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From Garage to Royal Palace

A Story of the Globalization of Jiu-Jitsu

In April 2023, we celebrate Legacy Month. We wanted to share an interesting story of one of the Legacy Hall Award recipients.

Master Nelson Monteiro is a Pioneer in the Globalization of Jiu-Jitsu. He has been training Jiu-Jitsu for 41 years and has seen the sport change drastically during this time. He received his Black Belt in 1989 in Brazil and his Coral Belt in 2019 in Del Mar, CA, from Master Carlos Gracie Jr. during the second Gracie Barra World Summit. His lifetime pursuit of self-development, dedication to the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle, and Gracie Barra is fascinating and why he was awarded the Legacy Award years ago.

The Beginning

Master Nelson started training Jiu-Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro with Master Carlos Jr. years before Gracie Barra opened. He moved to Barra da Tijuca when Master Carlos opened the first GB school in 1986. He stayed there until 1989 when he graduated from the University at the age of 23 years old.

After he graduated from University, Master Nelson moved to Encinitas, California. He was so passionate about Jiu-Jitsu that he decided to start training and teaching Jiu-Jitsu. He opened his first school out of his garage in 1990 and named it after himself.

After approximately 1 year, people from the city came knocking on his door due to complaints from neighbors about the cars that were always around. Master Nelson was told he had 30 days to close it down.

So in 1991, he found a location in Del Mar, CA, where he moved his school. He recalls this was a difficult time because no one knew what Jiu-Jitsu was back then. Getting students was not as easy as it is today.

A Student that Changed the Sport

In 1993, Royce Gracie becomes a star in the first-ever UFC. Suddenly times got easier at the school. People became interested in knowing training in Jiu-Jitsu because of the success on this new world stage.

One of his students, named Ben, entered his doors due to his interest in the UFC fights. He was a University student there, completing his advanced studies and training for over a year. One day this student and Master Nelson went to lunch, and what Ben shared would change the trajectory of the sport of Jiu-Jitsu.

Ben revealed to Master Nelson that he was actually Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, son of the President of the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Tahnoon wanted to continue training and asked Nelson to come to his country and help him. Sheikh Tahnoon asked Nelson to propose a business agreement and come visit his country.

After a visit to Abu Dhabi, Master Nelson decided that he would move to continue Sheikh Tahnoon’s training. Master Nelson left his American students in capable hands and went to UAE to see where this adventure would take him.

Time in the UAE

Master Nelson continued training Sheikh Tahnoon at the Royal Palace in Abu Dhabi. Due to the fact that Sheikh Tahnoon was very interested in MMA, he and Nelson worked together on an MMA production in 1997 for Pentagon Combat, which included big names of the sport in those days, This event was held in Brazil and left a big splash, with lasting repercussions for Brazil and influenced future events Nelson and Sheikh Tahnoon would organize.

A rivalry between two Brazilian styles transcended out of the cage of the event and a huge riot broke out. As a result, the government banned MMA events in the country for 10 years, setting back its growth. It also affected the Sheikh’s intentions to invest in the sport in Brazil.

During the period spent in Abu Dhabi with the Sheikh, Master Nelson started a local club to train fighters who wanted to train Jiu-Jitsu and it was called Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC). Here, fighters would come from all over the world to train. And after the Pentagon Combat fiasco, Sheikh Tahnoon turned his sights on his own country. He wanted to organize an MMA event in the UAE. Unfortunately, his father believed MMA was too violent and opposed it.

In brainstorming ideas, it was decided that they would organize a submission grappling event instead, bringing the top athletes in the world for this tournament. The event would be called the ADCC because the organization was led by Nelson Monteiro’s Club.

The first ADCC was held in 1998 and was a huge success. Many of the top grapplers in the world at the time fought in the event. Due to the past success, the following year, many more were requested to be a part of the event. The ADCC quickly became one of the most important tournaments in the world for jiu-jitsu athletes.

After 4 years spent in the UAE, Nelson Monteiro and his family returned to Brazil, spending around 4 years there before he returned to the United States to continue his work as an instructor for the Gracie Barra School.

Return to the United States the Legacy

Master Nelson returned to the United States in 2005 to his school in Encinitas, California. While his time in the UAE, Nelson changed his school name to Gracie Barra around 1996. It was the first GB school in the USA, even before Master Carlos Gracie Jr. opened Headquarters in Lake Forest, CA, in 2005.

When we spoke to Master Nelson this month about what Legacy meant to him, he referred to the vision of the sport's growth. He has had a unique journey from Rio de Janeiro, to Barra da Tijuca, to Encinitas. Then his movement from Garage to school in Del Mar, to Royal Palace and ADCC.

All these years of dedication to GB and the vision of spreading Jiu-Jitsu to all communities around the world, this unique experience of meeting and training Sheikh Tahnoon led to an amazing adventure that led to a huge expansion of the vision of growth for the sport.

Master Nelson says he could talk for hours about his experiences in Abu Dhabi for those 4 years. He says people often say that he could write a book about all the amazing things he got to experience during that time. But his biggest takeaway is that he took Jiu-Jitsu to Abu Dhabi, and you can now see what Abu Dhabi has done with it.

Globalization of Jiu-Jitsu

The true Legacy of Gracie Barra is the people of GB, that run with the vision of growth. The work that Master Carlos Gracie Jr. started and students of his that are running with the vision has led to the massive expansion of Jiu-Jitsu all over the world.

Through this Globalization, the amazing truth is that the world is a better place for it. People get to live their passion by making a living with the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle. People who really love and have passion for Jiu-Jitsu can now make it their career. They can become professional athletes, coaches, school owners, etc.

A legacy of Master Carlos Gracie Jr. and Gracie Barra is that people can now live life by living their passion.

Blog Written by Dawn Korsen, a Gracie Barra Brown Belt


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