The one and only Manxinha, a true fighter in life and BJJ
Interviewee: Luiz “Manxinha” Ribeiro
Luiz’ Manxinha’ Ribeiro is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, London Fight Factory owner and head coach, and leader of FightSports in Europe. He has been a crucial part of the journey of BJJ in the UK from the very early days and is living proof of how Jiu-Jitsu can change people’s lives.
We sat down for a colorful interview with Luiz and started by asking him to describe himself in his own words. “My name is Luiz Ribeiro, I’m a Brazilian 3rd Degree Blackbelt, a father man, a family man, and a guy who likes to help others, but if I had to look in the mirror and answer this question, I would introduce myself as a crazy motherf*****”.
“If you take it as I say it, it’ll probably raise some eyebrows,” he explains of the potentially controversial answer. “Yes, I’m crazy because I try to do anything I can, anything in my power or even beyond that to achieve what I want. We have two voices in our heads, the voice that says ‘You can’t achieve anything’ or ‘It’s okay to rest’ and then there’s that voice that says ‘No, you can do it,’ but that’s the voice you always doubt and never trust.”
Luiz was introduced to Jiu-Jitsu in 1999 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, when his friend and first professor Leo Negao visited him at a boxing tournament he was competing at, and invited him to train his BJJ gym. Luiz recalls a rivalry in Sao Paulo at the time between boxing and Jiu-Jitsu, a rivalry which led to him scratching the word ‘boxing’ onto cars that had Jiu-Jitsu stickers in the windows. Having never experienced BJJ before, he saw it as the martial art of ‘cuddling,’ whereas boxing and muay were the ‘real deal’ in his eyes when it came to fighting.
“I went to his gym with him [Leo], and he paired me up with an accountant named Ricardo, a good-looking guy, really polite, and skinny. Leo gave me the Gi and said, ‘Go roll with that guy, I said ‘Man, I’m going to break this poor little soul, you really want me to embarrass your student?’, he was like ‘Go ahead”. That ‘poor little soul’ ended up submitting Luiz multiple times, an experience many will have shared when first stepping onto the mats. The experience left Luiz almost speechless, “All I can remember saying was ‘Can I come back tomorrow? I need to learn this.’ I think that day I hung up my boxing gloves, my time with boxing was done because Jiu-Jitsu is the real deal”. But despite this new-found love, Luiz only saw this as his new means of self-defense and had no idea how it was going to transform his life.
Early days of BJJ in the UK
Shortly after starting BJJ, Luiz traveled to London with the aim of finding a job to make enough money to buy himself a mobile phone and a car on his return to Brazil. Not wanting to pause his training, Luiz found one of the very few gyms in the UK that offered Jiu-Jitsu.
“When I came in 2000, the only guy teaching Jiu-Jitsu was Chen Morse, teaching at London bridge. Chen was claiming to be a 6th or 7th-degree blackbelt under Carlos Gracie. I didn’t know much about the history of Jiu-Jitsu at this time, so I called my professor in Brazil, Leo Negao. I said, ‘I’ve found this guy Chen, I went to check how they train, but they do things a little different here; when we spar, we start back to back then turn and go, and there are guys wearing yellow and green belts.’ Straight away, he was like, ‘No man, you’re crazy, this guy is a fraud! Tell you what, you start teaching Jiu-Jitsu. You know how to do a guillotine and a double leg takedown; you teach Jiu-Jitsu.”
At this point, teaching was still far away on the horizon for Luiz, and he continued to train with Chen and Eder. Shortly after this, Chen left the UK, and teaching was taken over by Wilson Junior, who went on to create Carlson Gracie London with the help of Luca Menagacci. Luiz and most of Chen’s students went on to train with Wilson. Luiz described the training environment at the time, “Luca had this hotel in Earls Court, and we used to train there. It was really rough and ready in those times. Getting a skin infection was like getting your blue belt; you’d be like, ‘Yes! I got a skin infection’. Then we moved to Hammersmith, Royal Oak, it was like a basement, Eder was there before the Carlson’s took over.”
Luiz recalled a fateful night training in the basement with Eder and a few other students when the pipes above them exploded, causing sewage to fall on them from above. Luiz, fearful that Eder would lose his students and therefore be unable to pay the rent, meaning he would no longer be able to train, decided to remove his Gi to try and catch the sewage as it fell to protect the mats and other students. Comparing those struggles to modern-day complaints from students, Luiz has this to offer,
“You know when guys come to train, and they complain, ‘Ohh you don’t have a shower, I don’t have a shower? I saw sh** dropping from the ceiling. Do you think I care about showers?! Come on, give me a break”.
Starting London Fight Factory
Luiz started London Fight Factory in Brick Lane as a Purple Belt back in 2006, although not without difficulties, “When we started, it was really rough, rough to the point where I had teammates literally fighting each other. I didn’t have any clue how to be a teacher, how to be a leader; I knew nothing. If I look back, could I change things? Yes. My approach would be different because now I have the experience, now I know what I’m doing, before it was like putting two drunk guys to fight, at some point someone’s going to hit a lucky punch. That’s how I’d describe me when I started the gym.”
Luiz received his Blackbelt in 2010 from Marco Canha under the instruction of Ricardo Vieira. London Fight Factory has since moved to Old Street, right in the heart of London, representing Fight Sports International and considered one of the top academies in the country (now fully equipped with showers and a distinct lack of exploding pipes).
Power of Jiu-Jitsu
Luiz spoke about the positive impact Jiu-Jitsu can have on people’s lives and how it can help them deal with the problems that life throws at them. When people begin to truly engage in Jiu-Jitsu, “Jiu-Jitsu has this power that can change their lives. When you get the bug, and you start to apply Jiu-Jitsu outside of the mats, you realize how great you are, how much potential you have, and how far you can go. When you feel a guy on top of you, with their sweat dripping into your mouth, then boom, you reverse the position, now you’re on top. Just like in life, you want to be on top; everybody wants to be on the top in something. They want to be happy, and to progress, they want to succeed. So when you’re outside the gym, when things get really tough, and you need to make a decision, apply the Jiu-Jitsu mentally, think to reverse the position, or apply the submission to your problem to make the right decision.
If someone has the bug of Jiu-Jitsu, it’s amazing, it’s that feeling of ‘Man, I did well last time, I can do better again, I can do better, again and again, that’s my concept of the bug of Jiu-Jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu can give you the tools to overcome any problem you have”.