Andre “Maneco” Leite is currently a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor at the Emerald Smoke MMA gym in the River West neighborhood of Chicago, but that title only scratches the surface of what this fighter is all about. Andre has won many tournaments and titles in his career. Most recently, at the age of 41, he added to his collection the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s European Championship lightweight black belt title. Andre is not only a top fighter in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but also prides himself as being one of the best referees in the IBJJF.
Recently Andre has shifted his main focus to his students. He wants to use the knowledge that he has amassed over the years as a fighter/referee and mold his pupils into champions. This will further cement him as a legend in the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Andre clearly loves the sport of Jiu-Jitsu, but most importantly, he wants to show fighters that this passion can be taught and translated from his mind to your body. Andre believes that he can make anyone into a champion if they are willing to submit to his discipline, share his love for the sport, and have a little fun at the same time.
Although Andre started his journey at a young age, he believes that you are never too old to become a student in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He challenges all fighters to come down to Emerald Smoke gym so he can show you how to get in the ring and win.
Andre what made you get into Jiu-Jitsu at the age of nine?
I actually started doing Judo at 9 years old, and Jiu Jitsu at age 16, but I always enjoyed the fights. I’m not naturally a very aggressive person, but I always loved watching and studying the fights and fighters, which inspired me to get in there and do it.
How is discipline such an important part of the sport of MMA?
It keeps you calm and focused, which naturally helps you learn at a fast pace. As a coach I like to keep discipline at a very high level so my students understand that this calm and focus not only helps them acquire the knowledge they need, but that MMA is more like a lifestyle. It brings people together, the way I teach makes it so anybody can learn and use it, the old and young…anyone.
What do you believe are the most important benefits of learning MMA over learning just one specific martial art?
It is one of the best martial arts for self-defense because it brings all of the martial arts together. You need to know wrestling, kick-boxing, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Once you bring these three arts together you become a very good fighter…one of the best fighters!
What is your official role or title at Emerald Smoke?
I’m just like a head coach there, a Jiu-Jitsu head coach more specifically. Very simply, I want to make those guys win the fights. Jiu-Jitsu is a gentle art, a pure art, and if they follow my instruction with strict discipline, I will make them win the fights!
You recently returned from a tournament in Portugal. How did that go?
I won the lightweight black belt title! I’m 41 years old and I won it all for the third time! Big time!
When did you win the other titles?
I won in 2004 and also last year. Back to back titles!
What was the name of the tournament?
It was the European Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship and consisted of 2,800 fighters, from white to black belt. I fought in the tournament, plus I refereed. I’m also one of the best refs in the league right now.
You refereed and fought in the tournament?
Yes, I think it makes me a better fighter. I can be on my feet for 10 to 12 hours sometimes before a fight, but somehow I’m always ready to get in the ring and take on my opponent.
How has your training as a referee influenced your fighting style?
It changed it a lot. When you are a referee you can do 50 fights a day, so you see the same moves over and over again, which makes you learn how to win the fight by watching?
What do you mean by “win the fight by watching?”
You watch so many fights that you start taking percentages and mathematics to figure out what move works when, and then use that information to your advantage. I know now how to divide time and score points, every fight is timed and every move is calculated in my head. Every fighter has a strategy, so I learn their strategy, and then that becomes my strategy to use against them. I try to pick the best moves from every fighter and put it into my game.
How would you best describe your fighting style?
I’m a very aggressive person once I get in the ring. I’m really focused, and I am extremely determined when I fight. My opponents see my intensity and that becomes my intimidation factor.
What do you attribute your success and longevity as a fighter too?
I want to be the best at what I do. I’ve worked hard at that, being a ref and a fighter at my age is really difficult to do. I’ve also learned from the Carlson Gracie family, so that says a lot right there.
What makes Carlson Gracie so well-respected?
The basic techniques are so solid. It’s a very structured system and they make you a good fighter because they show you the moves over and again. They are the originators of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Best of the best!
Why should someone choose you as their trainer?
My passion for the art is my strength. I teach the fighter through my passion and focus. I’m a Carlson Gracie second-degree black belt, and that speaks for itself, but people don’t feel intimidated by me because I’m a black belt. I make them feel a part of the community at Emerald Smoke. I draw attention from everyone when I speak because my passion really comes through when I am in teaching mode.
Any other reason they would choose you as their trainer?
I’m one of the best fighters on the planet right now. I’m 41 years old and a world champion! I have the most Jiu-Jitsu titles in Chicago…nobody better than me. I also think it’s time that I build my own students into champions. I want to take what I learned at Carlson Gracie, what I learned as a fighter, and what I learned as a ref to build my own legacy. It’s time to write my own history! I want to be the best Jiu-Jitsu instructor in the U.S. Big time!
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