I had flown into Ft. Lauderdale, FL the night previous and made the two hour drive up north to the quiet coastal city, Vero Beach. This is where world renowned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor Renato Tavares settled to form his American Top Team academy.
I walked into the training facility that warm August morning off of Old Dixe Road and within minutes of observing my surroundings I knew I was at a very unique place. The mats were full of BJJ practitioners from white to brown belt, eager to learn from Master Renato, absorb every detail and word of every technique he masterfully demonstrated. I was in for a ride.
Renato is a third degree black belt under Carlson Gracie Sr. Arguably one of the best teachers in the world today Renato has been doing jiu-jitsu for 35 years and at 41 years of age, he shows no signs of slowing or settling down. In the last nine months he has competed in over ten key tournaments in the Western Hemisphere, often entering three or more divisions and capturing the gold in each. He has accumulated more hardware in that small amount of time than most people spend a lifetime trying to obtain. Even more astonishing, as he is, he will continue to get better and never stop his learning of the sport!
I had been invited down to Florida by one of Renato’s best students, brown belt Ethan Day. A good friend of mine, I have known Ethan for years now, as he was one of my original instructors here in Kansas City. Ethan is a true student of the game with his unmatched BJJ knowledge, past and present. I say that, keep in mind that Brazilian Jiu-Jisu as a sport is not by any means considered main-stream in America. Although the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts and in particular the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) enhances the recognition of BJJ, it is still not uncommon to get a dumbfounded look from someone when mentioning the words Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. So, to have acquired the bank of knowledge Ethan possess requires years of personal travel, study, training, and competition across the globe at the best and with the best in the entire world. Along his journey at this current point in time, Ethan finds himself in the intense BJJ region of South Florida living with the generous Master Renato and his wife Angela.
I was staying at Renato’s house for eight days. I was to shadow Renato’s daily regimen, which basically involved training and teaching BJJ all day long. My story starts on that Saturday morning, August 29. Renato showed an arsenal of escapes and sweeps that ensure advancement from disadvantages positions. A total of five different techniques were covered and we relentlessly drilled them for an hour and a half. Already I was loading up with new and refurbished skills. I got my first glimplse into how far Renato’s character reaches that same night as he reserved tables for his entire academy to watch UFC 102 together at the local bar & grill. Sunday is the only day-off; however Ethan and I still trained late in the evening after some mild surfing, making sure to take full advantage of my locality and the culture.
I began the work week with an early Monday jog on the beach and gi training started at 11am sharp. Solid BJJ technique again followed by thirty minutes of rolling (sparring with a partner). This is when I first rolled with Renato, and although I had 50lbs on him and I was 16 years his younger, I still remember thinking, “Ok, this guy has been doing jiu-jitsu for 35 years, what can I possibly do against him?” I fared ok, and somehow with my unconventional style I happened to catch him in a dangerous submission that I really like, the Anaconda Choke. Each time I applied the move tight and precisely, or so I thought, but Renato did not tap (give up)! I had been performing this hold for years now, and had tapped many, many opponents and upper-level talent with it. I felt confident with it. Later, in the evening classes Renato gladly showed me how small adjustments with my angle, the position of my upper shoulders and traps, as well as my elbows coming together were all key points as to why it did not finish. Talk about technique refinement! I was only three days into my trip and had already consumed a significant amount of serious BJJ knowledge and experience from a legend.
At that point I had trained four different times that day and felt like a machine. Eat, train, repeat. I was training hard, my mind was open and I was completely immersed in the lifestyle. I was in the moment, absorbing and refining at an accelerated pace. My Kansas City life was locked away in the back of my head and I was in a different state of mind. I succumbed to the environment and situation around me, and I felt at ease.
Tuesday through Saturday was more of the same, in addition to Renato taking special interest in me and giving me more pointers and adjustments to my game. Also, Renato now saw to it that he absolutely crushed me without mercy anytime we rolled. He stifled any chance of my movement or advancement. He just poured it on me and afterwards I would be in an almost dumbfounded daze. I felt the wrath of 35 years experience combined with perfected technique and skill. That week I learned countless other techniques and refinements and it was capped off with another large, competitive Saturday morning class which included another black belt from Orlando and four top-level purple belts.
The day before, on Friday night Renato had some of his students over, cooked traditional Brazilian-style steak and it was served with Sao Picao that his wife Angela had made. Yet another way of Renato reaching out to his 'family.' He said to me when I told him how blown away I was by his openhandedness, “It's just how we are, it's part of our culture (referring to Brazilian culture).” As I sat there and talked with Renato he engaged me with stories of growing up in Brazil, old friends, and moving to America. It was such a memorable time, just a simple night spent with genial people. A relaxing evening of the most grand food, good people, and great conversation. The perfect end to a phenomenal week in Vero Beach, FL.
The week was such a blast for me. I trained extensively daily with a legend and his students. Believe it or not, what I found even more impressive than Renato’s background, competition experience, teaching abilities and skill level is his attitude. I have never witnessed such a gentleman in the sport, inside and outside of the academy. He is a true ambassador for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His desire for learning and teaching are a powerful combination that fit hand-in-hand. He administers just as much time and passion into his lowest level white belts as he does his highest ranked student. He talks to all his students individually about their BJJ and growth in the martial art. In addition, through his demeanor and attitude they feel comfortable confiding in Renato with their personal problems and lives, and he is more than happy to lend an ear and even offer some sound advice or words of experience. With that, Renato has created a very special family with his academy, a closeness that is often lost in many circles today. He and his students share a bond. He goes above and beyond in every aspect to ensure his students and academy are excelling not only as fighters but as citizens.
Aside from many others he is not obsessed with milking people and making money off the sport, but rather, giving back to the sport, and remembering where he came from. He told me, “I was a white belt not long ago, I remember being there (at that point in his development).” To be in the company of someone with that mentality and sheer generosity is amazing, and I soaked it up as much as I could. To me Renato was the consumate role-model, and excellent teacher and coach, but above all, I can now call him my friend.
To reach Renato Tavares or for more about him or his academy visit: http://www.renatotavaresbjj.com