Ventura, CA- Located less than a mile away from the sunny beaches of Ventura, CA is Paragon Jiu-Jitsu led by the legendary Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller. Paragon Ventura is a 4,400 square foot BJJ training facility equipped with full locker rooms, fitness equipment and plenty of mat space to roll jiu-jitsu.
The meaning of Paragon (Par·a·gon) is a model of excellence or perfection of a kind; a peerless example. That is exactly how Ricardo Miller likes to run his jiu-jitsu academy, by setting an example for his BJJ students on and off the mats. Ricardo has been and still is very active in the BJJ / grappling competition scene, just recently taking home gold at the 2011 American Nationals in both the gi and nogi medium heavyweight senior 2 division.
[social][/social]Ricardo Miller did not start training jiu jitsu at very young age like many of his compatriots; he began training when he was 19 years old. Ricardo actually first got his start in the martial arts studying boxing and kickboxing. It was not until 1989 when a friend of his whom at the time was training under Romero “Jacare” Calvancati invited him to take a free class. Ricardo attended the class and never looked back, he was hooked.
At that time the academy was a small school, but full of future legends, like Fabio Gurgel and Alexandre Paiva. It was this [bjj][/bjj]small knit of teammates, brothers that forged an Alliance and a unity that transcended off the mats. They would train their conditioning together after class; everyone had each others back, bringing the team together like a family which is one of the philosophies of Alliance.
It was during his time training at with Jacare that Ricardo received his nickname “Franjinha” meaning little bangs. Ricardo had his haircut in a bowl style, which resembled that of a very popular Brazilian cartoon character in Turma da Monica, the main character was named Franjinha. He received the nickname from Fabio Gurgel’s brother , Fernando “Magrinho“ Gurgel. “In Brazil when you go in the school everyone has a nickname, nobody uses their real name and that was picked for me,” says Ricardo Miller.
Ricardo received his BJJ black belt in 1997 from Jacare just a couple of months after winning gold at the 1996 Mundials as a brown belt. This was a culmination of hard work and dedication paying off for Ricardo. But there was also another person who inspired and influenced Ricardo, that man was Alexandre Paiva, he took Ricardo under his wing and helped guide him. “Alexandre Paiva was pretty much my step dad at the academy. Like in Brazil a lot of times when you start a couple of the higher belts they adopt you and Alexandre adopted me in the academy. He kind of take me to the side show me a lot of stuff. I think a lot of my game comes from him you know and also from Fabio too, I learned a lot from Fabio and Jacare for sure,” says Ricardo.
Ricardo moved to California in 1997 a little after being awarded his BJJ black belt, at that time he was teaching at Fabio Gurgel’s academy in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He moved to California looking for a new challenge. Fabio’s jiu-jitsu school was well established and since he was Fabio’s main instructor, he did not want to open another academy close to Fabio’s or in another city. With the encouragement and support from his wife to go ahead to open a school in another country and learn a different culture, Ricardo made the move to Santa Barbara, CA. “I came to Santa Barbara to compete at the 1996 Pan Ams and I loved Santa Barbara. I went back to Brazil and I said man I need to try to go back there. I told my wife lets go back, lets go stay 1 year there, if something wrong happens we can come back,” says Ricardo.
When Ricardo and his wife moved to Santa Barbara they didn’t speak any English, his wife was pregnant and he did not have any sponsors to help him open his academy. So he had to work multiple jobs, delivering pizza, construction and a moving company. He later began working out of La Casa de La Raza, a local Mexican community center in Santa Barbara where he would teach Jiu Jitsu to a couple of guys.
After out growing the space in the community center Ricardo started teaching Jiu Jitsu at a local boxing gym, from there he went on to open his first school which he named Insight. He ran the school with Leonardo Branco and Eduardo Luna, but they later decided to go back to Brazil. Unfortunately Ricardo’s tourist visa was about to expire and would have to move back to Brazil as well. This was 1 ½ years of being in America on a tourist visa. One of his students at the time, Michael Florindi, did not want his Professor to leave, he had fallen in love with Jiu Jitsu and wanted to keep learning from Ricardo, so he asked what he could do to help him stay.
“We went to the lawyer, the lawyer told him he needs to open a business for me and he could sponsor me and I could work for him. That’s how Paragon came about, like Michael Florindi he went there with wife and they open Paragon, they hired me as the head instructor He‘s pretty much my God father here in America. He helped me financially to open the business, he went to the bank to get the loan for me and open the business for me,” says Ricardo.
When the school was first opened in 1998 they did not have a name until one day Michael’s wife brought up the name Paragon, she explained to Ricardo what the meaning of Paragon was and Ricardo the fact that it was a short but strong word that was not commonly used by people. He also had to come up with a new name as he could not operate under the Alliance banner at that time. “Because when I moved here I was working for Fabio in Sao Paulo, he kind of got a little upset that I was moving out, so he kind of told me that I could not use the Alliance BJJ name here. I kind of had a little friction time with him at that time and I think I need to choose another name, that’s why I picked Paragon. But after many years we talked again and I became Alliance again,” explains Ricardo.
Ricardo has gone on to successfully grow and expand Paragon having 2 of his own schools and 6 affiliated schools in California and one in Texas. Ricardo personally handles Paragon BJJ Santa Barbara and Ventura, but also has the help of his black belt students. There is Paragon Santa Clarita run by one of his black belts Sean Conley, Paragon Agoura Hills which is run by one of Ricardo’s most popular black belts, Bill “The Grill” Cooper. You also have Paragon Santa Maria ran by another of Ricardo’s black belts Lance Glynn. Paragon Lompoc is ran and operated by Bill Stallworth and Dr. Bernard Weinstock also black belts under Ricardo. Then you have Paragon Hollywood which is ran by Sean Apperson and Sean Patrick Flannery, Apperson is a black belt under Ricardo, while Flannery is a black belt under Shawn Williams. Ricardo’s Texas affiliate is ran and operated by black belt Darren Lillian.
“Today at the Paragon family I think pretty much everyone that runs a school they are my students from blue belt over, actually most of the guys were white belts when they started with me and got their black belt from me. I motivate people that like the sport to have their own business. So they associate with me, but pretty much they operate by their own honor, so I always motivate my students to go out and open their own schools, if they want to keep my skills and stuff like that, they go by their honor,” says Ricardo.
Not only has Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller created one of the most highly regarded bjj schools in America, he has also produced some of the best American Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts in America as well. He helped produce Tyron Glover who is currently under contract with MFC, Bill “The Grill” Cooper who is making waves fighting for Strikeforce, Jeff Glover who just took third at ADCC 2011 by submitting Jiu Jitsu legend Robson Moura. Another of Ricardo’s black belts who is not from America, but has been making a name for himself in America since getting his black belt in 2010 is Milton Bastos, who took home Silver at the American Nationals in both the gi and nogi competition.