While living in Canada for work the name Rodrigo Munduruca was often mentioned in whispers like the boogie man. It was generally accepted that he was the best black belt in Canada; but because he lived and taught in Winnipeg, we never crossed paths in any local tournaments. I finally got a chance to face Rodrigo at the most recent addition of the Panams, which I wrote about HERE. After fighting someone there is almost always a mutual respect built and between his skill on the mat and his awesome sense of humor, he was someone I hoped to come across again in the future.
About Rodrigo Munduruca:
Standing at around 6’3” and weighing just under 3 bills, Munduruca is an imposing individual. Aside from his size the first thing you notice is his flowing hair that makes you think his first line is going to be, “I can’t believe it’s not butter.” That said, his technique and ability are no joke!
Rod started judo when he was 7. He was fortunate enough to come under the tutelage of Master Sylvio Behring and cleaned his gym and was a dummy for private lessons as payment for training. He left Brazil in 1999 to teach in Canada. Currently he is a 4th degree black belt under Rolker Gracie. He’s more than just a pretty face. He and his brother are business owners and driving forces behind some of the biggest brands in Jiu Jitsu today like Atama and Kingz kimonos.
Some people don’t like to train with people they will face in tournaments but most big practitioners know how rare it is to get to train with other large, technical fighters. I contacted him a couple weeks before planning on going down to San Diego for a vacation weekend and asked if we could train. He was quick to invite me to the gym. Just before my visit I got injured and said I couldn’t roll hard but he encouraged me to stop in to exchange technique anyway. Talk about being humble in victory! We warmed up going through various techniques that we liked and saved time for a roll at the end.
Initially we re-enacted a lot of the moves from our match. He said he didn’t even know how he passed my guard and we dissected the situation and how he passed the outside shin the second I got out of line with the angle of my guard. I shared some of the details on the only thing I did that made him uncomfortable in the fight, which was the one legged X-guard and foot lock attack. Then we went down the rabbit hole. I shared a few key details I picked up from a camp with Roger Gracie last year and he showed some cool Rickson Gracie concepts. It was an amazing time.
Top 5 Technical takeaways:
- Guard Passing Concepts: When passing the guard Munduruca prefers to stay low and keep his hips back while leaning on the knee and hip of the opponent. Here I emulate his style and show the option to drag the leg to pass similar to what Rod did to me at Panams. It has the added bonus of keeping you safe from foot locks!
- X-guard pass: Munduruca showed a great pass where he dropped his knee backwards effectively folding me onto my side as I was working my sweep. In the transition, he under hooked my arm which was a brilliant way to keep me from sweeping.
- One legged X: One of the dangers of one legged X is being caught in foot locks. Keeping your weight on the leg being controlled helps prevent that. I also showed how to peel off the legs and jump forward to pass the guard and land in a position to attack an armbar.
- Cross Choke: Most people focus on getting the first hand in and putting elbow pressure into the chest to both lift the opponents head and create space for the second hand. Munduruca showed a variation where he keeps his arms straighter causing the first hand to cut harder against the neck and making the choke more painful from start to finish. One word of caution with this is that you need to use enough pressure to entice your opponent to grab your arms instead of sneaking his hand under the choking arm to defend.
- Rickson Gracie Side Control Escape: I usually avoid putting the arm nearest my opponent under them instead of keeping my elbow at their hip because it makes managing the distance harder and gives them a chance to isolate that arm and attack chokes and armbars. Rod emphasized how Rickson never let the opponent control his head and used the under hook either to get to north south to recompose the guard; or as they attack the arm/neck, to transition to the back. Awareness of the submissions available in a position is what allows you to break a conventional BJJ rule and escape.
With the internet boom people are becoming more and more open about sharing techniques. On the day of the competition anything can happen but most times the outcome doesn’t change significantly from what happens in the gym. Especially if you are on the larger or smaller extreme of practitioners, you may find that you need to visit other gyms to train with people the same size as you. I was really impressed with how technical Munduruca was and have already started incorporating some of the techniques exchanged that day into my game. If you have to fight him, I’m sorry. But if you get the chance to train with him take advantage. There aren’t many really heavy practitioners with his level of technical understanding and ability.
Our photo session was cut short by a cute kid at the gym, so I picked him up and made him an intentional part of the day. Also, big thanks to Professor Regis Lebre for letting me come to Gracie Humaita San Diego as a guest to train with Rod. The gym is gorgeous! As always, thanks to my beautiful wife Mikialamode for the wonderful photos.