MMA fighting styles

“HARD WORK AND GOOD INTENTIONS” | A Conversation with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Champion Fabio Leopoldo – VC Reporter

ON THE PICTURE : Fabio Leopoldo: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Champion, Founder and Chief Instructor of Morumbi Jiu Jitsu in Ventura, January 2022. The studio also has a location in Thousand Oaks. Photo by Chris Mortenson

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer | Pictures of Chris Mortenson

In the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in general, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in particular, Fabio Leopoldo needs no introduction. The Brazilian native who now resides in Ventura is a fourth-degree black belt and multiple-time world champion. He also won the Pan American championship six times and the Brazilian national title twice. Most recently, he won first place in his division (Master 3/Open Class for Male Black Belts) at the Brazilian International Jiu-Jitsu Federation Master Jiu-Jitsu World Championship 2021, held in Las Vegas in November.

Luckily for local martial arts fans, Leopoldo is also a studio owner and teacher. As the founder and chief instructor of Morumbi Jiu Jitsu (with locations in Ventura and Thousand Oaks), “Professor Fabio” has trained dozens of students at all levels – from children to black belts now in professional competition – while continuing to make time for family, friends and his own tournaments.

He also took the time to talk to the Ventura County Reporter about his MMA career, moving to Ventura, and finding a healthy lifestyle on and off the mat.

VCR: How old were you when you started martial arts? What prompted you to take up the practice again?

Fabio Leopoldo: I started training in martial arts between 4 and 8 years old. I practiced judo and karate, but started serious training around the age of 15. I probably started doing martial arts because I was raised by a single mom and had so much energy. Like all kids, I was also influenced by action movies, TV shows and the UFC.

What were your first influences?

My cousin, who was part of the Brazilian Olympic judo team, inspired me to return to martial arts training. then, I was inspired by master Rickson Gracie, the famous undefeated Brazilian martial arts champion. But the biggest was my grandfather, who supported me from day one and was always with me during my competitions.

Tell us a bit about how your skills in BJJ and MMA have developed. Where did you train? What practices have you learned?

I was really lucky to have learned Jiu Jitsu directly from the Gracie family. It was in the early days of MMA when various styles of martial arts clashed. I trained in São Paulo at the Ryan Gracie Academy, and studied Jiu Jitsu, no-gi Jiu Jitsu (Jiu Jitsu without the traditional uniform), judo and MMA.

How is no-gi Jiu Jitsu different from traditional Jiu Jitsu?

Jiu jitsu using the kimono (the loose, white uniform) is a more traditional style of training. The No-gi was more intended for self-defense, such as grappling, or for people who train in MMA. The no-gi has become very popular because it incorporates many moves found in traditional wrestling, which is very familiar in the West.

Why did you choose to turn professional with MMA?

Until 2002, I focused on traditional Jiu Jitsu. However, after 2002 when I won the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championship, I decided to accept the challenges of MMA and represent Jiu Jitsu (and my academy) in MMA competition. Also, during this period, I was assisting my teacher, Ryan Gracie, in all of his matches and competitions. It is therefore understandable that I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

How does the training of a professional differ from that of an accomplished and enthusiastic amateur?

I think the intensity of training makes the difference, as well as the mindset outside of training.

Since when do you practice professional competition?

I’ve been competing professionally since about 2000, when I was promoted to black belt; however, I had been doing competitive Jiu Jitsu since 1995.

When did you come to Ventura County? What brings you here?

Between 2006 and 2008, I moved between Brazil and New York, training and competing. I have always followed a healthy lifestyle, so when I decided to immigrate to the United States, I searched and searched for a place where I could enjoy mild weather, practice a healthy lifestyle , raise my family and also practice surfing, which I love. So, in 2007, when I visited Ventura, I fell in love with the area and decided to establish my academies there.

What does a healthy lifestyle mean to you?

I come from a big city in Brazil, the fifth biggest in the world, with a lot of traffic, noise, pollution and traffic jams. That’s why I wanted to live near the ocean, with my family, in harmony with nature, athletics, nutrition and spiritual well-being.

When did you open Morumbi Jiu Jitsu?

I opened my first academy in Brazil in 1999, which is still in operation and has promoted over 100 black belts. I opened my Ventura Academy in 2008, and in 2009 I opened in Thousand Oaks. We offer training in Jiu Jitsu, self-defense, kick-boxing, strength and conditioning, for adults and children.

Do you have professionals who train in your studio? How do you help them develop their skills?

Certainly. We host world-class Jiu Jitsu competitors, former UFC fighters, and I also coach Jordan Wright, who currently fights in the UFC.

Most of our students are there to learn how to defend themselves and train in Jiu Jitsu. We also have a lot of talented fighters training together. We have Jiu Jitsu classes for beginners, intermediate, advanced and MMA.

What do you think are some of the benefits of practicing a practice like BJJ, Judo or other martial arts?

Jiu Jitsu training is great for self-defense, weight control, and confidence. Every young person and adult can benefit from our program.

What is your training schedule today?

When I’m not training for competition, I train three times a week in Jiu Jitsu, and twice in strength and conditioning. I think it’s important to also remember that I’m always on the mat to teach. If I’m training for competition, I increase my number of Jiu Jitsu workouts, and I also increase the intensity of my strength and conditioning training.

Fabio Leopoldo (right, in white gi) battles Luke Harris at the Brazilian International Jiu-Jitsu Federation 2021 World Master Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas, November 2021. Photo submitted by Fabio Leopoldo

Do you have a family? If so, do they also participate in MMA?

Yes, I am very proud of my family. My wife, Dini (who holds a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu), teaches strength and conditioning classes at both academies, and my children are active students. By the way, my two children love to compete!

Describe a typical day/week for you.

First, I cook breakfast for my family. Then I work on my mobility and flexibility for about 30 minutes. After that, I usually teach a class in the morning and run the academy in the morning. As we have two academies, I alternate places, day and night.

Your day begins with preparing breakfast for the family. Do you like to cook?

In fact, I make breakfast every time my wife has already left the house in the morning. I love to cook, but there really is no time for cooking with two growing children and a business with two sites. However, on weekends, I like to barbecue with my wife and children. We often have friends and guests passing by, so my wife and I like to cook Brazilian dishes on the grill.

While we’re on the subject, what types of foods do you eat to stay healthy?

I try to avoid excess sugar and gluten. I follow a healthy diet. I like to eat berries, avocados, eggs, acai, green vegetables and other high protein foods. The good thing is that my wife also eats very healthy. I see our body as the engine of a car: if you put in good fuel, you will certainly perform better in all aspects. I try not to view food as pleasure.

When you’re not training and teaching, how do you spend your time? What do you do for fun?

Well, my family is number one. I have two healthy and active boys, ages 8 and 5, and we always do things together on the weekends. On Sundays we like to go to church and weather permitting we will all go to the beach to surf or skateboard and we will all enjoy the beautiful California coastline. We also frequently plan Morumbi events on weekends, which is also very time consuming.

You mentioned earlier that you are an avid surfer. What are your favorite spots to surf?

My favorite surf spots are mainly those in the Ventura area. Ventura has many surf spots; it all depends on the direction of the swell. The truth is that we are lucky to live in this region.

What do you see in the near future for your MMA career? Do you plan to continue competing? How about further down the road, 10 or more years from now?

Well, I’m 45 and my main goal now is to train the next generation, like Jordan Wright, who is on his way to a world championship.

Currently, my Jiu Jitsu skills are at their peak and I look forward to winning the Jiu Jitsu World Championship this year.

New in-store plans for Morumbi Jiu Jitsu?

In addition to providing the best possible Jiu Jitsu and martial arts training (especially for children), this year our academy goal is also to be voted “Best Martial Arts Academy” in Ventura, for the 14th consecutive year!

Something you’d like to share with us about yourself or your studio that we haven’t covered here?

With hard work and good intentions, anything can be accomplished.

Morumbi Jiu Jitsu, 1182 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 805-496-1610 OR 3171 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-643-7717.