The holiday spirit of brotherhood and good will towards all was in the air as hundreds of students, friends, and family converged upon 3165 NE 163rd St. in North Miami Beach, Florida, to share in each other’s success at the Valente’s Annual Winter Belt Ceremony. The Valente brothers, all disciples since the age of two of Grandmaster Helio Gracie, were joined by two distinguished guests, two men that the brothers told the packed house their success would be impossible without. One guest was Royce Gracie, the first Ultimate Fighting Champion and son of Grandmaster Helio, who proved to the world the ability of his father’s art to empower any individual to persevere over brute aggression. Royce traveled all the way from Los Angeles to attend the event and announced to the crowd that “I am only a product of my father’s teachings.” The other guest was Dr. Pedro Valente Sr., eighth degree red and black belt, distinguished surgeon, patriarch of the Valente clan. Dr. Valente, who spoke last week in front of the Brazilian Senate in a special session commemorating Grandmaster Helio, traveled from Brazil to attend the ceremony. The Valente brothers gave a heartfelt acknowledgment to their father, recognizing his essential role in preparing them throughout their lives for their mission as preservers of Grandmasters’ Carlos and Helio Gracie’s self-defense art and philosophy of living. The brothers presented awards to both Professor Royce Gracie and Master Pedro Valente Sr., through which they expressed their gratitude for the parts each man played in the their lives.
The ceremony, like a skillful stage production, had many acts, and the night was alive with narration by the Valente brothers, support from the cast of instructors and black belts, electricity from the crowd, and spectacle from the stars of the show – the students, who were recognized for their accomplishments throughout the year by belt promotions. As each name of a promoted student was called, and the student ran to the front to receive his or her new belt, a roar of applause and cheers emanated from the crowd and grew like a wave, a sea of smiling faces beaming from the cheering crowd.
How could a mere belt ceremony engender such shared joy and revelry? What worth is there in a cloth belt? What power does it have that could possibly bring happiness, laughter, brotherhood to so many? As Pedro Valente made clear in the beginning of the ceremony, it is not the belt itself, but the transformation it represents. To see an individual such as Burak Eyilik, who was engaged in a lifestyle rife with unhealthy habits and choices before joining the Valente Academy, transform into a completely different man, a black belt instructor, a role model to others ? this is the transformation that we all celebrate in jiu-jitsu. And it is because we, as jiu-jitsu students, from all stations and walks of life are engaged in this common enterprise of transformation, that we feel such immense joy when one of our comrades succeeds upon a positive path they have chosen and traveled for so many years. For although some of us have traveled far and some of us have just begun our journeys, we are all on the same path journeying towards health, preparedness, confidence. All striving towards that total transformation built through our daily choices. And that is why the crowd reacted to the name of every student called to receive a new belt like fans reacting to an announcer calling out the names of an NBA starting line up, and why Burak received an almost two minute long standing ovation. His success is our success. Like the battles of Grandmaster Helio and Royce Gracie, the promoted students show us what is possible.
But this doesn?t explain everything. It is an exceedingly rare thing in this modern, disconnected world to share in the happiness of others. As Aristotle taught over two thousand years ago, good will and other positive attributes, like negative ones, are the result of habituation and training. It is a testament to the daily atmosphere and leadership of Valente Brothers, that the students share such camaraderie with one another. As Grandmaster Helio believed, intimidation and discord has no place in a jiu-jitsu school, for a true jiu-jitsu school is the very sanctuary that must always exist for those seeking to gain the confidence to face such challenges in the outside world. United together in this common vision, each student?s progress leads collectively to the embodiment of brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie?s vision ? a vision of a world where the common individual, the businessman, the non-athlete, the harassed woman, the bullied child, is able to defend themselves, live a life of confidence, and spread the ethic of mutual benefit and welfare for all. If all jiu-jitsu schools could foster this sense of brotherhood, of healthy living, and mutual benefit in the path towards self-defense, the transformation of the individual would be reflected in the transformation of the world. And so perhaps it is fitting in this holiday season, when we reflect upon a ceremony bursting with a rare shared happiness for the successes of our fellows, to quote a passage from Charles Dickens, who wrote in A Christmas Carroll that ?It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humor?. And this good humor and contagious positivity was evident as new black belts Burak Eyilik, Dan Rozenberg, Roberto Fleischmann, and Roberto Bittar joined the ranks of a select yet diverse group of black belts at Valente Brothers – a group comprised of a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a black man, a white man and a latino – united together as brothers committed to a positive way of living.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Abood is a freelance writer and author of the upcoming book, Ten Jiu-jitsu Masters, which recounts his experience learning from, as well as the life stories of the greatest jiu-jitsu masters in the world.