On learning from mistakes and the winners attitude with Prof Rodrigo Mendanha

This week we talk with Prof Rodrigo Mendanha of GB Brossard in Montreal, Canada about how to train most effectively, avoid common mistakes and achieve your highest potential in Jiu-Jitsu.
“The gentle art isn’t to break you, it’s to build you stronger physically and mentally. BJJ leads us to the overcoming of obstacles.”
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Prof Rodrigo Mendanha
GB: Let’s start by introducing you to the Gracie Barra readers. How did you get started training Jiu-Jitsu and where is your home GB school located?
Prof  Rodrigo: My name is Rodrigo Lima Mendanha. Third-degree Black Belt with more than 25 years of experience training and competing. I’m IBJJF World Champion, Pan Am medalist, and Brazilian medalist.
I was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. My first martial art experience was wrestling, a discipline I trained when I lived in Chicago, IL. When I returned to Brazil in 1996, I found Gracie Barra Belo Horizonte, founded by Vinicius Magalhães “Draculino”. I already knew about the Gracie family’s story and was happy to have the chance to practice Jiu-Jitsu from my white to black belt under one of the most respected professors in the world.
In 2012 I decided to dedicate my life 100% to giving back what I have learned on the mats. Then I moved to Canada to open my own Gracie Barra school which is located in Brossard, a town on the south shore of Montreal.
I’m blessed to do what I love and the results are coming with students reaching their personal goals of becoming World Champions, Pan Ams Champions, and the most important thing, champions in life.
GB: What are some of the common mistakes that you observe white and blue belts make in training? How can they fix these mistakes?
Prof  Rodrigo: The common mistake for beginners is to use strength over techniques but it’s not their fault since usually is the only tool they have. As a Professor, I try to partner up my beginners with more advanced students so then both will have a good experience, one guiding/teaching and the other having a chance to learn instead of being smashed.
At Gracie Barra Brossard our mentality is to help each other to make the team stronger. We grow together as a family and team. If my color belts can explain a certain technique to the new student it means that they understood the mechanics and, as a matter of fact, we solidify the knowledge when we are able to explain it to someone else because you will be, without notice, sharpening your own skills.
Another common mistake that I see quite often is choosing a partner to avoid challenges. One word for that is ego. Forget it, inside of the mats the ego is your enemy. You need to challenge yourself constantly to improve. It is impossible to improve if you are in your comfort zone.
Every training partner can give you a good challenge, put yourself in situations where you will be working your own weaknesses against your partner’s strengths.
The Professor is in charge to guide the students to improve, correcting mistakes, mitigating injuries, and making an enjoyable but challenging experience.
GB: If a Jiu-Jitsu student has identified a weakness in their game – following a tournament loss – what steps can they take to fix this hole in their game?
Prof  Rodrigo: I truly believe that tournaments are the best way for you to evaluate your skills. You are going to face someone with the same goal, the gold medal. Winning or losing you will come out better. Most of the time you learn more from mistakes because it is painful to come short in competition but eventually it will happen and the role in your game will be fixed.
Don’t lose any second, time to get back on the mats and adjust details, making the weakness become a new tool in your game. The mistake happened once and it will be fixed to never happen again. Repeat the over and over again the techniques until they become muscle memory. Drills are the best way to make it happen and then you will incorporate them into your game.
There is no secret in Jiu-Jitsu, time on the mats will make you better. Keep an open mind to constantly learn. I’m learning every day and from everyone.
GB: How would you describe your approach to using Jiu-Jitsu as a path to becoming the best version of yourself?
Prof  Rodrigo: Jiu-Jitsu is a humble experience. It is a roller coaster of emotions. Some days you feel like a superhero and some other days you feel like Jiu-Jitsu is not for you. But the secret of being a champion in and out of the mats is consistency. Believe and enjoy the journey.
Now is the time to form habits that will keep you training for years to come. Start eating better and keeping a good sleep schedule so your body and mind are ready for class.
The gentle art isn’t to break you, it’s to build you stronger physically and mentally. BJJ leads us to the overcoming of obstacles.
What you learn inside of the mats you will be able to replicate in life, some good examples of that are: learn how to deal with pressure, take fast decisions, readjust when things are going the wrong way, see opportunities and commit to it… I can stay here for hours and hours giving examples.
Jiu-Jitsu built me with the mentality of hope for peace but I’m always ready for war. Life sometimes will put you on your knees and you need to remember that you are going to be in a great position to do the double leg takedown.
Keep your head up and always moving forward as nothing could stop you and then you will meet the unbreakable version of yourself.
GB: Lastly, where is the advice you find yourself giving to your students most often?
Prof  Rodrigo: The advice that I give to my competitors most often is: there is no such thing as getting ready for a competition. A real competitor is ready the whole year round and the competition coming or not the mentality of giving your best daily shouldn’t change accordingly to the championship schedule. That is the spirit. Then when the competition comes, it is time to have fun because the job is already done.
Let’s go straight to the point, once you set a goal to become a champion, you need to understand that sacrifices will be in your way, with a lot of tears and sweat. Dream, believe, work hard and you will achieve your goals. No shortcuts.
To my students with different goals out of competition my advice for them is to understand their bodies and listen to them. Your body will always give you signs of fatigue so don’t overuse it to make sure that you will be able to attend the next class. Better than going super hard one day and skipping other days to recover, train smart and be consistent. Ultimately, you should train however much you can fit into your schedule. I try to keep clear for the new students that BJJ is a body chess game where you will be adding new tools every class, at the beginning, they will understand a few pieces of the puzzle before seeing the big picture. All the pieces will be connected and it means that you started to build a game.
Now is the time to really enjoy learning from trial and error. Do your best, learn from your mistakes, and ask for help when you need it.
My main goal as a Professor is to see my students getting better than me. It’s the evolution of the sport and it is my mission.
Picture 1 – Family Picture at Pan Ams 2021
My wife Fernanda Mendanha (blue Gi) won her division and got third place at the Open Class
My daughter Gabriela Mendanha (white Gi) won her division and got third place at the Open Class
Rodrigo Mendanha, I got third place
Picture 2 – Claire and Gabi
My student Claire (GB Red T-shirt) got second place in her division and First place at the Open Class – Pan Ams 2022
My daughter got second place in her weight class – Pan Ams 2022
See also on GB Blog: GB Inspiration: Prof. Flavio Almeida on overcoming struggles
Writer: Mark Mullen, Gracie Barra Black Belt