The Journey to Black Belt – Interview with McAllen’s own Luis Rubalcava
It doesn’t feel like that long ago when it seemed like there were only a handful of black belts teaching around the state – luminaries like Eric Williams, Tony-Torres Aponte, Alvis Solis and others in Houston along with Clay Pittman in Lubbock, William Vandry and Phil Cardella in Austin, and of course guys like Travis Lutter and Carlos Machado – the state’s original BJJ black belt out in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Nowadays it seems like there are good black belts to train with all over Texas with the quality of their instruction trickling down to the lower belts as well.
This growth has been evident with the ever-increasing quantity of statewide BJJ competitions serving as a proving ground for competitors at all events. And this new breed of Texas competitors has been able to do some amazing things at the national and international level in recent times as well.
One of those born and bred Texas BJJ competitors is a guy by the name of Luis Rubalcava out of South Texas.
If you don’t know Luis by name chances are you’ve at least seen him competing as he’s been a regular on the mats for years. Through it all he’s won plenty of medals including numerous podium appearances at some of the majors.
Last Saturday Luis also received his black belt as well, courtesy of Alliance’s Romero “Jacare” Cavalcante.
In light of this amazing accomplishment, we reached out to speak to Mr. Rubalcava to get some insight on his amazing journey and what’s got planned for the future.
Interview – Luis Rubalcava (Arsenal BJJ)
Luis, congrats on getting your black belt last weekend! How did it feel hitting this milestone and receiving that disctinction from Jacare?
It felt like a huge honor to be belted from such a legend in Master Jacare who has coached and been involved with the greats of this sport. The guy has been a black belt for 32 years! He is an amazing coach but also an even greater person who enjoys teaching his students and spreading Jiu-Jitsu.
Tell us a little bit about your BJJ journey. When and why did you start and what led you to this point?
I started in 1999 at a small gym in McAllen but the guy closed up shop when he started a family in 2000. I didn’t train again until July 2006 when I worked at the Texas Youth Commission and wanted to take Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense to help with my job as a juvenile correctional officer. Jiu-Jitsu took over my life. I’ve never stopped since. After I quit TYC I started this academy inside of Gold’s Gym that I’ve built up to what I have now – just at around 100 students with a bigger faculty of 4,400 square feet. Jiu-Jitsu is my profession now full-time. This is what I’ve chosen to do with my life.
Earning a BJJ black belt is no easy thing. What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way as a competitor trying to get there.
The training partners willing to cross-train in my geographic area is small compared to the big cities and most don’t compete so it’s challenging when others don’t cross train like they do 0n say in Dallas, Houston, or Corpus as much. I learned quickly to make do with my students and whoever was willing to stop in and train. So if I get people that stop by my gym I always feel blessed to have that happen. I learned to adapt and still make training with my students challenging to get ready for competition, and constantly improve to this day. People in my area use to believe that living here handicapped them from being a champion, and it was normal to hear people say they “did good, for the valley.” I proved those non-believers wrong by winning at every belt color and at the biggest tournaments. Training is what you make of it regardless of where you live or what you have.
How does BJJ fit into your overall life?
BJJ has changed and shaped my life considerably. I was completely unhealthy until Jiu-Jitsu changed all that years ago and I am blessed to be able to share that with others daily. I do Jiu-Jitsu every day, therefore it is my life.
You compete quite a bit. How do think that’s helped your development?
I have competed since white belt. I never stopped. Once I became a blue belt I just went for it. I still compete to this day and that constantly allows me to stay updated with modern Jiu- Jitsu. I also believe it’s a great learning tool to know what works and what can be improved by putting it to the test. I owe my growth to constantly competing therefore evolving my game and develop my understanding of what is possible. Just go for it is my opinion. Don’t be afraid to succeed or fail because only through trying it against competition will you know for sure what works.
What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of up to this point?
I have six pan am medals (blue belt, purple belt, brown belt) 3 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze. I have a bronze from the 2012 world championships, 1 gold Nogi world championships (purple belt), 1 silver the open class Nogi worlds, gold at the Abu Dhabi Trials in Las Vegas, and I am an American Cup absolute winner.
Aside from training you coach too right? Tell us about your academy.
I teach at Arsenal Jiu-Jitsu/ Alliance Edinburg we are located on Trenton and Mcoll (next to Wingstop and Walmart) at 4031 south McColl road Edinburg Texas 78539. We teach morning, mid-day, and afternoon classes for adults, kids, and law enforcement. I have just over 100 students, we have a 4,400 square foot academy, and we welcome anyone to stop by if they are in town.
What’s more rewarding – winning or coaching others to the win?
I would say coaching is very rewarding because you see what they put in and to see them succeed. Winning feels great though…
What’s the near future hold for you? Now that you’re a black belt, what now?
I plan to bring more championships home and continue to help my students achieve their goals. I will continue to build champions. We are the only academy in my area to have 8 Pan-Am medals and 8 medals from the World Championships but hard work and dedication is key with great people. I enjoy being part of the entire process. Of course I expect to continue to be successful on the mats in competition though I know it’s not going to be easy, that’s the point.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank that’s been a part of your journey to black belt?
I want to thank all those people that have ever helped me in training, competing against me, taught me, coached me, and drilled with me. Master Romero “Jacare” Calvacante, people like my great friend Aurelio Gallegos, Paragon black belt in Corpus Christi, who was always there to guide me and coach me when I had no coach as far back as I can remember. Marcelo Garcia for showing me great Jiu-Jitsu early in my Jiu-Jitsu career (a lot that I still use today), Cobra Kai Las Vegas: Sim Go, Sonny Nohara, Chris Holdsworth, Pat “the Hawk” Hardy who got me started in this as my first coach, Carlos Diego Ferreira, Fred Reyes from Paragon Laredo who always exchanged ideas and techniques with me, my students and my amazing wife Kim. Steve Garcia who believed in me and got me teaching. My sponsor Hyperfly Gi (www.DoOrDie.com), my students, and many more!
How can people get a hold of you if they want to sponsor you or train with you?
They can email me at lrubalcava2002@yahoo(dot)com.
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