Professor Fabiana Borges and the San Antonio Dream Factory.
Professor Fabiana Borges: A Step by Step Guide to World Class Mentoring.
Writer credit: Thomas Brown, GB student Jiu Jitsu is an increasingly popular martial art, thanks in part to the Gracie family as well as the rise of mixed martial arts. For the beginning student, the allure of defeating a larger, stronger opponent through greater skill is enticing.
But will the beginner himself survive the transition from novice to blue belt?
The answer is often “no.” The jiu Jitsu path is littered with beginners who could not sustain their effort. There are many reasons for this.
And there may be nothing to tell the new student what may happen when he or she decides to try jiu Jitsu. The professor is likely to be a successful athlete.
Someone whose athleticism and accomplishments are unquestioned. Encouragement to persevere may be generous at every level, from beginner to professor. But the ability to sustain a complete beginner
along the journey from enthusiasm to commitment, from the setting of specific goals to the attainment of a vision, is rare.
When the challenges to commitment come, the beginning student must often rely on his or herinstructor to keep going.
Enter the door of Gracie Barra San Antonio, and you discovera truly great mentor: Professor Fabiana Alves Borges.
Professor Fabiana Alves Borges is one of the top competitors of this decade. Her athleticism and competitive drive are famous. But as good an athlete as she is, she is just as great a mentor. In two years she transformed a tiny Gracie Barra outpost in San Antonio into a bustling center of competitive accomplishment. She has had to double her floor size. The secret to her success? Or better yet, the secret to her students’ success? Her superb skills as a teacher.
Professor Borges is that rare athlete who understands the needs of the beginning student, sees the small steps and details required to excel, and inspires through her unflagging commitment to her students. The beginner should really take a look at what makes her such a good instructor. Her mentoring genius can be distilled into several broad categories that every student should seek from his or her professor.
Questions for the beginner to ask of a jiu jitsu school.
Is the school safe?
Are students getting results?
Does the mentor have a vision for me?
Is my mentor committed to my development?
Do my classmates support me?
Is there collaboration with other schools and teachers?
Does my school have a spirit of giving back, of adding value to the lives of others?
But first, a word about the professor herself! Professor Fabiana Alves Borges, or “Fabi” as she is known to her friends, was born in a famously poor slum, a favela, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 26, 1988. She says she was “afraid of everything” growing up. But she was willing to try new things, and to take chances.
She has since won the Brazilian National Championships six times. She has three Pans titles. In 2010 and 2015 she won silver in her division at the Worlds. She continues to compete, but also to give back. Quietly, consistently, and with no fanfare, she reaches back to lift her students up.
The beginning student may wish to start with the end in mind, with some idea of how he or she may be transformed by jiu Jitsu. Gracie Barra San Antonio certainly has accomplished athletes. Alexa Yanes, 2017 World No-Gi champion in her second week as a purple belt, Shawn Gantz, and many others, are rising stars in jiu jitsu. Watching Professor Borges nurture their athleticism and jiu Jitsu intellect is exciting. That first free lesson gives any walk-in student an immediate snapshot of athletic success.
Spend enough time at GBSA, though, and you see what Professor Borges can do for those students with lesser innate ability.
Say you are big and clumsy, over thirty, and prone to knee injuries. But you have a champion’s heart and a desire to learn. Professor Borges’s keen interest in the individual really shines in such cases. Take Rajeev Williams. Rajeev walked into class with bad knees and no skills, entered his first competition and lost quickly, and wound up taking the gold medal in his age and weight class a year later at the 2017 Worlds. From no-belt newbie to Worlds gold in a year is a testament to Rajeev’s determination. But effort without attention to all the little details that differentiate success from failure is wasted effort. To see someone who is not obviously an athlete achieve so much is inspiring.
Which may lead the beginning student to ask: what can Professor Borges do for me?
Results require time, effort and some goal. Fabiana Borges seems to have a vision for each student. This vision often transcends whatever limits the student sees for himself, or require that the student give up some negative story he has been telling himself for years about what he can and cannot do. At some point, for results to come, the student must suspend belief in his or her own perceived limitations, and trust the mentor. Professor Borges’s laser focus on her students is free of doubt and disappointment. Her own life story is one of overcoming poverty and illiteracy, of rewriting her destiny through vision and hard work. At some point Fabiana Borges made her own leap of faith.
The joke is that kryptonite is the only thing that can stop Fabiana Borges. In fact, kryptonite is useless against Professor Borges, and what she teaches. The key to Professor Borges’s success? And to her students’ results? A changed mind. The first time a student does a forward roll, and sees the joy in Professor Borges’s face, and the faith in her eyes that even more is possible, something happens to the student’s outlook. Vague dreams of glory are replaced by the thrill of what may be possible. It’s hard not to be pulled forward by a winner who believes in you.
Everyone pays respect to safety. But how high a priority is this in your academy? When safety is a top priority, your professor will encourage cautious sparring. And watch everyone like a hawk. If crushing your sparring partner is acceptable, and your professor is focused on what the top competitive prospect in your gym is doing, and has no idea what you are doing, you are in the wrong program.
Of course being safe and slacking are not the same thing. An expert instructor will push you, and find sparring partners who can and will safely do that. In turn, as you advance, you will spar with less experienced students, and you will be expected to provide the same safe, respectful, interested roll that you received in the past. That’s a Fabiana Borges rule: “You have to give a little to get a little.”
Still nervous? That’s understandable. In a sense, studying jiu Jitsu means that you may be thrown, choked, and arm-barred every time you step on the mat. This means becoming comfortable with taking a beating. Your professor should understand that this is how you feel, and should convince you that he or she is aware of this concern, cares about how you feel both mentally and physically, and will help you ensure your own safety. And of course, keep your pride in check. As Professor Borges says: “Remember to tap.”
Choose your jiu Jitsu mentor with an eye to what that person has accomplished—and is still accomplishing. Jiu Jitsu may take you places that you have never been before, both mentally and physically. Take a close look at your instructor, and see if he or she is someone you like and respect enough to imitate.
When I first met Fabiana Borges, I was impressed by her calm and polite demeanor, as well as her muscular hands. Those hands! Hands can tell a story, and hers told me that she had taken the athletic side of her profession very seriously. However, there was nothing in her academy that advertised her accomplishments. No hanging medals. No glowing trophies. Nothing, except for some drawings that children had made for her. I assumed this woman did not compete. But at this early stage of my relationship with Professor Borges I could tell from her hands that she was committed, and that her focus was on her students, including her very youngest. Those qualities sold me. I signed up. Only later did I learn she had just taken second place in her division at the Worlds.
And knowledge? Fabiana Borges not only knows the little details that are required to succeed, but she has an easy way of teaching them. The answer always seems clear to her. You should seek the mentor who seems to know, and who has a clear way of explaining. You may be able to tell this in the first class, the free class perhaps! Because even the simplest moves in jiu Jitsu requiring explaining and attention to detail. If your professor is able to make the magic obvious to you, and you feel good about what you are learning, consider signing up. If you and your instructor are equally confused about what you are doing and decide to “get back to that later,” you should rethink your membership.
Of course, there is a relationship side to knowledge and its passing down. If you “click” with an instructor, and you feel the commitment, and you can see results, sign up! Even if you don’t see hanging medals and glowing trophies.
There are martial arts academies that value loyalty over education. Some schools even encourage the student not to train elsewhere. This is not the case at Gracie Barra San Antonio. Prof. Borges has made the guest instructor a fixture at her school. Road trips to train at other schools with different partners are plentiful and fun. A good instructor knows that variety is the spice of education. The best teachers have no ego when it comes to seeking educational opportunities for their students. And this is something that the new student can ask about. How do guest seminars fit into the training? Are other schools and athletes welcome and included?
An effective jiu Jitsu mentor creates an environment of mutual support and respect. When the beginner sees that the more advanced students care about the beginner, and want to see the novice succeed, then the beginner has found the school of a good mentor. Enthusiasm for the process is hard to fake.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for the beginner to feel lifted up by his or her peers. If you look for nothing else in the first free lesson, look for the interest of others.
Learning jiu Jitsu is hard enough. Learning it alone is impossible. And this is not something learned on the blackboard. Professor Borges exemplifies what it means to give back. As a beginner you may not see all the things that your mentor does, but you must keep your eyes open. Professor Borgeswon’t tell you about the sacrifices she makes for individual students. She won’t ask you to donate to her
causes, although you may find them on a gofundme site. What you will see, if you look, is a group of students whose difficult personal circumstances don’t stop them from coming to class. Or winning on the mat. You can see the glue, the connectedness, of her students, of her leadership.
Some winners may be born. In the crucible of Fabiana Borges’ jiu jitsu school, you can watch winners being made.
See also on Gracie Barra : GB Women : Prof. Jessica Oliveira
Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Saigon, Vietnam