In Meet the Pandas, we introduce the many members of Panda Nation to the BJJ world. Previously, we took a closer look at Hillary Witt, mastermind of the Inverted Gear designs and daily operations. In this episode, we focus on the freshly promoted black belt Frederico Silva, who is taking the BJJ-scene by storm with his super-dynamic style.
Frederico Silva (27) grew up admiring his cousin, the multiple-time world champion and all-round badass Lucas Lepri (of Alliance fame). After leaving his hometown Brasília for a life in the States, and getting promoted to black belt by his cousin, Frederico has been tearing up the competition scene. He’s also a very committed instructor at Lepri’s dojo in Charlotte, NC.
Did your famous cousin introduce you to jiu-jitsu?
Federico Silva: Yes, he was the first. When Lucas introduced me to the art I was about fourteen years old. I was fascinated right away, but I didn’t train with him regularly because we lived in different cities. Whenever I would visit him we would train together. It wasn’t until I turned sixteen that I got more serious, and I found an academy in my city Brasília – the capital of Brazil. It was a Gracie Barra school and my first professor was Rafael de Freitas, also known as ‘Barata.’ After a while Barata left town and moved to the USA, so I started to train under professors Rodrigo Rodé and Juliano Leiro. I stayed under Gracie Barra flag until about 2015, right before I decided to move to the United States. There, I joined Lucas’ school in North Carolina, and I changed teams. The rest is history.
What do you remember about your first competition?
FS: The first time I competed I had just about three months of training under my belt. I remember one match when the guy pulled guard. I passed, mounted, and tapped him out with an Ezekiel choke. I also fought in the open division at that tournament. The first match I choked a big guy from the back, and I lost the second one. No, I wasn’t really nervous or anything. It was a really nice feeling. Before I started training jiu-jitsu I did Muay Thai for a few years, and I had two fights. So I was able deal with the adrenaline and stress of a fight situation. I was hooked right away.
So far you’ve done really well at black belt competitions.
FS: Yeah, I’m happy. I recently won the silver medal (adult division) at the Houston Open. It was only my second time competing as a black belt. I fought at the Atlanta Open the week before that, and I took third place there. So I’m getting closer to the gold. Step-by-step.
Did you train jiu-jitsu full-time back in Brazil?
FS: No, I was studying physical education. I almost graduated, but in 2012 I competed at the Worlds. Then I decided to quit university and remain in the USA for a few months. At first I went to Albuquerque to train at Barata’s school. After that I travelled back and forth for a bit, and I spent some time at the dojo of Alexandre Ferreira Santos ‘Dande’ in Texas. I went back to Brazil, and after a year Lucas invited me to join him at his academy in Charlotte. I took that great opportunity at the end of 2015.
What is your daily schedule like?
FS: We have competition training every noon class, and we train two times a day until Thursday. Friday and Saturday it’s one session a day. Three times a week we do strength and conditioning training. That’s a lot of functional stuff, plyometrics, and of course specific BJJ drills. And yeah, I also really love teaching. I run the intermediate, kids, and fundamentals classes. Lucas focuses more on the advanced and competition classes. We divide the kids classes between the both of us, because we really enjoy their energy. Our days are quite full, but we love it, and we make sure we provide a good training environment.
Did your experiences in physical education help your teaching?
FS: Definitely, especially in the kids classes. In university I worked as an assistant teacher at several schools, and the professionals there gave me all sorts of tricks on how to keep the little ones interested and energized, how to deal with them in a positive way, and how to communicate effectively. No, I never wanted to be just a personal trainer. I was always more into the educational side of things.
Do you have some advice on how to get little kids interested in BJJ? (I have a 4-year old daughter…)
FS: The most important thing is that they enjoy themselves. We do a lot of movement and balance games. Like the Spiderman challenge where you have to walk along the wall, upside down on your hands, with your feet against the wall. Sometimes I make them do zig-zag jumps, like jumping on one foot across the mat. Or Sumo is a good one too, where they have to push each other out of a small circle. You have to be creative.
And then of course, I teach them the basic self-defense moves, like escaping from wrist grabs, holds and basic ground positions, breakfalls, rolls, hip escapes, technical stand-ups. Or I let them start in a certain position, and the first one who gets the mount, wins. Just simple drills to let them understand the game. Thankfully, I have two other coaches that help me with those classes. They are also very good. It’s really a team effort at our gym. I couldn’t do it alone.
What did you struggle with in learning jiu-jitsu?
FS: Well, I always tried to have fun and explore new positions, so I never got too frustrated with the art. When I started jiu-jitsu I only played on top, and my first professor encouraged me to open up the game and to develop my guard. So I accepted his challenge and embraced the half guard. But overall, I think I struggle most with the refined strategy games being played in my division, like how to deal with the 50/50 game, when people only fight for advantages, or the lapel guards, when the other guy tries to tie you up, stall and ride the clock. That’s my big struggle right now. To find and answer to that boring, passive game. I like to go forward!
One thing I noticed after watching your matches is your crazy good balance. You seem almost impossible to sweep. How did you develop that?
FS: That’s all thanks to Lucas. He’s the man. Every day I learn some new detail he uses. He really knows how to game-plan and train specifically for certain opponents. He has an answer for everything. I don’t do balance ball drills or any of that stuff. All my balance comes from specific training and using the new positions that Lucas teaches me. I always like to try new things.
Who are some of your idols in jiu-jitsu?
FS: Aside from Lucas I respect Rodolfo Vieira a lot. His takedowns and dynamic guard passing are fantastic. He really knows how to control the pace of the match. But for me, the most important thing about the jiu-jitsu fighters is not their technique or game. It’s their attitude. Win or lose, always keep your composure and be respectful. That’s the essence of a martial art. You don’t see a lot of that with a lot of the new generation of competitors. These days there are a lot of bad boys in jiu-jitsu. I don’t like that attitude.
Tell me about your most memorable competition.
FS: I think it was the Brazilian Nationals in no-gi, at brown belt level. I was coming from a few competition losses, and for a while I was quite unmotivated. But I decided to push myself, and I started to train no-gi with a Luta Livre school: Cerrado MMA. That was an entirely new style for me. It was a more MMA-based grappling style with a super tight top game, takedowns, arm-triangle chokes and leg attacks. I taught some classes there and we exchanged knowledge.
So I committed myself and I was really focused. I went down to Rio with my fiancée and my two sons. For the first match I had a bye, because the guy didn’t make weight. Then I fought a guy from Gracie Humaíta, who I saw compete in the finals of the Europeans a while before. He gave Marcio André a really tough match, so I was pretty scared to fight that guy. But I managed to take him down and submit him with an arm-triangle choke. In the finals I faced someone who’s now my teammate, Caio Rigante Nunes. A month prior we had fought at the Sao Paulo Open in the no-gi finals, and he caught me in a footlock pretty bad – he destroyed my foot. But in the rematch I ended up winning. So that was very special. Also because I had my family cheering for me.
What is the most important thing about jiu-jitsu for you?
FS: I think jiu-jitsu is a journey, a constant search for growth. Not in a financial way, but becoming a better human being. Day after day, by doing something you love. For me it doesn’t make sense to just get a job you hate just because of the money. I think people should look for something they love, and follow that passion all the way. Go for it. Jiu-jitsu is a lifestyle that gives us the opportunity to grow, and to help other people to do the same. To help them to grow into a better person.
Finally, what advice would you have given yourself as a white belt?
FS: That’s a hard question man. But always believe in yourself, and don’t be afraid to fail or to look bad. Just do what you love. Respect everybody, and go forward.
Frederico Silva teaches at www.lepribjj.com in Charlotte, NC. Follow him on Instagram: @fredalvessilva.