The thought of almost endless drilling and sparring sessions in a day, every day, may sound ludicrous to most martial artists. For Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) practitioners however, it’s just another day on the mat.
BJJ is a martial art and a combat sport developed in Brazil by the Gracie family from Kodokan judo’s newaza (ground techniques) in the early 20th century. This style emphasizes positional dominance, submission holds, and the skilful use of the “guard,” a bottom position where one can control and attack an opponent.
One of the country’s top practitioners of this art is BJJ blackbelt Ralph Go, a multiple-time champion, a vegan, and one of the leading figures in Atos Philippines, a BJJ team based in Ateneo de Manila. Go was an Asian Open champion and placed second in the Brazilian Nationals, World Championship, and European Championship.
In an interview with FIGHT Times, he talks about his passion for the “gentle art”, his unique diet and what it takes to elevate one’s ground game.
What sparked your interest in BJJ?
I became interested in grappling when I enrolled in a kickboxing class in our fitness gym in high school. Our kickboxing teacher used to teach some grappling moves and I was very interested as it seemed much more creative than the usual kicks and punches.
I then found a school in our university teaching BJJ and the rest is history. I always found BJJ to be similar to human chess, only that the moves are infinite and the pieces are the human body. It is like a video game to me that never gets old.
How is your daily training regimen like?
When training for a major tournament, I usually train with our team in the US or Brazil. The entire team gets together for a training camp where we train three times a day, combining BJJ, conditioning, technique drilling, and weight training.
What is your state of mind like each time you step on the mat?
Each match is different, so I could be feeling nervous, scared or confident before a match. All of the top competitors feel these fears and struggles. Each game plan is different per match but I like to visualize and strategize just how I would like to start the match before each match. For me, mental training is extremely important, as the mind is one of the greatest untrained muscles that are essential in sports.
How much emphasis do you put in the self-defense aspect of BJJ as compared to its sports side?
I do put a lot on emphasis on the sport side of BJJ, but I do feel that self-defense is extremely important to teach, especially to newcomers, as people need to understand its practicality.
What drew you to a vegan diet? How did it affect your athletic performance?
I was interested in improving my recovery and athletic performance through nutrition and I came across a vegan diet after I heard several respected competitors talking about it. I then researched about it and
I was just blown away by the information. The information I learned was about how food can basically reverse and prevent all of the diseases our society is suffering from.
My grandfather at that time was sick with diabetes so I wanted to learn as much as I could, I also wanted to help other people even if I could just reach one person through this information so I decided it was worth it to go vegan. I also put up a website (thesuperfoodgrocer.com) to spread information and the benefits of vegan diet and to make it easy for people to give plant-based nutrition a try.
After learning the health benefits and how food plays a big part in our health, I then was able to tie it altogether with athletic performance.
For me, I feel my recovery between training is much better. I used to get sick all the time, but now I’ve never been sick. I do feel my immunity has been supercharged because of the food.
How are Filipino grapplers performing in international competitions?
I do feel we have raised the level here substantially. When I first started competing I would roll with a top-level guy abroad who has been training the same years as me and it would be like I never knew any BJJ whatsoever.
I was determined to change this so I wanted to be exposed to high-level technique and training philosophy so I could bring it back to the Philippines. Right now, we have been able to produce homegrown world champions and medalists at the biggest tournaments in the world.
What can local grapplers do to be on par with their Brazilian counterparts?
My advice to local grapplers is to place themselves in an environment where there is high-level training. If that means travelling internationally just to train or compete, then that is the way to go.