“Just seize every opportunity you have, embrace every experience. Make a mark for all the right reasons.” Chrissie Wellington
Picture it, Copacabana, Rio DeJaneiro. In 1992 an up and coming 16 yr old handball star had to suddenly give up on her dreams of being part of the National team due to a partial tear in her ACL and relocation issues. Did any of this stop her from pursuing a new dream, ABSOLUTELY NOT. 3X BJJ World Champion, 4th Degree Black Belt, Professor Alessandra “Leka” Vieira has encountered multiple setbacks throughout her 22 year career, but she never stopped. Her drive to compete sent her looking for another sport that would always be challenging, enter BJJ.
One day out of the blue, Professor Vieira entered what could be described as “Thunderdome” at her own risk thus beginning her BJJ journey. A predominantly male-oriented sport, she was fighting an uphill battle in extremely hostile environment. Professor Vieira is a well known pioneer for BJJ and that was never her intention. Every training session Professor Vieira attended she had to prove that she was just as serious, if not more so, than her male counterparts. It took some time, but her relentless drive began to yield the results she had been working so hard for. Professor Vieira’s road was rocky, but that never stopped her. The diligent student earned her blue belt in six months (an unprecedented amount of time for a female) from another pioneer Master Aloisio Silva (first BJJ professor to make a female BJJ black belt world champion).
After a year of training, she entered her first competition. Just like many competitors starting out she did not come out victorious in her first competition but she definitely won. The 3X PANAMS Champion never repeated the same mistakes after her first loss. In 1998, she reaped the ultimate reward for all she had worked for and received her black belt. In 1999 she became the first female black belt world champion. Professor Vieira was crushing goal after goal all because she never stopped. When she made her way to America, with 200 dollars in her pocket and a dream, even she didn’t realize at the time what lay ahead for her.
In 2004 Professor Vieira opened her own school Leka Vieira BJJ out of Torrence, California with classes for women focusing on BJJ and self-defense. Things got off to a slow start. BJJ still wasn’t main stream (especially for women) and the classes were not meeting her expectations. Notably, Professor Vieira extended an invite to a female student from another school to attend her class and the response she received was unusual. I believe the individual compared Professor Vieira’s classes to tea party. Professor Vieira responded by attending the student’s school, staying for a class, and blowing through male and female attendees like a Category 6 hurricane. This had nothing to do with egos, this was like 1992 again and this pioneer was proving that women are just as good as the men. If the women were not backing women then clearly there was a bigger problem facing females in the sport. Years later, under Professor Vieira this same student received her black belt. Professor Vieira is absolutely genuine and her mentorship is something up and comers would benefit from.
Knowing the art of BJJ is not enough, especially for women. It is imperative that women (whether you compete or not) become immersed in the background of the higher ranking female black belts. It is only a matter of time before a Professor Duarte- Magalhaes or Professor Vieira becomes the first female Grand Master. This may bring about a change for women in BJJ that will ensure the playing field is permanently leveled. Perhaps part of the promotion process should be about knowing more than passing the guard, sweeps, etc. BJJ is not Professor Vieira’s only passion. Her family is her foundation. Her mom, husband, and two children are the center of her universe. She found the perfect balance between her two true loves and couldn’t wish for anything more. You can’t ask for better out of life.
Professor Vieira’s injuries early on continue to plague her and have kept her from competing as consistently as she once did. That still hasn’t stopped her from pursuing goals. Leka Vieira BJJ may have had a slow start but that is no longer the case. Her all women’s classes at Gracie JJ Valencia (located out of Valencia, California) are doing very well. Professor Vieira provides an environment that promotes safety and empowerment. The culture these women are in thrives because her primary focus is ensuring techniques are being executed properly. It is not about speed. It is about ensuring nobody gets hurt and that proper BJJ and self-defense is being taught. Building the self-esteem of these women helps each one achieve the ideal comfort level. They are not timid and when it is go time, these ladies are like panthers in the Serengeti. They go hard and when time is up….on to the next.
Professor Vieira has created an environment where the synergy keeps women coming back. The fun starts the minute she sets foot on the mat. The women push each other in order to progress. Once again Professor Vieira is a 1st, she is the first female black belt to start an all women’s class and 10 years later it is still going strong. Her contribution to the BJJ community goes above and beyond anything a 16 year old handball player could have ever imagined. Her path changed and because she never stopped, she has brought about significant historical changes to BJJ.
Her tenacity will always be at the forefront and that is a great thing for the female BJJ community. We all start from the bottom and having the opportunity to receive mentorship on any level from Professor Vieira would be a blessing. She is always open to provide guidance to women at any stage on the gentle art of BJJ through seminars or camps. Her advice for white belts starting out is to do your research before joining a school, ensure the school is legit, the teacher is a black belt with a lineage that can be authenticated (otherwise there will be safety issues) and never lose faith. You must stick with it. It takes time but eventually you will be the one smashing instead of being smashed.
Her thoughts on the blue belt curse are simple. Women reach the next level and are plagued by injuries. There are not enough female counterparts to train with and their male counterparts show no mercy. The other issue with some students can be lack of instruction. If the student is struggling and they are not provided much needed guidance eventually the already isolated student unfortunately walks away from training. Lack of support is probably the main reason students leave a school and female blue belts appear to have that problem more than any other belt level.
As far as BJJ has come since Professor Vieira began 22 years ago, she still believes it has a long way to go for women. Her advice across the board is to focus on having a complete game. If you are weak on top, you need to work on the bottom. There is no way around it. If you are asked what is you weak side, your answer should be I have no weak side. If your game is not complete, then your game is lacking. One would think between her family and BJJ, Professor Vieira couldn’t possibly have time for anything else, then came the 25th hour in her day.
Professor Vieira is not only an advocate for women defending themselves,’ she is also an ardent advocate for children. Her love for them led her to begin donating to a children’s food bank: http://www.helpthechildren.org/hunger-in-our-world/child-hunger/how-often-do-you-think-about-child-hunger. Professor Vieira is the type of wife a husband is always proud of, the type of mother a child looks up to, the type of teacher one wants to emulate, and the type of woman one aspires to be. 2015 is already bright for those of us that have followed the professor’s career as she has decided that she will return to competition this year. In all this time and with all the setbacks, Professor Vieira never stopped. If she couldn’t train, she was conditioning herself and watching and learning. She never strayed from the path. Winston Churchill sums up Professor Vieira’s whole attitude “If you are going through hell, keep going” she has done it more than once and she won't stop.
On the day of the first Eddie Bravo Invitational in June 2014, Geo Martinez and his brother, Richie, arrived at a dark and empty downtown Los Angeles at 4am. They rode a red-eye bus from Las Vegas, after breakdancing all day in a major competition. They had not eaten in twelve hours and had barely slept. Tired and worn, they were sitting against a badly-lit corner of a building, hoodies over their heads, looking like two homeless dudes waiting for a shelter to open for breakfast. Unbeknownst to Geo at the time, this would be the final morning of the last day of Jiu-Jitsu anonymity. Some time later, their ride arrived to get them ready to make their professional jiu-jitsu debut at Florentine Gardens in Hollywood later that night.
Geo won the EBI tournament, defeating Jeff Glover in the finals. To say that Geo, a.k.a. Freakahhzoid, twenty-seven years old, from San Diego, had a good year would be an understatement. In January of 2014, he received his Jiu-Jitsu black belt. This feat was accomplished after only three years of training. He started under Sean Bollinger, then Ryan Fortin, and finally, received technique polishing from Eddie Bravo himself.
This year, he went undefeated in all his tournaments. He conquered the regional tournaments nearby. He also captured gold at larger venues like Gracie Nationals. His breakthrough, and his debut to the world, though, came at Eddie Bravo’s submission-only tournament. The first one was held in June, in which Geo defeated the well-respected Jeff Glover. In October, he fought again, at the second EBI, this time beating Fabio Passos (a Cobrinha black belt) in the finals.
The world at large, though, really took notice after his performance at the ADCC North American Trials in early December. Geo submitted all his opponents, some as fast as forty seconds with a rear naked choke, a calf crank, a kimura, and a variation of a D’Arce choke. When asked about competing at IBJJF events, he said he would have loved to compete in the NoGi Worlds of the IBJJF. However, he was denied entry because he did not meet the IBJJF’s time-in-rank requirements at purple and brown. Jean Jacques Machado vouched and signed Geo’s registration, but was denied by the organization.
IBJJF notwithstanding, the right people have taken notice of Geo. He was scheduled to fight at Metamoris 5 against Rubens Charles "Cobrinha" but an undisclosed hitch held that match up. Rumors are, Geo will fight at Metamoris 6.
Who would he face? Who does the jiu-jitsu world want him to face? Geo’s preferred fighting weight is at 135lbs. This puts him in the range of Caio Terra, Bruno Malfacine, Paulo and João Miyao, Gui Mendes, Rubens Charles “Cobrinha,” Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes, and Gianni Grippo. To those not in the know, to place Geo in this list seems incredulous. Those that have had a chance to train with and compete against Geo would love to see him go against one of the above. This writer hopes Ralek complies.
10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu had a lot to be thankful for in 2014. Eddie Bravo’s performance against Royler Gracie in Metamoris 3 in March didn’t so much “redeem” his victory against Royler from the 2003 ADCC, as it completely obliterated a decade of misinformation and prejudice his style of Jiu-Jitsu has faced. This new era has brought new attention to Eddie’s Jiu-Jitsu, which he doesn’t like to call a system, but more of an approach, or a philosophy: to have an open mind, discard with what doesn’t work, and use what works.
With this new regard, Eddie has been able to showcase one of his star fighters, Geo, who along with Denny Prokopos, Nathan Orchard, Richie Martinez, and Sean Bollinger, are coming to represent a new wave of 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu fighters in what perhaps can be classified as the second significant era of 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu.
I had the good fortune to interview Geo over the holiday weekend. I found him to be incredibly humble but passionate; intelligent and intuitive. I and many others look forward to what 2015 will bring.
Interview with Geo Martinez.
Seeing how most of the people that will read this are from outside of 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, could you briefly give us your biography and jiu-jitsu biography? Who were your instructors? How was it possible you got black belt in 3 years?
I was born in 1987. I’m twenty-seven. I started training jiu-jitsu 4 years ago. I started training with Sean Bollinger then Ryan at 10th Planet Vista. Honestly, I just kinda got obsessed with it and trained every day. My brother, too.
Your brother, Richie, is an awesome jiu-jitsu, fighter, too. He took Garry Tonnon to the limit at the first EBI final. Do you and your brother, Richie, keep count of who has tapped who? What’s it like to train with your brother?
It’s a blessing to train with my brother. We’ve been doing everything together, bboying, video games, and doing jiu-jitsu. We want each other to be better. No one’s keeping count but it’s always nice to compete against someone who wants you to be better, too.
What sort of training methods and philosophies allowed you to get your black belt so quickly? Did your skills from breakdancing help your transition into martial arts?
Breaking taught me discipline, to be with a crew, and rely on others for your training. We train hard. Breakdancing is very difficult for your body. So I’ve been training my body for complex moves and sets for a long time. As a dancer, I understand techniques as a pattern. Bboying also helps you take risks. You know, you gotta go for it, throw yourself on your head and spin. Is that why you like the rolling kimura attack? Oh, yeah, I love that attack, and the trucks and rolls to the truck. Feels natural to me.
What attracted you to 10th Planet in particular?
Eddie. Simply Eddie. He was the freakshow in jiu-jitsu. He got hated for it a lot. But he’s always been kind to me and is a generous, open teacher. Eddie inspired me beyond movement and technique. He accepted me and my crew (all in my crew do jiu-jitsu). He helped me in my life. He never wanted to do anything to harm anyone. He just loves jiu-jitsu. He’s open to anybody. Has a laid back mentality. Ben Saunders, an American Top Team fighter, is one of Eddie’s new friends. You can come from anywhere and he’ll accept you.
Do you have a theory of jiu-jitsu? In your documentary before EBI-1, you said, “Jiu-jitsu, B-boying, what’s beautiful about it is endless patterns.” Can you elaborate on the idea of “endless patterns” and its connection to jiu-jitsu?
Jiu-jitsu patterns are the foundation of our movements and our opponent’s movement. Everyone has a particular “set” they do from this or that position. It’s less about “seeing” patterns than about feeling them. The less you think, the better. When you’re free, your movements are a lot more creative, and you feel your rolling partner’s patterns. When dancing, you’re performing and you have to execute the move.
Tell me about your nickname Freakahhzoid and your crew’s name The Freakshow.
Being a freak means we accept everybody, and we don’t wanna be robots. When we started dancing, it felt like everyone was the same. Personally, I’ve always been an opposite’s dude. I like taking the detours, because that’s when you are yourself.
The truck. Is that your go to position? Do you finish most of your fights from there? Or where?
I’d rather take the truck than the back. There’s only a few counters to the truck. I get a lot of my submissions from there. But the submission I hit the most is the kimura.
Do you think you’d ever transition to MMA?
I’m a sucker for MMA, am a huge fan, but I know it’s a lot of work. I still want to battle, dance, do jiu-jitsu. My brother’s opening a new 10th Planet San Diego, and I got my school in Oceanside. If I do anything, I have to dedicate it all.
Finally, any shout outs?
I want to thank Phalanx. They’re my biggest sponsor. They’ve believed in me since I was a purple belt. Great company and great gear. A huge shoutout to my brother, Richie; and, of course, Eddie.
Geo Martinez is available for workshops, seminars, or camps. He is a highly regarded teacher. He gratefully accepts inquiries through:
Since I own 3 other gi’s made by 93 Brand, Kris Shaw, whom I train with at Tinguinha Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Yorba Linda, CA and also the owner of BJJ Legends Magazine asked me to review the latest gi by 93 Brand, the Zodiac. I haven’t wrote anything other than a email since my last English final essay in college 15 years ago, hopefully I don’t make too much of a mess out of this.
Manufacturer’s description of the gi: The gi features a 350gsm pearl weave gi top, 10oz rip stop pants, and interior yoke panel plus customers get to choose from any of the twelve circular zodiac patches designed by BJJ artist Meerkatsu.
First impression: When I took the gi out of the bag, it felt very light. The gi is minimally patched, which I prefer, and the color combination of white and blue look sharp. There is a small strip of patches on the shoulders with the company name. The side vents on the gi top and the gi pants have blue tape with stars on them to keep with the theme of zodiac. It kind of reminds me of the U.S. Air Force uniform. I don’t usually like ripstop pants due to being too stiff, but these pants felt softer than other ripstop pants I own. The gi also came with a patch with my zodiac sign, Aquarius, which depicts a guy holding a water jug. There are some cool looking patches that come with other zodiac signs, such as Pisces, Scorpio, or Leo, but as my luck will have it, I got a guy holding a water jug.
Measurements (all measurements in inches):
After 3 washes;
After 15 washes;
As you can see, there is minimal shrinkage with the gi. I always washed the gi with cold water. Gi top were always hung dried but the pants were put in the dryer at medium heat after the 3rd wash but the pants never shrunk.
Review: I have trained in this gi for three straight weeks, 5 times a week. This was possible due to the gi being so light that even after being washed and hung to dry, it usually dried within few hours. Although the material is very thin, I did not notice the gi being stretched when it was soaked in sweat and my training partners tugging on the sleeves/pants etc. As for the fit of the gi, I am 5’11” tall and weigh 165 pounds and the A1L fitted me like a custom made suit. I have gotten many compliments from my training partners regarding the look of the gi along with how great it fits.
Conclusion: If you need a great fitting, light competition gi or a gi that you can hang dry and wear every day, this will be a great addition to your collection. I can’t wait to patch it up with my school flag and add to my collection.