From Yemaso to Legacy with Marcos Torregrosa

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Top ranked lightweight Marcos "Yemaso" Torregrosa adds more gold to his collection in New York.

To say Marcos “Yemaso” Torregrosa is a busy man is an extreme understatement.  Father, business owner, top-ranked BJJ competitor and self professed “micromanager”, Torregrosa has won 8 IBJJF Gold medals in the last two months, winning Gi, No Gi and Absolute Gold most recently at the Chicago and New York Opens.  Jiu Jitsu Times was fortunate to catch up with him recently and steal a few precious moments with Yemaso.

Born in Puerto Rico, Marcos grew up exposed to a wide variety of athletic endeavors.  Boxing and Tae Kwon Do were early martial arts that he developed an affinity for, but it was swimming which was the sport that had the most long lasting influence, as he continues to swim 2400-2600 yards per week to build stamina for BJJ.

Marcos Torregrosa is at home on the battlefield. --photo courtesy of Marcos Torregrosa
Marcos Torregrosa is at home on the battlefield. –photo courtesy of Marcos Torregrosa

In 1996, the UFC held its one and only event in Puerto Rico.  It was this event that would change the course of Marcos’ life when Ken Shamrock submitted Kimo Leopoldo with an ankle lock.  Until that time, Marcos had only seen a small bit of grappling from watching the films of Bruce Lee.  Wrestling had not yet become as popular and prevalent as it has recently in Puerto Rico.

After moving permanently to Sacramento in 1999, Marcos began training jiu jitsu with Raven Seyman, a Cassio Werneck student.  Working full time speaking Spanish at Providian Financial in Sacramento and training full time, the work ethic that would take him where he is today, was solidified.  As a blue belt, Marcos moved to Brazil, but even at that time, though dedicated, he was not certain that he would make a career of it.  It was as a purple belt, when his instructor would occasionally travel, that he began to find his calling as a teacher.

“I felt that I had a really good capacity to communicate ideas and in an environment where sometimes instructors have difficulty expressing themselves well, maybe because of language barriers, I felt that I was able to excel,” says Torregrosa.

He found himself training in the mornings at Cassio Werneck’s and teaching at various schools in the evenings.  Once he earned his black belt in 2007, it became clear that “Yemaso” would one day own his own school.  This was accomplished in 2008.

The nickname “Yemaso” is a Puerto Rican play on the words “hard” and “head” and it’s use in Marcos’ BJJ life began with him seeking a way to share his Caribbean roots and create an identity within an early internet forum called “In The Guard”.  Soon BJJ peers began to recognize that Marcos was “Yemaso” from the forum and began referring to him as “Yemaso” at tournaments and the nickname stuck.

As any great leader, “Yemaso” leads by example and from the front lines of the competition mats, but he also recognizes that everything must evolve over time and hopes to create a banner or name for his team to fight under long after he is gone.  Having started a school in his native Puerto Rico, it is clear that this legacy is just beginning.

“As my guys grow and as my school grows, I think inevitably it’s going to promote growth and I’d like to in the future, develop a name that everyone can fall under, like a banner, kind of like Alliance…where even in my passing, my team can fight for the same idea,” says Torregrosa.

Torregrosa wins more gold at the IBJJF Chicago Open--photo courtesy of Marcos Torregrosa
Torregrosa wins more gold at the IBJJF Chicago Open–photo courtesy of Marcos Torregrosa

The tenacity implied in his nickname, shows itself in his teaching as well.  He has developed a very complete rotating six month curriculum for students.  The goal of this curriculum is to promote universality of techniques and retention for the students.  Whether the student is small, or stronger, every position must be applicable to every single person.  The curriculum follows structured two week schedules, with each week focusing on another aspect of a position.

“Let me give you an example.  If we’re in open guard and we’re working De La Riva, then we’re working all De La Riva entries and sweeps one week and then the next week we’re working specifically neutralization and passing of De La Riva,” say Torregrosa.

In a year, students will have cycled through the curriculum twice and find that their techniques are extremely sharp because of the repetition.  Torregrosa’s team was the first in Sacramento to win an IBJJF team title in 2013.  He strives to create a very cultivating and welcoming environment for all students.  White belts must start with a period of doing only the warm ups and learning the curriculum.  After a few weeks, following the structured curriculum, they are allowed to spar and the experience is much more enjoyable because they have some material to put into practice.  For Marcos, it is also important that white belts spar only with higher belts, mostly purples and above to ensure that they start off with positive experiences.

Promotions for Torregrosa are based off of consistency and retention of curriculum.  He is not fond of the commercialization of jiu jitsu that has recently been exposed in the media.  Belts and promotions are earned by the students and Torregrosa sees a key mission in getting each of his students to where they need to go, never charging fees for belts or promotions.

Marcos Torregrosa shares a proud moment with his son, Marcos Jr.–photo courtesy of Marcos Torregrosa

“I like my students to work for goals.  I ask them what they want to achieve.  I tell them where they stand.  I help them achieve their goals.  I’m telling them they have a year to go.  Let’s get you ready.  That’s more valuable time between an instructor and student.  I don’t charge for promotions at all.  We buy the belts for our students.  It’s my job to see them move up to that level.  When I tie the belt around them, I want them to know that I approve of their level, not their pocketbook,” says Torregrosa.

He is also not a fan of the seemingly never-ending debate regarding self defense versus sport jiu jitsu.  For him, all jiu jitsu represents self defense and schools that tout themselves as strictly self defense oriented are those that refuse to evolve and change with the times.  For him, he cites the history of combat arts, noting that they’ve always evolved over time and that an instructor who does evolve and doesn’t present his techniques in the most universal manner is doing a disservice to their students.

Despite these few negatives in the exposure of “McDojos” and constant debate between self defense and sport, Marcos has seen many positives during his career.  Although not perfect, the proliferation of the IBJJF and its many tournaments has fostered the worldwide growth of the sport.  As a younger competitor, there were few tournaments and now one is easily able to compete multiple times in each month.  Torregrosa is also a fan of the move towards a unified set of BJJ rules for competitors.

When asked what advice he has for today’s white belts, his response was to worry less about competition and the here and now and make sure you plan for longevity.  Competition accelerates the learning of jiu jitsu, but it must be enjoyed.  Competition is just another part of the journey.  Don’t get depressed.  Embrace the wins and the losses.

Marcos and his son, Jr. share a moment after another victory.--photo courtesy of Marcos Torregrosa.
Marcos and his son, Jr. share a moment after another victory.–photo courtesy of Marcos Torregrosa.

“I compete today at 34 with my business, because I like it,” says Torregrosa, “I like to see people enjoy that aspect more.  There’s such a beautiful comraderie you can develop from visiting other schools, or training with a bunch of people, and competing with them.”

As the discussion began to come to a close, it was clear that even at the absolute top of the competitive scene and at the peak of his career, Marcos “Yemaso” Torregrosa is still a student of the game.  He watches every competitor.  He is fascinated by Caio Terra’s entrance into certain positions.  He emulates Leandro Lo’s style of passing to dominate sides, while for weaker sides, he might employ inspiration from Gui Mendes.  Terere has been a perennial hero, while he looks to Andre Galvao as one of the most complete practitioners in the sport.

Marcos “Yemaso” Torregrosa is a great example of the positive side of being a “micro-manager”.  As an ultra-successful competitor, business owner and family man, Torregrosa shows how discipline and being willing to do things at “uncomfortable hours” can help one achieve all of their dreams.  By focusing on jiu jitsu as a marathon and not a sprint, there will be many generations of future “hard headed” and tenacious competitors spreading the evolving art that Marcos loves so much.

Torregrosa is sponsored by Shoyoroll, War Tape, Defense Soap and Sam Kim and NHB Gear.

Check out his academy website at:  http://www.yemasobjj.com/

Check out Yemaso on Facebook at:  https://www.facebook.com/yemasobjj

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