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Staying grounded: tips from a martial arts master

Staying grounded: tips from a martial arts master

For the past 15 years, the highest-ranking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner in Minnesota has had a mission to “promote athleticism, mental toughness, and overall individual excellence” at his martial arts academy in Rochester.

Mario Roberto was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro and started training seriously at the age of 12. “I could not play soccer, which is considered the national sport of Brazil. Actually, I was never very good at any group sports,” Roberto remembers. “I ended up in martial arts pretty much by accident. For whatever reason, unarmed combat came naturally to me. I was able to channel my stress and it gave me discipline. It shaped my life.”

Mario as an M.D. / submitted

Mario as an M.D. / submitted

In Brazil, Roberto trained as a physician who planned to pursue a critical care pathway. However, he decided to put his medical career on hold when he moved to Rochester in 2004. At the age of 26, he channeled his love of Jiu-Jitsu and started a class at the 4th Street Youth Boxing Gym with one student. Today Roberto owns and operates his own gym, where he teaches classes on a daily basis. In addition to being a 5th-degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, Roberto also has a Brown Belt in Judo, and is a 4-0 undefeated professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter.

Loosely similar to American wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu involves grappling on the ground. “Statistically, the majority of the fights will go to the ground and the use of leverage is much easier on the ground,” Roberto explains. “In wrestling, the goal is to control the opponent, and it is centered on sport. However, in Jiu-Jitsu, right off the bat, the focus is on self-defense.”

In addition to running a business and training, Roberto is an avid reader. He has a wide variety of hobbies, plays different genres of music, and is passionate about traveling. However, he stresses, “I go to my workplace to hang out because the customers have become my friends. Sometimes family comes in different forms.” He says because of the hardships and comradery that are endured together, the gym forms a type of brotherhood. It provides a sense of belonging and community.

Mario at the gym / photo by Alex Douangmala

Mario at the gym / photo by Alex Douangmala

Roberto is especially proud of the youth programs that are offered at the gym. “Old school ideology is one of the central themes of the teen anti-bullying classes,” Roberto remarks. “They are very values-driven with lots of discipline. In return, students build their own wall of self-confidence.” Roberto highlights that “change is what is on the other side of the wall. Students stop worrying about what others think of them, but rather develop their own internal sense of accomplishments.” Empowerment is a key component of the classes. According to Roberto, “anti-bullying tactics involve respect, problem solving, and learning tools to handle violence.” Roberto also indicates students learn to not seek trouble and use diplomacy, plus confidence, to handle life’s problems.

“Jiu-Jitsu can really benefit people in all aspects of their life,” Roberto emphasizes.

You can more about Roberto and his gym by visiting his team website.


Maka Boeve moved to Rochester from South Florida during the 1991 Halloween blizzard and has never quite thawed out. She has Communications and Education degrees from the University of Florida and University of Minnesota. To support her travel junkie habits, she has been a high school substitute teacher for 19 years, but has secretly always desired to go back to her journalist roots.

Cover photo: Mario on the mats / Andrew Maselli

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