This is an interview from 2011 with Matt Arroyo. This is probably one of the best interviews with Marcelo but most people haven’t seen it. We transcribed it in the hopes that more people will see it. You can watch the interview here.
Everybody says you have a babyface, nobody knows how old you are. How old are you Marcelo?
Haha… I don’t know about that Babyface, but I’m getting really old haha. In January 2012 I’m gonna turn 30 years old. Thats a lot! I remember when I was 17 that was a really good time, no pain you know?
What year did you start training, and how old were you?
I started when I was 12 years old, man, that must be 1994. That year was split between Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, thats how I started. At that time Judo and Jiu-Jitsu were kinda the same thing to me.
How many years did it take to get your Blackbelt?
I got my blackbelt in 2002, so thats 1994 to 2002, 8 years.
You got your black belt in 2002, your big explosion onto the JiuJitsu scene wasn’t until 2003 ADCC. What changed between 2002-2003 that allowed you to go from nobody knowing about you to the name on everybody’s tongue?
I think it’s just from the exposure that ADCC brings, because it only happens every 2 years everybody considers it the biggest Nogi Tournament in the world. ADCC is kind of a traditional tournament, the exposure it gives is great because so many of the winners progressed to become big MMA stars. But not much had changed, my training was the same.
So before 2003 you were already winning tournaments but maybe people didn’t know who you were?
Yeah, maybe I was even winning more, but just smaller tournaments. I was much younger and I competed all the time.
When I was 17, that was one of my best years. I was competing almost every weekend. One time I competed 6 weekends straight, that was the most I ever did! For me it was good though.
When did you start training with your coach Fabio Gurgel. What belt were you?
I started with Fabio at the end of 2001. I was already a brown belt. I had trained with him a couple of times before when I had a chance to visit his school, because my wife was always his student. At that stage I was already under Alliance and because he was one of the head coaches it made the connection easier.
Fabio has produced so many world-class guys, what makes him such a great coach?
Definitely what helps is he has been in this game for so long, unbelievable experience. I remember when I joined in 2001 he had already been a black belt 10 years! So the experience I had by then, he already had so much more from that point. I always try to do things the same as him. He teaches everyday, but at the same time, he’s always training and rolling. Sometimes he’s breaking down techniques for guys but most of the time he’s training. I think that helps your students see what they need to do, so if you’re open to training with your students like that you’re gonna get good students.
There’s so many great grapplers out there but why are so good? What makes your game so good?
I don’t know how good I am, I don’t like to think about that. One thing I believe and I’m proud to say is I think I love JiuJitsu more than anyone else. I’m sure I stayed on the mats training more than a lot of people. I believe that helped me a lot over the years. I think it’s one of the secrets, you gotta enjoy what you do, if you don’t enjoy it you’re not gonna go too far.
What do you think is more important? Rolling time, drilling or both?
If I have to choose one, I would definitely say rolling, but it doesn’t help if you roll and you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to have a game in your mind you’re gonna work. It’s like you wake up and you have an idea, maybe you see a video online but then you have to go to the mats and if it’s new you have to drill it. Maybe your coach shows a new technique, of course you have to drill it first so you understand the technique and so your body gets familiar with the movements.
What’s the minimum amount of time, per day or by class, you would roll to get good fast?
I don’t like to emphasize numbers, I would say as much as you can so you’re doing more than the other guy. If you want to emphasize numbers I would say at least 2 classes per day and if you want to put a number I think an hour of rolling by each class is good.
You won the worlds at every belt, from Blue to black. What tips would you give to a bluebelt right now looking to win the worlds at every belt?
People need to understand that it’s not easy, there are so many people trying to do the same thing but you have to do more than these other people.
You have to be on the mats more than the other guys, and it’s so important to enjoy being on the mats. One year of my life I trained four times a day, I couldn’t do more than that one year. You should never be satisfied with how much you trained, in my mind I always thought I could have trained more!
Don’t ever think you’re good enough. If you do win the worlds at blue belt don’t think you’re the best, you need to feel like you should train more. That’s how you will improve. I guarantee if you push yourself to the maximum you will have chances to train more.
You have to try and enjoy all that if you don’t it’s gonna be a pain.
It seems like in 2003 & 2005 you mainly used X-guard and taking the back, using rear naked chokes, but in 2007 you started using guillotines and North/South chokes. Is that something you were working on and then got really good at or is it something you just decided to pull out because it was newer for you?
Sometimes you have to try surprise your opponent, or not even your opponent, people you train with every day. You have to do something new, if you don’t look for something new you’re never gonna improve your game.
Imagine every time you guys see me use something new in competition, I have already been using that technique something like five years in training.
I remember the first time I used the N/S choke in competition, it was a super fight. The technique wasn’t perfect, it was maybe even a touch of a neck crank but the guy tapped. I was already training that technique two years at that stage, after two more years at ADCC I was much more comfortable with the setups.
Don’t be satisfied with everything you’re doing, always try to learn something new and try your best to master all the situations where your opponent tries to defend. You have to try and always improve.
So are you saying, even if you have a game you’ve built from blue belt all the way to black belt and you find a new technique that you think will work you should add it to your game?
Yes. Don’t be satisfied with those set of techniques, let’s say it’s ten moves. Even if you just break them down more, like those ten moves, what if they don’t work? Each one should have a back up plan at least.
It seems like a lot of guys are playing deep-half or going upside down but you seem to prefer getting back to butterfly guard. Why don’t you play more half guard?
There’s one thing in my mind with deep half. I used to really like deep-half at one point, it was one of my favorite positions. I remember I lost a really important match at brown belt because I got stuck in half guard for 8 minutes. I had beat the guy in the finals of the worlds at purple belt, this time he held me in half guard and won by an advantage. From that point the thing I worked on was butterfly guard. I think if you get into the deep-half position you should keep moving, maybe move to something like X-guard, you can’t rest there because the guy can find his base and give you a hard time.
Can you talk about your ideas in regards to “not playing into your opponents game”?
I feel like you should have your game, the moves you practice everyday. You’ve built a game with techniques that connect together and you should try to force that game. So, if you know someone is really good at one thing, don’t play into their game, you have to believe in your game. Maybe they’ve been playing this game so long you’ll have very little chance to beat them at their game. But if he believes in his game and you believe in yours and it’s the same game, you have to believe in you game more! You need to believe you trained better than this guy.
How do feel your game changes from gi to nogi? I noticed you don’t do guillotines in the gi and you don’t use many front collar chokes.
No, I don’t like to try guillotines in the gi because the percentage is very low, the collar gets in the way too much.
In my mind I try to do the same things for both. There are a few exceptions, like obviously I can’t pistol grip nogi, so I just adapt those grips and use wrist and elbow control. I’d advise guys to try notice the difference and adapt your game for both, I still believe there’s not a lot of difference.
It seems like when you compete you never get tired! How do you train your cardio for competition?
I just enjoy being on the mats! I try to do as much as I can when I train, I still try to get in the mats as much as I can. That definitely helps my cardio for JiuJitsu.
You know, sometimes you might be tired but you can’t let your opponent see that you’re getting tired. In training it’s fine, but not in competition. I get tired for sure but I need to believe my opponent is even more tired, if you’re looking like you’re not tired that gives you an edge. Remember, if you push 100%, your opponent has to defend 100%.
One time in a nogi superfight I was having a hard time getting anything and I saw my opponent start to breath heavy. Up to then I was pushing hard but when I saw he was getting tired I pushed even more and then I got something. Before that point I couldn’t get anything but after I kept advancing and eventually finished him.
So, you don’t supplement your JiuJitsu with weight training?
I tried before for 8 months. They pushed me so hard and I never enjoyed it one bit. I don’t feel like it helped my JiuJitsu even one inch! I was always so much more happy when I was just training JiuJitsu. I always felt that the training I did on the mats was so much more important.
Even now all I do is train on the mats. I think it’s been four years since I even jogged outside. I prefer to spend all my energy and sweat on the mats.
For some people that can’t train on the mats so much, I’m sure that training can help. If you don’t have the chance to get yourself exhausted training JiuJitsu maybe you need something else.
Matt Arroyo is Royce Gracie BJJ Blackbelt and a UFC veteran. He will compete in the 2015 ADCC in Brazil.
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