In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, two participants grapple ferociously on the floor, desperately trying to gain a chokehold or apply a joint-lock that causes enough pain to force their opponent to submit. Yet, when the two rise from the mat at the end of the bout, there is no trace of animosity or violence – what is remarkable are the bonds of deep mutual respect and admiration created by this sport and martial art.
The relationship between Eduardo Jovel and Rodrigo Carvalho, co-owners of the Gracie Barra Vancouver Jiu-Jitsu School, serves as a shining example of the joy and friendship that Brazilian jiu-jitsu can bring.
“He became my professor, and to this day I don’t see him as anything but a brother,” says Jovel of Carvalho. “He’s always smiling and you won’t find a bigger kid.”
Brazilian jiu-jitsu involves no striking, but instead focuses on grappling and ground fighting, promoting the concept that a smaller person can defeat a larger opponent through leverage and training. This allows males and females of all levels of experience, and even children as young as three years old to participate in the sport. Many young children train at the school, learning the importance of family, community, and education. Jovel and Carvalho actively promote both the mental and physical benefits of jiu-jitsu.
“Jiu-jitsu is a lifestyle and a way of building character, confidence, and values,” says Carvalho. “It’s not just about teaching people to fight or to defend themselves. That’s not the point. The point is changing people’s lives and preparing them for all the challenges they face in life.”
Like all martial arts, jiu-jitsu demands respect for one’s opponent. However, like its Brazilian counterpart capoeira, jiu-jitsu also incorporates much of the Brazilian joy of life. The passionate and welcoming atmosphere in the gym, instilled by the joy of the sport itself and by the friendship of its co-owners, is felt by all participants.
Steve Bourgeault, who trains at the school, is a middle belt in taekwondo but became hooked on jiu-jitsu as soon as he tried it.
“[It] has much less formality and much more warmth than the other kinds of martial arts,” he says.
Jovel opened the school in Vancouver eight years ago, adding to the long international history of jiu-jitsu, which began in 1904 when judo founder Kana Jigoro sent five of his students overseas from Japan to spread his martial art. One of the five, Mitsuyo Maeda, arrived in Brazil in 1914 and accepted fourteen-year-old Carlos Gracie as his student.
Together with his brothers, Gracie adapted the judo style to emphasize leverage over strength and timing over speed, founding what became known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
In 1986, Carlos Gracie, Jr. founded the first Gracie Barra school and, in 2001, the Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Schools Association. The franchise now has over 300 schools around the world, including the Vancouver branch located on Main Street.
Carvalho, a two-time jiu-jitsu world champion and native of Brazil, joined Jovel at the school in 2009. While in Vancouver visiting a family friend, he instantly fell in love with the city.
“I loved how beautiful Vancouver is and how active everybody is. I first arrived in Vancouver in July and everyone was biking and running, and I really loved the atmosphere,” says Carvalho.
In Brazil, Carvalho – who has a masters’ degree in physiotherapy – operated a clinic specializing in intensive care for newborns in addition to teaching jiu-jitsu. After consulting with his family and fiancée, Rodrigo decided to relocate to Vancouver and to dedicate himself solely to teaching jiu-jitsu. He became a co-owner and head instructor of Gracie Barra Vancouver.
Jovel hopes to open another Gracie Barra school in White Rock in the near future. Given jiu-jitsu’s growing popularity in Greater Vancouver, it is likely the second location will also be successful. Regardless, in the words of Master Carlos Gracie, Jr.: “There is no losing in jiu-jitsu. Either you win or you learn.”