From Ribeiro With Love: Sharing the Blades in Moscow and Worldwide

Saulo Ribeiro, Kristian Cestaro (Ribeiro Moscow), and Rodrigo Pagani (Director of Ribeiro Brasil–photo personal archive

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the youngest and fastest growing martial arts in the world.  Each of us who puts on a gi and studies the art created and spread by Carlos and Helio Gracie and their children is only a few generations away from the source.  In America, BJJ is barely 25 years old.  It’s hard to imagine that less than a decade ago, there was no jiu jitsu (as we know it) in Russia.  Even today, there are only about 400 participants and a handful of black belts in the country.   I am lucky today to speak with some of the leaders of rapid growth that Russia is seeing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the one and only Saulo Ribeiro, Rodrigo Pagani who serves as the Director of Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu in Brazil, Kristian Cestaro black belt under Pagani who leads Ribeiro Moscow and Stas Vasharvsky, one of Professor Cestaro’s up and coming champions.  This past summer, Professor Pagani travelled from Niteroi to Moscow and taught the Ribeiro Professor’s Course and held seminars at Professor Cestaro’s school.

Todd:  First off gentlemen, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules teaching and traveling to speak with me and PullingGuardZine.  Saulo, I’d like to start with you and ask that you tell us a little about your current goal and plan with jiu jitsu.  I’ve heard you speak often of developing a ‘legacy’ for Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu.

Saulo Ribeiro–Since I left my home and my family I always knew I would have an important mission with Jiu Jitsu.  No matter what, I embraced the mission of spreading Jiu Jitsu throughout the world and to touch people with the Samurai Way, sharing the moral values that are foundation of the real person.  I am doing this by traveling the world and planting the seeds of Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu personally, as well as working with my brother Alexandre to give the BJJ Library ( to the world.  This is our gift to all of our current and future students.  It is a way for them to learn and understand the fundamentals and values of Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu whenever it is convenient for them.

Todd:  Saulo, what does it mean to bring Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu to the world and Russia specifically?

Saulo Ribeiro:    We are never looking for the best students.  We are always looking for the right students.  This goes with new academies as well.  Russia has always been a dream to us.  Since I fought Sasha (Alexander Savko) in ADCC, I have been fascinated with the “cold blooded” personality of the Russians.  I fell in love with their toughness, resilience, simple manners, strong minds and believe it or not, their sense of humor.  I grew up with that image of “Ivan Drago” from Rocky IV!  The real challenge was who would we trust for our Russian mission?  Kristian Cestaro answered that question for us!  He is a student of Rodrigo Pagani and a man of honor who has all of the tools to make the first Russian World Champion for Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu.

Todd:  Professor Pagani,  tell us a little bit about your background and how you became part of the Ribeiro mission in Russia.

Professor Rodrigo Pagani demonstrates his patented “Curu Curu” guard at a seminar–photo by personal archive

Rodrigo Pagani:  I started jiu jitsu when I was 15 years old under Gracie Niteroi and my teachers Caique Elias and Royler Gracie.  I was with the Ribeiro Family years before Saulo went to America, because I was his student at Gracie Tijuca in 1997.  Saulo showed me how to be a winner.  He taught me how to compete.  I’ve seen alot of jiu jitsu in my life from the Gracies, where I learned alot, but it was Saulo who really made me a winner in competitions and in life.  For the last 18 months I’ve taken on a new role as the Director of Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu in Brasil.  Before this, I had never done anything but be a BJJ Competitor (author’s note:  3X World Champion).  Now I’m trying my best to improve the Association in Brasil and also Russia.  One of my students Kristian Cestaro (the Giant of the Seven Blades) had been living in Russia for 3 years already and it was decided that we take the Ribeiro Professor’s Course to Russia.  We had an amazing seminar where people drove up to 8 hours from all over to be at the seminar and learn Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu.  They are very nice people, but jiu jitsu is very young but they have dedication and strength, so I know that they will grow and improve fast just BJJ in the US.

Todd:  Professor Cestaro,  tell us a bit about your background and what it means to be the main representative for Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu in Russia.

Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu Moscow led by black belt Kristian Cestaro–photo by personal archive

Kristian Cestaro:  I started Jiu Jitsu late after my physical education studies in Brazil.  I met Professor Pagani and formed a great friendship with him.  He helped me in difficult times, when I had no money for training, giving me private lessons and introduced me to the Gracie family for additional training.  Professor Pagani is a phenomenal athlete and teacher, especially in his ease of detecting small mistakes.  He pays close attention to detail which to me makes the difference and has made him the teacher I’ve learned the most from in BJJ.  Jiu Jitsu is so young in Russia but growing rapidly.  Three years ago, I believe I was the first Brazilian to come and stay.  Today we have great representatives from Alliance, BTT, Gracie Barra and now Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu.  The Russian culture has plenty of talent, but right now there is a lack of competition, support and sponsorship.  Things are much more expensive here.  With our Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu efforts, you will see the fruits of our labors within 10 years surely.  I am confident of that.

Todd:  Thank you also Stas for taking the time with me today.  Tell us about your background and how you’ve quickly established yourself as one of Professor Cestaro’s most accomplished purple belts.

Stas Vasharvsky:  I’ve been involved with Judo and Sambo since 2009 and started jiu jitsu in 2011.  At that time we didn’t have a good instructor in my city.  In February of 2011 I heard from a training partner about some “big Brazilian guy” teaching jiu jitsu.  Two days later I went to meet Professor Cestaro and haven’t stopped training since.  In the summer of 2012, I also went to Niteroi to train with Professor Pagani.  That camp in preparation for the Rio Open that year changed me dramatically.  Today I train twice a day, six days a week to achieve my goals.  So far my main achievements are 2X Euro No Gi Champion and European Gi Medalist.  I am currently preparing for the London International Open which will be my debut at purple belt.  I plan to have a big year in 2014.


Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu Moscow’s Stas Vasharvsky at home on the competition mats–photo by personal archive

Todd:  Stas and Professor Cestaro, I applaud your efforts building the Ribeiro brand in Russia.  This question is for everyone.  What advice would you give people who are interested in Jiu Jitsu who maybe aren’t able to access black belt instruction?

Saulo Ribeiro:  For the ones we cannot reach yet, I would recommend you start to study through our BJJ Library ( so you will build you jiu jitsu with a strong foundation and we will not have to fix much when we meet!  Other than that, if you love jiu jitsu as much as we do, get closer and when I look into your eyes I will see my next pupil!  Oss!

Rodrigo Pagani:  BJJ is spreading so we’re coming closer to everyone!  Always respect your academy and masters.  Train BJJ to be happy and healthy foremost.  Always follow your dreams and never give up.  If you become a champion of the hard situation you will make money as a consequence.

Kristian Cestaro:  Don’t give up and believe in yourself.  It is a great honor to be part of this family and learn the best jiu jitsu in the world.  Do whatever you can to train, like I did when I had no time and had to work and study all the time, I still made time.

Stas Vasharvsky:  My best advice is to find a school, travel if you have to.  Build a school if you don’t have one, invite a black belt (preferably under Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu haha).  Try to find a group of people who are also interested in training real jiu jitsu, collect money and get a black belt instructor to come help.

Todd:  Any final thoughts gentlemen?

Saulo Ribeiro:  Thank you.  Strength and honor to everyone with a passion for jiu jitsu!  Oss!

Rodrigo Pagani:  Thank you.  Be happy!  Oss!

Kristian Cestaro:  I am honored to have such great students.  We have many that have been highlighted in major competitions such as Mikhail Pogodin, Stas, Alexander Fedotov, Alexander Turtygin, Lena Zenkevich, Dima Big Head and many others.  Thank you!  Oss!

Stas Vasharvsky:  I just want to thank God, my Mom, my family and friends and my team for helping me live this life.  I’m nobody and nothing without all of you!  I also would like to thank FIGHTWEAR.RU for being my sponsor.  I especially want to thank General Saulo Ribeiro, Captain HyperFly Xande and Rodrigo Pagani, along with Professor Cestaro!




Todd Shaffer

Todd Shaffer

Todd is a 41 year old, purple belt in Jiu Jitsu under John Rozzi and Saulo Ribeiro and a white belt in most other things.
Todd Shaffer

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