Be Like Water: Reflections on Rolling with a BJJ World Champion

The Experience

It was a hot afternoon in late May. I spent the hour long car ride to Port Chester, listening to a podcast. I park the car and begin my walk to the academy around the corner. Upon entering the Jiu Jitsu Mill, you’re hit with the bright, vibrant color scheme coating the floors and walls. Bright yellow and neon green, inspired by a commercial filmed at a BJJ academy in Japan. I remove my shoes, step on to the mats, greet my fellow grapplers (with a handshake, fist bump or “Oss”) and then head to the changing area. After a few minutes of independent warming up, stretching and chatting, the session began. The training session is scarce in terms of numbers, it was impromptu after all. There’s maybe 6 or 7 of us.

He’s a World Champion

After two or three rolls, I am paired with a different black belt. His appearance is relatively unassuming. He’s a friendly guy, smiling a lot. He’s probably 6’3, and on the skinnier side. His name is Bernardo Faria. He’s the reason for the impromptu training session. He’s the reason I’m here. Bernardo is one of the best to ever step foot on a mat. He holds one of the most coveted titles in the sport; a 5 time Mundial (World) Champion. Bernardo also has the rare distinction of being one of only eight athletes to be a “Double Gold” Mundial medalist. This means that he won a World Title in his weight category(221 lbs.) as well as the “Open Weight” category in the same tournament. Later in the evening, Bernardo would be conducting a seminar which I attended; the training session was a bonus.

5X World Champion Bernardo Faria

Be Like water…

Bernardo pressures his opponent.

For years I’ve heard the old adage “Be Like Water”. Especially in the Martial Arts world. Bruce Lee said “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water…”. To be brutally honest, I’m not much of a Bruce Lee fan, but I feel him on this statement. I rolled with Bernardo three or four times that day. After each roll, I’d go back and try to approach his game with a different plan, but every time I suffered the same results. On the way home that night, all I could think about was how effective Bernardo’s game was. It’s his ability to overwhelm everyone he rolled with, with an increasing level of heaviness and pressure. It reminded me of swimming in the ocean, getting over taken by the power of the water. The harder you fight it, the stronger the water gets.

A common tenet of Jiu Jitsu is “There is no losing, only learning.” Rolling with Bernardo was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in Jiu Jitsu, it taught me valuable lessons. Bernardo’s ability to make you carry his weight in any position is ineffable. No matter what you do, he finds a way to exhaust you with his weight. His pressure found every single hole in my movement and flooded it, like a boat with a hole. Faria has perfected his ability to deadweight his way wherever he’d like while he’s on top of you. Most times when you play guard, fatigue is caused from rapid, explosive movements; but when you go against Bernardo you fatigue from carrying his weight, he’s a master at this. Going against Bernardo is what I picture drowning to be like. It wasn’t the amount of times in which he tapped me, it was his ability to take you over like the power of water that makes him so frighteningly effective .

Pressure Passer

A different angle of Bernardo’s patented pass, pressuring his opponent’s diaphragm.

While describing his mindset and gameplay later, at the seminar, Faria said “I don’t care how many times I tap you, or how quickly I tap you. I take my time and slowly pour on the pressure. It may take me four minutes or even five, but I will get there. I will get the submission.” It was efficiency, that makes him so effective. He doesn’t waste energy. Bernardo attacks his opponents breath before he attacks their limbs. Systematically, increasing his weight and pressure, driving his shoulder into his opponent’s diaphragms as they soon find themselves struggling for air. He fatigues his opponents so they’ll make mistakes and give up position so they can breath. Faria capitalizes on the opportunity, giving his opponents a false sense of security. Once they give up position, he attacks their carotid artery with intense shoulder pressure, drawing power from his toes. The pressure to the carotid now has his opponents struggling to keep oxygen to the brain. Its like kinking a hose, his shoulder is the kink, stopping the blood supply to the brain. It’s almost simple, he attacks his opponent’s diaphragms fatiguing their breath, only to progress to attacking his opponents carotid artery, exhausting their blood supply to the brain.

Maximum Efficiency, Minimal Effort

Bernardo choking his opponent. Using his pressure to advance his position and get a submission.

Bernardo’s style is based off of efficiency. One of the core tenets of the founder of Judo, Kano Jigoro, was “Maximum efficiency with minimal effort”. This tenet describes precisely the game of Bernardo Faria. It was an eye opening experience, not only to roll with one of the best athletes in my sport, but to experience his approach, first hand in the art of Jiu Jitsu. Be like water, is all I could think of while reflecting on my rolls with a World Champion in Bernardo Faria. Wherever he is on top, his ability to fatigue you is ever present. I tried to combat this by playing Spider Guard, a guard in which you place your feet in your opponents biceps so the strength of your legs can keep them at a distance. Soon, my legs were filled with lactic acid, burned out, I found myself being forced to give up position.

Highly Recommend the Faria Experience

Bernardo and I after his seminar at The Jiu Jitsu Mill.

If you ever have the opportunity to train with Bernardo, I highly recommend the experience. He was a great training partner, and he was a very good teacher. What I like about Bernardo’s teaching style is he gives you a little bit of history of how and when he came to learn the position, crediting who ever showed him. His instruction is detailed simply as opposed to many minute details. Before attending the seminar, I watched a lot of Faria’s matches( here’s on of my favorites), I also listened to podcasts he had appeared on( heres a good one with grapple arts). I’ve heard he’s opening up a gym in September in Massachusetts. If your location doesn’t make training with him possible, Bernardo has multiple dvd sets out there available for streaming that I highly recommend(I own every dvd he’s put out, and they’re all fantastic).


If you enjoyed this blog post, you may enjoy my blog entry about my experiences in San Francisco training with Eddie Bravo’s first Black belt. 

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