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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Mar. 31, 2022 3 months ago

Winter Garden BJJ instructor earns sixth-degree black belt

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Only 171 people have achieved the rank.
by: Andrea Mujica Staff Writer

For Rinaldo Santos, Brazilian jiujitsu isn’t just a sport.

It’s a way of life.

And now, after more than three decades living BJJ, he has achieved a rank few ever reach.

Santos, who owns Carlson Gracie Central Florida in Winter Garden, recently received his sixth-degree black belt. Only 171 people have achieved the rank.

Twenty-four BJJ black belts traveled from different cities and countries to witness Santos’ transition. Even Carlos Gracie Jr. — son of the late Master Carlson Gracie Sr., Santos’ first instructor — attended the ceremony and presented Santos with his sixth degree.

“You always have to have somebody above you to put on your new belt,” Santos said. 

Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Santos discovered BJJ in his early teen years. He met Gracie Sr. through friend Angelo Santa Cruz, who studied with him at Colegio Sao Jose in Petropolis, Brazil. 

Gracie Sr. was the oldest son of Master Carlos Gracie Sr., known as one of the first developers of BJJ. Carlos Gracie Sr. learned the martial art from Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese judoka known for being one of the first mixed martial artists who arrived in Belem, Brazil, in the early 1900s. 

Santos started to train with Master Carlson Gracie Sr. at the Crezio Chaves School when he was 16 years old. It took him nine years and eight months to receive his first black belt from his instructor. 

“I am the third generation of (Carlson’s) black belts,” Santos said. 

Instructor Rinaldo Santos explains the Mata Leao move, a strategical choke against an opponent during a fight.

In BJJ, there are five primary belts. Practitioners of the sport start with the white belt then progress to blue, purple, brown and black. Each belt below the black has four degrees, and the black belt has a total of six degrees. Following the black belt, BJJ practitioners can pursue red and black; red and white; and finally, the red belt.

For years, Santos only had his black belt — with no degrees. In Brazil, the sport doesn’t award degrees.

“Once you are a black belt, you’re a black belt,” Santos said.

He struggled with the decision of pursuing black belt degrees; he didn’t want to surpass his instructor. But during a visit from Carlson Gracie Sr., Santos talked to him about getting the degrees, and he decided to do it after receiving his instructor’s approval.

“He gave me my first degree,” he said. “He always thought red belts were for old men, and he wanted to be young forever. He was like a second father to me.” 

Santos arrived to Winter Garden in 2008, and a year later opened his school, as he recalls thinking he saw much potential in the area. 

One of his students, Andrew Martin, said he is grateful to be able to train with Santos.

“I trained for months, and it didn’t dawn on me,” Martin said. “It’s like looking for a pitching coach for your kid and finding out that Nolan Ryan is giving pitching lessons behind the public library.” 

Now, Santos must wait seven years for his red and black belt.

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Andrea Mujica is a staff writer for the West Orange Times & Observer, the Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida....

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