Meet Alexandre Quintella, a fourth-degree black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu from Belém, Brazil, who offers free classes to law enforcement officers.

• Altering egos: “Police officers have a lot of ego, so they first need to admit what they don’t know and learn it.”

• A river runs through him: “The kids in America play with the PlayStation. When I was a boy, I played in the Amazon River.”

As the dozen law enforcement officers — from borough cops to federal agents — learned the techniques Brazilian jiujitsu instructor Alexandre Quintella taught them in his Folsom studio last month, their faces filled with an unmistakable emotion, one that cops rarely express.

Wonder.

Wonder at all they didn’t know. Wonder at all they could.

For years, Quintella, 49, has offered cops free Brazilian jiujitsu classes at his Quintella MMA studio in Delaware County, believing the martial art can save the lives of officers and the people they encounter.

But few officers took him up on his offer — until this year.

“Now, they are interested,” Quintella said.

Alexandre Quintella surveys area law enforcement officers as they practice the moves he's taught them in his free Brazilian jiujitsu class for cops.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Alexandre Quintella surveys area law enforcement officers as they practice the moves he's taught them in his free Brazilian jiujitsu class for cops.

As police officers have come under scrutiny after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, individual cops, and some departments, are seeking out jiujitsu training for its restraint and submission tactics.

“We don’t teach officer to be a fighter,” Quintella said. “We teach them how to control people without hurting people.”

While some Brazilian jiujitsu techniques involve choke holds, Quintella doesn’t teach those to the officers in his class. Instead, he shows them how to fall backward and how to get up; how to block a kick; what to do when someone grabs your wrist (or your gun); how to tire out an opponent; and how to use pressure points to gain submission.

In Brazilian jiujitsu (which means “gentle art” in Japanese), much of the training is focused on grappling on the ground and using pressure points to make a person submit, no matter their size.

Alexandre Quintella, standing, talks through Brazilian jiujitsu techniques he's taught area law enforcement officers at his Folsom studio.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Alexandre Quintella, standing, talks through Brazilian jiujitsu techniques he's taught area law enforcement officers at his Folsom studio.

When the 5-foot-7, 175-pound Quintella put a 6-foot-2, 300-pound federal agent in his class in an Americana lock, forcing the agent’s arm into an L shape on the ground, the agent tapped out in seconds.

“I’m going to go cry in my car,” he said. It was not clear if he was joking.

But more than physical skills, jiujitsu instills humility and confidence, Quintella said.

“Police in America sometimes think they are Superman because they have the badge and the uniform, but you are not Superman if you don’t have the knowledge,” he said. “Most police officers in America don’t really know how to defend themselves.”

Prospect Park Police Chief Dave Madonna, who has trained with Quintella since 2018 and put several of his officers through the course, said there’s “zero doubt” that he’s less likely to reach for a weapon now that he’s a blue belt in Brazilian jiujitsu.

“You think you’re a tough guy because you wear the badge and gun, but you quickly learn there are people who aren’t police officers that could easily take you down,” Madonna, 54, said. “As the training continues, you gain confidence, and that confidence is built from the humiliating experiences. It translates to life on the street.”

Prospect Park Police Chief Dave Madonna, who has trained in Brazilian jiujitsu for two years with Alexandre Quintella, watches as two of his officers take Quintella's free class for law enforcement.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Prospect Park Police Chief Dave Madonna, who has trained in Brazilian jiujitsu for two years with Alexandre Quintella, watches as two of his officers take Quintella's free class for law enforcement.

Quintella, a black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu, Shotokan karate, and muay Thai, was the first civilian to train police special forces in his hometown of Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon River.

“Back in the day, we had a lot of problems with police shooting people because they didn’t know what to do,” he said. “So when someone would try to fight them, they’d shoot.”

The connections he made through that training led the professional fighter to become a bodyguard for Brazilian politicians. Despite his success, Quintella’s only dream was to come to America.

In 2008, with $400 in his pocket, Quintella came to the United States, first to California and then to Wilmington, Del. He began teaching martial arts at a Brandywine Valley academy, while also cleaning houses and working as a bar bouncer.

For five years, Quintella worked those three jobs before he was able to open his first martial arts academy in 2013 in Norwood. He moved to his current location on MacDade Boulevard two years ago.

Quintella offers his free class to officers twice a month. Even though it’s the same class each time, many cops come more than once, and others have signed up for continued training with Quintella or at other area studios.

“If you ask me, ‘Why you do everything for free?’ For two reasons: One, because I am a smart man,” he said. “Two, because I want to give back to this country what this country gave to me.”

Alexandre Quintella demonstrates a Brazilian jiujitsu technique on one of the police officers in his class.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Alexandre Quintella demonstrates a Brazilian jiujitsu technique on one of the police officers in his class.

Madonna, the Prospect Park chief who’s turned many officers on to Quintella’s class, said cops have to take it upon themselves to pursue additional training.

“If you think you’re going to win some type of deadly encounter on the street by what you learned in the academy, you are wrong,” he said. “You need to invest time and money in yourself, and you can’t count on your police department to do it for you.”

As Quintella wrapped up his class for officers, he reminded his students that a badge doesn’t earn someone’s respect, a person does, and that they should always try to talk through a situation first.

“It’s smart versus strength, not strength versus strength,” he said.

Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you'd like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at sfarr@inquirer.com or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.

Want more We the People?

• An Airbnb stay in the Caribbean inspired Christa Barfield to create FarmerJawn CSA.

BL Shirelle was in a shootout with a cop at 18. Now she runs a record label for current and former inmates.

• Check out the full We the People archive here.