Interview by: Lance Edwards
Houston seems to be attracting a lot of good instructors at the moment and the scene is really growing across MMA and other combat sports. The newest school to be opening is the latest addition to the Gracie Barra schools in the area, Gracie Barra Westchase. I took the opportunity to visit the school and meet with Professor Ulpiano Malachias. Professor Ulpiano has a solid background in the Gracie Barra system and has had success competing at an international level. A first degree black belt, he has won the following competitions as a black belt in the IBJJF:
- 2010 National Championships – 1st place heavy
- 2010 National championships – 3rd open class
- 2010 Pan American Championships – 2nd place, super-heavy
- 2009 No-Gi World Championships – 3rd place, ultra-heavy
- 2009 European Championships – 2nd place, super-heavy
- 2009 No-Gi Pan American Championships – 3rd place, super-heavy
- 2007 European Championships – 3rd place, super-heavy
- 2007 American Nationals – 1st place, open division & ultra-heavy
- 2006 Asian Championships – 1st place, ultra-heavy
Gracie Barra Westchase is due to open on January 12, 2011. The school is will maintain a heavy focus on BJJ as evident by the with wall to wall Zebra mats, a room for washing students gi’s and male and female changing rooms. I caught up with Professo Ulpiano to find out about him, what brought him to Houston and his new gym.
Professor Ulpiano: Well, we follow closely the syllabus set out by Master Carlos Gracie Jr. We are in the process of putting the syllabus up on the wall. Unlike many schools where the students will come in and learn whatever is being taught that day, we teach in a progressive way. Every student goes through the same process and we have expectations of the path a student needs to follow to gain competence. The syllabus is set up to build a student’s fundamentals, when they first come to us they learn the basics as set up by the syllabus, each week we focus on one aspect. Students have to come a minimum of two times a week to progress through the syllabus on time, if they come less, it takes longer, if they come say everyday they don’t belt faster, but they learn that position or technique really well. This school is focused on the Gracie Barra syllabus, we are not teaching other things here, it is a Jiu-Jitsu school, we teach the ground side of MMA from the syllabus, but if someone wants to learn Muay Thai they will have to go elsewhere to add to what they learn here. There are a lot of MMA schools in Houston, and we feel there’s a place here for good BJJ schools that focus on just that.
TCD.net: Could you tell us how you got started in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?
Professor Ulpiano: Well, one of my best friends, Eric Wanderlei, was Draculino’s top student at the time, he started teaching as a purple belt and I went and trained with him. I had watched the UFC and Royce Gracie, I was 17 years old. Since the age of three my mom had put me in judo, and I had studied that from the age of three to fifteen. When I was fifteen I became seriously ill, and when I came back to training my friends were doing BJJ so I started that.
TCD.net: So how long were you training with him?
Professor Ulpiano: I trained with Eric for a while until purple belt. Draculino’s was very far from the place I trained, although students from our school went there and from his school came to us, so I’d go there sometimes. In 2001 someone invited me to teach in Helsinki, Finland. I was there for a year and then moved to Vitoria. I trained with a friend there who was a black belt for another two years. After that I went to Rio and trained with Master Carlos. I moved to America in 2003, to California. I came to compete in the Pan-Am’s and decided to stay.
TCD.net: I know you were Royce Gracie’s training partner.
Professor Ulpiano: How did you know that? Yes I was, Master Carlos was not in America at the time and I met Royce Gracie who wanted me to be a training partner. I trained with Royce and Rodrigo for three years, we travelled all over, Japan lots of times. He was mainly preparing for MMA and that was what we were working on.
In 2005, Master Carlos moved to California and opened the school in Lake Forrest. In 2006 I got my black belt from Master Carlos. I had registered for the first Asian Championships, and registered as a brown belt. One week before I was due to compete Master Carlos gave me my black belt, I said to him I’d registered as a brown belt and he told me I’d better change my registration then. It was my first tournament at black belt, Master Carlos does not normally travel, but because it was the first tournament, he and Marcio Feitosa there. It was a lot of responsibility, and I did in fact win.
In 2006 I helped teach at Lake Forest and in 2007 I opened my school in Santa Ana, which one of my students is now teaching at. I used to work as a bouncer, and every time Master Carlos saw me he told me to open a school, I did and he was my partner in the school. I actually opened the first school as a mirror of Lake Forrest using the complete system and uniforms.
TCD.net: So how did you end up in Houston?
Professor Ulpiano: I was looking to open another school in California, my wife Sophia’s parents were here and we had a baby. My family are in brazil, so we moved here to be near her parents. I knew that I would be able to continue my learning in BJJ from Draculino, I still have a lot to learn, and there is no-one better to learn from.
Professor Ulpiano: That’s right. I have competed in Brazil, Europe and the USA. Sherdog has me down for only one fight, I’ve told them to update it, but they never do. When I was training with Royce we did MMA every day. In 2008, Junior, Rampage’s BJJ coach hired myself and another friend from the school to train with Rampage at Big Bear to prepare him to fight Henderson, there were other guys there like Bisping. I thought I would do some MMA fights to make money. One of my guys, Tony Bonnello, who was KOTC champion for a long time got me a fight for them, it was my last fight in 2009 and it lasted 38 seconds. He was a white belt, and it was actually easier than fighting one of my blue belt students. I got sub of the night. I will do one more fight for fun on April the 2nd for KOTC if my boss [his fiance] lets me. I don’t think anyone on a small show will have my ground ability, I used to train with guys like Babalu, Romulo Barral, Kayron Gracie, Dande, Tussa, Bruno Paulista, King Mo, Mayhem Miller, guys like that, and I know the smaller shows aren’t that tough.
TCD.net: So you aren’t that interested in MMA?
Professor Ulpiano: My focus isn’t MMA, it’s BJJ. I’m going to compete in the Houston International in February, I like the IBJJF rules, to me that’s jiu jitsu. The school is Gracie Barra, so we teach jiu jitsu and to me some of the other sets of rules aren’t as good.
TCD.net: What are your expectations for the school?
Professor Ulpiano: People in Houston have been really welcoming and want to learn Gracie Barra. We hope to teach the highest level of jiu jitsu. We’ll be working with the other Gracie Barra schools, if a student from another Gracie Barra school comes here they can train for free. We open next week, and everyone is welcome to come down and try a free class.
Professor Ulpiano: I’d like to thank TheCageDoor.net, Draculino, Master Carlos, my in-laws, my fiance Sophia, Professors Gigantinho ( GB Austin ) Rafael Ewanger ( GB Louisiana), Pete Sprajc who is the Gracie Barra Program Director at GB Westchase, my students Jeff Shulz, Ramses and Martin who take care of my other busy school in California, Gracie Barra Santa Ana.
TCD.net: Thank you and good luck with the school.