When Leandro Issa was 14, he followed in his big brother’s footsteps, and took a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class for the very first time. Almost immediately “Brodinho” showed potential, and after being encouraged and supported by his family, he went on to win the Mundials, better known as the BJJ World Championships, in 2004.
The third-degree black belt has since taken his mat wizardry to the cage, where he has accumulated 15 impressive victories, with nine of them unsurprisingly coming by way of submission.
However, when he’s not advancing up the bantamweight ranks, Issa regularly trains the next generation of grapplers at Singapore’s Evolve MMA, where he spreads the beauty of “the gentle art.” Here are six of his best tips for BJJ practitioners of all levels.
Build A Solid Foundation
“Learn the basic needs for a good strong base. For example, when you build a house, you start with the foundation. If there is no foundation, then the house is going to fall. It is like BJJ, so if your base is not as strong, then your game is going to have a lot of gaps.
“Your foundation has to be very, very strong. Some starting blocks are good posture, good pressure, and good balance. Those are the things you need to learn as a beginner. Anything you try after is going to work, if your foundation is strong. Plus, once you have reached that level you can watch some videos as homework, and try to learn from them as well.”
Drill, Drill, Drill
“I always tell my students to be on the mats as much time as they can. You have to drill those techniques so you develop muscle memory, because during training and rolling, you do not have time to think. So to get there, it is just drilling and muscle memory.
“If you stop for a while, you will not forget the technique, but the timing will not be there. When you think about applying the technique, it is already too late. But if you are training every day, once you see a technique, you can do it right away. You do not need to think about the technique, because it is muscle memory.”
Start By Just Defending
“The way I think jiu-jitsu works is, the first step of what you are going to learn is how to protect yourself. You learn how to protect yourself and how to defend yourself better. When you are defending, you have to be really calm.
“If you rush, then you start to make mistakes, and then you are going to get choked or submitted, so you have to be calm. I think your defense needs to come first. First, you are going to only defend.
“For example, when I train with a white belt, there is no way they can submit me. For the first bit, all they can do is just try to defend. Then, when they start to get better, maybe they will try to control me. Then one day, eventually, maybe they are going to submit me.”
Check Your Ego
“Every student is different. Some are younger and training every day, and some are a bit older and do not train as much. So I always tell my students they cannot compare themselves to others.
“Some older students will compare themselves to the younger ones. For example, if you are an older brown belt training with a young and competitive blue belt, eventually the blue belt is going to pass your guard, and going to submit you.
“So, you have to prepare your mind. If you do not prepare your mind, when that happens, you are going to quit.”
Be A Mentor
“The higher-ranked students need to help the beginners, so that they can help the whole team grow. And also, when you teach someone, you learn too. So, I partner the more experienced students with new ones so they can help.
“Imagine if I invited you to play a card game, and I do not tell you the goal or the rules of the game, so you have no idea what to do, or how to play the game. That is why those who have been training longer need to help out and prepare beginners, teach them the basics, and move them on to the next level.”