From a cafe in Ipanema....
I left you last week as I just began my final week of training at Gordo JiuJitsu in Rio de Janeiro before the Rio Open JiuJitsu Championships. Ït is winter here, and although it can be very warm and sunny, last week was cold and rainy through Wednesday. Therefore, Monday through Wednesday consisted of eating, training, reading, Facebooking, sleep, REPEAT. Oh-- and of course the occasional indulgence of acai and chocolate brigadeiros. For the most of the week I trained 2-a-days, including the morning competition class and evening class, but planned to taper off to only the evening class by end of week.
The competition class was expectedly fast paced and included just the students competing in the upcoming Rio Open Championships, while the evening classes typically sees more black belts and a variety of training styles. The competition class is stomping grounds for the hungry fighters, ready to train from the feet and at a hundred percent pace and execution.
It was glorious when the sun began to show itself on Thursday, causing everyone to emerge from the house common room, donning bikinis, sangas (Brazilian Speedos) and big smiles. At the Connection Rio house, there are about 30 foreigners-- or "Gringos'' as we're called-- between the two houses, who come from all around the world to train jiujitsu. Anyone non-Brazilian is considered a gringo, so save yourself from being offended! At the moment, the U.S., Australia, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, England, Holland and Ecuador are just some of the countries the guests have traveled from to train the arte suave.
There is no typical person at this communal jiujitsu house-- some are here for light training and take in all the pleasures of Rio, some are here for intense training, but not necessarily to compete, and there are those professional BJJ/MMA athletes who are here to train and compete on a high level. There is even an American brown belt in the house who brought his 14 year old son down with him to train jiujitsu for a month-- now if that is not the most awesome dad in the world, I don't know what is?! I'm also not the only female in-house. Some of the females include a blue belt from Holland, a purple belt from DC, a purple belt from England--who is here competing like myself, and the house manager--the beautiful and sweet Melyssa. And shout out to the guys at the house too-- Sean, Owen (a Tosh.O look-a-like), Dom, Greg and David.
On Friday I had the privilege to train with a 3rd degree black belt for an hour straight roll. The train was less of a flow roll, as we were both attacking and sweeping aggressively. He knew I was preparing to compete and pushed the level. I was forced to play my best game and find the holes in my game he could capitalize on. I then trained for another hour with other colored belts before heading home to take notes, study how the train had gone and what to work on for the next day.
Saturday was Gordo’s popular ’open mat’ class. This class was packed to the walls with about 30-40 students, including 12 black belts. I had eight, 10 minute rounds, with 3 black belts, 2 brown, 1 purple and 2 blue. On Saturday night, many of the house guests went to the popular, Bar 399, near Pepe Beach in Barra to watch the UFC fights. It was my last night in Barra da Tijuca before my friends were to come & pick me up to stay with them at their apartment in Ipanema for the remainder of my stay. I gave my hugs and kisses to my new friends at Connection Rio and headed out to Ipanema late Saturday night.
I was connected with a place to stay in Ipanema through my teammates & friend back home, Alan, who is from the Rio area. I met Alan's cousin and girlfriend, Tiago & Mariana, on their trip to the San Francisco Bay Area last year. Tiago and Mariana generously welcomed me to their apartment in Ipanema for this week of the Rio Open. Tiago, a Brassa black belt, will also be competing at the championship.
We are just two blocks from the beach and we spent most of our Sunday at the praia (beach) , feasted at the the churrasco (Brazilian BBQ) and then went to the movies. While in Ipanema I have had the chance to tag along and watch Tiago train at Soul Fighters Academy in Tijuca. The team is led by Leandro Tatu Escobar. I counted 15 black belts in house that day, including Brassa fighter Felipe Costa, who came down to get in some cross training with the team. To put some more faces to the names of these academies, Soul Fighters is also the home of black belt champion, Augusto Tanquinho Mendes.
For this Monday and Tuesday on the week of the tournament, I wanted to train at the well regarded De la Riva Academy in Copacabana. The academy, like most jiujitsu academies in Rio, is located within a sports club. As you enter the gym, you immediately breathe in the humidity from the swimming pool that is on the underground level, just beneath the academy. The dojo room is small, covered in old beige and blue canvas and a narrow bench. The mat area is very firm, so I was happy I brought my thicker knee pads. De la Riva’s presence is friendly and humble. I am filled with gratitude to be in the academy of such an accomplished jiujitsu practicioner & instructor. A Carlson Gracie black belt since 1986, who is known for creating one of the most innovative guards in jiujitsu and now dons 8 degrees on his belt.
About a dozen black belts make their way in, bowing graciously to the head instructor and embracing him warmly. Everyone makes their way in by 415pm, informally scattering the mat for a brief warm up, brief technique/drilling and we are already off to sparring.
I first train with a female purple belt from France, who I come to learn is a judo black belt. De la Riva then pairs me with a blue belt girl, about my age, who is from Israel, and like me, is visiting Rio for the tournament. And in the last two rounds, I train with a De la Riva purple belt & then brown belt, who are roughly my size. It was pretty fun using some of my favorite "de la riva" variations in the presence of THE De la Riva himself! Because the class has almost 50 people in attendance and the area is small, we alternate training with one round spar, one round rest. You need the rest because of the heat from the packed room, mixed with the intense humidity. The atmosphere is calming, yet focused and competitive during training.
On Tuesday, I went for a nice walk around Ipanema before heading to the afternoon train. At class, De la Riva was attentive to the fact that I was competing this week and paired me accordingly-- it helped that he speaks good English and we could communicate easily. I had three light technical rolls for movement and game plan purposes. In house last night were my friends Dennis Asche; founder of ConnectionRio and first foreigner black belt under Gordo and Hywel Teague; producer behind the BJJ documentary site BJJ Hacks. Hywel is living in Rio, working with Dennis on creating a feature length BJJ documentary (non-profit) on the living Red Belts of JiuJitsu. OTM is a sponsor of the project. After class, we grabbed a couple agua de cocos (coconut water) from the corner juice bar and said our goodnights.
What an amazing last week and a half this has been. I'm fortunate to be living my dream of jiujitsu here in Rio.
I will compete tomorrow at 6pm in the female adult purple belt, featherweight division at the Rio International Open. I believe I am the only non-Brazilian and American in my division. I am excited for the challenge and ready to fight. I’m heading out to the beach now to relax and celebrate my birthday in this Cidade Maravilhosa. Tomorrow it is time for PORRADA! Hopefully we'll be celebrating the birthday and tournament in real Rio fashion this weekend!
Thank you for reading, Until next week. Tchau from Rio de Janeiro!