Welcome to the Jungle: Abraham Marte on High-Level Jiu Jitsu Training in Isolated Areas

Published on by Nico Ball

Photo Credit: Jeff Chu @jeffreyschu and Alberto Marchetti

Abraham Marte is the only high-level black belt competitor from the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean island that is relatively isolated from the rest of the Jiu Jitsu world. Despite living in country with very few academies and no competitions, Marte has never had a problem getting in the training he needs to compete major competitions. Marte sat down and talked with us while visiting GFteam in Rio de Janeiro to discuss what it takes to become World Champion and to give some advice to other athletes who are also training in isolated areas. 

 

For those of you that don't know, GFteam is a known competition gym here in Rio. The founder and head coach is Julio Cesar Pereira a 6th-degree black belt under Monir Salomão. GF team is not generally the academy you think about when if you're looking for a few casual rolls to blow off steam after a long day at work. Their athletes are known for being aggressive competitors and their training is renown for being hardcore. Abraham Marte became affiliated with the team in 2014 after breaking with the Yamaski academy joining the ranks of BJJ powerhouses like Rodolfo Vieira and Ricardo Evangelista.

The headquarters is located on the north side of Rio in an area far from the normal tourist attractions of the city. The entrance opens abruptly onto the sidewalk, only a couple of blocks away from the Meier train station. There is no sign, just a 4-foot tall fence that separates the street from the training area of the gym. There are no seats, no air conditioning, and no luxuries; just mats, a small office, and a small room upstairs that houses athletes looking for cheap accommodations.

There are a lot of rumors that circulate about the brutal training sessions conducted at GFteam, most of them stemming from the 2 P.M. afternoon training.  The 2-hour long afternoon session is exclusive to competitors and attendance is by invitation only.  Once you're in, the only way out is after completing ten rounds of 6-minute rolls. Ten rounds are the minimum because at any time Pereira could send you back into the middle of the room (or the shark tank as its more commonly known) to complete up to 20 rounds.

The gritty, no-frills training at GF team is intense but it is an experience highly coveted by people traveling to Rio in order to evolve their game in a short period of time, especially athletes that come from smaller countries were Jiu Jitsu is less popular and training sessions are more sporadic.

Abraham Marte who trains and teaches at Basico BJJ in Santo Domingo alongside his teacher Abraham Tabar. There are no BJJ federations or competitions held on the island, but every year since 2007, Marte has traveled to the California to compete in IBJJF Worlds, where he would test the techniques that he had so meticulously worked on in training with Tabar and his other training partners who were notably smaller than himself. Even though a lot of the opponents he faced on the mats in competition had more tournament experience and most likely a wider variety of training partners to test them, Marte was able to make his way onto the podium time and time again.

Being the only high-level competitor from his small Caribbean country didn't stop Marte from abandoning his aspirations to become a lawyer and pursuing his dreams to train and compete full time in Jiu-Jitsu.

But what was his secret? Surely coming from such an isolated area he must have invested time and money into some extensive training camps, right?

Wrong.

Marte's secret was that he focused on mastering the basics. He found a good teacher and stuck alongside him trying to absorb as much information as he could. He was happy with Tabar and never felt an urgency to travel to places were Jiu Jitsu was more popular to learn more advanced techniques.

According to Marte, traveling to Brazil, or any other country for that matter, isn't essential to becoming a World Champion. Despite living in a country with no other high-level competitors, Marte says he has never felt the need to travel in order to be successful in the sport.

Evolution should be organic, something developed through introspection and focusing on the fundamentals. It doesn't matter if you go to the most expensive school and buy the best kimonos; developing skill is dependent on the individual, and their ability to "learn how to learn".

The secret to the Dominican's success was his perseverance in perfecting even the simplest of techniques. Every day before training Marte would drill 200 triangles then every day after training he would drill 200 more triangles. Now, till this day, triangles are still his most successful submission.

"It's one thing to travel if you're looking for hard rolls," he says,  "but it's not imperative for becoming a good athlete." Instead, he recommends that students focus attention on understanding their own learning styles and take advantage of the resources that they have at home.

"You need to be able to look at yourself and question things. If you need to come here to an environment like this to evolve, that's like saying you can only make a cake with the most expensive vanilla from Madagascar."

Not exactly the kind of advice you would expect to hear from a high-level competitor who comes from an isolated island, especially from someone that decided to join a team in Brazil with one of the most notoriously grueling training camps.

Marte joined GF team 2014, but it wasn't the hard sparring sessions that interested him. He chose them because he related with their story and identified with Pereira's fighting style and philosophy as a coach. 

For Marte, if you want to be the best then the focus should be on the process and not the product. Nowadays, a lot of athletes are rushing to win medals in all of the local tournaments and are losing sight of the fact that Jiu Jitsu isn't just a competition sport, it's a martial art. At the lower belts, the focus should be on learning philosophy and the fundamentals of the sport, not on competing and winning medals.

Even as a black belt Marte's focus wasn't on competition. It was on learning. He was looking to improve technically and Pereira had expert knowledge that he thought would improve his game the most.

But what about experience? The more you compete the better you get, right?

As he worked his way up the ranks of the lower belts Marte himself was only able to compete once a year at Worlds, but that didn't stop him from outclassing his more experienced counterparts.

Learning is not contingent on competition. Marte himself always outweighed his own training partners on the island and had to travel outside of the country to compete, but that didn't stop him from excelling in international competitions.

Winning local tournaments doesn't make you a great athlete. A lot of athletes think gold medals will fast track them to the next belt, but winning doesn't necessarily mean you're advancing on a technical level.  Greatness is in the details. It's the ability to technically outclass your opponent and undermine their entire game instead of letting your fate be decided by a last minute scramble.

Progress is based on the individual and not the environment or a number of medals that a person has. Great athletes are able to learn from every experience on the mats whether rolling with a seasoned black belt or an overly rambunctious blue belt. Instead of focusing on smashing through a lot of local competitions at the lower belts, it's important to work alongside a teacher and learn the fundamentals of the art sauve.

The goal of competition should be to develop as an athlete by testing your technique against other competitors from around the world. At the lower belts, competitions should be an evaluation of your training and let you know what you need to go back home and work on.

What separates good training from great training?

On the outside, GFteam may seem like a rough group of guys complete with muscles and cauliflower ear, but in actuality, they are a close group of friends that live, train, and learn together. Through training, they have developed a shared trust and friendship that allows them to push each other during each roll. After the grueling two-hour training session, a small group of them form outside of a local acai shop alongside Julio Pereira to relax and wait for the next training session. It's their love of the sport, not the desire to win, that motivates them to get up every morning for training. 

Not everyone has the luxury of having the best training partners or the multiple sessions a day, especially for those athletes in countries where Jiu Jitsu is still growing, but that doesn't mean you can't evolve to become one of the best in the sport. Great athletes are distinguished by their ability to thrive despite their environment, and that is because they know how to adapt and make the most out of every training opportunity.  

 

 

 

 


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