Rafael Mendes: Berimbolo Evolution


After the 2012 Mundials it was obvious to all that the berimbolo is here to stay. Not only did it appear in some hotly-contested matches in the black belt division, but knowledge of the double-guard-pull berimbolo battle was almost prerequisite for competitors in the lower belts.

In years past the berimbolo was a little-known sweep utilized by the Mendes brothers, Samuel Braga and a handful of other elite competitors. Now, as purple belts like the Miayo brothers and others are becoming experts at the position, and even white and blue belts are using it in competition the original progenitors of the berimbolo are expanding and evolving the technique.

In the video below we track the evolution of Rafael Mendes’s berimbolo game specifically. We can begin to see patterns in how he sets up the position, how he competes it when everything goes right and how he deals with opponents who know how to shut it down.

Increasingly too, we can see how the berimbolo has developed past the generic “de la Riva to the back” application into newly abstracted territory. In the first half of the video, ranging from Rafa’s days as a brown-belt in 2008 until mid-2011, we see how the berimbolo is ideally performed. In the second half I wanted to focus on how Rafa will switch to a different sweep if a) his opponent makes a mistake, or b) his opponent defends.

For me, this is a chance to study the details of grips and setups Rafa uses, and how he deals with opponents that defend the sweep well. I know how to do the berimbolo, but I don’t make it a staple of my Jiu Jitsu game. Since the competitors in my division are increasingly defaulting to the double-guard pull and berimbolo style game, I’m taking a closer look at the position.


Rafael Mendes: Berimbolo Evolution


Stray observations: 

  • There are several compilation videos of Rafael Mendes, and of the berimbolo already. What I hope sets this video apart is the ability to see how the position has developed over the years and to see the subtle change in grips and leg position as Rafa’s opponent’s learn to defend the berimbolo.
  • Rafael Mendes was doing the berimbolo early in his career, but also used a simpler entry from DLR to back. The first entry shown here when Rafa was a brown belt is the same as Guilherme used against Justin Rader at brown belt. 
  • One defense to the previous sweep is for opponents to sit down to protect the back. By changing the angle by inverting, the Mendes brothers are able to still take the back.
  • In his matches with Theodoro Canal, Bruno Malfacine and Marcelino Freitas you can see Rafa’s primary berimbolo entry – The cross grip in the collar. The cross grip and sleeve also open up the omoplata. When the opponent defends they often leave their leg open for the DLR hook.
  • When a competitor is able to hit the berimbolo all the way to the back it’s beautiful, as seen in the video at 2:40 or as performed by Paulo Miayo.
  • Too many people are myopic about only using the sweep to take the back, however. As we learn in the above video, Rafael Mendes chooses to come up into the leg drag position the majority of the time instead of attempting to go right to the back. Learn how to do the same by locking foot that was the DLR hook behind the knee of your opponent as you sweep to the top position.
  • While coming up for the leg drag only gives two points for the sweep, Rafa often collects another three for the pass right away, and putting him in ideal position to take the back for another four. An ideal route to get up on points early.
  • In this context the DLR, berimbolo, reverse DLR, leg drag pass and back takes employed by the Mendes brothers can’t be seen as individual techniques, but as one complete, flowing and interchangeable game. Leaving out one piece of the puzzle reduces the effectiveness of the whole.
  • What do you do if your opponent controls the free leg preventing you from going inverted? We can see in the match against Augusto Tanquinho that Rafa switches to the reverse DLR Beijo do Dragao sweep to get to the same position.
  • I love the sweep against Rader. Rader sits back a bit too far defending the berimbolo entry. Rafa just sits up and passes to side control. Too easy.
  • At 5:35 Rafa don’t even bother using the DLR to set up the berimbolo. Apparently all you need is a belt and a pant grip to roll into an inverted back take. Good to know.
  • Man, that Cobrinha match from the 2012 Pans. Is it a berimbolo? 50/50 guard? X-guard? All of the above? Whatever it is, Rafa got too far ahead of the Alliance legend and forced him to tap for the first time at black belt in his weight class.
  • Speaking of the  Cobrinha match, I like how Rafa starts using the cross-lapel grip to appear as if he’s entering the berimbolo to the left like usual, only to switch to the right DLR, which he almost never uses. Then when he has the hook, he uses the belt grip to switch to the lapel around the leg, locking Cobrinha in place.
  • Eventually Rafael shoots both legs under Cobrinha’s to sweep directly into a leg drag, finishing with a brutal armbar that led to a heated exchange between the Atos camp and Cobrinha after the match. Literally adding insult to injury.
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Filed under Jiu Jitsu Stuff

5 responses to “Rafael Mendes: Berimbolo Evolution

  1. Here a video of Jordan Shultz demonstrating how to come up into the leg drag from the berimbolo.

  2. I am a white belt, only just getting to grips (no pun intended) with the gi game. Love reading your in depth technical analysis on here. Great stuff.

  3. Cobrinha has been finished twice before (by much larger grapplers). He was in that triangle-with-leg-in by Tussa Alencar at the 2007 No-Gi Worlds and tapped to a collar choke to Rodolfo Vieira at the 2011 Abu Dhabi World Pro.

    The Mendes one was the first in his weight class though.

    I believe now that Rafa is a better passer and better sweeper than Rubens. Cobrinha’s guard is still usually better than that of Rafa, but it doesn’t matter that much now that Rafa’s passing has gotten so much better in conjunction with that berimbolo.

  4. Thanks for all the analysis, man! Great example of how jiu jitsu is a thinking person’s sport!

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