From Petropolis to the Top of the World: Sitting With Pedro Sauer
Words by Matthew Ryder
Over the past two decades the name Pedro Sauer has become one of the most revered in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The Relson Gracie red-black belt is one of the original pioneers of the art in America, and is one of the most respected instructors in the world.
“I came to the United States in May 1990 by invitation from Rickson. I was teaching class for about a year back in Brazil and he’d found out. He said they should bring me to America to teach some of his guys.”
It didn’t take long for him to land in the US, and once he did he had his most legendary performance in a Gracie Challenge. He fought Mr. Utah, Lance Bachelor, something he says was par for the course in the early days of the jiu-jitsu movement.
“In 1991, Rorion Gracie began advertising the Gracie Challenge awarding $100,000 to anyone who could win a fight against a Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt. After that, every week I had a no-holds-barred fight.”
Sauer’s bond with the Gracie family runs deep, to the point that he is likely closer to them than anyone in the world who doesn’t share their name. He trained under Grandmaster Helio Gracie for years, and saw a childhood friendship with Rickson Gracie plant the seeds for his life in jiu-jitsu.
Though he initially had no idea of Rickson’s reputation and background, when he learned of it he had to investigate.
“I went to the academy and it was an incredible wakeup call for me. I signed up for class and Rickson didn’t want me to. The first time I got spanked so bad, he said ‘go home, think about it, but don’t even think about signing up.’ I said to him ‘no, I know what I want, I want to learn - I want to learn that stuff.’ He gave me a gi.”
After surviving those hard years under Helio and his sons, Sauer credits their guidance with his own, highly praised approach to teaching.
“Grandmaster Helio, because I was such a small person, was able to relate to me in the hard times,” Sauer recalls. “So every time I ask questions or people ask questions of me, automatically I put my mind in the frame of a white belt. I bring myself back to the first day. I try to understand what is necessary for you to understand, then I try to relate it with examples – a little kid, a little girl. If you relate a move with an example, people won’t forget it. They’ll remember it when they need it most.”
In crediting his teaching style to Helio Gracie, Sauer can also offer up memories and stories about the legendary founder of his art.
“I could spend years talking about the time we spent together and things we did together. I didn’t just learn moves, I learned the jiu-jitsu lifestyle; how to be a better person through jiu-jitsu. He said he could do things through jiu-jitsu, because of jiu-jitsu. He never said he was great, that he was the best. Everything he did in life he credited to jiu-jitsu. This was what he passed on to me.”
Sauer also suggests that one of his last memories of Helio may be one of his favourites and definitely among the most emotional; when his red-black belt was endorsed.
“I went to Brazil to talk to Grandmaster Helio because that was a very important part to me, knowing he endorsed it. Not only did he endorse it, he was very proud of what I was doing, having my students bowing to Helio’s image and honouring him at the beginning of my classes. He got very emotional when I told him this was what we’re doing in America. It was a great moment for me, it meant so much.”
Now in his mid-50s, many wonder how much longer Sauer will continue to train and work hands-on with his 10,000 students over the world. Rumblings of retirement persist, but he doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t see myself ever retiring. Even if I slow down from a normal schedule, I’ll never hang up my belt and gi and say I’m retired. I want to move back to Petropolis, to my family home. There are incredible memories there. I want to spend some time there, not retire.”
The lone Pedro Sauer affiliate in Canada is located in St. John’s, NL. For information on curriculum, classes, seminars, and training camps, email firstname.lastname@example.org.