Know Your History: Soneca and Gordo
By Amal Easton
It is important to know your history when it comes to BJJ, it is a big part of the experience. Without the influence of Jigoro Kano, Mitsuo Maeda and the Gracie family for me personally, there would be no Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Although Mitsuo Maeda had a few other talented students such as Master Fada, it was the Gracie family that tested the art, tweaked it, and then introduced it to the world. Had it not been for the Gracie family, “martial artists” might still be focusing on Katas, push hands, breaking boards, or walking in circles. BJJ was exposed to the world on the backs of legendary leaders like Carlos Gracie, Helio Gracie, and the rest of their family who fought anyone and everyone until the world paid attention. Members of the Gracie family like Rickson, Royler, Renzo, Ralf, and Ryan literally shed their blood for the art that has influenced so many of our lives. I had the honor to spend significant amounts of time training with many of the Gracies (Carlos Junior, Renzo, Rillion, Rodrigo, Crolin and more), and each had a strong personal influence on my skill and life experience.
There was a handful of Gracie students who grew up with the family, to whom I owe a personal debt of gratitude. They were kind enough to take me under their wings when I trained in Brazil, and really cared about teaching the art to me and all their other students. Two stand-outs for me personally were Helio “Soneca” Moreira, and Roberto “Gordo” Correa de Lima.
I landed in Rio in 1995 and headed straight to Barra Gracie under the tutelage of Carlos Gracie Junior at the instruction of his cousin, Carlos Machado. Gracie Barra was a huge school with more Black Belts than I imagined existed in the world of BJJ. The depth of talent and diversity of game was mind boggling. I had one mission in Rio: stay as long as possible (I stayed almost four years) and train and learn as much Gracie Jiu Jitsu as possible. Unlike the realities of today’s virtual world, there was no YouTube or Facebook, and the only way to learn Gracie Jiu Jitsu was face-to-face on the mats, mostly in Brazil. In actuality, it was seriously frowned upon to record video of training or technique because of the tight, nuclear dynamic of the various teams. Guarding skills and knowledge was of utmost importance to the art’s early practitioners.
Helio “Soneca” Moreira
Watching all the tournaments and listening to the stories, I began hearing of a stand out Gracie Barra instructor, “Soneca.” Soneca was known as a Professor who gave his students 100%, and whose students performed exceptionally well at tournaments. A good friend (and one of the only other “Gringos” – a term to describe foreigners) Mark Johnson from Relson Gracie Hawaii took me to a class taught by Soneca. Soneca was instantly approachable. Jovial, humorous and with as big of a personality as they come, Soneca turned out to be an invaluable influence on my training and learning.
A Teacher and A Friend
He was one of the greatest teachers and friends I could ever hope for, not only in the academy but outside of it as well. On the mat he taught us amazing technical skills that proved superior at tournaments, and there was a core group of dedicated students that followed Soneca, who motivated and drove each other to greatness. At the tournaments he was a wildly passionate coach who cared immensely about his students’ success. In the street he cared enormously about our wellbeing, from emotional happiness to hitting the coolest nights spots when we had pockets of free time. He cared that we were safe and happy.
I remember competing in tournaments and Soneca working as a ref in the ring next to mine. It was so great to have him in your corner during a match, you felt like he was truly with you. Fortunately (for me) it didn’t matter that he was in the middle of reffing a different match. As a master of multitasking, Soneca would be screaming at me with his head tilted as if to see the perspective that I was seeing. When I did something right he would scream, “Yeah gringo, beautiful!!!” and when I would make a mistake he would throw his hands up in disgust and say, “Why didn’t you just do it right, that was terrible!!!” Regardless of the ending, I could not have asked for a more involved and caring coach.
During the first BJJ World Championships in 1996, I did acupuncture on Soneca between matches while he battled his way to the top of the podium, becoming the first ever World Champion in his weight class. Despite his 145-pound build, Soneca used to fight and often win the absolute weight class as a completely fearless competitor. Legend had it that one fateful night at a party in his hometown, he took on the gigantic bully bouncer twice his size and made such a spectacle of it, that it is talked about to this day. If you ever went out with him at night, you did not doubt this story for a second. Despite his fearless attitude and superior technical ability, Soneca is an amazingly kind and gentle teacher, and has taught many of the modern-day champions all the way from children to adults.
I had the opportunity to live with Soneca in Curitiba, Brazil. Soneca, “Van Dam,” “Sorrizo” and I lived in a small closet in the academy. During this time, he had the whole Chute Box team as his students, one of the most ferocious MMA teams on the planet. Wanderley Silva, Rudimar Frederigo, Jose “Pele” Landi, Anderson Silva, and many more were frequently on the mat going to battle. Those were some wild times. We would wake up, roll out of the closet onto the mats and go to war all day, sometimes ending the night out on the town, and then repeating this routine every single day. It was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. Soneca was like a guardian angel to me in Brazil, 24/7. It was a true honor to host him when we first opened Easton in Boulder twenty years ago, and several times since. Some years later, a crew of us spent a month in Thailand training, teaching and getting into some trouble. One thing I can say with complete certainty is that we will never meet a bigger, more charismatic and entertaining character than Soneca.
Roberto “Gordo” Correa
Roberto “Gordo” Correa has BJJ in his blood. Both he and his brother “Gordinho” are adult World Champions. Growing up with Renzo, Ralph, and Ryan Gracie, he trained since he was a child during the golden age of Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Gordo’s consistency on the mat is one of the things that always impressed me, it is incomparable. Despite his relatively average build, Gordo has beat some of the top names in Jiu Jitsu. He has coached several multiple-time World Champions from white belt, and has an amazing career coaching MMA champions including ex-UFC Champ Rafael Dos Anjos, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, and many more.
Inventor of the Half Guard
Some years ago Gordo suffered a knee injury that destroyed his ACL. With insufficient insurance and refusal to take the time off for ACL surgery, Gordo returned to training despite his injury. Out of these circumstances a completely new technique was born: the half guard. Gordo was known for his half guard in competitions, and is widely accepted as the creator of the half guard to this day. Throughout my whole time in Brazil, I could always count on seeing Gordo on the mat. I can’t imagine where my game would be without his tutelage.
About five years ago, Gordo was invited to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by the Prince, Sheik Tahoon, to run the entire country’s Jiu Jitsu program. Gordo accepted the offer and was in charge of the largest number of black belts (800) ever assembled. The group of black belts is in charge of teaching both in the public school system and the military of the UAE. After four years of running this program as the technical director, he moved to Florida where he is running an academy, teaching and training to this day. With his calm and collected demeanor and unparalleled wealth of information, Gordo has always been my rock and someone I look to for advice.
On the Shoulders of Giants
A significant part of the fundamentals that we teach at Easton is passed down from these two Masters. I owe a great deal of my expertise in BJJ and success to Soneca and Gordo. Neither Easton Training Center nor Jiu Jitsu in general would be what they are today without the lifelong contributions by these two Masters. For more information on these two Giants of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, check out their web sites and bios:
Upcoming Seminars with Soneca and Gordo
Soneca and Gordo will be in Colorado to teach a weekend of seminars at Easton Training Center’s Denver and Boulder academies. Mark your calendar, and don’t miss the chance to learn from these Jiu Jitsu legends!
Saturday 10/20 in Denver and Sunday 10/21 in Boulder.