He’s not the type to brag about it, but Samir Chantre is a pretty big deal. A black belt under Alan Moraes, this two-time world champion has a seemingly endless list of accomplishments. He’s won the Pan-Am no-gi division three times, and he’s been the European and South American champion twice each. And to say that’s just the tip of the iceberg would be an understatement.
Chantre, however, didn’t get to where he is today without having to take a few big risks along the way. To follow his dream of becoming one of the world’s greatest jiu jitsu practitioners, he made the huge decision to move from Brazil to California just as he was about to become a lawyer in his home country. It was a choice that many people might have shaken their heads at, but for Chantre, it paid off. This world-class athlete has achieved incredible success not only as a competitor, but also as a business owner— he started the Ares BJJ association with Osvaldo Queixinho and Milton Bastos last year, and since then, they’ve greatly expanded their reach in the jiu jitsu community. Not only do they have almost twenty affiliated gyms located all over North and South America, but they recently opened the new Ares BJJ Academy in Modesto, CA.
Earlier this week, I got the chance to chat with Samir when he came to Costa Rica for BJJ vacation camp and a few seminars. Before I get into all the awesome things he told me about his jiu jitsu career, I have to say this: If you’re going to splurge on any seminar in the future, it should be one run by Chantre and Queixinho. These two won’t just show you some awesome techniques; they’ll also inspire you more than you ever thought possible in the span of a few hours. Until they come to your gym (or better yet, you go train with them at their gym), check out what it’s like to train as one of the top jiu jitsu competitors in the world… and see what he suggests if you want to make it there someday, too.
Jiu Jitsu Times: How has your jiu jitsu journey brought you to where you are now?
Samir Chantre: I started training jiu jitsu when I was nine years old after watching my brother. When I was twenty, I got my black belt from Alan Moraes of the Carlson Gracie Academy. Not long after, I got invited to stay in the U.S. to teach at a Cesar Gracie affiliate school. After I left, I started a new association with Caio Terra, and last year, I started the Ares BJJ association with Milton Bastos and Osvaldo Queixinho.
JJT: Tell us about the culture at Ares BJJ Academy.
SC: Our purpose is to have a very neutral environment. We want people of all ages and body types to come in with all kinds of goals. It’s a very diverse environment. We put a lot of focus on making sure our students learn the proper techniques from fundamentals to advanced. Most days we have five classes, including one for kids.
JJT: What advice would you give to someone who wants to achieve the success that you have?
SC: There’s no recipe for it. You just have to train and put in lots of time on the mat. Everyone has their own style, and you have to find what works for you. Some people do really well with drills, other people see the most improvement when they do positional work, and others find that sparring works best for them. For me, I like to do a bit of it all. I do a lot of positioning and speed drills to prepare for competitions, but I try to make everything a priority. If you find a certain technique that works for you, work to figure out how you can use it in a competition. It’s great to study techniques and do lots of drills, but the key is applying them to your training.
JJT: Have you ever faced a moment that made you want to quit jiu jitsu?
SC: Nope. I’ve never wanted to quit. But there have been times when I’ve been really, really frustrated. At the finals of the 2015 IBJJF No-Gi Worlds, I was up against João Miyao. I needed two points to tie the score and win by advantages. I got the points, went for the rear-naked choke, and then when I looked at the scoreboard again, the referee had waived the points, and I lost. It was by far the most frustrating moment of my career. I was so upset. I had to fly to Russia for some seminars right afterward, and that’s a really long flight, but I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep. But I never thought about quitting.
JJT: What’s your favorite technique, and why?
SC: Probably the triangle. But recently, the kimura has been a big part of my game. Lots of toe holds, too. No reason, really. I just like them.
JJT: How has jiu jitsu impacted you outside of the gym?
SC: When I was younger, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, which gave me really bad posture. Jiu jitsu helped me build up a lot of muscle in my back, which gave me a lot more flexibility and allowed me to stand up straight. Doctors who see me now say they have no idea how I can do what I do despite having these back problems. Jiu jitsu didn’t fix the problem, but now, my scoliosis doesn’t bother me much.
JJT: What do you attribute the most to your success?
SC: My instructor was a big influence on me. I felt like I got a really good foundation. I used to compete every week, and he went to all of my tournaments. He inspired me to always be there for my students. I feel like I got a good mindset from him. I don’t have an ego anymore. Every time I train, I go to improve myself. For me, competitions are just extra training.
JJT: What are the biggest challenges when getting ready for something like Worlds? How do you prepare?
SC: I don’t prepare for all tournaments the same way. For small competitions, I keep my normal routine: healthy eating, working out, and training once or twice a day. For bigger tournaments, I do camps fifteen days before I compete. It’s very intense— I train twice a day in addition to working out. I follow a plan set by my physical trainer. The way we train is very different; it’s designed to make us more prepared for tournaments. The last time at Worlds [in the gi division], I lost earlier than I was hoping to, so I only had three matches. But if I’d gone all the way, I would’ve had five fights. All of those fights could go up to ten minutes. When you’re at that level, you have to be prepared for that, to fight for fifty minutes. If you want to do that, you can’t miss training.
JJT: A lot of competitors struggle with getting in the competition mindset. They’re fine inside their own gym, but they get really nervous when they go to tournaments and maybe don’t compete well as a result. Do you have advice for people who tend to freeze up at competitions?
SC: You have to prove to yourself that you’re better than that. Compete often. Too many people get too comfortable inside their gym, then go to compete and realize that it’s a completely different atmosphere. I think it’s because they focus too much on the result and forget about the importance of going and doing well. When I competed at featherweight, I wanted to fight well. Even though I didn’t win, I knew that I did a good job fighting. I don’t want people to say, “He stalled,” or “He was in bad shape,” or “He had bad techniques.” I want them to say, “He looked great.” Just try to do better than you did before. Doing well doesn’t always mean winning. You should focus on your performance rather than the outcome.
Most of my wins have come from me looking to do better, and even when I win, I try to correct the mistakes that I made. When I lose, I don’t just focus on the one bad move that lost me the match— I focus on all my mistakes, even the little ones, and try to work on them for next time. Not all matches are perfect, but the goal is to try to be perfect. At no-gi Worlds, I submitted my opponents in all my matches until I lost the one at the end. But I was very confident. I felt in control. The idea is to keep bettering yourself afterward, win or lose.
Be sure to check out Ares BJJ Academy in Modesto, California, where you’ll find Samir Chantre and Osvaldo Queixinho giving classes together every day!