Leo D'Avila on IBJJF, Atos and Modern Jiu-Jitsu

Published on

Leo D'Avila, one of IBJJF main referees and black belt on the Atos team, talked to BJJPix about his career, his coming to California, his team, modern jiu-jitsu, competing in heavier divisions and crazy competitors.

Tell us about how you got started in jiu-jitsu.

I started practicing at the age of nine in a small team in Brazil called Clube Condor in Niterói under Benevenuto Antunes. When my teacher got hurt, I started training with Zé Marcelo. I was also competing with BTT, but I always got graduated by my first teacher. I thought: "I started with him at the age of nine, the guy is like a father to me, I want to get my black belt from him".

I got my black belt when I was very young, at the age of 20. I got the blue belt at 14, and I was fighting as a juvenile. The purple one, I received it when I was 17 and I was fighting as an adult. My trajectory was swift. At the age of 20, I got my black belt and at the time there was almost no black belt of that age. It was not so common.
Until the black belt I was fighting only in Rio de Janeiro area. I just had a chance to get out of Brazil in 2010, four years ago when I went to fight at the European Championships in Lisbon.

How did you go at the Europeans?

I was fighting as a middleweight. I had several very good fights. I have pictures with the guys from Atos, because I was friends with Durinho since college. I had visited Atos in São Paulo and then I met the Mendes brothers, Ramon Lemos, André and everyone from São Paulo and Rio Claro. But in this competition, at my first competition outside of Brazil I wasn't part of Atos. I represented my teacher. At that time I was training with this teacher, Luíz Paulo. But there was no way; I had to fight with Durinho. We fought in the quarterfinals and he won.

And that's when I had the first opportunity for a seminar. I went just to compete, to spend a week and come back. In the last day of the European Championship, a friend of mine, who was the sponsor from Brazil Combat and who was a great help in the beginning of my career, said: “Leo, there’s a seminar for you in Spain. Do you want to go?
I have never given a seminar. Since purple belt I was teaching in the city. I said: "Sure!"
I didn't speak English nor Spanish. I was going with this french guy that I've never seen in my life. I was going to Bilbao. Nine hours away from Lisbon and not knowing where to go. But how do I go with a guy who I don’t know well?  How I’m going to another country? It was the first time that I had come out of Brazil. I stayed a week there, it was a success.

After my first seminar it opened the door to another seminar in another city, in Santander. I gave the seminar in Santander and then the same thing happened. I had to change my ticket on the day before we left for Brazil. I gave a seminar in Barcelona and another one in Reus. I stayed almost three months outside Brazil. I was teaching, giving private lessons. It was very good and I was managing to save some money. Then I started opening my eyes: I wanna get out of Brazil and start to teach the whole world. The deal is to make contacts."

I wanna get out of Brazil and start to teach the whole world. The deal is to make contacts."

I went back to Brazil, and some Peruvians were visiting my gym. I already knew a little bit of Spanish, a mix from Spanish with Portuguese, so I talked to them and they liked me:
"...Really, you give seminars? Come to Peru, I'll have you give a seminar”
I did not believe it. The next day they showed up with the ticket.
I saved some money, got my visa and came to the United States for the first time in 2010 to fight the Pan-Americans.

How did you start training with André Galvão?

He was doing a camp for the ADCC and when I came he was at that stage. I helped a lot and he liked it and said: Leo, I'm glad you're here. This began to strengthen the bonds of friendship between me and André. He was champion in 2011 in the ADCC openweight division. I stayed here for a while. I praticed the whole day and help Andre at the training and during the classes. In fact he had no competition class, the academy was not divided. The academy began to grow.
After he won the ADCC he invested a lot in the gym, it was expanding. At that time I had just graduated in sports science and physical education. There was nothing to keep me in Brazil. That's when I decided to come here and things started to work out. I got good sponsors at the time that helped me a lot to grow. People who believed in me and in my dream.
In the last two years I competed a lot and I won 27 medals in IBJJF championships in Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas. This year, thanks to God, I got the third place at the Panams, and it isn’t easy to get on the podium in the black belt division, especially with my story.

How is it competing in heavier divisions?

At the Pan-American, I fought with a guy from the Checkmat team, Mário Heriberto, he’s a black belt under Lucas Leite. And I stopped at the semifinal. I fought as an ultraheavyweight. I'm not an ultraheavyweight, but I fight like one. I started last year. It's a little bit of strategy. I think that a very big guy is not so used to fight with anyone smaller and faster. It's a different game, so sometimes I complicate them a lot. I thought it was cool when I tried it the first time and I liked it.

From the roosterweight to the heavyweight, everyone is strong. If you train with Guilherme Mendes, who is light, you will feel that he is very strong. If you fight with a middle, middle-heavy, they are very strong. So there's no big difference of strengh. The difference is that he is big and heavy. But that's a difference that you can get used to it; you will create difficulties for him, for his size. So I think this is a point in my favor. It was a bit of strategy also. At first I thought: I must go up in division, it was hard to make weight. I did it last year, almost every tournament; I fought as a super-heavy or ultraheavyweight. Actually I started in 2012, at the No Gi World Championship. I got a medal, I got third place. I lost to the champion in the semi-finals.
I did it in 2013 throughout the year and that's when I got most of my medals, 27 of them in the last two years. Before I had won medals in the Pan American Games, but in my normal heavy medium category and I stopped. I was third also at Pan-American in 2011. I won several opens, like the Miami Open. I won the Las Vegas Open, the San Francisco Open, among others.

Tell us about the Atos team.

The Atos team took second place at the Worlds for very few points, by six points of difference. If we had one more gold medal at any adult division we would have won.
We have the Mendes Atos, this one here and some affiliates all over the world. An interesting fact is that we usually go in to big competitions with an average of 80 athletes and bigger teams go with 300 athletes. The Gracie Barra enters with 300 athletes. I'm happy to be here helping in the growth of Atos. At the beginning, André and I were the only black belts here. Nowadays we have many great athletes who are looking to training harder.

How do you feel about new techniques and modern jiu-jitsu?

In fact many positions, such as fifty-fifty, are not exactly new. People sometimes stayed in that position, used it a little but wouldn`t go further. The new generation tries to study the new Jiu Jitsu and incorporate new things. And they end up discovering new variations, new ways to fight. And I think this is an evolution, that’s what makes Jiu Jitsu so fun. Jiu Jitsu is not like karate, where you have that a sequence of moves where you just have to do a combination of foreordained moves and practice to be faster. Jiu Jitsu evolves; there are appearing new things, just like in chess.

They lock the fight, sure, but that's the point. Each one uses his own gun. If the guy fights loose, I want to lock him to stop him. If the guy fights pretty tight, I'll want to stay loose. So that's the strategy and that’s why it is cool. Everyone has a different game. People criticize because they don't understand the game to get into it and to be a part of it. Those who criticize are stopped in time. "Oh, I don't like that." People doesn’t like that because they doesn't know. If they knew, they would have liked it. That’s what I think: If you lock sometimes it gets really boring. They pull together, nobody wants to go up, and the guy wants to fight for advantage, that’s bad.
The Federation must monitor the evolution of Jiu Jitsu. Then they have to launch a new rule to avoid it to get boring. This new rule that they came with, the 20 seconds rule when the two pulled together, is a good exemple. Twenty seconds, stops, stands up, penalty for both and the fight starts again. It was perfect. In the World Championship there’s no one stalling, fighting for advantage. Now it’s getting exciting. "Is he going to go up, is the other guy going up?" It is much more exciting. It’s very cool. This rule is perfect; it was a great decision by the federation.
Ever had to ref a peculiar match?

There are crazy things, like the one that Budo Dave put on Instagram. A purple belt fight, in the Master division, at last year's World Championship No-Gi. When the fight started, the guy went and kicked the other on in the legs. He was disqualified in 5 seconds. He came on the mats, turned to me and said: the fight will end in less than 10 seconds. I thought: "The man is kidding" How is he going to end so soon? He told me again: "The fight will end in less than 10 seconds, but my opponent is going to win." I looked at him and said: "You don't want to fight? You're going to give the victory to him, is it?"

And he replied: "No, I want to fight." Then I thought: "There is going to be trouble." Then I started the fight, the man kicked the other guy. I stopped the fight. He got disqualified and he went home happy. This is impressive. The guy paid $ 130 for registration, came from Mongolia to Los Angeles to give a kick and go home. And he will still take a disciplinary sanction. He won't be competing several IBJJF tournaments, he will stay without competing for a year or two.

We got some photos of your matches at the Miami Open, tell us how it went.

This tournament was excellent, I got 2nd place in the openweight division, and I lost in the final to Cyborg, in his hometown of Miami. I had good fights. In the semi-final I won to one of Cyborg’s students, Ricardo Resende, who won the Grand Prix of the World Expo. I beat him in the semi-final. I was losing 10 to zero; 30 seconds left on the clock and I threw him down, got a armlock and I finished the fight.