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Dubbed by many as the most beautiful jiujitsu gym in the world, Art of Jiu-Jitsu (AOJ) managed to bring a level of new kind of aesthetics to jiujitsu gyms. With its all-white theme with their instructors and team members wearing white gis and black rashguards, the Mendes brothers along with RVCA founder and jiujitsu black belt PM Tenore were able to set the bar high when it comes to running a high-end gym.
Inspired by RVCA’s Balance of the Opposites, this collaborative effort between the Mendes Bros and PM Tenore opened the doors of AOJ in 2012. But beyond the stylish environment, AOJ is home to many world champions in the lower belts while its heads Guilherme and Rafael Mendes had multiple championships in the light featherweight and featherweight divisions.
Both Guilherme and Rafael Mendes started jiujitsu at an early age. They started in Rio Claro in 2001 where they met Ramon Lemos and Leonardo Santos under Nova Uniao. They were both introduced to jiujitsu because their cousin Thiago Mendes was a purple belt under Leonardo Santos then.
Both brothers were gifted picking up the techniques and dedicated themselves to BJJ as full-time athletes. The brothers trained two times a day and improved their learning curve. It was also during this time when their parents split, leaving both brothers without a father figure. Their coach Ramon Lemos filled the void and stood as a father figure for the growing Mendes brothers.
Ramon Lemos taught the Mendes brothers values that built their characters. At purple belt, with no competition in nogi, Ramon Lemos made Rafael Mendes join the ADCC Brazilian Trials, which is one of the hardest places to get qualified. Rafael Mendes lost to Bruno Frazatto.
Rafael Mendes won the world championship from blue belt to brown belt in consecutive years before getting a bronze medal during his first year as a black belt in 2009. He’d later win his first world championship as a black belt in 2010.
Ramon Lemos gave Rafael Mendes and Guilherme Mendes their black belt in 2008. The brothers didn’t shy away from aiming towards the biggest tournaments as Rafael won the Jiu-Jitsu World Pro title and even won the ADCC title that year.
Rafael Mendes won the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world championship at black belt six times while Guilherme Mendes won the world championship at black belt four times. Both brothers retired during the peak of their careers.
The brothers had a great rivalry with some of the generation’s best light featherweight and featherweight competitors including Tanquinho, Cobrinha, and the Miyao brothers to name a few.
Break from ATOS
For quite some time, Atos Headquarters in San Diego and the Art of Jiu Jitsu gym in Costa Mesa weren’t exactly interacting with each other in terms of training. However, AOJ since 2012 represented Atos. Their goal was unified to compete against the Alliance team. However, rumors started when Mendes Brothers competitors started competing not under Atos but under AOJ in a big tournament during the IBJJF European Open in 2019. They did the same during the Fresno Open shortly after the Euros.
After all the rumors, Guilherme Mendes announced that they are no longer representing any association.
AOJ’s Rising Stars
Under the Believe and Achieve grappling scholarship, the Mendes brothers were able to bring a collection of tough and technical competitors that they were able to win big tournaments from blue belt up to brown belt.
One of the rising talents from the AOJ stable is Jonatha Alves. He is a black belt under the Mendes brothers who won major tournaments from blue belt to brown belt. He has won the IBJJF World Championship title as a juvenile and adult blue belt and also as a brown belt. He also won other major titles such as the Pans as a purple belt and brown belt.
Jonatha Alves had an exciting rivalry against Kennedy Maciel, Cobrinha’s son who is also now a black belt. On top of that, he was able to beat the black belt world champion, TLI’s Shane Hill-Taylor during the Spyder event in South Korea.
Another prominent name from the AOJ stable is Jessa Khan. Jessa Khan is a Cambodian-Mexican who started martial arts at an early stage. She won the juvenile world title on her division and the absolute division in 2016. She also represented Cambodia in the 2018 Asian Games where she won the gold medal in the 49kg ne-waza event.
Next, you also have Tainan Dalpra who started as a visitor at AOJ at age 13. There, he was able to finish his preparation for the Pan Kids. After the training camp, he decided to move to the US and join the AOJ competition team and train full time under the Mendes brothers. This move proved to be a good decision for Tainan Dalpra as he won all the 2016 and 2017 competitions that he joined. By 2018, he won double gold in every tournament in the adult division and was given the purple belt at the podium of the 2019 world championship. Tainan then later went on to receive his black belt on the Pan American podium in October 2020.
Other Notable Competitors Training Under AOJ
There were also a handful of known competitors today that had their brief stay in AOJ. Among those included the Ruotolo brothers who eventually moved to the Atos HQ in San Diego under Andre Galvao. And also, Mikey Musumeci and sister Tammi for a time trained under the Mendes brothers. In 2016, it was reported that Mikey and Tammi Musumeci were moving to Caio Terra’s academy where they both won World Championships at black belt.
The future is bright for AOJ and the Mendes brothers. They’ve followed an aesthetic that the BJJ community hasn’t seen before AOJ’s opening.
AOJ has a stable of world champion competitors that can potentially follow the path laid out by the Mendes brothers. Known for their unique and competition savvy approach in BJJ, we could be seeing alumni of the Believe and Achieve Program in the black belt divisions in the next few years.