Original photo by Eric Yu.
Rubens Charles Maciel is a man of many talents. As a four times black belt World Champion it would be enough if “Cobrinha” was known only as a great Jiu Jitsu competitor, but the man is also a skilled baker, capoeirista, innovator and teacher. His many experiences seem to inform the way Cobrinha thinks about and teaches his Jiu Jitsu.
When I heard that Cobrinha was giving his first seminar in over two years only minutes from my apartment, I knew I needed to go. It meant cancelling my plans to drive south to Seattle to attend another Mendes brothers seminar on the same day.
Cobrinha’s Jiu Jitsu has inspired me since I saw my first footage of him in competition. It was the finals of the 2006 mundials, which had taken place the year prior. I was a brand new white belt searching the internet to kill time. I had heard of Marcio Feitosa who had won the mundials several years earlier, but didn’t know much about his opponent. In that match it looked like Cobrinha and Feitosa were doing two different sports. Cobrinha’s impossibly smooth leg drags, reverse de la Riva sweeps and long-step transitions are still considered innovative in 2012.
Since then we have seen Cobrinha reclaim his world title three more times, including two legendary matches against Bruno Frazatto in 2008 and 2009, which were won by a brutal toe-hold in the dying seconds and a referee’s decision, respectively. Each time he steps on the mats we are able to witness Jiu Jitsu evolving.
Despite these titles and accolades Cobrinha’s legacy is in a difficult place. Several losses to featherweight upstart Rafael Mendes, including a brutal armbar at the 2012 Pans, have overshadowed the veteran’s accomplishments in the eyes of some fair-weather fans. Some might overlook or denigrate Cobrinha as a result, but the man has four world titles at black belt, and in recent years when most of his peers are no longer competing Cobrinha has maintained his status as at least second best in the world. Cobrinha has earned his legend status, and has even been inducted into the IBJFF Hall of Fame, in case anyone would dispute it.
Cobrinha competition highlights