Article by Chuck Hardin.
Robson Pereira is a Pennsylvania-area instructor of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He has made a number of contradictory claims about his lineage and training, some of which have been corroborated by prominent figures in BJJ: ninth-degree red belt Francisco Mansor, eighth-degree red-and-black belt and former world BJJ champion Rigan Machado and third-degree black belt Marcos Santos. However, these claims are almost certainly false. They are contradicted by the available records, and on occasion by the prominent figures themselves.
Background of the Pereira Controversy
Pereira Claims Black Belts Under Various Instructors
Pereira first came to the attention of the American BJJ community in a MixedMartialArts forum thread dated June 6, 2005. Rat Pack Fighting Systems of Palmerton, Pennsylvania listed him as their jiu-jitsu instructor, and claimed that he had trained in several martial arts -- including BJJ -- while growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. An early version of his biography said that he "eventually earned a black belt" (no art specified), that "he had the opportunity to train with such notable athletes as Maurice Sakata and Marco 'Macaco' Aurelio", and that he was a member of Rickson Gracie's BJJ association. One could easily conclude from this biography that Pereira earned his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Rickson Gracie, or that Rickson endorsed his black belt in some way, although this was not stated outright.
This biography drew immediate attention from the members of the MixedMartialArts forum. One member of the Rickson Gracie organization had never heard of Pereira. Nick Masington, the manager of Rat Pack Fighting Systems, posted a clarification blaming the reference to Rickson on an error by the school's webmaster, and eventually a grudging correction to the effect that Pereira had earned his black belt from Maurice Sakata, who was allegedly training in Japan at the time. Later, he recalled that Robson had presented him with credentials of membership in Rickson's organization, and was led to believe that Sakata had in turn received his black belt from Rickson.
The Search For Maurice Sakata
Unfortunately, nobody could find Sakata or Aurelio in any database of BJJ black belts. Even more troubling was the fact that the names "Maurice Sakata" and "Marco 'Macaco' Aurelio" bore a striking resemblance to the names of actual BJJ black belts Mario Sukata and Marcus "Maximus" Aurelio.
In response to these concerns, RPFS posted on its site the following letter bearing the signatures of Rigan Machado and Marcos Santos:
The story now was that Sakata was a black belt under Carlson Gracie, Sr., not Rickson. However, this raised more questions than it answered. Why had Pereira dropped Rickson Gracie's name at first? Why not mention that he had a black belt under a man who had been given a black belt by Carlson Gracie, Sr. himself? Worse yet, Chuck Anzalone, one of Carlson's most senior students, had asked Carlson if he knew of a Maurice Sakata; Carlson said he did not.
The Machado/Santos letter invited people to direct their questions to The Blitz Center, Marcos Santos’ school in Manhattan. Bullshido member DuckofDeath phoned the number on the letterhead and spoke with Santos on February 10, 2006, and afterward gave the following account of this conversation:
I explained that I had seen Santos’ letter posted on the RPFS site. I asked whether Santos knew Maurice Sakata, knew how to contact him, knew who gave him his black belt, and whether Carlson Gracie, Sr. had awarded Sakata his black belt as Pereira had claimed. Santos became very agitated, loud, and flustered, stating that what I was asking didn’t matter, that what mattered was that he and Machado had awarded Pereira his second degree. I pointed out that the letter plainly stated that they were recognizing a black belt conferred by Maurice Sakata, and that they should therefore know something about him and who gave him his black belt. Santos admitted that he didn’t know Sakata, but that Francisco Mansor knew him.
Within a month, RPFS announced on their website that they had become an affiliate of the Marcos Santos/Rigan Machado BJJ Association, and that they -- having recognized Pereira's previous rank of black belt -- had now promoted him to second degree black belt.
After several unsuccessful attempts to phone Rigan Machado and record the conversation, DuckofDeath sent him an open letter summarizing the controversy and asking him to explain his part in it. At this writing, Rigan Machado has not responded.
(The search for Sakata is the subject of a Bullshido thread.)
Francisco Mansor's Convenient Memory
On February 22, 2006, DuckofDeath phoned Mansor at Kioto Jiu-Jitsu to ask whether he knew a Maurice Sakata, not to be confused with a BJJ black belt with a similar name, Mario Sukata. With his son acting as interpreter, Mansor stated that he didn’t know of any Maurice Sakata, but that he did know of a Mario Sukata. A full recording of this conversation is available.
RPFS later hosted a seminar taught by Grandmaster Mansor; not long after that seminar, on March 4, a letter bearing the Grandmaster’s signature was posted on the RPFS site stating that the Grandmaster was personally familiar with Sakata and that Sakata had been awarded his BB by Carlson Gracie, Sr.:
How could Mansor not know Sakata on February 22, but suddenly know him personally on March 4? The timing was suspicious in another way as well: Carlson was unable to refute Mansor's assertion because he had passed away a month earlier.
The April 6, 2007 issue of Tatame published an official list of Carlson Gracie, Sr.'s black belts. This list was provided by Carlson's widow to combat the fraudulent claims of those purporting to be Carlson's black belts. The name "Maurice/Mauricio Sakata" is conspicuously absent from the list.
Back To School For Pereira
Masington announced that Pereira was now training under Rich Latta, a Renzo Gracie brown belt with a school in Hatfield, Pennsylvania; Latta was also then listed on the RPFS web site as the head of their BJJ program. Since Pereira's skills were acknowledged to be subpar by RPFS -- he had supposedly been out of the game a long time because of a debilitating work injury -- it was hoped that remedial work under Latta would bring him up to speed and perhaps lead to his being re-ranked by Renzo Gracie. However, this claim raised the question: Why would Pereira have to be re-ranked by Renzo if he were a legit BJJ black belt under Sakata to begin with? Old work injuries notwithstanding, a BJJ belt is typically retained once earned.
Pereira Leaves RPFS, Falls Down The Memory Hole
Rat Pack Fighting Systems has parted ways with Robson Pereira and is no longer affiliated with either the Santos/Machado BJJ Association or Mansor's New York State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation. They are now a member of the James Simrell Mixed Martial Arts Association, and emphasize on their website that Simrell's "credentials are beyond reproach" (emphasis in original).
The Sakata letters, once presented as Pereira's credentials, were removed from the RPFS site. Masington has claimed that the letters -- last known to be in the possession of Pereira -- were not forgeries since Mansor himself had signed one of the letters in front of him while Santos had either mailed the other letter to him directly or brought it to him by hand.
After Pereira and RPFS parted company, Pereira began his own school, which has migrated from location to location in Pennsylvania; in addition, Pereira was also awarded his third degree black belt by Grandmaster Mansor. Of particular note is that on the website for his school, Pereira makes no mention at all of Maurice Sakata. Rather, the sites only display the Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu (CBJJ) third degree black belt diploma awarded by Grandmaster Mansor and dated September 28, 2006. Pereira also claims to have won "the Brazilian Nationals in Rio de Janeiro" and to have been "named the Sao Paulo State Champion," both claims as yet unsubstantiated.
Although Mansor is entitled to grant a third-degree black belt to anyone he wants, the fact that he had previously signed off on the existence of Maurice Sakata makes his objectivity suspect in this case.
While Pereira's third degree black belt is technically legitimate, there is ample reason to question the process by which he got it. Maurice Sakata, the master who granted him his first degree black belt, probably did not exist; Francisco Mansor and Rigan Machado, who granted him his higher belts, seem to be involved in trying to cover up that fact. Pereira has managed to involve three big names in the world of BJJ in what might become a major martial arts scandal.
Bullshido thanks member DuckofDeath for his considerable effort in pursuing and researching this story.