Master Ricardo Murgel and the History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Master Ricardo Murgel
Photo: Melanie Lynne Klaer

KnuckleUp Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Head Instructor Ricardo Murgel has a 60 year history with  BJJ.  A few years ago, I was lucky enough to accompany him to Brazil for the once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from some of its originators.  What follows  is the first of a three part series that was initially published in FIGHT! magazine describing our amazing trip. 

On June 7th 1494, at the Treaty of Torde­sil­las, in an act of mon­u­men­tal hubris the nations of Spain and Por­tu­gal divided up the known world out­side of Europe. Spain got every­thing west of the Cape Verde Islands and Por­tu­gal got every­thing that lay east, includ­ing what would become the nation of Brazil. This is why, although Span­ish is spo­ken in the rest of Cen­tral and South Amer­ica in Brazil they speak Portuguese.

Brazil’s pop­u­la­tion is com­posed of the descen­dants of Euro­pean set­tlers, African slaves, and the indige­nous Amerindi­ans. With a land mass as large as the con­ti­nen­tal US, abun­dant nat­ural resources and a pop­u­la­tion of almost 200 mil­lion, Brazil has always been a nation brim­ming with unmet poten­tial and pos­si­bil­ity. How­ever in the minds of MMA fans the coun­try will for­ever be linked with the fight­ing style known as BJJ or Brazil­ian Jiu Jitsu. The style came out of nowhere in the early 1990’s when Royce Gra­cie used it to smother, trip and choke his way into his­tory dur­ing the first 3 UFC’s.

My own intro­duc­tion to BJJ came from a great mas­ter of the art, Ricardo Murgel. I met him over a year ago after he relo­cated to Atlanta and I was lucky enough to be able to train with him. Murgel’s resume reveals that he is a 7th level mas­ter of BJJ as well as a Judo Black Belt with over 50 years of expe­ri­ence in mar­tial arts. He has coached fight­ers to cham­pi­onship lev­els at events such as the Abu Dhabi Cham­pi­onships and in the UFC and Pride. His under­stand­ing of fight­ing and fight­ers is ency­clo­pe­dic and he knows every­one in the busi­ness. He is an invalu­able resource to me as well as a close friend. Murgel can be a lit­tle rough around the edges but is also incred­i­bly intel­li­gent and wise. Imag­ine a Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid who curses or a Yoda who likes to drink beer; that is Mas­ter Murgel. He has often told me that if I really wanted to under­stand MMA I needed to go to Brazil, the source. I needed to meet the peo­ple who invented it, not in 1993 or with the UFC but sixty years ago in South America.

Murgel is treated like a return­ing monarch. His stu­dents carry our bags, drive us around and see to our every need. We have arrived in Porto Ale­gre, Murgel’s home­town. He is hold­ing a sem­i­nar on Jiu Jitsu. Sev­eral news­pa­pers are cov­er­ing it and well over 120 peo­ple are attend­ing. Before he left Brazil, Murgel would review his stu­dents in for­ma­tion, the black belts lin­ing up in front fol­lowed by the brown and pur­ple belts on down to the blues and whites. When we enter the room they are wait­ing in for­ma­tion to greet him, just like old times. As they catch sight of him they start shout­ing, “Union, Union, Union!” pump­ing their fists in the air. It is a pow­er­ful moment, like watch­ing Leonidas review his 300 Spar­tans. This is my fi rst hint of the incred­i­ble ven­er­a­tion a mas­ter of BJJ receives in his home coun­try. As soon as the sem­i­nar ends Murgel is hounded for auto­graphs and pic­tures, like a movie star. Peo­ple even want to get their pic­ture taken with me, because I know him.


Master Murgel’s Seminar in Porto Alegre Photo Credit Levy Ribiero

The Philoso­pher

If any­one can tell you the true story of Vale Tudo it will be Grand­mas­ter Joao Alberto Bar­reto and his brother Alvaro. They were there since the begin­ning,” Mas­ter Murgel tells me as we arrive in Rio. The Broth­ers are Grand­mas­ters in the 9th level of BJJ. The 10th level is reserved for the founders of the art; Car­los and Helio Gra­cie and their broth­ers. Helio is the only one still liv­ing and he is 95 years old. When he’s gone there will never be another 10th level. Remem­ber­ing with what rev­er­ence Murgel, a 7th level, had been treated in Porto Ale­gre I real­ize that meet­ing the Bar­retos one on one is a rare honor.

We arrive at a gym right off Copaca­bana Avenue. The equip­ment looks old but pris­tine. The place is well used but immac­u­late. “This is amaz­ing,” Murgel tells me, “I trained here 40 years ago.” Soon Grand­mas­ter Alvaro arrives. He is a tall man with dark hair and a regal bear­ing. He moves slowly with the small, sure ges­tures of a man of high cul­ture and his voice is sooth­ing. He has a cere­bral, aca­d­e­mic air about him and is in fact, like his brother Joao Alberto, an accom­plished uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor. Here is a man who is highly edu­cated, wealthy, pro­fes­sion­ally accom­plished and who could kill me in about three sec­onds if the urge took him. But only peace and kind­ness fl ow from Grand­mas­ter Alvaro.

Alvarro Barreto

Grandmaster Alvaro Barreto in his Rio Dojo Photo Credit Levy Ribiero

He and Murgel laugh and rem­i­nisce about old times in Por­tuguese and soon he takes us into a mat room where we sit in a cir­cle on the floor. As I sit next to him I real­ize that his limbs are long for his height. Although he speaks a lit­tle Eng­lish we find that it is eas­i­est to use Murgel as an inter­preter. I ask him about the early days of BJJ and he men­tions how back then the Gra­cies taught only the elite of Brazil­ian soci­ety, CEOs, gov­ern­ment min­is­ters etc. When they opened the 2nd Gra­cie Acad­emy it was a highly pol­ished oper­a­tion with only pri­vate classes and huge indus­trial wash­ers and dry­ers which ensured that the stu­dents always had a clean, pressed Gi ready for training.

And it was as expen­sive as Hell!” Murgel exclaims, say­ing that when he was a boy he had asked to attend the Gra­cie Acad­emy and his father, a suc­cess­ful Rio Den­tist, had refused, explain­ing that the dues would be equiv­a­lent to 17% of his monthly income. In those days BJJ was for the rich­est mem­bers of the soci­ety, the most elite.

Later, Alvaro offers to walk with us part of the way home. On the way we stop by an exclu­sive club on the beach full of rich men with cig­ars and ser­vants in tuxe­dos, rein­forc­ing in my mind how the BJJ prac­ti­tion­ers of Barreto’s gen­er­a­tion were from a very dif­fer­ent strata of soci­ety than most US fight­ers. Murgel is impressed. “I’ve never been in here,” he says wide-eyed. Alvaro has been a mem­ber for many years. He takes us to a bal­cony over­look­ing the sea. As the waves beat against the sand in the moon­light I dis­cover that Alvaro can speak Eng­lish well when he chooses to.

You must under­stand that Jiu Jitsu is really four things. One: it is a phi­los­o­phy that can be summed up by the state­ment ‘give to win’. For exam­ple if you make strength with your arms then you give a point of lever­age for your oppo­nent to use against you. If you stay loose then you deprive your oppo­nent of that so by appear­ing to be weak you gain strength.”

Sun Tzu,” Murgel points out. “Exactly. Sec­ondly it is a sys­tem of teach­ing. It gives access to proper rules of human behav­ior, self respect, honor, dis­ci­pline, courage and so on. Third it is a therapy.”

I ask him how this is so and he says, “If man is too aggres­sive, it will calm him. Is he is too weak or pas­sive? It will make him stronger. And finally it is a fight­ing sys­tem. Today in MMA peo­ple only con­cen­trate on the last and ignore the first three.” As we walk out of the club I ask him one last ques­tion, “What is the essence of Jiu Jitsu?”

He thinks for a moment, “Jiu Jitsu is not an end. It is a tool for cre­at­ing a bet­ter life.” He pauses again and then says thought­fully “ It is like my North.” As Murgel and I walk back to the hotel I feel lucky have been able to speak on a per­sonal level with such a man.

The Lion

You can’t believe how good this man was,” Murgel con­fides to me as we ring the bell at the apart­ment of the great Joao Alberto Bar­reto. “He fights every Mon­day for a year and beats every oppo­nent, all by knock-out or sub­mis­sion.” In one of Joao’s last fights his oppo­nent refused to tap so he broke his arm. The com­pound frac­ture on live Brazil­ian TV was so shock­ing that it very likely played a role in the can­cel­la­tion of the pro­gram soon after. “He was like the Fedor of his day,” Murgel says, “even better.”

Grand­mas­ter Joao answers the door. Although 72 he still is an impos­ing fig­ure, with even longer arms and legs than his brother, a deep chest and a large head. He ush­ers us into his apart­ment. He has excel­lent old world taste, lots of antiques, oil paint­ings and sculp­ture. The fur­nish­ings are expen­sive but not osten­ta­tious. As we all take our seats in the den his body lan­guage is stiff and I can tell he is a lit­tle uncom­fort­able with me being here. Murgel had men­tioned that he couldn’t remem­ber an instance of Joao Alberto ever receiv­ing a jour­nal­ist into his home and now he has an Amer­i­can reporter in his antique arm­chair! I begin to sweat under his serene but intense glare. His brother makes you feel at ease, this man makes you feel his power. He begins to speak in a deep sten­to­rian voice.

When I was 15 I was a body builder and stu­dent at the mil­i­tary acad­emy. At this time Helio Gra­cie was chal­lenged by a fighter named Caribe. My father was the head of the Deaf and Dumb Acad­emy and the Gra­cies wanted to use the facility’s gym. My father allowed them to do this and after Helio defeated the guy very eas­ily and I was pre­sented by my father to Helio and his brother Car­los they said, ‘Wow this boy is big!’ They invited me the next Mon­day to the Gra­cie Acad­emy… They tested me by hav­ing me fight another boy who had more expe­ri­ence and I beat him.”

The Gra­cies were so impressed with the ath­letic gifts of the young Joao that they soon put an add in the news­pa­per that said, “In three months we chal­lenge any ama­teur fighter in Rio to fight this boy because we are man­u­fac­tur­ing cham­pi­ons at the Gra­cie Acad­emy.” I notice that he’s begin­ning to loosen up.

I always had a tal­ent for fight­ing but I wasn’t a pit bull fighter I was a very tech­ni­cal fighter. I was like a sky­rocket,” he rem­i­nisces fondly. He begins telling us about his amaz­ing run on the Vale Tudo TV show; Heroes of the Ring.

Every Mon­day, Jiu Jitsu fight­ers were matched against fight­ers from other mar­tial arts styles. The rules were very sim­ple. You could not gouge the eyes, fish hook or hit in the groin.” I remark that this seems like an early ver­sion of MMA and he agrees. Though in those days it was called Vale Tudo mean­ing any­thing goes.

Every Mon­day I would fight and every Tues­day they would pay me,” he says slap­ping the palm of his hand and smil­ing. It was dur­ing this period that he had his amaz­ing 40–0 run. I tell him that for a sur­vivor of so many fights he is remark­ably unmarked, at which point he insists I feel his ear, now com­pletely brit­tle and calcified.

Alberto in Combat

Joao Alberto Barreto in combat

I ask him about the famous feud between the Gra­cie fam­ily and the vil­lain­ously named Walde­mar Santana:

Walde­mar San­tana was an employee of the Gra­cie Acad­emy and a stu­dent. He used to take care of the rest rooms,” Joao Alberto sneered. “I taught him many times. He had a prob­lem with Helio and Helio kicked him out of the Acad­emy for fi ght­ing with­out [his] permission.”

In retal­i­a­tion Walde­mar, a black belt, chal­lenged Helio. They had one of the longest fights in his­tory at 3 hours and 40 min­utes. Finally an exhausted Helio was beaten by the much younger and larger San­tana who dis­hon­ored the Gra­cie fam­ily by throw­ing Helio to the mat and kick­ing him in the face, knock­ing him out. As Alberto tells the story, Murgel is on the edge of his seat the drama of the moment still fresh in his mem­ory after 50 years.

The loss had to be avenged so the Gra­cies chal­lenged San­tana again. This time he would go up against Helio’s nephew Carl­son Gracie.

Walde­mar and Carl­son fought two matches. The first was a Jiu Jitsu match which went to a time limit draw. Joao Alberto believes that this was a tac­tic on the part of the Gra­cies to scout San­tana because after that match Carl­son chal­lenged him to a Vale Tudo match where Carl­son, now being famil­iar with his oppo­nent, destroyed Waldemar,

Let me ask you some­thing that I have always won­dered about,” Murgel says. “Why did the Gra­cies choose Carl­son to fight [the rematch] instead of you who was the big­ger fighter with more expe­ri­ence and the bet­ter one in my opin­ion?” “Walde­mar [was asked] to choose between Carl­son and I and he chose Carl­son.” Murgel’s eyes widen in amaze­ment. “This is the first time in 53 years that I have ever heard this.”

Joao Alberto clams up for a moment (the Gra­cies and their stu­dents are famously tight lipped about their inner work­ings.) “When I used to train with Walde­mar I had an eas­ier time of it than when Carl­son trained with him.”

I would have done the same thing Walde­mar did,” Murgel exclaims.

There is a knock on the door and Joao’s brother Alvaro, who we met yes­ter­day, walks in. He has brought his Gi and the two men who have not been pho­tographed together for many years agree to pose wear­ing the solid red belts that iden­tify them as 9th level Grand­mas­ters. Look­ing at the belts I real­ize that there are less than 10 of these in the world.

The Idol

When I returned to the hotel the Concierge hands me a mes­sage. It reads, “Sr. R. Gra­cie. Pl. Call Back.”

Wow, Rick­son Gra­cie!” I think. Rick­son, the most famous of all of the Gra­cies is the cur­rent cham­pion of the fam­ily, tak­ing up the man­tle laid down by his father and Carl­son Gra­cie, his uncle. Unlike them both, Rick­son has never been defeated. His record is 11 and 0 in MMA matches. Leg­end has it that he has been in over 400 street fights, Jiu Jitsu and Vale Tudo matches in his life with­out ever tast­ing defeat. Rick­son is noto­ri­ously reclu­sive and I am sur­prised when he agrees to meet me the next day at a small café in my hotel.

He looks a lit­tle older than I expect but he is still very hand­some and there’s an unmis­tak­able aura about him. A lot of peo­ple doubt the cred­i­bil­ity of Rickson’s self pro­claimed 400 and 0 record but sit­ting across from him I think, “It could be true.” We start by talk­ing about the famous Gra­cie challenge.

In Brazil peo­ple are not inclined to accept some­thing until you prove it,” he says.

We have always had the Gra­cie chal­lenge, not to be bul­lies or the tough­est guys in town but because, to sell our beliefs we had to be will­ing to con­front any­one who dis­be­lieved what we had to sell. And what we sell is effec­tive­ness, effec­tive­ness in fight­ing. The chal­lenge was made to prove the point that we were will­ing to con­front other styles and over the last 50 years or so in 95 per­cent of the cases we have been successful.”

When I men­tion that after talk­ing to the Bar­reto broth­ers I real­ize that the early UFC’s were the off­shoots of his father’s Vale Tudo in the 1950’s he agrees say­ing, “In the begin­ning the UFC was just a plat­form to show the dom­i­nance of Gra­cie Jiu Jitsu against other styles.”

I ask him if he thinks, at least as far as the UFC is con­cerned, that Jiu Jitsu has been a vic­tim its own suc­cess (i.e. so effec­tive that every­body went out and learned it thereby negat­ing its advan­tages). He doesn’t answer the ques­tion directly, but instead he men­tions that the rules were changed by the UFC to make the fights more com­pet­i­tive, he believes at the expense of Jiu Jitsu.


Rickson Gracie Explains BJJ in Rio Photo Credit Levy Ribeiro

Stand­ing the fight­ers up, gloves, reduc­ing the time lim­its, all these lit­tle aspects make style a sec­ondary com­po­nent to the indi­vid­ual. How fast you are, how aggres­sive, how explo­sive… It is very hard for a fight to be decided in the first 3 or 5 min­utes, a major aspect of Jiu Jitsu is defense, defense, defense and then cap­i­tal­iz­ing on a mis­take your oppo­nent makes… When my dad fought he was 130 pounds. He would sur­vive until he caught the guy in a mis­take. How can you do this if there isn’t enough time?” He brings up his brother Royce in his fight against Dan Sev­ern at UFC III, “Up until the moment Sev­ern tapped out every­body thought he was beat­ing Royce.”

I ask him if he was sur­prised when Royce was recently defeated in dev­as­tat­ing fash­ion by Amer­i­can wrestler Matt Hughes.

I was sur­prised because I didn’t rec­og­nize my brother. I don’t know if it was his train­ing or men­tal stress or what­ever but he didn’t look like him­self. He made some very basic mis­takes.” He leaves it at that.

Many peo­ple saw that fight as a defeat for Jiu Jitsu. I ask him if he wor­ries that were he ever to be defeated it would be seen as dis­cred­it­ing the dis­ci­pline. He strongly dis­agrees, “I am basi­cally at the end of my fight­ing career. If I am lucky and they pay me what I want then I might have one more fight or I may just retire… But every time I com­pete I put every­thing at risk and if I were to lose, it would be because I made a human mis­take or maybe got too old… It would be me being defeated not Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu has already been proved. Today on a cer­tain level every­body fight­ing in MMA is a Jiu Jitsu fighter”

What really moti­vates him now is pro­mot­ing Jiu Jitsu as a sport and as a way to improve people’s lives. “Box­ing is a fight­ing art, Karate is a fight­ing art. Jiu Jitsu is a guide, a phi­los­o­phy, a social move­ment.” Rickson’s speech becomes pas­sion­ate. “I am in the busi­ness of build­ing char­ac­ter not of mak­ing fight­ers. I pay the same atten­tion to the shy guy who is get­ting bul­lied as I do to the guy who wants to be a fighter. I will make that guy more con­fi­dent and help him regain his self esteem. This is the price­less aspect of Jiu Jitsu, this is the trea­sure… If some­one says that I am just a great fighter I feel like my legs have been cut off,” he tells me, “What I want to be is a great Master.”

As I say good­bye to Rick­son I real­ize that while I have always thought of him as a famous fighter he is really a teacher, and a sales­man. Joao Alberto, Alvaro and now Rick­son are all sell­ing the idea of the com­plete man. They are walk­ing bill­boards for what Jiu Jitsu can do: Impres­sive and com­plete indi­vid­u­als; intel­li­gent, strik­ing, suc­cess­ful and deadly in com­bat. The Gra­cie Chal­lenge, Heroes of the ring and Vale Tudo, Rickson’s matches and even the orig­i­nal UFC are adver­tise­ments for a world­view, infomer­cials for a mindset.

For these three impres­sive men it is the pro­mul­ga­tion of the art of Jiu Jitsu as a fight­ing sys­tem and as a way to live your life that is most impor­tant. What Royce and Ror­ion Gra­cie did in the first UFC’s was just an exten­sion of what Helio and Joao Alberto had done in the 50’s and 60’s, to con­clu­sively demon­strate Jiu Jitsu as a fight­ing art. The infer­ence being a quin­tes­sen­tially Brazil­ian one; If Jiu Jitsu makes you invin­ci­ble in a fight it can also make you invin­ci­ble in life, the vic­to­ri­ous fighter as metaphor for the vic­to­ri­ous man. If I hadn’t met them in per­son I would be skep­ti­cal. But there’s some­thing about being in this fierce and beau­ti­ful coun­try that makes it eas­ier to believe in supermen.


End Part One

Posted in Atlanta BJJ

KnuckleUp Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor Quentin Rosenzweig says Ronaldo Souza’s success in MMA shows the evolution of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Quentin Rosenzweig

Quentin Rosenzweig Credit: Melanie Lynne Klaer


It was a sad day for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when Mat Hughes dismantled Royce Gracie in front of the entire MMA world at UFC 60. Hughes’ crushing first round victory seemed to settle the argument once and for all as to which was better for the UFC, wrestling or fighting. Never mind that Hughes at 32 was 7 years younger than Royce and at the peak of his career. The aging Royce, on the other hand, had only fought sporadically since his glory days a decade earlier in UFCs 1-3. BJJ purists also made the point, as they had for years, that the rules of the UFC were changed to favor wrestlers over BJJ stylists. BJJ in its essence is a real world self defense system based on the idea that a smaller person can defend themselves against someone larger and stronger until their opponent makes a mistake that will allow them to end the fight with strikes from either a dominant position or a submission. Originally points, activity, and aggression did not come into the equation. So, when the rules of MMA were changed to include things like time limits, gloves, and standing the fighters up when a referee deems them inactive on the ground it made pure Brazilian Jiu Jitsu less effective in the UFC. Despite these arguments, it was hard to argue with the results of the main event at UFC 60 and BJJ was now viewed as less effective than wrestling.

One of the great things about MMA and combat sports in general is how quickly things evolve and so too did Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Rather than go into decline, as some predicted, BJJ under went a powerful renaissance and a new, more active style better suited for success inside the Octagon emerged. KnuckleUp Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor Quentin Rosenzweig recently described what this evolution entailed.

“Today it’s the fighters that are good at applying top pressure, actively seeking to pass their opponent’s guard, and always looking to submit their opponent who are the most successful in MMA.” KnuckleUp Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor Quentin Rosenzweig

Quentin, a Brown Belt under KnuckleUp Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Head Instructor Ricardo Murgel, exemplifies this new style in his own career. He has become a submission machine on the local grappling circuit and looks to move to the next level soon. He brought up names like Demian Maia, Jose Aldo, and Roger Gracie as good examples of the new breed of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu stylists that are currently successful in MMA on a global scale. Most notable of all, he says, is Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Souza is the multi-time world BJJ champion who burst onto the scene in 2004 with his classic match vs. Roger Gracie. Souza’s aggressive style of BJJ has made mincemeat of a who’s who of wrestling standouts over his MMA career. Want to see how far BJJ has come since UFC 60? You’ll get the chance tomorrow night when Souza faces Chris Camozzi at UFC Fight Night 15 Machida vs. Rockhold.


If you would like to learn more about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu here at KnuckleUp, check out our schedule of classes.

Posted in Atlanta BJJ

KnuckleUp Member Spotlight – Catie Murray



Catie Murray trains Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Kickboxing at KnuckleUp in Alpharetta. Catie’s father, Sean Murray, says he first got Catie into martial arts to channel his daughter’s abundance of energy. Mom lobbied for Ballet while Catie and Dad wanted to try wrestling which then to Judo then Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Since beginning training Catie’s competitive success has been remarkable. A two times Georgia State Wrestling Champion and victor in multiple Judo tournaments she’s also one of the brightest young Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitors in Georgia.


Favorite Class at KnuckleUp –  Kids Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


Highlights- Two Times State Wrestling Champion


Coaches Quote – “Catie is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever seen.  She’s a super hard worker and a pleasure to coach. If she keeps it up she can be as good as she wants to be.” Instructor Quentin Rosenzweig


Posted in Atlanta BJJ, Knuckleup Fitness News, Uncategorized

KnuckleUp Remembers Hagler vs Hearns

If you’re a boxing fan of a certain age then you remember where you were when you saw Marvelous Marvin Hagler knock out Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns. The fight, which took place thirty years ago today, is so iconic people forget that before the fight it was Hagler who was considered the technician. Hearns was thought to have the better chance to knock his man out.  Plus, anyone looking at their one common opponent would favor Hearns as well.   Roberto Duran fought Hagler to a standstill over 15 rounds but Hearns later obliterated the Panamanian legend in two. So going in many actually considered Hagler, the long time champion, to be the underdog.

That’s not the way the fight played out. Hagler, making his 11th defense of the middleweight crown, unexpectedly waded into Hearns from the outset. This strategy nearly proved disastrous when Hearns caught the Champion flush only seconds into the first.  Hagler, who had one of the best chins in boxing history, was wobbled for one of the few times in his career. But he fought through the fire in what is widely considered the best first round in boxing history.


Posted in Uncategorized

DON’T QUIT: Resilience in and out of the ring helps KnuckleUp trainer Dave Vitkay reignite his fighting career

In March 2012 Knuckle Up Fitness Trainer Dave Vitkay had a gut check. After ten years fighting in Mixed Martial Arts he suffered his second knockout loss in a row and had to reassess his career. “It devastated me and I was going to quit. I was going to retire from fighting and become a full-time trainer,” he said recently in an interview. In spite of the long odds of coming back from two such crushing losses, Vitkay says there was something inside him that wouldn’t let him give up. “There was this itch that said, ‘let me give it one more shot,’ because I just hate being a quitter at anything.”

So, instead of retiring, Vitkay doubled down on his fighting career. He began training harder and smarter, focusing on nutrition and plugging holes in his fighting style.

“Three years ago, I started switching up and going

Southpaw during training to practice. It worked so well

that now I fight that way. I’ll switch up. I’ll go southpaw

a little bit, I’ll go conventional, and actually I can see the

confusion in my opponent’s eyes because they don’t know

what to expect. It gives me a half second and just creates

a little bit of advantage for me.”

Vitkay’s renewed focus and stylistic refinements worked out. He’s currently on a three-year win streak (5-0 with four submissions). Incredibly this MMA veteran is peaking 13 years into his career.

It hasn’t all be clear sailing though. In his last fight Vitkay had to dig down against a wild brawler named Tommy Jones. Jones had him in trouble at least once in the fight. Vitkay, who is nothing if not resilient, showed his trademark toughness and eventually fought through and submitted his tough opponent. “I was really impressed with him,” Vitkay says of Jones.

“He was strong and athletic and could really scramble

better than I expected so he kept surprising me and catching

me off guard. He had me in some bad positions. The first

round he had me side-mounted, and at one point I think he

got on top of me again in the second round. Then in the

third round, I rushed him and got a hold of his legs and took

him down. From there I worked from guard to half guard and

once I got half guard I got a hold of his arm like a kimura lock

and he wasn’t giving up the kimura, he was straightening his

arm and then I just straightened it into a straight arm lock and

finished him.”

The victory was televised nationally on AXS TV and built on Vitkay’s already impressive momentum. He hopes to ride the wave to an appearance on the UFC’s flagship television show The Ultimate Fighter. “They only want to know your last three fights and the last time I tried out I had a loss on my record,” he notes. “But this time, I’ve got three wins in a row and they’re all in bigger promotions like Bellator and Legacy. Plus I just look different now, I’m a lot more athletic and I’m training like a professional athlete,” he pauses before continuing, “and I know this is my my last chance. I’m 34 and the cutoff is 34, so I really feel like it’s my time right now.” Judging by his success over last three years he could very well be right.


Vitkay at Legacy

Photo Credit: Camille Butler



Posted in Knuckleup Fitness News

KnuckleUp Trainer Stephen UpChurch Follows the Dream

Stephen Upchurch by Eric Langley


Stephen UpChurch began training and competing in martial arts as a student at the University of Georgia in Athens. He flirted with Boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but it was Muay Thai that really got him hooked.

“I started training Muay Thai and I had a fight and that was really the beginning of it. I totally fell in love with it, so much that I moved to Sarat Thani Thailand and lived there for a year. I taught school to pay the bills and just trained all the time with the local guys and had a couple of fights on the island out there in Ko Samuit and Ko Suwan. It was amazing; one of the most memorable years of my life. I got totally into the culture and was in awe of it.”

Upchurch’s experience in Thailand made him rethink his career path.

“My degrees from UGA are in Advertising and English so I used to coordinate print advertising for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, then I moved into television advertising, so that’s what was paying the bills. When I got back [from Thailand], I just really didn’t want to go back to the office. I knew I wanted to keep training so I went up to KnuckleUp Sandy Springs and we’re kind of hanging around essentially and I was like, you know, ‘I want to train, are you guys hiring?”

Today Stephen is a ubiquitous presence around the gym, teaching numerous classes and personal training clients, continuing his own training in Muay Thai, Boxing, Kickboxing, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as well as competing on the local MMA circuit and even cornering the other members of KnuckleUp’s fight team when they have matches. I asked him if he’s still glad he took the leap and pursued his dream after he came back from Thailand. “Absolutely,” he says with conviction. “If I wasn’t, then I’d be sitting in an office somewhere.”

Stephen is available for both group classes and individual private training sessions.




Posted in Knuckleup Fitness News

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Ace Gui Cury says the striking he’s developing at KnuckleUp makes him a more dangerous fighter.


Originally from Curitiba Brazil (hometown of MMA legend Wanderlei Silva), Gui Cury is a 28-year-old Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Brown Belt under KnuckleUp Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Head Instructor, Master Ricardo Murgel. Already an accomplished grappler, Gui told me recently that he’s working hard with his teammates at KnuckleUp to add a slick striking game to his arsenal.


“When I first started competing as an amateur mixed martial artist I was strictly a

grappler. So in my head when I was going into my fights, I always felt like I had to

get a takedown. If I wasn’t able to get the fight to the ground, I didn’t know what else

to do. In MMA if you’re a one-trick pony, eventually your opponent will start to

prepare for that.


“But because I had good background in grappling it allowed me to spend a good bit

of time at KnuckleUp focusing solely on my striking and I’ve been getting more and

more comfortable with it. It makes the fight easier for me because I still like to go to

the ground and get a takedown and take my opponent to where my strengths are, but

if I don’t get the takedown the first time, if the guy escapes or something, I don’t have

to panic and feel that I have to get a takedown at all costs. I’ll be ok. I have enough

stand up ability to where I’ll be fine until I get him where I want him.”


This strategy paid dividends in Gui’s last match when he defeated Rusty Crowder on a nationally televised card. Gui explained how his newfound comfort with striking, plus his opponent’s tendency to get drawn into brawls opened the door for the high profile win.


“ …going into the fight with him, we knew that he had a tendency to brawl. He’s

one of those guys that if you hit him, he wants to hit you back and then you end up

brawling with him. This makes him open for takedowns, so I knew that he was

going to be expecting me to try and take him down so I didn’t want to do it too soon.

The whole game plan was to stand with him long enough to get him thinking that

we were striking, then when he started getting into his head that we were going to

brawl, I would take him down. So in the fight I would strike with him long enough

to get him concentrated on his striking and not as aware of his takedown defense and

whenever I saw him squaring up, I’d take him down. That’s basically the story of

the fight. We were able to do that for all three rounds.”


In addition to fighting, Gui is an instructor and personal trainer at KnuckleUp Fitness. He is available for both group classes and individual sessions.

Posted in Atlanta BJJ, Knuckleup Fitness News

Sandy Springs Fire Update 04/06

So it’s been a while since we’ve made an update regarding the fire. This is because, unfortunately,  there is not a lot to tell, but because we have had so many questions as to why there seems to be no work going on at the gym we figured that we would let you know why that is.

When the fire happened it not only damaged the interior of the men’s and women’s lockers room, it also caused some fairly significant damage to the roof structure in those rooms. The roof is built with steel joists and a couple of them were warped from the heat, which weakened the roof so it is now leaking, sagging and is potentially dangerous.  Those joist are a special order item, which needs to be made for each application. They were ordered by the landlord a few days after the fire and should be in production now.

So since the repairs (replacement) of the roof cannot be completed until those joists arrive there has been no work yet on demolition in those damaged areas. We cannot start demolition until we are actually ready for construction. We cannot start the repair of the locker rooms until the roof is replaced and so for now we are in a holding pattern until they arrive.

So what does this mean for you, the member? Well obviously this means that the locker room repair is on a little longer timeline than any of us would like, so in the meantime we are working with the insurance company to locate a temporary location for us to move to until the repairs are complete. We have located a facility very close by that we think everyone will love and we hope to have some further news regarding this later this week.

I know that it’s not what we all want to hear, but it’s all we have for now. Thank you all for your continued patience and support during this incredibly tough time. We cannot tell you how much we appreciate it.


#cantstopwontstop  #123KnuckleUp!!!




Posted in Knuckleup Fitness News

KnuckleUP BJJ Head Coach Ricardo Murgel talks about Omni Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Logo Knuckle Up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Can you explain why you developed the Omni Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Curriculum for your classes here at KnuckleUp Fitness?

The martial art that is today known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is based on Gracie Jiu Jitsu as developed by the Great Grand Master Helio Gracie. Originally Gracie Jiu Jitsu was for Self Protection and was focused on real life situations. It emphasized techniques and tactics that are most effective at extreme close distance, hand to hand combat, with also some defenses against edged weapons and firearms. The sporting element came much later.  So, among other things, Omni Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will reclaim this original heritage of Jiu Jitsu as conceived in the early days in Brazil. To put it another way, we’re going back to the founding principles of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and rescuing its essence while also updating it for the modern world.

How will Omni Jiu Jitsu achieve this?

By featuring a variety of classes designed to help anyone who wants to learn, from the merely curious to high level competitors. Instead of a one size fits all approach to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Omni Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s specialized approach will make sure that you get the most out of your class. Classes are always tailored to your specific needs and goals and everyone is welcome. We will have our normal sport oriented classes,which have produced so many Champions, for those who want to compete. Then also,a techniques only class, which will focus much more on specific techniques and offer NO Sparring.

Are classes with no sparring less effective than the ones with Sparring?

No, they are not less effective. It is the student’s choice and depends on what they are looking for.

If a student is older, out of shape, or not physically strong which of your classes will fit him or her?

Remember that, Brazilian, Jiu Jitsu in its essence is a way for a smaller, weaker person to overcome a larger, stronger person through the use of leverage and technique. So, if you are not strong, Jiu Jitsu will make you skillful and if you are not in shape you will get in shape through the training. It’s all geared towards you.  Additionally the environment is cooperative and friendly. We are like a family here at KnuckleUp and everybody roots everybody else on.

If I just practice the classes with no sparring, can I still progress in Belts over time?

 Absolutely. The difference is that the sparring and competition students will have their evaluation more toward their performance on the mat, so to speak. While the students of the No Sparring classes only will be evaluated by tests of their knowledge of the techniques and drills required for each belt level.

 What if I can only train once or twice a week? Will it still be worthwhile for me to train Omni Jiu Jitsu?

In short: YES! Remember, Omni Jiu Jitsu will be here waiting for you.  You determine how much you will get and how much you will be able to commit, is solely up to you! Even if you’re just training from time to time you will still get many more benefits than if you don’t train at all. A little bit of our amazing martial art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, is by far better than none.


Posted in Atlanta BJJ

Introducing Omni Jiu Jitsu – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu For Everyone- Now at KnuckleUp

Logo Knuckle Up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Master Ricardo Murgel is introducing a better way to learn the world’s most effective martial art through Omni Jiu Jitsu at Knuckle Up. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was originally intended to offer something for everyone, and Murgel’s Omni Jiu Jitsu reclaims that tradition by featuring a variety of classes designed to help anyone who wants to learn, from the merely curious to high level competitors. Instead of a one size fits all approach to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Omni Jiu Jitsu ’s specialized approach will make sure that you get the most out of your class. Classes are always tailored to your specific needs and goals and everyone is welcome.

Omni Jiu Jitsu Classes

  • Essential Techniques of Jiu Jitsu – This is a  class that features no sparring and will focus on self protection in real life situations. This class  will feature
  • Functional Conditioning
  • Drills
  • Technique
  • NO sparring
  • Submissions Only – This class will focus on the most effective BJJ submission and related techniques for the street and self protection. This class will feature
  • Functional Conditioning
  • Drills
  • Techniques
  • NO Sparring
  • Sport Jiu Jitsu – This class is focused on sports oriented, competitive Jiu Jitsu. This class will  feature
  • Functional Training
  • Drills
  • Techniques
  • Sparring
  • Private Classes- One hour classes where the instructor customizes the class just for you.

About Ricardo Murgel.

Ricardo Murgel is an 8th degree Master, one of the highest ranking Brazilian Jiu Jitsu authorities in the world with over 50 years of experience. He earned his Judo Black Belt in 1974 and is a highly successful MMA coach. Master Murgel is also the first BJJ Master to be certified by the Peace Officer Standards Training Council- POST as a guest instructor of Defensive Tactics and Firearms. He has instructed Law enforcement agencies worldwide in extreme close quarters combat for over four decades.

Throughout his career as a coach Master Murgel has led BJJ and MMA competitors in worldwide appearances in with exceptional results. During his last six years as head coach of BJJ and MMA at KnuckleUp, Master Murgel has helped the KnuckleUp Team achieve a remarkable record of victories in both amateur and professional competitions.



Posted in Atlanta BJJ