BJJ Seminar & Summer Grading: New School BJJ with Helio "Soneca" Moreira

The day started with 7 black belts
I recently had the pleasure & honour to attend Professor Helio Soneca's Summer Grading and seminar at Ernest Bevin College in Tooting, South London. The seminar was open to all and was immediately followed by New School BJJ's Summer Grading.

The Instructor

Helio Pires Moreira, aka Soneca, is a big deal. The man is a bit of a legend to be fair. He's one of the first black belt produced by the powerhouse Gracie Barra back in the old days. The NAGA, Brazilian Nationals- & Mundial champion has a lot to teach so when I heard he was coming over to London for the third time to teach and grade at his affiliate New School BJJ, I jumped at the opportunity. I mean, how many black belt do you know who started jiujitsu at the age of 8? Exactly!

The attendees

At a scan, I counted no less than 50 bodies on the mat with no less than 6 black belts (to start with), a host of brown and purple belts and lots of eager white and blue belts.

Since the seminar was linked to the Summer Grading, the vast majority of the attendees were students at New School BJJ's various locations around London.


Soneca gave an excellently thought out seminar on open guard attacks. It was very well structured, and all the techniques built on one another.

As much as he could, he tried to build in ample drilling time, which was appreciated by the attendees as it allowed him to walk around like a general and check everyone's technique, constantly monitoring and observing, helping, and fixing...and cracking jokes. The man was a nonstop machine!

It was clear that Soneca was very keen on the seminar attendees drilling correctly and only instilling the best of habits and movement patterns; the sign of a passionate and engaged instructor.


The overall atmosphere was pleasant. Not too serious, but not totally informal either. Soneca kept the whole crowd on their toes with his humor and old school stories and laser sharp attention to details. He had that special quality that great teachers have: They make everyone in attendance feel like it's their own private session with him.


As mentioned, Soneca's focus for the seminar was attacks from the open guard, but with a Soneca twist.

This meant that he had everyone start from the closed guard then  walked everyone, step by step, to the open guard from where we investigated sweeps, triangles and omoplatas and a bonus armlock that I'm still trying to get my head around.

While the first step of transitioning from closed to open guard may seem trivial to some, if you are a fan of detail-oriented jiujitsu like me, it was heaven.

Every grip, limb placement, shrimp motion, bridge...etc. was calculated and accounted for. It was clear to see we were in the presence of a teachers' teacher.


Every technique built upon itself in a logical order and what I mean by that is that as an observer, I was studying the techniques being taught and thinking: "This is brilliant! But when they do this?" and guess what Soneca showed? The solution the grappling question / situation I had in my head but never asked!

Soneca was very meticulous in guiding the room so everyone was drilling in one single direction and on one particular side: The Carlos Gracie side. This allowed him to quickly scan the room for mistakes and correct them promptly. I had seen this teaching technique employed by experienced world circuit seminar teachers such as Eddie Bravo and John B Will and I must admit, it works like a charm.

While I am sure he welcomed them, the seminar did not have a Q&A slot which I am sure had a lot to do with the time constraints. This is not uncommon when seminars are linked to gradings, especially a huge one like NSBJJ's Summer Grading.


Anyone who follows this blog will know the great people at New School BJJ hold a special place in my heart for many reasons. The main one is the environment they've succeeded to create and maintain at their school. While creating a jiujitsu hub of technical training and competition performance by any measure, they've established a healthy culture where anyone and everyone is welcome and made part of the family. This meant when belts were awarded, everyone was happy and proud and, yes, tears were shed.

It was great to see so many get awarded their blue belts and quite a few purples too (and even one very well deserved brown belt!) but all the eyes were tuned on the black belt gradings.

New School BJJ is a well established jiujitsu team already with multiple black belts on the mat at any random session but there had been a few 4-stripe brown belts that everyone had been eyeing with excitement. These were: Edward Margot, Leo Marcantonio & Nicky Robinson.

Ed's speech summed up everyone's feelings very well:

"Thank you to Soneca, Nicky & Tony (Head coaches) and of course to Felipe (De Souza, founder of BJJ School, the forerunner to New School BJJ) but not to forget, a big thank you to everyone who makes this school what it is".

As the happy day drew to a conclusion, a couple of enthusiastic friends rushed to hug and congratulate the new black belts. As I was walking towards the door I heard Nicky respond to being called "Professor" with the words:

"Friend and coach. That's all. On Monday, we get up and do it all again".

Photo credit to Dovile Francis --------------------------------------------------


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