If you’ve ever dreamed about going to Peru to see Machu Picchu and get a taste of some of the most delicious food in the world, now you have another excuse to book that flight. The capital, Lima, is home to Pure BJJ Soul: an Osvaldo Queixinho affiliate gym owned and run by brown belt Italo “Eneas” Cardenas Zuin. This 140-lb jiu jitsu practitioner makes a memorable first impression, and it’s not just because of all the tattoos that cover him from his head to his toes— Italo is one of the friendliest, most welcoming people you could ever hope to find on the mat or elsewhere. But as soon as you start rolling with him, watch out: this guy is all technique, and he’ll use it against you no matter how big and strong you think you are.
I was lucky enough to get to know Italo when we both came to Tamarindo, Costa Rica for a few days to train. By the time we parted ways, he’d already given me a serious hunger to travel to Peru, not only to experience the incredible culture he told me about, but also to be able to train under someone whose jiu jitsu philosophy made me fall in love with the sport all over again. I dare you to get through this interview without developing a serious case of wanderlust.
Jiu Jitsu Times: Tell us about your jiu jitsu journey. Why did you start, and how did you come to own your own gym?
Italo Eneas: I had a very lonesome childhood. I had two older brothers, but one of them got cancer and spent all his time at the hospital. He was sick with leukemia for three years. I was always alone at home, and I remember that I loved to play basketball, which is strange because people only care about soccer in Peru. When basketball began to get serious for me and important people started to realize my potential, my brother died. It was a time of solitude; every person in the house suffered or fought their sorrow in their own way. I was already eleven or twelve at the time, and I had a lot of energy. I started with surfing, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. Later came skateboarding, but I was never good at it. I think I only saw it as a way to escape and be away from home.
Later on, I met ex-UFC fighter Tony de Souza, who invented the Peruvian necktie and was my first jiu jitsu instructor. From the moment I stepped into Templo Cholitzu, I knew it was what I wanted to do. Tony eventually moved away from Lima, and an academy called Sniper was opened. There, I had Christian Freyre and Gustavo Carpio as my professors. I was with Sniper for about ten years, and in those ten years, I left and came back to BJJ many times. I had a lot of personal problems, but jiu jitsu was always there for me. When I met Osvaldo Queixinho, I think we had an immediate connection in how we thought about BJJ.
A little more than a year ago, I started giving classes in my house in a tiny room, but we made so much noise at six a.m.; I inevitably had to take the next step and get my own gym. That’s when we opened Osvaldo Queixinho Peru Pure BJJ Soul with the mission of focusing on jiu jitsu not only as self defense and sport, but also as a mechanism for integrated help for human beings. I think jiu jitsu’s main purpose should be molding good people.
JJT: What made you fall in love with jiu jitsu?
IE: Definitely the fact that it’s so infinite. Every day you learn new things, not just positions, but also strategy and how to perfect techniques. It’s a very fair martial art— someone who has a lot of talent that isn’t a hard worker will eventually stop being dominant. It’s designed to be difficult and always put you in trouble. It kills your ego every chance it can. Every time you feel good, jiu jitsu gives you a lesson, and that’s awesome because it keeps you humble for the path you have to travel in life.
JJT: Tell us a little about your gym. What do you do as a professor so that your academy stands out?
IE: In Peru, they talk a lot about the word “creonte”: someone who leaves from one gym to train at another. There exists a sort of trauma when someone is labeled as a creonte. One day I spoke with Samir Chantre. We talked about the topic, and I realized that he was right— a creonte isn’t just a one-way street. Are you the creonte if you leave my gym but I receive students from another academy? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. The jiu jitsu I try to offer in Ares BJJ Peru (the name we adopted upon receiving the invitation from Milton Bastos, Osvaldo, and Samir) is to train hard in a way that doesn’t just make you better at jiu jitsu, but also leaves your mind empty of anything but healthy thoughts. You’ll only have space for the things that are truly valuable in life. This is exactly why our students know that they don’t just go train to get rid of stress. That can be a start, but later when they advance, they realize that they should be going to the gym to give themselves to jiu jitsu, not just to receive.
JJT: So you don’t really believe in the word “creonte”? You aren’t bothered when your students visit other gyms?
IE: I can’t pretend to be the professor that everyone’s looking for. I know that there will be some people who won’t understand my method, or maybe they don’t like the environment or whatever. The students should be free to choose where they want to train. I don’t like it when they miss class to go to other gyms, but not because I’m scared they’ll leave my academy. It’s because afterwards, they’re going to be asking me about the class that they didn’t attend, and that’s not fair for the other students. They know that they can train anywhere they’re treated with respect.
JJT: What differences have you seen in jiu jitsu culture between Peru and the USA?
IE: The IBJJF competition in the USA where I compete is huge, mainly because of the level of organization. Technically, there are guys in Peru that are meeting the standards of competitions such as the IBJJF Worlds, mainly at the blue belt level. To me, this indicates that we should work for a future for Peruvian athletes. In the USA, people leave their homes at an early age to live alone or with friends. In Peru, this is very, very rare. This is another reason why [in the States] it’s normal to change academies because of geographical obligation. It surprised me a lot the first time I saw guys from a bunch of different academies training together. I hadn’t seen it happen in Peru until a very short time ago. I think that’s what BJJ is all about. The true friendships formed on the mat shouldn’t be forgotten.
Also in the USA, the student is listened to and respected more. The professor knows that there are a lot of good gyms and that their students can simply leave for another academy if they feel they aren’t being listened to or their needs aren’t being met. In Peru, like I mentioned before, students often live in fear of being labeled as a creonte. We should understand that, no, it’s not good to change gyms every week, but the main thing is that understanding someone’s point of view is as much the professor’s responsibility as it is the student’s.
JJT: Do you think that interest in BJJ is strong in Peru? Has it grown a lot since you started?
IE: Yes, it’s grown a lot. And it’s starting to be taken more seriously. But I have no doubt that it can grow even faster if we put certain ways of thinking to the side. I understand that there are many people who want to surround their lives with BJJ, but before that they should look to live for jiu jitsu, and maybe then it will come to them in a more integrated way. The champions in Peru have helped a lot to help improve the organization and make it more serious. But I think it would grow even more if the people who are spreading the sport worried just a little more about teaching jiu jitsu as a life philosophy. That’s really important: making BJJ stand out in every aspect of your life, while you eat, sleep, etc.
JJT: For an smaller jiu jiteira like me, it’s an inspiration to see someone like you, who’s lighter and smaller than many other jiu jitsu practitioners, in such a successful position. What advice would you give to other people who maybe get frustrated when their training partners are constantly squishing them or when they don’t have the advantage of being taller or heavier?
IE: That’s jiu jitsu in its truest form: accepting yourself with your physical “deficiencies” and being able to take advantage of them to develop more technique or a style that’s more confusing for everyone else. Milton [Bastos] always reinforces that in me. The last time he was in Lima, he said that strength can run out at any moment, but technique will always be there. In the moment that you have your technique developed, tested, and improved, your size and weight won’t matter. I roll with bigger, heavier guys every day. I just think that nothing in life is easy, and jiu jitsu is like life: you have to learn to be at least somewhat comfortable in difficult situations or positions and to trust in your mental strength and your abilities. Nearly every time, you’ll be able to solve the problem, and if you don’t, well, there are always opportunities to be able to improve. Nobody asked you to be perfect, but trying to be better every day is the best option.
JJT: What have been some of the greatest obstacles you’ve faced in jiu jitsu, and how did you overcome them?
IE: Most of the obstacles that I’ve had (and I might still have, although hopefully a bit less so) are myself. Sometimes you’re tired or a little hurt and you don’t want to train, but once you’re on the mat, nothing can take you off it. Whatever has taken me from the mat has always been because of one of my bad decisions. It’s good to know that and acknowledge it, because many people complain about their bad luck or how they don’t have much time to train. But that’s the exact reason that our gym has a class at 6 a.m.: so no one can have an excuse as to why they can’t do it. The idea is to simply be stronger than your laziness and stop blaming everything else. We should realize that the main obstacle is ourselves. It’s because of this that your style of jiu jitsu is like a fingerprint, because it really is something personal.
JJT: What’s been your most important victory in jiu jitsu, whether as an instructor or as a competitor?
IE: Last year, I started to compete in IBJJF. I made the podium at the U.S. Nationals and in the Boca Raton Open. It was hard to make weight for the masters division at Worlds. Getting to rooster was truly difficult, but it was good to do it. I needed to achieve it and tell my mind that I was stronger than it was. This year, I was determined to make the podium in absolute, and I did it in the San Jose Open, which was also the first time I competed for Ares BJJ. The day before in no-gi, I hadn’t made the podium, and I was bummed out. Still, I decided that I’d traveled and trained to fight til the finish, and thanks to the team and the support of the professors, I stood on the podium at absolutes.
That same year, I experienced an ugly side of jiu jitsu: I hurt myself five days before competing in the Miami Open. I’d trained well, but I had two broken fingers, and one of them was still messing with a nerve in my right hand. But jiu jitsu once again taught me a lesson. I was really depressed, and a really good blue belt named Brian Brown was going to compete and didn’t have a coach. I decided it would be a great experience to be able to help him despite my lackluster enthusiasm caused by my injury. Thanks to his excellent technique (and me yelling a few times), he was able to win the absolutes. I think that this was better than any victory: seeing that a kid who had traveled eleven hours by car with his dad to compete was able to win. That moment helped me to recover from my lousy mood. I couldn’t ask for more.
JJT: Do you have any advice for people who would like to travel to Peru to train with you?
IE: Peru is as diverse in climate as it is in culture. There are lots of good beaches for surfing, great food, the “Ombliga del Mundo” (“bellybutton of the world”). There’s also the Inca capital Cusco and Machu Picchu. In general, we have spectacular culture and gastronomy.
Here in Peru, we’ll be here with open arms to train with whoever wants to come, whether they’re from the USA or any other part of the world, whether you want to share techniques or simply train. I don’t believe that learning is a one-way street in the gym. On the contrary, learning passes from a professor to a student as well as from a student to a professor. I’m always thankful for [people who come visit], always happy to train with them and receive their help.
The next time you get the itch to take a jiu jitsu adventure, be sure to train under Italo at Pure BJJ Soul in Lima, Peru!