Martial Arts Nation founder Ricardo Liborio has dedicated his life to two goals: training in martial arts, and helping enrich other’s lives by promoting the benefits of training.
Born in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, Liborio began studying judo at the age of four. He trained in a variety of traditional and modern martial arts, including taekwondo, muay thai, and Western boxing. At age 15, he began learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the Carlson Gracie Academy, under the tutelage of Carlson himself. In 1993, he received his black belt from Master Gracie.
Liborio’s talent, drive, and sheer love of the art lead him to excel in competition. He took gold at the inaugural IBJJF World Championship, competing against opponents multiple weight classes above him.
Although Liborio could have made a career from competition alone, he felt compelled to do more. In 2000, he helped found the Brazilian Top Team school, and, upon moving to United States of America, established American Top Team. These schools have well-earned reputation not just as competitive powerhouses in MMA, but as having some of the best instruction in their respective countries. The schools are still thriving to this day.
Again, although he could have stayed put and enjoyed success, Liborio felt it was time to continue his calling to share martial arts with a broader audience. So, in 2017, he left the MMA industry to build Liborio’s Martial Arts Nation.
Martial Arts Nation is more than a curriculum. It’s a mark of excellence, and a promise to the student that the gym they’re entering adheres to the highest standards of both instruction and environment.
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1877—Jigoro Kano, a student at the Tokyo Imperial University, begins training in jujutsu, a medieval Japanese grappling art. To defeat classically trained opponents, he begins to come up with new techniques and theories, fundamentally changing the art.
1882 – Kano names his new art judo, and founds the Kodokan Judo Institute in Japan.
1895 – 17-year-old Mitsuyo Maeda arrives in Tokyo to study judo at the Kodokan.
1904 – Judo starts to garner attention outside Japan. The United States requests that the Kodokan send judo instructors to America; Maeda and two others go.
1908 – 1914 – Maeda travels around Europe, Central and South America competing as a judoka.
1914 – Maeda arrives in Brazil.
1915 – Maeda remains in Brazil, accepting challengers from various other arts. His popularity in the country booms.
1917 – After a stint abroad, Maeda returns to Brazil, which he has come to see as home. He marries a Brazilian woman and makes a home in Belem do Para.
1917 – Carlos Gracie, age 14, watches one of Maeda’s demonstrations and is inspired to learn judo. For the next few years, he studied directly under Maeda. Carlos also began to teach his younger brothers the art. One brother, Helio, is a small, sickly child who adapts many of the techniques to rely on leverage more than strength.
1925 – Carlos opens his own academy. He has continued to develop his skills, somewhat departing from Maeda’s original teachings. The resulting art is called Brazilian jiu-jitsu. For many years, Carlos and Helio reign supreme in the competitive fighting world.
1932 – Carlos’ son, Carlson Gracie, is born. He is trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu practically from birth, and quickly rose to dominance in the fighting world.
1973 – The Carlson Gracie Academy is opened in Copacabana, Brazil.
1981 – Ricardo Liborio, age 14, begins training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the Carlson Gracie Academy.
1993 – Liborio receives his black belt from Carlson Gracie.
1996 – The first-ever World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, or “Mundials,” is held in Rio de Janeiro. Liborio enters, choosing to compete in a heavier weight division than his own. He wins the gold medal, defeating a much larger opponent, and is also awarded the prize for Most Technical Black Belt.
2000 – Liborio and several teammates found Brazilian Top Team (BTT), an MMA gym specializing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
2001 – Leaving BTT in the capable hands of its cofounders, Liborio moves to the United States, where he founds American Top Team.
2017 – Liborio makes the decision to retire from the MMA industry. Following the footsteps of his predecessors, he makes the move to bring a new direction and new level to the martial arts, and creates Liborio Martial Arts Nation.
I used to be the owner – and head instructor – of several schools in Rio de Janeiro (check!), Brazil. One day as I was teaching, a visitor stopped by, unannounced and in the middle of class. I left my junior instructor to continue the lesson, and went to see what this individual wanted.
He was a middle-aged man, well-dressed and harried-looking. A teenage boy slouched behind him.
“This is my son,” the man said. He gripped the teen’s elbow, pulling him forward. “I want you to teach him jiu-jitsu.”
I told him we’d be happy to have another student. But, seeing that the boy looked less than thrilled, I also asked why he was interested in learning jiu-jitsu.
I asked the son, but his father answered. The teen, I learned, had just finished a stint in rehab. The father was desperate to find something – anything – to occupy his time, so that he wouldn’t end up going back, wind up in jail, or worse.
“Plus,” the father added. “I’d like him to lose some weight. He’s a little fat.”
Looking at the boy, I could tell weight wasn’t going to be the biggest problem for him in my class. Sure, he had a few extra pounds. One of the wonderful things about jiu-jitsu, though, is that it accommodates all shapes and body types. And usually those who train see improvements in their health and weight with no extra effort outside class.
No, the problem I was worried about was his attitude. He clearly didn’t want to be here now. But I’ve seen dozens of people in my classes go from being skeptics to falling in love with jiu-jitsu. This kid just needed the opportunity.
We signed him up for lessons that day.
The following evening, he was right on time. In fact, he became our most regular student, if not the most enthusiastic. He listened to the instructors, and participated in the warmups and drills. When someone corrected his form, he adjusted to follow their advice. His jiu-jitsu skills evolved rapidly.
And, slowly, his attitude evolved too. He realized that, just because he wasn’t going to talk to the other students, didn’t mean they wouldn’t talk to him. Brazilian jiu-jitsu guys are usually pretty friendly, chatty people! Like ice melting, his surly demeanor disappeared. He started to open up.
Through conversations with this teenager, and with the junior instructors and students he was closest with, I started to piece together a picture of his life.
He came from one of the wealthiest families in the area – wealthy, in part, thanks to his father. The man was a workaholic who was seldom home. He used money to show his son affection. The teen’s mother suffered from an alcohol dependency. She loved him, but was too involved in her own problems to be there for his. There was a void in his life where family should have been, and he had turned to drugs to cover it.
I want to be clear, now – it wasn’t jiu-jitsu that finally filled the void, but jiu-jitsu was the vehicle. There’s something that happens when you bring a bunch of people from all walks of life together on one mat to learn. It’s more than just going through the motions of training. It’s a community. It’s laughing with friends, sweat on your faces. It’s pushing your peers to learn as they push you.
It’s someone always having your back.
This is what I had in mind when I created Martial Arts Nation. There’s a reason the program includes our tenets and not just a list of drills and a set curriculum. Making sure your students have this experience is just as important as making sure they learn the correct technical skills.
Of course, not everyone who comes in to train will come from extreme circumstances. But our philosophy is that everyone, no matter where they are in life or what they’re going through, can benefit from what the martial arts have to offer. We just have to be ready to accept them.
I’m proud to say that the young man from this story is now a happy, thriving adult. He never relapsed into drug use, and in fact he cleaned up his act completely.