Jiu-jitsu is his middle name
PAULO HENRIQUE SOUSA - Marcus Soares arrived in Canada in March 1997 with the not so modest status of being the only jiu-jitsu black belt in the country. In addition, as Carlson Gracie’s disciple, Soares brought with him the renowned and respected Gracie name which was already a legend in the world of martial arts. Even with all his prestige, the beginning of a new life in Canada turned out to be full of barriers which he had to take down one by one, as he had done with his opponents on the mat.
It started in 1996 in Rio de Janeiro when one of Soares’ students invited him to be a teacher at a gym in Aldergrove, B.C. The owner of his gym in Rio de Janeiro supported Soares so much that he became his first sponsor employer in Canada. Although he was settled with a good life in Rio, holding 5 different jobs and living in the famous beach of Copacabana, Soares accepted the offer in BC. His first frustration came as soon as he arrived: the gym where he would be working was very small and the few students wouldn’t be enough for him to support himself.
“The first three months in Canada were the worst in my entire life”, recalled Soares.
“I had recently lost my mother, was away from my daughter, family and friends and I still didn’t have a good grasp of English. To adapt to a new country and new culture with a different lifestyle was very difficult. I frequently had insomnia and nightmares”.
As time went on and reputation spread, more students joined his team, but Soares knew he needed something more stable. When an opportunity to replace a Japanese jiu-jitsu instructor at the Vancouver Olympic Gym came up, Soares didn’t miss the chance to teach over 40 more students. There, Soares was able to teach and get to know students from all over the world, opening many doors in his life.
One of his students proposed that they open a new gym in the area.
Soares, promptly accepted the offer and the pair launched Columbia Martial Arts gym in Burnaby, but he soon had a bitter surprise. What was supposed to be a partnership ended up being another nightmare. Soares, said that once the gym’s doors were open, his former student took advantage of Soares’ immigration status, which required him to be employed by someone in order to keep his visa valid, and took over the entire company to himself.
As a result: the Brazilian had to work below his partner for 18 months until the contract ended before he was able to open another gym with his third and final employer. Soares finally received his permanent residence in 2002.
After leaving Columbia Martial Arts gym, Soares began bringing Carlson Gracie’s jiu-jitsu to several other gyms in the region. Today, at the age of 55, he is partner in two gyms – one in Langley and another one in Maple Ridge. He teaches many students of different ages and professions, including firefighters, police officers, security personnel and even renowned professional fighter, Denis Kang, the vice-champion (under 83kg) at the MMA Pride Fighting Championship, 2006.
Students at Soares’ gyms are diverse and from a range of backgrounds. Soares said that children as young as five years old can start training in jiu-jitsu as long as they are taught by qualified instructors.
“It is crucial to check your instructor’s background”, Soares recommended.
His own qualifications are well known by the students: eighth degree black belt (on a scale of nine degrees) and the best ranked instructor in Canada – a journey he began at the early age of 13.
In 1970, Rio de Janeiro, Marcus was brought to master Carlson Gracie by his uncle.
“It was love at first sight. I found the right instructor, in the right place, at the right time”, he recalled.
In only seven years he had already achieved the so desired black-belt but had to stop competing in 1981 due to a knee injury. While Soares attended Gama Filho University, he also practiced judo and represented his university at various judo tournaments; this resulted in a full scholarship, assisting him in completing his bachelor degree in Physical Education. Because mixed martial arts competitions were illegal in Brazil at the time, Soares never competed in MMA tournaments.
Soares said he always knew he wanted a career in sports; even before he had to quit fighting, due to an injury, he taught at Carlson Gracie’s gym. In 1979, he opened his own gym in Copacabana and, in 1991, returned to Carlson Gracie. Seven years later, two days after his mother‘s death, he was flying to Canada to teach the Brazilian martial arts that he calls “chess of the human body”. Currently 14 Canadian and 2 South-African gyms are part of Soare’s methodology, the Carlson Gracie Team Canada and follow his teaching methods and curriculum of jiu-jitsu techniques established by master Carlson Gracie.