GTR Archives 2000-2022


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Conversation with Orlando Saraiva 

Robert Drysdale

 October 8, 2022

Orlando Saraiva (standing)  with students

Master Orlando Saraiva was an orphan who found jiu-jitsu inside the government institution where he spent much of his youth. It was there he met one of Carlsonfs friends and student Master Osvaldo Paquetá.[1] For his part, Master Saraiva trained under Carlson as well.[2] After moving to São Paulo, Saraiva became alongside Otávio de Almeida and Oswaldo Carnivalle one of the fathers of jiu-jitsu in that state. While jiu-jitsu was little known in Rio in the 70fs and 80fs, it was even less known in São Paulo during that same period. Despite this anonymity, Saraiva played a crucial role in staying the course, teaching and organizing jiu-jitsu events in the countryside and by doing so helping supply the demand of jiu-jitsu instructors of the post-Royce era. His efforts in developing jiu-jitsu in São Paulo during the quieter years of jiu-jitsu help set the foundation for its rapid worldwide growth from the mid-90fs onwards. Saraiva was born in 1951, is an 9th degree red-belt and no longer teaches classes. The interview took place in writing via his son, Henrique, on August 17th 2022.

RD:   Master, you began training at the FUNABEM as a child, how did you end up there and what was your routine like?[3] And how did jiu-jitsu help you get along with other young people there?

OS: I lost my father, when I was about 2 or 3 years old and my mother when I was 7. We used to live in the favela of Jacarézinho (Rio de Janeiro). But when my mother died, I went to live with my sister who was married and after a while she got divorced and had to put me in a government program, because she was very young and had no financial conditions to raise me and work at the same time. I arrived at FUNABEM when I was 10 years old and knew nothing about any martial art. One day, I was walking by the room where Paquetá taught, and heard a noise and thought it was a fight, so I went there to see what was going on and ended up finding it interesting and asking to try out a class. In those days I was always getting into fights and I thought I was good at it and would beat everyone in class... but when I started training there under Master Paquetá, I discovered that I didn't know anything. Jiu-jitsu taught me to be calmer and after I began training I didn't get involved in fights anymore, Jiu-Jitsu really changed my life.

RD:    Master Osvaldo Paquetá is famous in the Jiu-Jitsu world for his footage, archives and historical videos on the edge of the mat. What about the Paquetá that you knew personally, what was he like when you met him at FUNABEM?

OS: Paquetá had a father-son relationship with his students, he took us on trips, to train at other academies and we had a special relationship, because I continued his work at FUNABEM, my first job in 1972 when I left the Air Force. Many people know him as a cameraman, but his contribution to Jiu-Jitsu was much more important, he was one of the first teachers to hold Jiu-Jitsu events at FUNABEM. I lived with him whenever I ran away from the FUNABEM and spent weekends at his house, then I would come back and he would arrange things and cool everyone down so I wouldn't be punished by anyone. Another funny story was that FUNABEM was divided into wings, and had a part of juvenile offenders, who were caught on the street committing crimes and lied about their age as they did not have any papers or documents, so they ended up there in FUNABEM with other real minors. Paquetá liked to take us there and some big guys would arrive who had just been arrested and he would say: gHey champ, I'll give you a choice, choose one of the boys here, if you win, I'll let you go...h and theyfd always chose me because I was the smallest one but these guys would always take the biggest beatings... and Paquetá and Waltinho Guimarães would just laugh at them.

RD:   In the early 60fs, you and Rolls trained under Carlson. What were those sessions like?

OS: Those training sessions were like championships. Paquetá told us to play hard. The first time I trained at the Gracie Academy I was a green belt and trained with Rolls but I didn't know who he was. I ended up doing well against him and Carlson invited me to go train in Copacabana under him. I trained with Carlson from approximately 1967 to 1976 when I moved to São Paulo.  


But me and Rolls only really started training together as a black-belts, when he also started training under Carlson. He was a very nice guy and at the time he was already being prepared to be the new champion of the Gracie family, as Carlson had already retired. But he wasn't yet the legend that he would later become. What I always see in interviews nowadays is that people try to take the shine off Carlson and place it on Rolls. But all of us from the old days know that Rolls went over to train under Carlson after losing to Cícero Sobrinho (Barradas student) and Carlson called him over and said: gIf you spend your whole day training self-defense with Uncle Hélio, you will never be good at jiu-jitsu!!!h And Rolls started to visit Carlson more often, and eventually he ended up becoming a direct student of Carlson. Later they became partners and he became a legend in his own right. But when he got there he noticed the level of the students there: Serginho de Niterói, Carley Gracie, Rocian Gracie, Walter Guimarães, Reyson Gracie, Artur Virgilio, among others... there were a lot of good people on those mats training under Carlsonc it was climate of great competition and a brotherhood at the same time.


RD:   How important do you think Carlson was for the development of competitive jiu-jitsu?

OS: Just to give you an idea, all of the Gracies who weren't Hélio's children would go train with Carlson. Years later, Hélio's guys ended up going to train under Rolls, who picked up this competitive approach to jiu-jitsu from Carlson. It's impossible not to associate the history of Rolls with Carlsonfs own history, but everyone tries to hide this because many of the family members are resentful towards Carlson. Carlson was certainly the greatest and the facts are there for those who want to see them, both Carlinhos and Jacaréfs [Romero Cavalcanti] students and most competition teams in jiu-jitsu history are associated with Carlson in one way or another, even Hélio's sons learned indirectly from Carlson's jiu-jitsu.

RD: What was it like to arrive in São Paulo at a time when Jiu-Jitsu was only breaking new ground? Being the most experienced fighter in the region must be good, but practicing an unknown art must also bring its problems. How was that phase of your life helping the spread of jiu-jitsu there?

OS: When I left the Air Force, Paquetá had me replace him at FUNABEM as a jiu-jitsu teacher, as he had risen in position. But in 1976 I was transferred to São Paulo, the capital, and then to Mogi Mirim in the country-side. When I arrived in São Paulo, Carlson had referred me to Mestre Pedro Hemetério who I trained under for a while and then I met Mestre Otávio de Almeida who was starting to organize events in São Paulo and we became very good friends. I taught at his Academy and we worked hard to make Jiu-Jitsu grow in the state with events that didn't have any support from anyone. I remember that the first Campeonato Paulista in 1976 was held with 34 athletes. We had no physical structure (mats), financial (sponsorship) and no qualified people (referees, etc.) I fought, refereed, took my studentsc doing all those things in the same day even going as far as refereeing matches while in a gi and waiting for my own match! 

And I remember that in 1978 or 79 I brought Carlson over for an event. I started this exchange between São Paulo and Rio, taking my students to fight in Rio and inviting people to come over and train with us. In 1979, Rolls brought people from the Gracie academy to fight at an event in Novo Horizonte, which Nahum [Rabay] organized. I remember when Master Moisés Muradi[4] who was my student, fought against Royler Gracie in one of these events. Many members of the Gracie family came over to compete, Rolls was there too. In 1981 I started to do an event called gCopa do Solh (Sun Cup) and people from Oriente [team from Niterói in Rio] came to participate. People from the Gracie family and even Carlinhos in an interview mentioned these events we were organizing at a time when Jiu-Jitsu had almost no events at all.[5] Only some in Minas Gerais, São Paulo and one or two in Rio. 

When Mestre Otavio passed away, I continued organizing them in São Paulofs countryside and Moisés Muradi started organizing them in 1989 in the capital. In 1994 I organized a Circuito Paulista here in São Paulo where Royler came to fight, Saulo Ribeiro was a purple belt, Fabio Gurgel too. And we had 600 athletes, which was a lot at the time. Then I set up a league in 1996 and did it until 2005 or 2006, where we had several elite athletes that emerged from these events. Many of whom became big names in jiu-jitsu today.[6] I organized referee courses and many events, because my vision was always similar to Carlson's in that the athletes had to compete a lot of events to get their competition rhythm going, so Ifd organized them and put people to fight as much as possible. I held events until 2018 and today due to health reasons I am retired, but my students continue to do so. Today I am very happy to see the level that Jiu-Jitsu in São Paulo has reached, both in terms of its athletes and the organizations here. Happy to have played a part in this growth.

RD: What makes Jiu-Jitsu so universal, to the point of conquering and changing the lives of so many people?

OS: I believe that the cultural factor influences its popularity a lot. The happy and spontaneous way of Brazilians, together with the most efficient art in the world, created this superpower that is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today. Jiu-Jitsu has great value and with this professionalization of events and improved teaching methodologies, I'm sure it will be the most practiced martial art in the world soon, if it isnft already.

RD: What is the one lesson from Master Carlson that you never forgot?

OS: Carlson taught us to be humble and at the same time aggressive, fearless and this I always passed on to my students, who must take this lesson for life. We shook hands and the fight started, we had to do our best, even if you lose, you had to show heart. He argued a lot with opponents at tournaments, always fighting for his students, but always ended up shaking hands and respecting all his opponents at the end, regardless of results. Carlson's jiu-jitsu was the most efficient because we trained to compete and win, gi or no-gi, with time limits or without them, jiu-jitsu or vale-tudo and we were always training hard and ready for competition. Not to mention giving opportunities to people like me who didn't have the money to pay for a gym membership. He also stimulated competition, which today is the flagship of jiu-jitsu's growth worldwide.  

Orlando@(middle row, far left) with students

RD: What are your overall thoughts on jiu-jitsu today?

OS: I learned jiu-jitsu as a fighting style, even though the rules have been improved a lot, it turned into a sport and became more accessible to everyone, we can't let the fighting side die, the competition... otherwise we'll become little more than Yoga in a gi. This view of Jiu-Jitsu as a business, and everyone thinking only of making money and making jiu-jitsu for everyone really changed jiu-jitsu a lot. In some ways for the better, in others not so much.  


Many thanks to Henrique Saraiva for providing photos and documents.

[1] The late Paquetá was one of Carlsonfs oldest black-belts and became known by a younger generation of jiu-jitsu practitioners as the videographer who played the leading role in registering jiu-jitsu events in the 80fs, 90fs and early 2000fs in Brazil.

[2] Saraiva is humble and does not like to talk about this, but Paquetá describes the time where Carslon took him to train at the original Gracie Academy: Carlson spoke so much about my students that Helio one day said: ebring over Paquetafs students,f so I took them. So, they put eRolliszinhof [Rolls] against Orlando Saraiva and when he blinked, Orlando tapped him. Helio was livid and called Rolliszinho inside and ordered that the training continue. An hour later Helio came back with Rolliszinho and asked to put them against each other again, but Orlando was already tired, which doesnft take Rolliszinhofs credit from him, who took a little longer to do it, but he beat Orlando, so they ended in a draw.h Source: Tatame, December, 2009.

[3] FUNABEM stood for gFundação Nacional do Bem-Estar do Menorh (National Foundation for the Wellbeing of Minors) and replaced SAM (Service for Assisting Minors) in 1964. They were both government programs to give shelter to homeless, abandoned and orphan children in Brazil.

[4] Master Moisés Muradi is the current President of the Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu Esportivo (CBJJE) in Brazil.

[5] The interview where Carlos Gracie Jr. talks about traveling to compete in a tournament organized by Orlando Saraiva can be read here:

[6]  A short list of known competitors that competed regularly in Saraivafs tournaments were: Robert Drysdale, André Galvão, Big Mac, Bruno Frazzato, Demian Maia, Gilbert gDurinhoh Burns, Givanildo Santana, Gustavo Falcirolli, Leandro Lo, Marcelo Garcia, Marcus Buchecha, Michelle Nicolini, Mendes and Miyao Brothers, Reinaldo Ribeiro, Thiago Stefanutti and many others.


(c) 2022, Robert Drysdale. All rights reserved.


More by Robert Drysdale:

Who are the 40 BJJ GOATs?

The Rise and Fall of JiuJitsu in MMA

The Fallacy of Submission-Only

Malandragem and Winning in Jiu-Jitsu

Rev. of Breathe, by Rickson Gracie

The ADCC Blind Spot

Winning at Jiu-Jitsu while Keeping it Real

Creonte: Loyalty versus Self-Perfection

The Rectification of BJJ's Rules: To Gi or Not to Gi

Americanization of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJ Penn for President

Remembering George Mehdi

Reflections on the Evolution of BJJ

Who Taught Oscar Gracie?

I was Skeptical

Selling Self-Defense

Rickson Gracie is Wrong

Rev. of book by João Alberto Barreto

Maeda Promotes Five Brazilians

Science and Sanity in BJJ

Jiu-Jitsu in Cuba

Is Oswaldo Fada Jiu-Jitsu a Non-Gracie Lineage?






GTR Archives 2000-2022