Like I have said many times before, I am a huge fans of Marcelo and it’s great to see so many great athletes coming out of his academy. In this interview, I believe we captured the heart of MGA in Phillipe “Philzinho” Balmant. We get to see many angles not only of Marcelo Garcia but of MGA as a whole. I would like to thank Philzinho for granting us this interview.
BJJ Rants: How did you find BJJ?
PB: When I was a kid—a young, chubby kid—growing up in New York City, I was always attracted to martial arts. I started Tae-Kwon-Do around the age of 11 or 12 in the early 90’s. In 1993 as a young teenager, I remember watching UFC1 on PPV with my Dad. Both my parents are from Brazil—so when I saw a Brazilian guy on the card I got excited… and then worried; Royce Gracie didn’t exude that intimidation or size factor compared to the other fighters. I asked my dad, “What’s Gracie Jiu-Jitsu?” He was like, “Yeah, the Gracie’s—they’re well known in Rio,” et cetera; to which of course, I was unfamiliar with them having been raised in the United States.
As you know, history was soon made and jiu-jitsu reigned supreme over the other arts. I was too young at that time to go out and find a jiu-jitsu school (and they weren’t really prevalent yet) so I still continued training in TKD. After I graduated high school, I started working out more and taking Health & Fitness more seriously. One day, a guy at my gym said, “Man, you should check out this documentary called ‘Choke’. It’s about Rickson Gracie, who is considered the best of the Gracie family.” I went straight to the Virgin Megastore at Union Square to buy a VHS copy—but they only sold it on DVD! I bought it anyway and then went straight to my friend’s house to watch it on his DVD player… Mind. Blown. Once I saw it, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like Rickson. I think I watched “Choke” for like 6 months straight before ever even taking my first class!
BJJ Rants: How did you first hear/ see Marcelo and his jiu jitsu? What were your first impressions when you first started the academy?
PB: I saw Marcelo on YouTube fighting my instructor at the time, Renzo Gracie, with whom I had taken my very first few classes from at his older location on 37th & 8th. I was a huge fan of Renzo then and I still am very much so to this day. Marcelo’s matches with Renzo and Shaolin at the 2003 ADCC in Brazil made my jaw drop. Marcelo was amazing. I knew I was watching someone special. His jiu-jitsu was just on a whole ‘nother level (and still is). When I saw him, I admired his attitude and his sense of sportsmanship immediately. You could tell he is a super nice guy—friendly, unassuming demeanor with a youthful smile—yet fully capable of killing anyone on the planet with his bare hands. It’s incredible; the world’s nicest and baddest man is one and the same person.
When Marcelo and his wife, Tatiana, relocated to NYC from Florida in the summer of 2009, I was training with Marcos Santos (a Rigan Machado black belt) at NYBJJ. Marcelo arrived there in the early part of August and began training for ADCC-Barcelona—while at the same time, he was trying to get his life situated in the city and searching around for the right location of his own school. In retrospect, Marcelo’s performance that year was even more impressive, especially considering how Marcos’s most advanced students—only blue and purple belts, with a few brown—made up most of Marcelo’s training partners for the competition. A few months prior to the ADCC training, I had the honor of receiving my purple belt from Marcos at one of Marcelo’s seminars held at Marcos’s school. Marcelo just so happened to be my very last rolling partner as a blue belt (That’s gotta be a sign, right?). I felt like I was the right person at the right time and at the right place, because soon thereafter I began training and studying exclusively under Marcelo Garcia.
Man, it felt like the planets were aligned for me: After Marcelo arrived back from Barcelona to open up his own academy on 36th, Marcos was preparing to close down NYBJJ. Marcos eventually went on to open opened up his current gym in Fort Worth, Texas. The majority of Marcos’s former NYC students ended up joining Marcelo’s academy—including myself. It was such an easy transition for everyone since Marcelo chose to open up right across the street from Marco’s old school! Marcelo took me under his wing and we officially opened the MGA doors to the world on Thursday, October 22nd, 2009. Marcelo was very hands-on and he made sure every last detail was just the way he wanted it to be; by his standards, it had to be either perfect or super-close to it. His adherence to that very same approach that I saw in preparing his school since day-one was the beginning of Marcelo creating one of the best jiu-jitsu academies in the world.
BJJ Rants: Many people may not know that other than your passion of Marcelo’s BJJ, Marcelo has also influenced your music creativity and photography care to share a little about that?
PB: I believe Marcelo has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to be a better human being than they were yesterday on & off the mats. He is truly a transcendent figure in our global culture. Growing up as a teen in Queens during the golden era of rap music, I was heavily influenced by artists and groups like Nas, Biggie, Mobb Deep, C.N.N., Immortal Technique, Onyx, LostBoyz, Wu-Tang, Tupac (et al). In my years of learning and training directly under Marcelo, I saw a correlation between that era of rap music and Marcelo’s grappling style. They’re both very aggressive, in-your-face, straight to the point, and just hardcore realness. One day, I had an idea to write a song in tribute to Alliance Jiu-Jitsu and Marcelo. I collaborated with “Theme” and “JCash” (who both trained at MGA), and in November 2012 we dropped “Fatal Flying Guillotines”. It was received very well by the jiu-jitsu community; I think we all can find our own way to contribute to jiu-jitsu—not just with training and competition—but in our own unique way of expressing ourselves in life.
I’m not a professional at taking pictures by any stretch of the imagination, and I certainly don’t own a camera that may cost as much as car; we have Erin Herle, Ric (johnricard.com) and Rommel Malabanan (rorofoto.com) for those types of shots. I just take photos with either my iPod or Galaxy phone. I’m at MGA pretty much the whole day and I always have my eye out for catching something cool—be it an in-action pic or just a chill, quiet moment of the day. I also enjoy taking pictures of my teammates; I usually look to surprise them afterward with candid shots of them in training.
BJJ Rants: Can you share some of your favorite moments of Marcelo at MGA and outside MGA?
PB: Saturday, February 28th, 2009—the day I received my purple belt from Marcos Santos at Marcelo’s seminar… The three of us went out to shop for some things before meeting up with Josh Waitzkin and friends for dinner. That evening, we ended up at Best Buy on 23rd and 6th. We were perusing the laptop section of the store when all of as sudden… I glance over at an adjacent table display to find none other than Gregor & Igor Gracie (also with a friend), just looking at laptops! No one else notices this coincidental convergence happening except for me. At first, panic sets in as I contemplate whether or not I should sound an alarm or something. About 45 seconds lapses before they all finally lock eyes across opposite sides of the same table and realize they’ve inadvertently stumbled upon an impromptu, Jiu-Jitsu Jedi council meeting. Representatives for Alliance… Machado…and Renzo Gracie/Gracie Barra—all in one spot—and it’s not the Mundials. After the initial shock wore off, we all eventually ended up just cordially greeting one another, but not without the tinge of political awkwardness still permeating in the air. As a BJJ fan-boy, I couldn’t believe how after meeting Marcelo just the day before, I was already thrust into such a crazy jiu-jitsu happenstance. I can only hope but to think that the Gracies must’ve thought I was some unknown badass standing next to Marcos and Marcelo. Conversely, I can’t help but to wonder if Marcos and Marcelo were also thinkin’, “The force is strong with this one.”
BJJ Rants: What are five philosophies that Marcelo preaches you think are the most important that are shared at MGA?
PB: Be nice to people. Train hard. Be a black belt in everything you do. Do what makes you happy. Enjoy the journey.
BJJ Rants: What is the best key advice Marcelo has given to you about jiu jitsu especially in competition?
PB: Marcelo is masterful coach. He knows exactly what you need to do in order to win and achieve your goals. Your performance and results have a direction connection to your training in your academy. You have to give it 100% in training day after day. You have to push yourself everyday. Marcelo works very hard on creating champions on and off the mats. The best advice I’ve received from my coach is: “Just win.” Those two words require thousands of actions.
BJJ Rants: In MG In Action and YouTube we see so many guests coming through MGA who has been your favorite guest and why?
PB: MGA is truly a Disney World of sorts for the jiu-jitsu enthusiast. We have such a great positive atmosphere with the highest level of jiu-jitsu being taught and trained all year round. I love meeting and training with new people from around the U.S. and the world at MGA. I had so many great moments with so many guests—be it someone known and celebrated in BJJ or an unknown white belt visitor. My favorite guest though would have to be “The General” of Team Alliance, Master Fabio Gurgel. He is such an amazing teacher, coach, and legend in the sport that, every time I’m with him on the mats he helps me technically or psychologically improve as a jiu-jitsu player. I see Marcelo as a younger, smaller version of him—a general.
When Fabio’s ADCC 2013 training camp was drawing to a close, he finished his last few weeks of training with us here at MGA. Shortly before that time, I had experienced a few personal setbacks in my life that effected my training and overall health. When he was training with us, I was getting back into the swing of things and one Saturday morning, Fabio asked me to train with him. We rolled for 25 minutes straight! When it was all over I was on cloud nine; how many people can say they got the chance to spar 25 minutes straight with the legend, jiu-jitsu hall-of-famer Fabio Gurgel?! It was an unforgetable honor and a priviledge that I’m still smiling from. Fabio, like Marcelo, is a special human being; and, I believe in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t by chance that Marcelo Garcia received his black belt from Fabio Gurgel.
BJJ Rants: What is it like behind the lens taking photos at MGA? What do you look for taking great shots at MGA?
PB: I’m but one witness to the wonders, memories, and great experiences that MGA creates. I just love capturing a moment. Some of my favorite photos are the ones right after training ends or during some quiet (NYC “quiet”) part of the day when all you see are one or two people working off on the side with morning sun rays shooting through the windows. The mats
can have an ocean-like aura and appearance.
BJJ Rants: What does it feel like to be Marcelo’s first brown belt?
PB: One of the greatest days of my life was when Marcelo Garcia tied a brown belt around my waist on February 13th, 2013. After around two or so years of training at MGA, I started to think about the possibility that I could become one of his brown belts—that alone would of been awesome. He had a few brown belts training under him, but no one had ever seen him promote someone from purple to brown yet. When Tatiana Garcia announced that, “-this is Marcelo’s first brown belt, and Marcelo’s first brown belt is… Phil!”
All I could think was, “Holy s*** it’s me!?” Up until that point, I had never even considered that Marcelo had never promoted someone to brown belt before. When my name was announced it felt like time and space got warped. It was surreal. After training for such a long time and then—Bang!—It happened so fast. It was very special for me—to be awarded such an honor in front of MGA and our special guests, BJJ icons Romero “Jacare” Calvalcanti and Ricardo Liborio.
I’m not the best at jiu-Jitsu in our academy. I’m not the most technical or the most physically gifted athlete. I do however, work very hard on improving my technique everday. I give my all when I train, every round. Most importantly, I believe in my heart, that no one loves jiu-jitsu more than me. I never take days off. If I’m not in the hospital—I can train. I started competing in the IBJJF events in 2011 and at purple I have 3 silver medals. I never won gold at purple belt. Two weeks after receiving my brown belt, I competed in the 2013 Boston Open—and won. Today, I’ve placed 1st in 3 out of the 4 IBJJF events I was lucky enough to compete in. I love training. I love my academy and our global community, and I love Marcelo Garcia JiuJitsu.
BJJ Rants: Any last words?
PB: I want to thank my family for their unconditional love and support throughout my life. I need to thank the Marcelo Garcia Academy, Marcos Santos, Dr. Mattie Leto, and the Alliance Jiu-Jitsu founders: Jacare, Fabio and Gigi—and my sponsors, and all of the awesome people who support me: Charlie and Shawn at Digitsu.com (who are releasing the Faria Half Guard DVD in late Summer or early Fall of 2014—look out for it), Matt Benyon and the entire Scramblestuff.com Team (who are one of the best martial arts lifestyle apparel companies in the world—that’s why I scramble), Jimmy & Jordan of MGInAction, Hana & Diego for holding it down with me, and my teachers, Paul Schreiner & Bernardo Faria. A special thank you to my head coach and good friend, Marcelo Garcia. Thank you, Tatiana Garcia and Josh Waitzkin. And thank you, Jaime Gonzalves of BJJRants.com for giving me any opportunity to share my story.
Once again I want to thank Philzinho for giving us this interview during his busy training schedule. I also would like to thank the photographers, Ric Ricard, Rommel Malabanan, Preston Smith, Mike Cho, Charlie Liu, Jimmy Lee Smith, Dave Bravo, Fredy J. Banegas, and Gilmatic Geez for providing great photos for the interview. IF there is anyone forgetting just shoot me a message and Ill make sure to add you!
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