By Felix Rodriguez
One of the greatest benefits of training in Brazilian jiu jitsu is the opportunity to form deep, lasting, friendships with other students. These people begin as training partners, and then become teammates, friends and sometimes even family. When a student leaves an academy, more often than not these bonds of friendship tend to become strained, and even broken.
Most people who train in jiu jitsu have either heard someone refer to a former student that left their academy as a creonte or have used the term themselves in reference to an ex-training partner. The term creonte refers to a traitor and has become casually used to assign unequivocal fault to those who leave a jiu jitsu school. The word often serves as a defence mechanism that makes dealing with things easier, by not dealing with them. The reasons a student leaves hardly ever matter to those who are being left – he or she is labeled a traitor, a creonte. Case closed.
So where did this word originate, and how has its context evolved through the years? Jiu Jitsu Style wanted to find out the origins of the word so we went straight to the source. We talked to the founding members of Brazilian Top Team to understand how their departure from Team Carlson Gracie set the wheels in motion for Vitor Belfort to leave his original team and led to the creation of one of Brazilian jiu jitsu’s most well-known insults.
The Origins of the Term Creonte
Carlson Gracie, Sr. will forever be remembered as one of the greatest BJJ practitioners ever, due to his huge impact on the art both as a fighter and coach. The eldest son of Carlos Gracie Sr. and torch bearer of the family name following Helio’s retirement from competition, Carlson wasn’t just there in the beginning, he helped forge the path jiu jitsu is on today.
Carlson’s lineage is still going strong, and he is responsible for assembling what is perhaps the most formidable team of jiu jitsu competitors ever known. Aside from his famous team and his long list of accomplished black belt students, one of Carlson’s longest lasting contributions to jiu jitsu culture was perhaps an inadvertent one. He is the original source of the now-popular term creonte, which is used in BJJ as a derogatory label to single out and marginalise people who are perceived as lacking loyalty to their team and master.
Carlson first used the word creonte when referring to Vitor Belfort’s departure from Team Carlson Gracie to Brazilian Top Team. The term comes from a popular Brazilian soap opera that Carlson enjoyed, called Mandala. The show aired during 1987 and 1988 and featured a character named Creonte Silveira who became the basis for the term coined by Carlson. Brazilian actor Gracindo Junior portrayed the villainous character who constantly switched allegiances in order to save his own skin and come out on top, even if succeeding came at the expense of others. Carlson drew parallels between the soap opera’s self-serving character and his former prized pupil when Vitor left Carlson to train with his former teammates. He began referring to Vitor, and then anyone else who left his team, as a creonte. The word stuck and has become a common part of our jiu jitsu vocabulary. Since then creonte has become the choice term for referring to students who leave a school on bad terms.
The Big Break-up
When a student leaves a school after a conflict, the effects can be likened to those of a messy divorce where lines are drawn and people are forced to choose sides. The creation of Brazilian Top Team was the product of one of the worst divorces in jiu jitsu history.
A common misconception is that Murilo Bustamante, Mario Sperry, Ricardo Liborio and Luis Roberto Duarte left Team Carlson Gracie to form Brazilian Top Team. In reality BTT was formed out of necessity when miscommunications between Carlson Gracie and the students led to them being expelled from the team. Ricardo Liborio was one of Carlson’s most polished and well-regarded pupils before the separation. “I got kicked out. I never asked to leave. [Being expelled] was not what I wanted at all…It was something that I wish had never happened,” said Liborio.
The break-up that led to BTT and ATT’s founding was a product of miscommunication, pride and failed expectations. Liborio explained that Carlson, who was living in the US at the time, had asked his stable of fighters to sign a contract that entitled him to 30% of their fighter royalties. Fighters like Sperry, Bustamante, Liborio and Belfort all agreed to sign with the condition that Carlson came to help them prepare for their training camps 30 days before their fight date, and if he didn’t help prepare the fighters he would only receive a 10% fee. “Usually he used to come for the event itself and be there which is okay, but in the professional level in a certain way, it wasn’t what the guys needed,” said Liborio.
Murilo Bustamante was also deeply affected by the split. He noted about the end of his time under Carlson, “[he] was a great fighter, coach and amazing person, but unfortunately he wasn’t a good leader. We had a lot of disagreements inside the team among Carlson’s students that Carlson needed to do something about.” Murilo believes Carlson’s indecisiveness when trying to settle disputes within the team helped fracture their unity. When Liborio went straight from competing with Ricardo Arona in Abu Dhabi to cornering Murilo Bustamante in Japan, there was a final breakdown in communication, which led to the guys being expelled in the year 2000. Murilo Bustamante and Ricardo Liborio tried in vain to repair the relationship on several occasions, but Carlson had made up his mind, and they were no longer welcome.
Carlson felt betrayed by the men to whom he believed he’d given everything. The strained relationship between mentor and pupils also interfered with their relationships with old Carlson Gracie jiu jitsu teammates. “There were some teammates that were against us,” said Mario Sperry. “I know that, because I could feel it, and sometimes other fighters would tell me. I’ve never changed with nobody….. although, I knew people were upset with me, nobody ever disrespected me in any way.”
The situation only worsened when Vitor Belfort followed his former teammates to Brazilian Top Team in 2004. This was when the term creonte was officially born.
Martial artists feel bound by an unspoken oath of loyalty to their masters, and when things don’t work out between teacher and student, at least one of the parties is often left with an overwhelming sense of betrayal. The irony of the situation is that Carlson’s students actually followed in his footsteps by forging their own paths. Carlson was the first Gracie member to break from the private class format favoured by his father and uncle. Carlson separated from his uncle Helio’s academy and partnered with a financial backer in a failed first attempt to break out on his own, and then went on to establish his team as the most powerful of its time, perhaps ever.
The term creonte was created after a broken relationship led to severed personal and financial ties between Carlson and the founders of BTT. Unfortunately this term has carried over from its first use in Brazil and morphed into a term used to ostracise students ranging from world champions to suburban fathers who just needs to find a place to train closer to home. In reality, there are multiple reasons for leaving a school, some more conflict-based than others.
The nuances of these situations leave many questions about the appropriateness of the way the term creonte is used today. For example, is Keenan Cornelius really to blame for wanting to find a place to train with a more wholesome reputation? Is it fair to be mad at someone for trying to avoid driving an extra hour for training? A jiu jitsu relationship is like a family, so it’s hard not to take it personally when a teammate leaves. When someone on a team changes their patch, the tendency is to take this as a slight on the whole team. Students band together, in solidarity showing loyalty to their instructor and each other, because they would like to believe the problem is always with the “creonte.”
The Truth About Creontes
Although instructors appreciate loyalty above all, their schools’ success depends on student enrolment. Strong jiu jitsu teams not only admit brand new white belt students, but also BJJ practitioners who are new to the area or, for whatever reason, have had to leave their previous school. To complain about creontes leaving but accept the creontes of other academies is at best a double standard, but instructors will continue to do so, since their academies need these students in order to remain solvent. Given this reality, the old term seems out-of-context in the modern environment.
In a perfect world students would earn their black belts from the same instructor who introduced them to the sport. But in reality, life happens. The messy break-ups that led to the popularisation of this term also helped evolve the sport by leaps and bounds and facilitated the growth of jiu jitsu throughout the world. If it weren’t for Carlson leaving Helio there would be no Team Arrebentacao; if it weren’t for Murilo, Ricardo and Sperry leaving Carlson there would be no BTT. If it weren’t for Liborio leaving BTT there would be no ATT. Break-ups can be difficult and painful, but, in jiu jitsu, many of these breakups have allowed students to step out of the shadows of their masters and leave their own mark on the sport.
Issue 23, with cover star Rickson Gracie, is AVAILABLE NOW! See what’s inside HERE.