GTR Archives 2000-2020













Global Training Report


The Path to Success 

By Felipe Costa

Reviewed by Roberto Pedreira

The temporada apartment I rented close to Corpo Quatro needed some minor repairs, and Ana, the owner, or agent, said she would send her father Aureo to attend to it. When Aureo showed up, he handed me a DVD. It was  The Path to Success by jiu-jitsu 2―times black world champion Felipe Costa, who turned out to be Aureo's son-in-law.

The first part is Felipe explaining how he went from being terrible at jiu-jitsu, really sucking bad, as his brother says on the DVD, to world champion. Felipe emphasizes many times how bad he was to highlight the big gap between the before and after. He was 28 when the DVD was made and has been training since he had 12 year of old, in 1991. In that epoch he would everyday pass on his way to school the academia of Jacare (one of Rolls Gracie's original black belts) on Rua Visconde de Piraja (no doubt Master Jiu-Jitsu). He didn't know what jiu-jitsu was--no one in Rio did either, back then, Felipe says. But he decided to do it. During his first three years he entered many competitions. He NEVER won a single match. Footage from that period shows that indeed, he was not a natural born superstar. If someone like him can become World Champion, not once, but twice, than what is stopping YOU, Felipe seems to be asking.

It is more a memoir than an instructional DVD, but it does have several educational sections. The first is an analysis of errors that Felipe made when he was a blue and purple belt. He thinks that blue and purple belts in general might benefit from seeing these mistakes analyzed by experts, including Demian Maia, who has himself recently been busting out in the jiu-jitsu circuits and word on the street is that he has his own DVD coming out.

Michelle Matta dissects how Felipe used his foot incorrectly when he played spider guard with foot on the biceps which allowed his opponent to remove the hook and easily pass for three points.

Demian Maia analyzes how Felipe executed the shoulder pass incorrectly as a blue belt, and explains how to do it correctly. This is useful, because the shoulder pass is a great pass, as long as you don't make the mistake that Felipe made.

Next Caio Terra points out that when Felipe's opponent in a purple belt match put a triangle on him, Felipe tapped fast. This is an interesting example. Felipe's position wasn't that bad--he was in the center of the opponent's legs and could have based up well. Once in base, there are many defenses, escapes, and counters to the triangle.  Assuming that Felipe didn't just panic, this suggests that perhaps he didn't have a good enough command of the relevant escapes. He seems to be a spider guard, half-guard type of fighter. Maybe he was so good at these positions that he neglected some of the more pedestrian, ho-hum moves. It often happens that guys focus on what they do well and neglect what they don't. The difference between guys who never progress and guys who end up winning gold medals in the black belts division is that some people don't boldly confront their weaknesses, while some do. Obviously Felipe did.

Finally, Bezinho Otero analyzes Felipe's wrong technique in the outside trip take-down. Felipe put his head on the same side as the hook, which as Bezinho points out, usually means you are going to smash your own face when you hit the mat (you should put your head on the opposite side).

Analysis of mistakes is a great concept for a DVD. Carlson Jr. has a tape like this, although the mistakes are deliberately made just to illustrate what not to do. If you are a really good musician, it is hard to play a bad note deliberately---somehow it comes out sounding good. Lesser musicians will think your mistake was a deliberate note choice and end up imitating you. No joke. Music history is replete with examples. Likewise, when a good black belt tries to demonstrate a mistake, his deliberate mistake usually isn't that wrong. All of his training militates against him genuinely doing what he is trying to do. Better is to have a real person really make a real mistake---like Felipe did--and then show what he did to fix the mistake. It is a little on the short side though--only four mistakes. If I made a DVD with an analysis of all the mistakes I made in blue and purple belt, I would have material for a 5 DVD set.

Next, Felipe shows five of his favorite techniques. Three involve taking the back from half guard. Evidently, Felipe likes half guard. Coincidentally, I watched Ricardo Vieira teaching the third of these moves at his own academy, and also observed some blue belts doing them during rolling at Carlson GracieAcademy . They aren't cutting edge in Rio but they might be new everywhere else. The third move is very gi dependent and a little difficult to see what is going on. I asked one of Bolão's brown belts about the technique (as best as I could describe it). But he said "no one here uses half guard...except one guy who does a guard like this." He demonstrated what North Americans now call the X guard (when Bolão created it, not anticipating that 20 years later people would be selling DVDs explaining how to do it, Bolão didn't bother to give it a name. I wonder how things would look today if he had called it the Bolão guard?). I'm not a big fan of half guard.  But some guys are and have a whole game from there. After all, if you do it right, you are half-way to the opponent's back. Guys who are good at it, like Felipe, can make you feel very unstable. It takes the fun out of having a half mount (although strictly speaking it shouldn't be called half mount if the bottom athlete has his shoulder off the mat.)

In the mistakes section above, we saw Felipe having problems with the shoulder pass. Maybe that's why he says he likes to "pass with distance." The last technique he shows is a "pass with distance" that has a nice twist. When you pass from outside and control the guy's hand very well, his option to defend is to turn to the knees. But you will be dominating his sleeve, so when he turns, you will roll to the other side, and then you will be able to take his back. It's easier to see than to describe. Watch the DVD. 

Being very good at jiu-jitsu is not mostly a matter of buying more DVDs and knowing more techniques, or even having a teacher with a famous name and many medals. What makes you good at jiu-jitsu, and it is the reason so many good players emanate from Rio, is the quantity and quality of the guys you train with. They are the ones who are going to help you grow most. Every time I go to Rio, I realize how true this is. Tapes and DVDs are nice, and having a famous professor can give your self-esteem an indirect boost (so can being a fan of a successful football team, for that matter), but ultimately what is going to dictate the pace of the evolution of your game is the other guys you train with. As Bolão said in 2006, one of the most important things in jiu-jitsu training is to be friends with the guys you train with. And this is why loyalty to the team matters to Brazilians.

But what if there aren't 20 black belts for you to train with who will teach you everything you want to know for free and indeed will try to bring you up to a medal winning level to enhance the status of the team? Well, that's why God made US dollars and DVD players.

This is a good concept for a DVD. Instead of a collection of random, or even connected, techniques, a proven winner, a sort of rags to riches jiu-jitsu success story, in this case, Felipe Costa, shares his "path to success," including mistakes made and infelicitous detours taken along the way, culminating with a semi-instructional of his personal "go to" techniques. In other words, an overview and dissection of his individual game and how it evolved.

Felipe speaks English very well, having done a study-abroad year in an American high school in the middle of nowhere (he explains he wasn't allowed to choose where to go), where he also learned American wrestling. Apparently he was still too terrible at jiu-jitsu to try to teach any one there at the time, or possibly no one cared---since it must have been too soon after the first UFCs to have reached the small towns of the USA. Felipe was not the first Brazilian jiu-jitsu guy to encounter American apathy or incomprehension about Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The list is actually long and distinguished. 

And then there was Rorion.

The DVD is English with Portuguese captions, which is useful if you want to brush up your Portuguese in preparation for a training trip to Brazil.


 (c) 2007. Roberto Pedreira, all rights reserved.

Revised December 26, 2011.

Updated May 30, 2020.







GTR Archives 2000-2020