Mind-Body Jiu-Jitsu at Gracie Barra

April 29, 2022

I always wanted to learn a combat sport and heard good things about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), so after moving to Tucson to attend UArizona, I decided to check out Gracie Barra Tucson Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Self-Defense. The building is relatively large and about two-thirds of the interior is covered by an elevated blue mat. With padded walls all around, about 30 people can compete on this mat at a single time. There were multiple pairs of students rolling around and practicing different techniques on the blue mat.

What I found the most intriguing about watching the class was how technical the students were performing each move and, when they didn’t, how the professor/owner Enrique Villegas would step in and correct the student. Sometimes even having the student perform the move they got wrong on him so they would fully understand what they were doing. I could see that Professor Enrique cared and was motivated which motivated me.

The very next day, I was standing with fifteen other people on that blue mat dressed in a white Gi.

Gracie Barra is a “traditional” Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school, which means the uniforms are the traditional Japanese Gi consisting of a heavy cotton jacket, reinforced drawstring trousers, a light rash guard worn underneath the jacket, and a belt. There are many different colors and styles of Gis, but personally I prefer blue because blue is a subtle color and sweat stains are harder to see. The belts have a ranking system consisting of five different colors for adults (16 years old) and five colors for youth (15 years old or younger). Each belt allows 4 white stripes (or “degrees”) that also signal rank.  Currently I am a humble 2 stripe white belt, and I own a white and a blue Gi.

Diving into the Omoplata Technique with Professor Roberto Tussa

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has grown tremendously over the last 20 years where once it was nearly impossible to make a living traveling the world spreading jiu-jitsu It is now completely possible. With hundreds of instructors holding classes and seminars all around the world it is now common to find seminars being taught by world champions. Fortunately, Tucson’s Gracie Barra came through!

On April 23, 2022, I enrolled in a training seminar with Roberto Tussa, a heavyweight world champion in Gi Jiu-Jitsu. This was my first seminar and I was very excited to participate. I didn’t mind the $50 fee providing I would walk out feeling like I genuinely learned something that was beneficial to my Jiu-Jitsu practice. 

The seminar started like all classes usually do with a series of warm-up exercises led by Professor Tussa, who led all the break falls, triangles, and neck movements. The warm up exercises really get your core involved and when I first started the warm ups would kind of kick my butt but now my core is solid and I kick the warm ups butt. 

After warming up, we all sat in a circle around Professor Tussa as he explained a small piece of the large omoplata technique we were going to perform. Really, it was only the beginning of the technique. At first I was a little disappointed because I already knew about omoplata and wanted to learn the whole thing, not a tiny part. But, hey, I paid the $50 so I might as well play along. So I performed the small part of the technique, which consisted of performing three small movement perfectly (omoplata consists of ten movements in all). We had to focus on the very intricate details of these three movements consisting of leg movement and foot placement. 

 After about ten minutes of intense practice, we again gathered around as Professor Tussa went over the ins-and-outs of the next few moves in the omoplata technique. He demonstrated very specific details of each move, then told us to practice those moves exactly as he had demonstrated them. The intricate practice is learned through repetition and dedication to its perfection.  It takes a very long time to fully absorb the entirety of a technique because you aren’t just training your mind to remember where and how to move; you’re training your body in accordance to the technique you’re using and in response to the technique your opponent is using. The dedication is needed because it can take weeks, months, even years before one fully understand even the reasons behind basic techniques like the arm bar, triangle, or omoplata. 

This continued until we covered all ten moves in the omoplata technique. We then were paired with a partner and told to apply them to each other. My partner, was also a white belt who joined around the same time I did and shared an interest in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the same way I did. This was extremely challenging because although my partner and I had the technique down, we each knew that we were trying to get an omoplata on each other. It’s like taking your dog to the park and letting them off the leash, but then you need to “bait” them back with treats or toys because otherwise your dog knows that when they come back they will be leashed again.

Rolling around on the big blue mats at Gracie Barra I did not have any treats or toys to bait my partner in so trying to catch him in an omoplata was challenging My partner knew exactly what I was trying to do to him so every time I tried to catch his arm or leg to set my technique up he would shift his weight or move his arm/leg so I wouldn’t have any chance to get him in an omoplata. However, eventually he would slip up by simply getting fatigued and tired. Once that happened, I successfully accomplished my goal and put my partner in a deep omoplata right as the seminar was coming to an end.

After the seminar, some of us were promoted by getting higher belt bands. Two students moved from white to blue belts, one blue belt got a purple belt, and the gyms owner, Enrique Villegas, received a third stripe on his black belt. As for me and many others, well, seeing these promotions really puts in perspective how much more time and training we need to put in in order to advance.

Still, after I changed out of my Gi and into my regular clothes, I returned to my car feeling both pumped and a little exhausted, but that I got so much more than my $50-fee paid for. I learned a technique that was very beneficial to my Jiu Jitsu practice. 


Oscar Corral is a student at Gracie Barra Tucson and enjoys all forms of martial arts.