By Steven Abood
Last night, the Summer Belt Ceremony, a celebration of achievement and a gathering of friends, was held at Valente Brothers headquarters in North Miami Beach. The ceremony was held exactly twenty days from the night that Dr. Pedro Valente Sr. was awarded the highest possible honor in Gracie Jiujitsu, the coveted 9th degree red belt. The belt was awarded by the sons of Grandmaster Hélio Gracie, the teacher of Dr. Valente, as well as his first teacher at the Gracie Academy, João Alberto Barreto. It was awarded in recognition of his 58 years of training and living the art and philosophy of jiujitsu, which he credited with much of his success as a world renowned surgeon, and leader in fields such as business and politics.
Students during the Fundamentals class before the ceremony
Dr. Valente’s oldest son, Professor Pedro Valente, opened the 2011 Summer Belt Ceremony conveying his appreciation for the honor bestowed not only to his father but through the connection of a common philosophy, the entire Valente Brothers family, which includes all students, friends, and family united in a common quest for self-protection and self-perfection. The red belt was awarded as it was awarded to Grandmaster Helio Gracie decades before, with each individual holding a portion of the belt and approaching it’s recipient. Gracie brothers Relson, Rolker, and Royler were in attendance when the belt was awarded in Brasil last month, as well as Professor João Alberto Barreto, and his younger brother Alvaro Barreto. Reyson, Rorion, Royce and Rickson Gracie sent congratulatory messages. It is interesting to note that only Grandmaster Hélio Gracie, as well as his brothers, Grandmasters Carlos, Gastão, Oswaldo, and George were awarded the 10th degree red belt. Thus, the highest achievement in the art any living individual can achieve is the 9th degree red belt that was awarded to Dr. Valente.
The ceremony was attended by students from Valente Brothers headquarters, as well as affiliates in Fort Lauderdale (led by Valente Brothers instructor Bruce Belfield), Pembrook Pines (led by VB instructor Eduardo Cambas), and the Miami-Dade Police Training Bureau (Coordinated by VB Purple belt Victor Gatell). A high number of blues, purples, and brown belts were awarded. Black belts are only awarded during the Winter Belt Ceremony. The highest number of blue belts for women were awarded in this belt ceremony, a testament to the success of the Valente Brothers’ women’s program.
A special and emotional moment came towards the end of the ceremony when a brown belt was awarded posthumously to Andy Espinal. Frank Espinal accepted the belt on behalf of his brother Andy, who passed away last month in a tragic motorcycle accident. Andy received his purple belt last December and the professors at Valente Brothers decided to award him his brown belt posthumously in a show of support, recognition and remembrance for the amazing individual that Andy was. The standing ovation that Andy received when Frank was presented with Andy’s belt, was a testament to how much Andy meant to everyone at the academy, and that he will never be forgotten by all those who had the privilege of knowing him. The ceremony ended with students, friends and family congratulating the many individuals who were promoted. The year of training and friendship continues culminating in the Winter Belt Ceremony on December 7th, and the Annual Valente Brothers Dinner on December 11th.