When I first met Marcelo Garcia, I really wanted to not like him. He had a rivalry with a teammate of mine at the time and (especially in those days) there was always a bit of jockeying among the athletes. Except three seconds into encountering Marcelo you realize that he is literally the nicest person on the planet. He simply has an aura of niceness, and I mean that in the best possible way. Make no mistake, he was an absolute killer on the mat. But while Marcelo had great rivalries, he had no enemies.
Gracie Magazine #129 should be remembered as a landmark in the history of Jiu Jitsu as it shows fierce competitors Marcelo Garcia and Xande Riberio embracing in a friendly training session. Training between rival academies, particularly between active competitors simply was not done at this time, but both Marcelo and Xande wanted to show that this attitude was outdated and ridiculous and they very proud of the fact they were breaking taboos.
When a rivalry between their respective students threatened to get out of hand, John Danaher and Marcelo met to squash the off the mat hostilities. Danaher wrote of the encounter of Marcelo that “He is so much more than just one of the sports greatest champions, he is an icon and a role model- in my experience the kindest and gentlest soul in the sport.
Historically hard to remember, but Marcelo Garcia actually released one of the very first instructional DVDs in Jiu Jitsu (in that era VHS was much more common), a four part magnum opus on the X-Guard, the position which had effectively launched him to stardom by securing his first ADCC title in 2003. In those days it was unheard for an active competitor to share the secrets of their techniques so freely, and often times on an instructional you’d get a lot of “fluff”. Marcelo truly put everything he had into that instructional and shared every bit of information he could give. His reasoning was a pure Marcelo answer however, in that he stated he has done everything he could with the X-Guard at that time, and he needed to give it to the rest of the Jiu Jitsu community in order to grow. That line about giving away of yourself in order to grow always resonated with me ever since.
The people that Marcelo choses to align himself with and work together work has been unconventional in many ways as well. His bringing Paul Schriener to New York from California to be an instructor for him; Paul was not necessarily known as being a world beater competitor, but he is one of the sharpest minds in Jiu Jitsu and one of the finest instructors around. His partnership with Josh Waitzkin, the chess champion (and eventually Marcelo’s first black belt) would be unorthodox at best, but together they created one of the finest academies and online learning platforms around and produced many champions as well. Marcelo also demonstrated he wouldn’t tolerate going against his morals and if necessary Marcelo would also remove bad influences from his presence in some high profile splits, but he always publicly did so in a spirit of fairness and kindness.
Marcelo Garcia has endured as much as anyone in our sport. Before the establishment of his academy in NYC he had some issues that had him bouncing around for awhile. He likely could have made things easier for himself if he didn’t insist on doing things the “right way”, which is admirable. Marcelo and his wife Tatiana (they have been together for a very long time) have three children, unfortunately they lost son Joey who was born dangerously premature, his twin sister Olivia is happily doing well these days.
On the mat Marcelo Garcia has a legitimate claim was to being one of the best to ever do it with Five IBJJF World Titles in the Black Belt Gi division as well as Four Titles at the ADCC 77 Kilo Division. Those medals don’t even begin to explain the greatness of Marcelo Garcia in Jiu Jitsu. Watching Marcelo live was pure magic, he somehow simultaneously came across as the greatest ever and the underdog every time he got on the mat. Will he or won’t he? More often than not he succeeded, but he was so exciting (always looking for the submission) and that he was so bold in his attempts you forgave and forgot about any setbacks and appreciated the sportsmanship regardless. Even watching Marcelo move on the mat in retrospect today always feels special. At the end of the day his record is only part of the the legacy of Marcelo Garcia.
The news that Marcelo Garcia shared of his stomach cancer diagnosis emotionally hit me quite hard for some reason. What else does a man the caliber of Marcelo have to go through? Someone who humbly has given so much of himself to others and to the art that I happen to love. Someone like him surely only deserves the best of life, not a diagnosis at his age of something as insidious as cancer.
I’ll let you in on something of Marcelo Garcia style of Jiu Jitsu that I have witnessed as an observer, both as a fan and occasional rival (coach). Marcelo is much more of a counter fighter. He is at his best when his opponent comes after him, when he is stalked, when the pressure is on. From there Marcelo is capable of turning that aggression, getting that little bit of an overextension, of seeing the barest of openings and then taking off with it. It’s a very pure expression of Jiu Jitsu akin to the original stated intention in that the smaller, technical opponent will overcome the larger more aggressive opponent, and more than often than not, prevail. I hesitate to draw too much of a comparison to one’s style of Jiu Jitsu on the mat and their demeanor off of it. At first glance Marcelo’s technically ruthless style on the mat compared to his good nature off of the mat might seem a contradiction; Marcelo was indeed the sweetest killer of them all. But I do believe that the way he took challenges head on with such style and grace means that his handling of his cancer diagnosis will be just another lion to kill.
I am not eulogizing Marcelo Garcia because he is among us still and I pray he will continue to do so for many years to come. I am grateful that I have had the chance to witness greatness and I am appreciative that I still have the time to let him know that while he walks among us.
God bless Marcelo Garcia. Know that the whole Jiu Jitsu community you gave so much to now has your back with gratitude.