The story of how Jiu-Jitsu saved a family and superbly compelled a man to travel around the world to the UK to make a new life with the art
Interviewee: Valmyr Neto
Location: London, UK
For many, Jiu-Jitsu offers a sanctuary from the troubles they face outside the mats. It’s not uncommon for those who practice the sport to find answers to questions about themselves as they struggle to overcome both the physical and psychological demands of Jiu-Jitsu. However, for Valmyr Neto, the sport itself offered a solution to one area of his life that was incredibly dark.
“I come from a very violent background. My Dad used to have some drinks, and with the frustrations he had at work, he used to come home and be very abusive towards my Mum, and myself.
The first thing I learned was how to do a rear-naked choke, so I didn’t think twice – he came into our house, started to give it to my Mum, and then I went in the back, and I choked him unconscious.”
A powerful message of what Jiu-Jitsu can empower you to do, for sure, but not one that Neto himself wants to overly promote.
“I actually started Jiu-Jitsu for the wrong reasons, because you can’t start a Martial Art because you want to beat up your Dad.”
Martial Arts and specifically Jiu-Jitsu is not primarily about beating people up but about becoming your best self. However, if the situation arises, don’t kid yourself; it is arguably the most effective martial art in the world and is an amazing tool to save people in any number of situations.
Today, the Neto and his father actually have a great relationship, and whilst Neto’s focus has shifted, he still offers self-defense classes at his newly formed gym (albeit under the guise of Jiu-Jitsu).
Despite opening amid a global pandemic, the VN Checkmat Team HQ based out of Gravesend, Kent, is going from strength to strength. But it wasn’t always that way.
Coming to England in 2008 under the invitation of Rodrigo Cabral, aka “Brucutu,” there was no apparent reason for Neto to leave his life in Brazil.
“I had a decent job in the parliament in Brazil, I had a girlfriend back then, a kid, I had my own apartment, my own car – I had everything in Brazil. Life was decent. But, not good enough for me. I wanted more.”
Originally he starting off in the London Fight Factory gym, where there were already 3 Black Belts. It wasn’t until Luiz Ribeiro offered three of his students to Neto to teach privates that he quit his job and took the opportunity. From there, he started to train at multiple gyms, making ends meet and spreading Jiu-Jitsu to his students.
Fast forward to 2020, and the gym Neto has opened used to be not just one of the gyms he taught at, but the one he also lived in, demonstrating just how far he’s come.
“I spent Christmas’ by myself, New Years, birthdays, it would be -5 outside and -10 in the gym. It was tough, but I never gave up. When I opened my gym, one of the first things I did was put my name outside, a massive sign!
Looking back, Neto compares the feeling of opening his gym to that of getting his black belt, with a beaming sense of responsibility and the honor of having to carry the weight of the team ever-present in his mind.
“Anyone that sees my name outside and walks through the door will go after me. They’ll see my name outside and come after me. But Jiu-Jitsu will always keep you motivated to be a better person and to do better in life.”
No matter the difficulties Neto faced and currently faces with COVID, and new business, etc., he chooses Jiu-Jitsu with astounding resolve. One great man once said, “there are no easy choices, just choices.” On the surface, it may seem like an easy choice to take the path most traveled, the easy job, the life with the least change. However, upon making this choice, most often give up what they were truly born to do, which, if you ask me, is far harder to look back on and think, “I should have taken the chance and done what was in my heart to do” than just putting in the work day-by-day. Neto chose the latter, the long-term approach to life, and is now reaping the rewards… My advice, chose the path less traveled and go after what you’re built for…. you won’t regret it when you make it.