Evandro Nunes is a trainer at the world-famous Gracie Jiu-Jitsu University and has earned several world championship Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu medals.
His mindset toward fighting began forming while being raised by a tough Brazilian father who instilled strong, traditional values in him.
“If you see injustice toward you, or someone else, you stand up for it,” Evandro’s father taught him. “If you’re wrong, you apologize, but if you’re right, you fight for it.”
Evandro was born with a firm sense of right and wrong, but it was his father’s lessons that reinforced those instincts.
“It only made sense. If I’m right, I should win,” Evandro said. “The good guy wins and the bad guy loses, just like in the movies.”
That instinct led him into a lot of fights as a kid, many of which were with his brother, who was four years older.
“My brother and I fought a lot,” Evandro said, “but I still remember the first time I won.”
In this fight, Evandro was only seven years old and thought he could not possibly defeat his much-larger sibling.
“He punched me in the shoulder, and I fell on the floor crying,” Evandro said.
Evandro’s brother pushed him down four more times and then demanded that he stay on the ground.
“I remember feeling that I was right, so I should not lose,” Evandro said. “I was willing to go as far as it took to defend my ground.”
So Evandro stood up for the fifth time.
“My brother saw the look of determination in my eyes,” Evandro said, “so he stopped and walked away. Physically I lost the fight, but I mentally I won because I stood my ground.”
Evandro got into his first street fight in the first grade. A bully was harassing his friends while they played a card game. When Evandro asked the bully to stop, the kid became aggressive.
“I didn’t know Jiu-Jitsu, but I instinctively took him to the floor and got his back,” Evandro said. “He was fighting, but I had both hooks in with the seatbelt grip.”
Evandro’s father encouraged self-defense, but he also taught him not to abuse his power.
“I did not want to hurt this guy,” Evandro said. “I just wanted him to stop.”
The kid promised to leave Evandro and his friends alone, so Evandro let him go.
“Then the bully stood up and punched me in the face,” Evandro said. “It was my first black eye.”
Evandro fell down and started crying in front of his friends. Then he ran to his brother and begged him to retaliate.
“I’m not fighting your fight,” Evandro’s brother calmly told him.
“It didn’t make sense in my brain,” Evandro said. “I was shamed in front of everyone. We were brothers, and he was supposed to defend me.”
Evandro resented his brother for leaving him to deal with the bully on his own, but years later he realized how much his brother had actually forced him to grow.
“I lost the micro fight, but I won the macro fight.” Evandro said. “It’s better to have one black eye in the first grade than to be bullied for the rest of your life.”
Had Evandro bowed to that bully when he was young, it would have ingrained the habit of not standing up for what he believed in.
“There was no more bullying coming in my direction,” Evandro said. “That black eye prevented a lifetime of bullying. You become a victim when you bow to something you don’t believe in. I’d rather be punched in the face once than be punched in my mind forever. That’s much more abusive.”
Evandro mentioned the power of our mind and the difficulty of recovering from mental abuse.
“What we tell ourselves matters,” Evandro said. “I will become what my mind believes.”
Evandro’s parents divorced when he was 14 years old. During their family breakup, Evandro’s parents disclosed for the first time that his father had adopted him.
“It was like a punch to my throat,” Evandro said. “It was mind-blowing. The man who had been teaching me integrity my whole life had been lying to me for 14 years.”
Evandro continued to have a healthy and loving relationship with his father, but that life-changing moment caused Evandro to begin questioning everything.
“I was oblivious to the idea that someone could lie to me,” Evandro said. “I couldn’t see it. Once that happened, I began my pursuit of the truth. I cannot live where I am not being honest.”
Evandro did not realize it at the time, but it was discovering Jiu-Jitsu that later allowed him to live with complete integrity.
About the same time that his parents got divorced, he had a run-in with another kid.
“I wasn’t the kind of person who was looking for trouble,” Evandro said. “I was always defending myself or other people.”
Evandro was walking down a street in Brazil when he was challenged by a big kid in the neighborhood. The argument began over a petty dispute about trading cards.
“He stole the cards from me, but he clearly needed them more than I did,” Evandro said. “I was going to let him have those cards.”
Someone asked Evandro if he wanted to fight the big kid. Evandro laughed and turned to walk away.
Then the big kid asked him if he was afraid.
Evandro stopped and looked back. He told the other boys he wasn’t afraid.
Then he turned around and walked back to the big kid who was challenging him.
“I wasn’t afraid,” Evandro said. “Or maybe I was, I don’t know.”
But Evandro knew that if he had walked away, everyone would have believed he was afraid.
“I had to prove to him that I wasn’t afraid,” Evandro said. “Maybe I needed to prove it to myself. I lacked the confidence that I wasn’t really afraid. I needed to prove it to everyone: him, my friends, and myself.”
Evandro stood in front of the big kid and they stared each other down.
“I remember looking into his eyes,” Evandro said. “I didn’t even think he was going to fight. I thought we were going to exchange some words and walk away, but suddenly he head-butted me on my nose.”
Evandro fell back and stumbled to the ground with a broken nose.
“I stood and stepped back,” Evandro said. “I took two steps and ‘boom!’ I landed a full-power fist on his jaw.”
The big kid got angry, shook his head, and started walking toward Evandro.
“That was everything I had,” Evandro said. “I had just given him everything, with the bonus of a little run, but he just shook it off and kept walking toward me.”
Evandro started retreating backwards.
“I was afraid I was going to die,” Evandro said. “Because if that didn’t work, I was done. I had nothing else.”
Evandro ran and kept a safe distance, exchanging words, and choosing not to engage until he walked away.
“I remember thinking that I was defending myself,” Evandro said. “The guy had taken my cards but for some reason he still wanted to fight. I could not see where I was wrong, but still I lost that fight.”
That incident inspired Evandro to seek a better way to fight. Evandro was not sure where to turn, but he ended up in a weight-lifting gym with a friend, intending to bulk up with more muscle.
During their first visit to the gym, while Evandro’s friend was in the restroom, Evandro watched vale tudo fighters hitting bags and rolling on the floor of the gym. While Evandro watched, the man who would become his first instructor, Mateus Detail, approached him.
“He was a law enforcement officer in Brazil,” Evandro said. “He was like Guile from Street Fighter. A big, strong guy with a scar on his face.”
The man was friendly and invited Evandro to join their workout.
“My friend came out of the restroom all excited to work out,” Evandro said. “But I told him I wasn’t lifting weights because I was going to try the vale tudo class.”
That was Evandro’s first day of training and, with time, he gravitated to the ground-fighting classes. After about a month of training, Evandro was partnered up with a fighter who he admired.
“I wanted to be like him,” Evandro said. “He had a perfect physique and was the best guy at the academy back then.”
That day in class, they learned the arm triangle choke from the side mount.
“There were only three details: frame, push, jump,” Evandro said. “We drilled it five times each side and then we sparred.”
When they started rolling, his training partner framed his neck just as they had drilled.
“I wasn’t thinking about him,” Evandro said. “I just did what I was supposed to do: step one, two, and three, and then I started holding. Suddenly, the guy started jumping like a fish out of water. I didn’t even know what was happening.”
Evandro realized the technique was actually working and his partner was in trouble.
“I kept holding it and then he tapped!” Evandro said. “That moment completely changed my life. I was this weak, skinny, 14-year-old kid. I had never tapped anyone, and suddenly I was tapping out the guy I looked up to.”
After that class, Evandro went home and searched for Jiu-Jitsu online and discovered the old Gracie Challenge fights and the UFC. Those videos inspired him to seek out a gym that trained in the gi. He found an academy and trained there briefly.
“I rolled with an aggressive black belt,” Evandro said. “He did leg and arm locks and popped all my joints. I didn’t know what was happening, and he was hurting me. I trained there for a little bit, but it was not sustainable, so I found a new place.”
On the first day at the new academy, the instructor, Marcio Barao, invited Evandro to participate in a tournament.
“Why are you asking me to compete?” Evandro asked his new instructor. “I don’t even know anything.”
The instructor encouraged competition and suggested that he just go for fun. That weekend, Evandro found himself at his first tournament. He was 15 years old and a new white belt.
“I was afraid, but I was curious,” Evandro said. “I looked around, and I couldn’t find any kids my age.”
Evandro’s instructor had registered him in the adult division.
“It was kind of normal for me to fight grown-ups,” Evandro said. “I fought adults in the academies, and my brother was always much older. My whole life I never fought anyone my age. They were always bigger.”
Before Evandro’s first match, he watched other fights and saw the referees raise their hands and point cards being turned. Evandro asked about the rules and points.
“The rules are you don’t get tapped and you tap them out,” Evandro’s coach said. “Just like we do in training.”
Evandro never second-guessed that advice and adopted that as his own philosophy. In his first competition, he defeated every one of his opponents by submission.
That lesson from his instructor stuck with him his entire career. Evandro has never played the Jiu-Jitsu point game and instead always hunted for the submission.
“Control is a submission, it’s just harder,” Evandro said. “If you want to finish a fight in 30 seconds, you’re not doing Jiu-Jitsu. But if I can control you for 10 minutes, and you cannot get up, it’s like being locked in a box. How terrifying is that?”
Evandro continued competing regularly from white to brown belt.
“We fought every weekend that there was a competition,” Evandro said. “Back then my friends were drinking and partying while I was traveling to tournaments three weekends out of the month.”
Evandro explained that it was that persistence that led to his future success.
“I lost a bunch,” Evandro said. “I was willing to lose all those tournaments, and that’s why I’m here today. Many people lose one or two times and stop competing. But I say, ‘Let’s lose again and again.’ And then eventually you become good.’”
When Evandro earned his brown belt, he was paying attention to Roger Gracie.
“I wanted to fight like this guy,” Evandro said. “He doesn’t even smile, nor does he celebrate too much. He takes them down, passes the guard, mounts, and finishes with a cross choke. He is a solid human being who is a very efficient example of Jiu-Jitsu.”
At that time, many of Evandro’s friends worshiped the Jiu-Jitsu stars of the time.
“I was not worshiping people, I was studying them,” Evandro said. “I know that if another man can do it, I can too. If they’re that amazing, I can be too.”
There were things that Evandro did not admire about some of the top champions at the time. Evandro described matches where a fighter would squeak out a single advantage point and then use strength to stall. There were fights where the winner would be ahead by one advantage point, while in danger within a nasty arm bar, but the clock would run out.
“He almost lost,” Evandro said. “Then time runs out, and he’s a multiple-time world champion with no submission ever. He was about to lose, but these guys are freaking out, doing back flips, pulling open their gi and screaming to celebrate. That’s crazy.”
After Evandro watched these guys fight at the higher-level tournaments, he decided it was his turn.
“It was time to stop talking,” Evandro said. “I thought I was better than those guys, and there was only one way to know. I needed to go there and fight them. My motivation back then was to prove to myself that I was better, and it was easier than I thought.”
Evandro entered the IBJJF tournament in Brazil, which at that time was where the top fighters were competing. Evandro stayed true to what he learned at his very first tournament.
“I was not going to do points,” Evandro said. “I went out there to choke people out, because that’s the only thing I knew how to do.”
Evandro won every match by submission, except the last.
“I had lots of nerves,” Evandro said. “Back then I didn’t understand energy efficiency. I was just brawling. I won three fights by submission and lost the fourth by points, so I didn’t lose, time just ran out. At least that’s how I see it.”
Evandro continued competing regularly, but at that time, Metamoris was his ultimate goal.
“I knew that my skills were top-notch,” Evandro said. “What I wanted to know was if I belonged in the top level of the Jiu-Jitsu community, and Metamoris would be my proof of that. There would be nothing else left for me to fight.”
The evening before Metamoris 6, friends invited Evandro to watch the fight, but he had to decline because he was competing in Las Vegas.
“The way Metamoris happened is a beautiful story,” Evandro said. “I told my friend that night that I had no idea when, but I knew I would eventually fight in Metamoris.”
Josh Barnett was scheduled to fight Cyborg, but rumor spread that Cyborg was injured, so Evandro found the fight promoter’s number and sent him a text message. They had never met, but Evandro felt he had nothing to lose.
“I was willing to fight Josh Barnett,” Evandro said. “Who cares if you guys don’t know who I am? I’m going to choke him out. That was my mindset until you prove me wrong.”
Evandro sent the fight promoter a message mentioning his weight and titles, but he discovered that Ryron Gracie was already filling in for Cyborg.
The next day, Evandro flew to Las Vegas to fight in another event. While Evandro was warming up for his fight in Las Vegas, at the last minute, Jeff Moson backed out of the Metamoris event.
“The fight promoter called me seven minutes before my Vegas fight,” Evandro said. “With two hours’ notice he bought me a plane ticket, and I flew back to L.A. and fought in Metamoris.”
The fight ended in a draw, and Evandro reached his goal of fighting in the live televised event, but what turned out to be more significant was his chance meeting with Ryron Gracie in the warm-up area.
“We connected not only with Jiu-Jitsu but also on a personal level,” Evandro said. “Two months later I was teaching at the Gracie Academy.”
Evandro’s success and growth in Jiu-Jitsu also helped him grow as a person. Evandro attended a personal development seminar where he discovered unconscious resentment he had been holding on to his entire life. One of the seminar assignments was to write a letter to a family member.
“I started writing the letter to my brother, but I couldn’t finish it.” Evandro said. “My biggest realization was that I used to blame my brother for fighting with me too much and not standing up for me.”
The seminar speaker had said that we like to blame people for what they did to us, but we don’t like to give them credit for what they did for us.
“I called him my brother and told him everything,” Evandro said. “Suddenly I started crying when it became obvious that he was the best brother ever.”
Like most brothers, they were competitive with each other, but in the early years, with the four-year age gap, Evandro could never keep up. Being the older sibling, instead of hanging out with Evandro, his brother preferred to hang out with older kids when playing soccer and video games, and doing everything else that young boys do.
“Because he didn’t stand up for me in my first fight, I had to learn how to overcome my own battles,” Evandro said. “Because he fought with me, I had to learn how to stand up for myself regardless of the consequences. Once I discovered that, I realized my brother was the best brother ever.”
Much of Evandro’s drive and ambition can be attributed to his desire to impress his older brother.
“I wanted his love and approval,” Evandro said. “I felt loved and seen, but I didn’t feel seen in the way I wanted to be seen. I figured that one day when I was faster in soccer, or better at video games, I’d be able to play with my brother.”
Evandro pushed so hard to impress his brother that at some point he surpassed him.
“When I was 16 with a blue belt, he didn’t want to fight me anymore,” Evandro said. “Then I used to show him everything because I was trying to impress him. I’d say, ‘Look at this, look at me, look at my gold medals.’”
In hindsight, Evandro realized that by trying so hard to impress his older brother, Evandro may have made his brother feel badly about his own achievements.
“As I was surpassing him, I made a point of showing him that I was better,” Evandro said. “When I called him, I said I was sorry and said that he was the reason why I am where I am today.”
At the end of their phone call, his brother cried, which was the first Evandro had ever heard him show that type of emotion.
Evandro attributes his own personal growth to Jiu-Jitsu, but the more important benefit of training was is that it gave him the courage to live honestly.
“My father is an honest man, but he is human with his own limitations,” Evandro said. “I understand why he lied to me. He was coming from a place of fear. He was trying to protect me and himself, but seeing my dad not being able to live up to his words was a significant moment for me.”
That event had such an impact that living honestly became Evandro’s driving force in life. It was Jiu-Jitsu that became the tool that enabled him to live with integrity.
“Jiu-Jitsu gave me the confidence to be who I am,” Evandro said. “Everyone wants to be who they really are, but they feel unable to because if everything goes wrong, they may have to fight. I think the ultimate fear of all humans is that they cannot physically defend themselves.”
Evandro explained that being able to fight is not what is important.
“Having the confidence to be yourself is enough,” Evandro said. “But learning how to fight is what gives you that confidence, and when you know how to fight, no one will want to fight you.”
Evandro thinks that modern society has evolved in a way that we rarely need to fight anymore.
“In Brazil there were a lot of opportunities to be a hero,” Evandro said. “Here in the United States, you rarely see people attacking someone in the street, so there are fewer opportunities to defend yourself, but the fear still exists inside people.”
Evandro is less willing to get into a fight today than when he was a kid.
“Today, I don’t see myself fighting unless there’s a need to defend a life,” Evandro said. “If a homeless guy spits on me, I can control myself. I’m the safest person to be spit on because I’m not reacting to things anymore.”
Evandro’s willingness to fight has deescalated as he has tried to understand where the other person is coming from. Evandro said he would feel the emotions of being spit on, but he would not take it personally.
“That person must be in pain,” Evandro said. “Because I know I did nothing to deserve that. If someone cuts in front of me in traffic, I assume that person must really be in a hurry to do something that unsafe to gain four seconds. I can only imagine the mental prison this person is in.”
Evandro explained that most fights between men stem from their insecurity about their ability to defend themselves.
“If two men bump into each other in the bar, they need to prove themselves to their wives, their friends, and themselves,” Evandro said. “Insecurity is what caused the fight. I already know I can fight. I no longer need to prove myself because my self-worth is not based on someone else’s perception. That’s a byproduct of Jiu-Jitsu.”
Learning self-defense skills are essential, but Evandro said that mindset is even more important.
“If I really believe in what I’m fighting for, I’m going to fight until I die,” Evandro said. “I don’t think most people are willing to go that far.”
Evandro described, as an example, a drunken thug who starts a fight in the street.
“He knows he’s causing trouble,” Evandro said. “Somewhere in his subconscious, he knows he wants some attention. Therefore, he’s not willing to die for that fight. Me, on the other hand, I’m walking in plenitude, peace, and love, so if someone starts a fight, I am only acting on what I truly believe in, and I’m willing to die for those things I truly believe in.”
It took a lifetime of fighting for Evandro to find this sense of harmony.
“I feel in such a place of peace today,” Evandro said. “There’s nothing else I want in life. I don’t need more money. I don’t need outside approval. I don’t need fame. I don’t need anything external. I’m in such peace that I can live moment by moment.”
Evandro said that historically, philosophers used to sit on top of a stone to think and write about life.
“A long time ago, a philosopher said, ‘The only purpose in life is to give back as a form of performance whatever inspired you in the first place,’” Evandro explained. “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu changed my life and has allowed me to pursue my dreams. So what I’m doing is repackaging what inspired me so I can perform as a teacher to share Jiu-Jitsu with my students in the most pleasant way possible. I’m giving back what inspired me.”
Evandro’s definition of success has not changed since he was a kid.
“Success is truly getting in touch with myself to know what I’m feeling and then being able to express it free of judgment or fear,” Evandro said. “Success is being honest.”
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