How Did The Best Grapplers Start BJJ Training?

How Did They Start BJJ ?
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Starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a big step in everyone’s life, even though it may not seem like it at the moment. Most of the people that start get consumed by it and it becomes a full-on lifestyle. While some of us start BJJ in the most “expected” way possible, walking to a gym and asking to sing up, others have far more interesting stories of how they discovered the Gentle Art. On that subject, have you ever thought how some often world’s leading grapplers started training Jiu-Jitsu?

Not ever world-class grappler was born into Jiu-Jitsu. Actually, this applies to most of the folks outside the Gracie family. However, even though it may seem strange, BJJ is actually not a very big thing in Brazil. Looking back 20 years ago, it wasn’t the first thing kids think of when they consider starting a sport. Given that BJJ is still very young and still spreading around the world, there are some really interesting stories about how some of the best grapplers began training. There are some quite interesting stories on how to start BJJ among them.

How Did You Start BJJ?

Speaking of how people start BJJ, what’s your story? Do you consider yourself to be one of those that have an interesting and unusual one, or just the regular, I walked in and signed up. Of course, nothing is regular after that, but that is the story for most people nowadays.

For me personally, BJJ came about as a result of watching MMA. I was training kickboxing, KravMaga, and Judo at the time. IN the decades before, I trained in everything from Karate to Aikido. It took a while for BJJ to come over to Europe, and even more for a decent academy to show up. While there was a BJJ academy in my city, I never signed up, despite watching classes a few times. However, when a great coach and a solid Academy popped up, I was the first through the door. Literally, I was the first member of the Academy where I know to teach. The rest, as they say, is history.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen people come start BJJ under a number of different circumstances and fro a multitude of reasons. They all have their stories, albeit some are more interesting than others. I’ve had a powerlifter who came to the gym to give a friend a ride and became one of the best and most obsessed over the following months. I’ve also had girls coming to class following a friend of theirs that is so obsessed, they’re trying chokeholds on them while socializing. Those girls are now probably doing the same. I’ve also seen people come into “polish their ground game” for MMA and do a complete U-turn. There are a bunch of interesting stories there, but what we really want to know is how the best of the bests tarted training.

The Origin Stories Of Some Of The best Grapplers

Of course, we can’t cover all the origin stories in one article. I doubt we can even name the names of those that are the best in the world, or of all times, for that matter. However, what we can do is take a look at the people whose names you see daily on your social media feeds in regard to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Some of them did start BJJ in a simple way, while others seem to have come by it complete by chance, before turning into the champions we’d all want to become one day. Here’s how it all started:

Gordon Ryan

How Did They Start BJJ - Gordon RyanConsidered by many to be the GOAT of Jiu-Jitsu, Ryan is a member of the generation that grew up with full access to MMA and BJJ but still started in an interesting fashion. When Ryan was a kid, he went to a daycare where the teacher was a huge UFC fan. That teacher taught the kids submission moves and had them compete with one another, in no time limits matches. Talk about a baptism by fire!

At 15, Ryan saw a sign for a Jiu-Jitsu gym while he was out shopping with his mom. He walked in, took a class, and it turned out, all that daycare prep came in good because he felt really at home. From there, he went on to train with Miguel Benitez, before eventually going to TomDeBlass and Tonon, and ultimately, John Danaher.

Caio Terra

The diminutive 12 times BJJ World Champion and overall one of the most entertaining characters in the sport started training. His story on discovering BJJ is a real Karate Kid type of story. Tiny as Terra is, was even smaller and frailer as a kid and was bullied a lot at school. His mom thought it would be a good idea for Caio to start BJJ in order to learn some self-defense. She even started training as well, given that Caio only thought about playing soccer at the time.

Up until he got a blue belt, Terra just went along because of his mother, not really giving an effort. However, after getting his blue belt and eventually doing great at his first competition (lost the finals to Bruno Malfacine) he changed his attitude and quickly turned into one of the best that the grappling world has ever seen.

Geo Martinez

One of the fastest black belts in Jiu-Jitsu (3 years) Geo is considered by many to be a prodigy for grappling. Granted, he has crazy athletic skills form breakdancing and a very unusual approach due to the way he thinks. In terms of his BJJ beginnings, Geo actually started BJJ because of breakdancing. He was offered free Jiu-Jitsu classes at 10th Planet Jiu-JItsu Vista in exchange for teaching Ryan Ford’s son breakdancing on the premises. Geo accepted and it didn’t take long for him to get hooked.

IN fact, it only took a few classes for Geo to start BJJ all-in. He began training with Sean Bollinger and managed to get a black belt in just three years, and from Eddie Bravo himself.

Rafael Lovato Jr.

Mr. American Jiu-Jitsu himself and one of the most likable grapplers/fighters in the combat sports world.RafelLovato Jr. HE made history by being the first American to win at the Brazilian Nationals in both his division and the absolute. His origin story is one of a family legacy of martial arts. Rafael’s father, a martial arts instructor, had his training since he was a child. It was JeetKune Do for Lovato at first, along with boxing.

LovatoJr discovered BJJ through his father, who himself was fascinated by the art. He started training with Carlos Machado, and young Rafel wasn’t far behind him. Soon, the son would surpass the father and become a fearsome BJJ and MMA competitor and world champion in both a well.

Miyao Brothers

The Miyao brothers were a synonym for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at one point in time. It is not that Paulo and Joao Miyao are not among the bet now, it is just that they are not the ones currently in focus. The Brazilian born twins became famous for literally living inside the gym, doing nothing but training, eating, and recovering. Just like the T-shirt says.

As impressive as their grappling careers are, their BJJ start was a pretty mundane one. Born in Brazil but with Japanese roots, the two were very dedicated to Judo early in their lives. Judo brought them to BJJ and they just swapped one for the other and kept going with the unrivaled work ethic that made them multiple-time world champions.

Bia Mesquita

Bia had a very early start in BJJ, starting at the young age of five. She followed in her brother’s footsteps and was the one that remained after a year had gone by. She was clearly born for it and started winning left and right. An athlete at heart, Bia also gave Judo a try when she was 9. She did exceptionally well there too but had to switch it for swimming because of injuries. Unsurprisingly, she won swimming medals as well.

Her rise to BJJ stardom began when she started training with Leticia Ribeiro.  A black belt since 2011, and a multiple-time world and ADCC champion, she is now looking to transition into MMA.

Jeff Glover

One of the two most extravagant and eccentric grapplers in the entire world of grappling martial arts. Jeff was born in 183 in L.A. As a very energetic and curious child, Glover got in trouble on a regular basis. Jiu-Jitsu fit his ADHD perfectly, offering him an outlet for all his energy and creativeness. He came across it purely by chance, when Paragon founder Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller moved into Glover’s neighborhood when Jeff was 16.

Jeff thought he;’d introduce himself to the new neighbor, and he literally walked into a Life of Jiu-JItsu form that point on. What a way to start BJJ!

Kurt Osiander

The second of the two most extravagant grapplers, keeping Jeff Glover company is the one and only Kurt Osiander. Now, If Jeff was a wild child, Kurt was wild throughout his life. He is one of those guys that discovered BJJ later in life. In Kurt’s case, it was when he was 26. His high-school friend Cesar Gracie just migrated back to the US from Brazil, this time around looking to open and establish a BJJ gym in the Bay Area. Kurt was intrigued and asked Cesar to demonstrate this new martial art on him. One rear-naked choke later Kurt was all into it.

Up to that point, Kurt was living a real Rock’n’Roll life, of wild partying and crazy stuff that would’ve probably landed him in jail, or worse. His decision to start BJJ changed his life forever.

Keenan Cornelius

One of the most prominent American grapplers, Hawaii-born Keenan Cornelius grew up aa martial artist. Similarly to Rafel Lovato Jr. his father was a martial arts instructor, holding a 6tgh degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Keenan dabbled in striking from as early as 4 years old, but it didn’t take. When his father opened a BJJ gym Kennan was 14, and he and his friends used to go and “train UFC” which was exploding at the moment. However, grappling hooked Cornelius more than striking did and he really got serious about it from the age of 15.

Craig Jones

The now-legendary Australian leg locking wizard certainly has an amusing story about starting BJJ. Namely, Jones was interested in competitive sports since a very early age. He began with football, and later basketball, but did not find satisfaction in ball-based sports, apparently. What seems to have worked for him were martial arts. Judo and Tae Kwon Do were his first choices, but they only served as a way for Craig to discover MMA.

Set on conquering the MMA world, Craig enlisted in a BJJ academy at 15. Jones quickly found a home on the mats, becoming one of Australia’s greatest competitors, and quickly progressing through the ranks. As a purple belt, he went to train in Lachlan Giles’ Absolute MMA in Melbourne and the rest is history. While his MMA dream is still more than possible, Craig currently enjoys being one of the very best grapplers in the world. Not many aspiring MMA fighters start BJJ first, but that decision sure seems to have worked out for Craig.

Ffion Davies

UK’s top female grappler at the moment, young Ffion still has a lot more to give to the world of BJJ. Yet another Judoka that found the transition to Jiu-Jitsu natural, Ffion was no stranger to competitive grappling when she picked up BJJ.

How Did They Start BJJ - Ffion DaviesBorn in Wales, Davies played rugby as a child, before deciding Judo was even a better close contact sport for her. Her parents both being Judokas probably had something to do with it. She did good in Judo, making the Wales National team, but decided to take a break. At age 17, she re-discovered her flair for grappling, which then led her to discover MMA, and eventually, trying her hand at BJJ. During that time she rally focused on No-Gi, looking to do something different from Judo. She fell in love with BJJ so much, that she moved to Cardiff to train in DarraghO’Conaill’s Academy and made a living by being a bouncer.

Marcelo Garcia

The man many considered the GOAT before Gordon Ryan’s current reign. Marcelo will always be one of the legends of the sport. Born in a small Brazilian town called Formiga, Marcelo was fascinated by martial arts movies like Karate Kid and Bruce Lee’s flicks from a very early age.

Movies brought Marcelo to Karate, which opened the door to Judo, which eventually, was the gateway to Jiu-Jitsu. In fact, Marcelo originally decided to start BJJ to improve his Judo. Marcelo quickly jumped on the BJJ bandwagon and ended up training up to 4 times a day. No wonder he is one of the best to ever step on the mats!

Bernardo Faria

How Did They Start BJJ - Bernardo FariaThe man we all know, either from his competitive success, or all the DVDs he produces, Faria is certainly a household name in the sport. How did he start BJJ? Well, he was always playing fighting with his brothers and their friends, and always ended up losing. So, Faria followed one of his brother’s friends into a BJJ academy, in order to get himself some skills. And so he did. He was 14 at that time and after just a year of training, he knew that he found his passion and profession. Winning several world titles, among other accolades, proved he made the right decision.

Tom DeBlass

The most inspiring man in BJJ, Tom is one that wears his heart on his sleeve. Currently owning Ocean County BJJ in NJ, and preparing for an MMA comeback under the ONE banner, tom’s introduction to Jiu-Jitsu was through Tae Kwon Do, as with many others in America. He trained striking from age 5 until he was 13.

Curiously enough, he decided to switch gears and went into track and field just shy of receiving his black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He got injured at 18, though, which put a stop to his athletic career. However, this injury brought about a much better option for Tom, although he probably didn’t realize it at the time. It got him to start BJJ. Tom walked in Eric Colon’s BJJ academy, and soon after made the switch to Ricardo Almeida’s earning a black belt in as little as 6 years of training.

Lucas Barbosa

Lucas Barbosa, AKA the Hulk has a strange start to BJJ. He is another example of a grappler that started off involved in plenty of different sports as a child. In the case of the Hulk, those were swimming, volleyball, and basketball. When it comes to martial arts, Judo, Kickboxing, and Tae Kwon Do are all on his resume.

When Barbosa was 15, he went on a holiday to his godfather’s house. His godfather took him to a Diego Lopes Jiu-Jitsu class completely by chance. Little did he know that Lucas would embrace the Gentle Art and put in some breathtaking performances.

Michelle Nicolini

As a teenager, Michelle was very much into Capoeira, unlike the usual Tae Kwon Do choice for most Brazilians.  This really helped her with her dexterity, when she later switched focus towards Jiu-Jitsu. She was 17 when she made the decision to start BJJ. She did so under Robert Drysdale and caught everyone’s eye when she fought 4 weight classes above her weight at the 2010 Worlds.

Eddie Bravo

How Did They Start BJJ - Eddie BravoEddie is not just the man behind 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, but also the man responsible for a whole different style of BJJ. It was the UFC that prompted Eddie to give Jiu-Jitsu a try. Before that, he had moderate experience in wrestling during high school. He also trained in a variety of striking arts, like Karate, as most martial arts enthusiasts of his era did.

After the UFC opened his eyes to the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the arts he was training in, he started grappling at Jean Jacques Machado’s. he paired it up with JeetKune Do, initially, trying to figure out a complete fighting system. However, Machado’s unique style quickly took to Bravo and he dedicated himself to grappling, ending up shaping the landscape of Jiu-Jitsu in the years to come.


One of the best heavyweight to ever step on the mats, Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida wanted to be a soccer player as a kid. However, as he himself says it, he wasn’t particularly amazing at it. He went on to dabble in another famous sport in Brazil – surfing, becoming quite good at it.

How didBuchecha start BJJ? Well, his father actually signed his sister up, in order to provide her with self-defense skills. Buchecha’s father ended up singing himself up and brought a 14-year-old Marcus with them. Out of them all, Marcus was the one that ended up falling in love with Jiu-Jitsu and achieving some amazing results at a very young age. He still has the most world titles (13) at the age of just 30.

Bianca Basilio

Out of everyone’s stories of athletic background, Bianca Basilio has the best possible athletic pedigree prior to her involvement in BJJ. Namely, she was a gymnast as a kid, developing some amazing skills in the process. After years of dedication to gymnastics, she stumbled upon BJJ when she moved to study in Itaquera, Brazil. She was 12 when she joined a kids’ Jiu-Jitsu class with her brother. She started competing immediately, and she hasn’t stopped since.

Garry Tonon

Tonon did not like martial arts. Let that sink in for a while. As a kid, he actually wanted to play football, but his mother wouldn’t let him. She had nothing against Garry starting wrestling, though, given that his cousins were already doing it. So, wrestling it was. A wrestling teammate of his pulled Tonon to start BJJ, describing it to Tonon as “wrestling where people try to choke each other”. After a few videos, Garry decided to try it, and he was hooked. He started training in an MMA gym, eventually moving to Tom DeBlass’ before finally ending up at Danaher’s Death Squad.

Wrapping Up

Some of the ways in which people start BJJ are mundane and “regular”, while others are funny and unexpected. It is highly amusing that some of the world’s greatest grapples came by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu completely by accident. Who knows how the grappling world would’ve looked like if Buchecha was as a surfer, Tonon a football player or Ffion Davies a rugby superstar? How about your story? How did you start BJJ?

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