A Regional Jiu-Jitsu Profile Part 7: Pablo Castro of Strong Style Brasa

Over the past several months, we’ve released several articles looking at some of the jiu jitsu academies/gyms in Northern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Throughout this regional series we’ve looked at academies that came up in areas that had no other academies, academies that came up with various forms of competition and academies that formed in unusual environments.

What about a jiu jitsu team that formed within the walls of one of the best MMA gyms in the country? I’m talking about Strong Style Brasa, a team of which I am a member. I had an opportunity to chat with my coach, Pablo Angel Castro III about his experience establishing an accomplished jiu jitsu team in the same building that produced current UFC fighters Stipe Miocic and Jessica Eye, amongst many other highly regarded mma fighters both past and present.


First a bit about Pablo’s background:

“I started wrestling when I was around 10 years old or so and started BJJ around 1998/99 with Craig Cramer’s Royce Gracie Academy. I excelled quickly as Royce gave me my Blue belt after training 6 months. I then started competing around 2001where I won my first tournament Relson Gracie Nationals in Columbus. I started to train at Chris Blanke’s school around 2003, with Saulo and Xande Ribeiro. The distance of that academy made it very difficult to continue with them, as they were located in Toledo. I had my own academy until I joined with Marcus Marinelli and Strong Style around 2004/2005. I met Comprido through Deon Thompson around 2007. We became a Brasa Affiliate shortly thereafter. I was honored by my friend and mentor Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros with my black belt in February 2012 and I went on to win the no gi worlds later that year, defeating legendary opponents like Jackson McVicker and Cleber Luciano Costa. I am currently a first degree Black belt under Comprido.”

As a former college professor, a magistrate in Cleveland Municipal Court and a current candidate for Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge; Pablo brings a well rounded and diverse skill-set in his lessons and on the mat.  On top of that, he’s an accomplished competitor with numerous tournament wins under his belt, and a knowledgeable and technical practitioner.  Pablo’s role as Strong Style’s jiu jitsu coach afforded him an opportunity to build his own jiu jitsu team, a separate entity as part of the Strong Style family. I was interested to learn about the difficulties that he faced when developing his jiu jitsu program.


“The biggest difficulty was also an advantage. There were not that many places to train back then, so you couldn’t just join into an academy that fit. It was at one place or another, or on your own. However, the fact that there were not many places to train back then made it easier to start up my own place. Credibility is crucial when starting an academy that people want to go and train. Unlike the West Coast and even the East Coast, there were not that many places at which to compete without dealing with the heavy burden that a trip to California for an IBJJF or equivalent. When I first started at Strong Style, they focused mainly on no gi, shoot fighting, catch wrestling, etc… I started to focus my teaching to accommodate that in the beginning, however as my classes grew, it wasn’t much time till I was able to transition some of the classes to gi, and then eventually focusing on formal BJJ gi classes on their own. I brought in students from my own academy, and I inherited Strong Style’s fighters as well. Building a gi class was not too difficult. I just had to give students a taste, and the rest took care of itself. We went from 20 plus students in no gi, with only around 5 students in the gi, to currently at times almost 50 people in gi class. If you have a great product, all you have to do is have people try it, and the rest will take care of itself for the most part.”

By the time Pablo established his team, there were other Jiu Jitsu “products” emerging in surrounding areas, and while the market wasn’t as jam packed as it is today, I was interested in seeing what if any struggles he had with other schools around the general area.

“Other schools did not really hinder anything, in fact they indirectly helped. There’s an old philosophy known as the “Prisoner’s dilemma” which is that the mentality of hurting others’ situation to better your own never really works. I think that the fact that other schools are in the neighboring area helps promote the product of BJJ, and everyone can pick their own brand, whichever team fits them. I really appreciate loyalty, and I have never asked anyone to come to my gym instead of another’s. However, everyone is welcome to cross train with us, and help promote this beautiful life of jiu jitsu of ours. I have been around so long that some of my competition’s instructors are former students of mine, or have at one time trained and learned something from me. Our mortality ensures that we will all die one day; however, we become immortal by what we leave on this world. The memories, accomplishments, helping others, being significant in someone’s life and/or helping oneself. I am most content when I see someone share an idea, technique, or philosophy of mine. Whether they write an article about something I taught them, or share a technique I showed them. Regardless if they have given me credit or not, my spirit will live on.”

Anyone who has ever been in one of Pablo’s classes will tell you that the way he teaches, carries himself and runs his program has some unique qualities. Every instructor has their own “brand.”

“BJJ is a journey. Yes some do come and go, however, if you invest in that journey, you invest in yourself and in life. My “brand” of BJJ is a vehicle used to travel on that journey. My brand is my brand, it works for many, but some may be comfortable where they are at, or started there first and are loyal to that “brand.” We are a BJJ Academy. Yes we do have MMA, and many are misinformed that they both are one and the same. However, Our BJJ team has now made a name for itself, even under the shadow of our very successful MMA program. That credit goes to the team and students. as I said earlier, credibility is key. “The Proof is in the pudding,” our guys are very successful at what they do. We are a team the competes. Either we compete at tournaments or we compete with our own personal goals. We are also a team that wins. Winning includes, but is not limited to standing on a podium with medals around our necks. We have stories on our team that surpasses any World Championships I could win, such as battling obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, self esteem, and respect and this list goes on.”

Pablo has nothing but good things to say about our regional scene

“I love our region of BJJ. We continue to grow and learn. However, now people are starting to notice. Many feel that the failure of another gym means more opportunity for them. I disagree, each and every school out there has their own responsibility to help nurture our BJJ in the region and with that we all benefit.”

Pablo had a short list of shout outs to close out this article

“I would like to give a shout out to the Strong Style Brasa BJJ team, MMA Team, and all those who have learn from me as well as taught me. Comprido, and all my Brasa Brothers throughout the world. To Cleveland, Ohio, and the Midwest regional BJJ community. And everyone who has supported me and our team.”


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