”

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Gui e Rafael com as ferinhas da AOJ Academy

Gui and Rafael with their students at AOJ Academy (photo by Owen Francis)

Getting in a word with Rafael or Guilherme Mendes was pretty much impossible last Sunday at the Pan Kids in Carson, Calif. The three-time World Championship-winning brothers and  GRACIE MAGAZINE ASSOCIATION (GMA) members spent nearly the entire day pressed up against the dividers separating the gymnasium grandstand from the match areas. From there they oriented each of the 34 boys and girls representing Atos JJ at the event. The final result couldn’t have been better. With the help of André Galvao and Mike Fowler’s academies, Atos took top spot in the overall team contest, scoring 149 points, two more than second placed Team Lloyd Irvin.

In the following exclusive interview, the brothers address their dedication to the little ones coming up the ranks at the academy they opened seven months ago in Costa Mesa, Calif.

GRACIEMAG: Seven months after opening your academy in Costa Mesa, you took 34 boys and girls and won the Pan Kids. What’s the secret of your success?

Guilherme and Rafael Mendes: Dedication. When we decided to open the academy, we added new goals to our lives, and as we always do. We’re working hard to achieve them. This victory isn’t just ours; it was a team effort, especially on the athletes’ part. These kids train every day with the aim of winning championships and becoming champion black belts. We’re really proud of them all for their courage in going to a tournament, their discipline in training and the focus they have despite being so young. Art of Jiu-Jitsu Academy took 23 kids and 14 won. Three took second place and three took third place. We should also mention the other instructors at Atos academy, who share the responsibility for the team’s success, like Andre Gavlao and Mike Fowler, who took kids to the event and had great results themselves.

GRACIEMAG: Compare these two experiences: competing at a World Championship as a black belt and coaching 34 kids in one day at the Pan Kids. What was more draining and why?

Mendes brothers: Being a coach is marvelous. Each time they won it was like I’d won a match. It’s like getting to win the Worlds several times on the same day.

Gui e Rafael comemoram com uma das campeãs do domingo

Gui and Rafael celebrate with one of the champions on Sunday.

GRACIEMAG: If you had to highlight two stories about your boys and girls at the Pan Kids, what would they be?

Mendes brothers: Each of them has a different story. Each has their own characteristics, their own fears and qualities, so all of them are special to us. It’s like having a bunch of brothers and sisters, you can’t pick between one or the other even if they’re completely different. We moved to the USA last year, and our students are our family here. They are very dear to us, and we value them and the family spirit we built at our academy a great deal. That’s what makes AOJ unique. We’ve been teaching for seven months, and when we stop to think about what we’ve accomplished, we can see how much we gained the confidence of our students. A lot of them were afraid of competing when they first arrived at the academy. They were terrified before going to compete and didn’t perform well. Now they’re confident when they go to a championship, with their heads on straight and getting better results every time. There’s great energy at training. The kids help one another and train hard the whole time. It’s something special we’re really proud of.

GRACIEMAG: Parents get really anxious when their sons or daughters are competing. What do you do to not pass that anxiousness on to the kids before their matches?

Mendes brothers: Faith in the instructor, that’s what we ask of the parents. We know the parents want to see their kids winning and happy, but it’s essential that they have the self-control to not set their kids back. We recommend the parents not yell, as that’s a real hindrance to the kids. Our role as coaches is to calm the students down so they can carry out the techniques during the match, since competing itself is enormous pressure on them, so the greater the number of people screaming desperately at them to do something, the less they manage to do. A lot of parents might also shout to do the wrong thing, which just makes matters worse. Parents should go to a competition only to watch, demonstrating collectedness and confidence in their kids, and respect for the coach. They should support their kids in victory and defeat, always praising them for their courage in competing..

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