Ricardo Almeida is a legend within the worlds of MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Owner of the same academy that houses UFC fighters Frankie Edgar, Katlyn Chookagian, and Eddie Alvarez, Almeida has a long and storied career.
He began his journey under the tutelage another legend, Master Renzo Gracie, and ultimately became Gracie’s very first direct black belt. Beyond Almeida’s many accomplishments, which include being a UFC fighter, and a champion in Abu Dhabi, IBJFF, and Pancrase, he says what holds the most value to him is being a good coach and instructor.
“Competing is never easy. Victory cannot just be declared, you still must go in and fight,” Almeida says. Despite everything that he has done in the past, what is important is the success of his team. He recently competed alongside his students at the IBJFF No-Gi Pan Ams and won gold in his current category of Heavyweight.
“It’s special for me to be here with them, and share the mats as their teammates, not just their coach. I get nervous before every match, whether it’s the UFC or a tournament. That feeling never goes away.”
It’s no secret that the Gracies have the most illustrious name in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. However, Almeida takes his part in that lineage very seriously.
“In my eyes, I teach in Master Renzo’s absence. He has his school in New York City, and he can’t be in New Jersey at the same time–so it is as if I teach for him here. I feel like I am a part of their family. Truly, he andMaster Carlos Gracie Jr. gave me the privilege to be an instructor, so I will do everything to represent their lifestyle, values, and Jiu Jitsu.“
“I’ve worked incredibly hard to get where I am at now, but I’m proud of what has been accomplished. From recreational to professional fighters, my school is for everyone. Someone like Frankie or Katlyn didn’t come to my academy for my name, they came because of the environment we have worked to create. I’ve made it a priority to build that at every level, starting with the children.”
As a long-time practitioner, Ricardo has found that the most important virtues that come from training are perseverance and patience. He has seen many students completely transform themselves, simply by continuing to come back.
“Nothing happens overnight,” he says. “When you begin, your body and mind might be weak, but staying the course makes them strong. BJJ either helps develop what you already had or bring it out of you, where it’s been all along. You must not quit, and remain patient. Not just with yourself, but with your teammates around. You are all in it together and must take care of each other as such.”
While MMA continues to grow in popularity, so has the “Gentle Art” of Jiu Jitsu. Almeida says he thinks it is only the beginning.
“There are so many benefits of the sport, but it is really a martial arts lifestyle. You will get in shape while learning self-defense, surrounded by a great community. These people are tough, honest, and humble. They will be real with one another. As MMA gets bigger, BJJ is positioned as a recreational activity that is for everyone. It gives children self-confidence, helps women defend themselves, and allows men to become competitive. You can get all of this just by training, no matter who you are.”
After training for more than twenty years, what could possibly be his favorite part of the journey so far? Could it be receiving his black belt from one of the most famous Jiu Jitsu practitioners in the world? Being King of Pancrase or winning his bout in Pride? Showing great humility, the things that have given Almeida the most joy have nothing to do with himself.
“The best part of being a martial artist is to see people really live and benefit from the effects of training JiuJitsu. They begin to believe in themselves, and this mindset seeps into other parts of their lives. As an instructor and seeing children who were once bullied become a popular kid in school, or women who wouldn’t look you in the eye become incredibly strong and tough, these are experiences that I would never trade in my life. Their personalities and minds change, but their heart only becomes bigger. There’s nothing more valuable than that.”
Photos courtesy of Ricardo Almeida