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katana
7/27/2004 8:48pm,
Summary

I just got back from my trip to Brazil to compete in the 2004 Mundials (World Championships). This was my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament and I had a great time. Rio is an interesting city and the BJJ crowd is as well. Read more for information and photos.

Background

Iíve been training now in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) for about eight months about 3-6 days a week and recently obtained my Blue Belt under Phil Cardella and Relson Gracie at the Austin Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy (http://www.austinjj.com). Phil had been talking about what a great time they had going down to Brazil for the 2003 Mundials (BJJ World Championships) the previous year. So about four weeks ago I decided to make the trip and fight along with several other teammates.

My Plan

Now the Mundials are put on by the Brazilian Jiujitsu Confederation (http://www.cbjj.com.br). This tournament features the best grapplers in Brazil. In fact the Brazilians who actually are in this tournament had to qualify to even be there. They are local, state, and national champions at Blue, Purple, Brown, and Black Belt level in all weight categories. As a foreigner coming in to participate I automatically get into the tournament as long as Iím a Blue Belt or better in BJJ.

Just so you get this straight, letís review my plan:

1) Iíve never entered a BJJ tournament before.
2) Iím a brand new Blue Belt who will be competing against champion BJJ competitors from Brazil.

Sounds like a great plan doesnít it? I thought so to. Now that you understand letís get to the details.

The City of Rio

Like all martial arts, BJJ was heavily influenced by its environment. At the risk of simplifying the complex issues that Brazil faces, let me give you a little insight into Rio as a foreigner. I think itís important to understand the environment where BJJ came from to understand why it evolved so well for fighting.

I apologize to any Cariocas (Rio Citizens) who think Iím skewing life in the city. I only spent a little over a week there and only went where our Brazilian friends would take us. Iíll only report on my own observations and will try not to generalize.


Rio Ė Beauty and Poverty

Rio is a city with over 13 Million people living in and around it (Los Angeles is around 3.6 Million and New York City around 8.0 Million). In otherwords, itís huge. About 20% of the population live in shantytowns called Favelas that cover many of the hillsides:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=bac4.jpg

The Favelas are communities where the very poorest residents built homes into densely packed blocks. The blocks are made of basic bricks and mortar with makeshift water tanks on the roof to supply running water. While the Favelas looks very dirty and run down during the day, at night the Favelas cover the hillsides in a blanket of glittering lights that looks rather pretty (almost like Christmas lights covering trees). I thought the contrast was interesting.

The downtown area of Rio looks much like any major city with high rises, hotels, shops, and lots of people going about their business and of course the beautiful beaches:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=7f9f.jpg
http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=ad08.jpg

The buildings near the beaches are very clean and modern. Shops and businesses abound as youíd expect with most modern conveniences youíd find in any large city including the standard American goodies (McDonaldís, Blockbuster Video, etc.).

Rio - Crime

Rio has a huge crime problem. Itís not as bad as it was a few years ago, but it is very dicey in many places. Iím not going to go to much into this as you can read more about it on the Internet (http://travel.state.gov/travel/brazil.html). They say about 20% of the population is well below the poverty level and crammed into the Favelas on the hillsides. When you have such a high density of very poor next to the relatively well off youíre going to have problems. The favelas are largely controlled by drug gangs where shootouts between rivals and the police are common as well as your standard fare of robberies, beatings, and stabbings. According to our Brazilian guides, most of the favelas do not have a police presence at all and are patrolled by teenaged enforcers with automatic weapons. Good times for all.

Since we were with locals who knew the area and wouldnít take us to any place that is known to be unsafe I never felt threatened. Walking around during the day in the crowded areas I felt fine. Walking alone in downtown Rio at night (or even with a group of friends) is said to be very risky (as it is with any big city). Going into the Favelas is suicide for a foreigner unless you are on an authorized Favela tour where arrangements have been made to ensure safe passage.

At night everyone ran the red lights. Thereís nothing like flying down the roads of Rio running red lights to get your attention. Why do they do this? Well from the hours of 10PM to 6AM itís permitted to run red lights to prevent robberies at intersections while waiting for the light to change.

I donít mean to paint Rio in a bad light. I happened to really like the city, but it does have its problems. I mainly bring this subject up so the next time someone says that BJJ doesnít work on ďThe StreetĒ you can ask them to take a walk around Rio at night and try out what they know instead.

Brazilians

The Brazilians we hung around with were incredibly friendly and very funny. They were very welcoming and always ready to help. They really liked the fact that so many of us were coming down to their country to go to their tournament. They would often smile and practice their English with you once they found out you were American. Also Brazilians really know how to eat. Beef in Brazil works out to about USD $2-3 a pound. That means you can eat a lot of steak really cheap. We went to many Brazilian BBQ restaurants. They keep bring out skewers of food until youíre about to burst. The Sushi was also excellent. I canít say enough of the hospitality we received. The Brazilians really were a fun bunch.

Continued...

katana
7/27/2004 8:49pm,
BJJ Training Ė The Relson Gracie and Daniel Moraes Wrecking Crew

Relson Gracie (8th Dan and 22 time undefeated national champion of Brazil) was present each day we trained. Not only was Relson in Brazil with us, but he frequently flies in from his home in Hawaii to Austin, TX to host seminars at the Austin academy. Relsonís thinking revolves around BJJ and sport fighting. His technique is solid and bone crushing and his stories from his days at the Gracie schools in Rio are always fun to hear. Relson knows the results of virtually any grappling or NHB competition as well as the current fighters, their techniques, the counters, and evolving strategies. As always, Relson watched everything and quickly corrected mistakes and demonstrated techniques methodically so they were done correctly. Relson would also spend lots of time with the team by hanging out and cooking BBQ with us or joining us for dinner and lunches.

We trained at the Iate Clube Jardim Guanabara (Jardim Yacht Club). Our host was Daniel Moraes who is a BJJ blackbelt under Royler Grace/Marcelo Clemente and has the following accomplishments (in respective weight class):

2004 Mundial Jiu-Jitsu Champion (Congrats again Daniel!)
2003 Mundial Jiu-Jitsu Champion
2003 Abu Dhabi Brazilian Trials
2003 Rio State Championships
2003 Winner Dale Earnhart Classic Super Fight
2003 Arnold Schwartzeneger World Martial Arts
Championships 2nd Pro No Gi
2002 Pan-Ams Champion
2001 Pan Ams Champion
2000 Pan Ams Champion
2000 World Champion

Daniel is an exceptional grappler and good friend of Phil Cardella. Daniel often comes to Austin for weeks at a time to train at the academy and welcomed us to his training facility out at the yacht club. The yacht club had a Japanese style pagoda with lots of mat space, climbing rope, punching bag, and chin up bars. It was also located right on the beach:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=bd4f.jpg
http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=aaa2.jpg
http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=5c69.jpg
http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=2ea0.jpg

Each day we trained Daniel would bring over an assortment of other Black Belts, Brown Belts, and a couple Purple Belts from Marcelo Clementeís academy. The assortment contained a number of former BJJ state and national champions in their respective divisions. Saying that these guys were good would be an understatement. Their jiu-jitsu was simply outstanding. We would spend a couple hours a day training and working on new or problem techniques. A few of them spoke English, but what couldnít be expressed in words could be shown very clearly on the mat. We had multiple sparring sessions and had a chance to witness movement and techniques that really arenít present in the US. Likewise we exchanged some techniques they hadnít seen before too. The skill level from the Purple belts on up was phenomenal. The defense part of my game grew several levels after sparring with Daniel and his friends.

BJJ in Rio

Rio seems to have a love/hate relationship with BJJ. On the one hand you see BJJ related material all over the city. You can walk into a mall and find a Vitamins and Minerals store (equivalent to a GNC store in the US) and find half the store actually containing Vitamins, but the other half is Jiu-jitsu gis, rash guards, Vale tudo shorts and gloves, etc. Most sport stores had at least a few Giís on display along with belts. Within a few blocks of the BJJ Confederation youíll find stores that sold nothing but fightwear (Giís, shirts, bags, gloves, etc.). Videos of BJJ/Vale Tudo matches are sold everywhere along with BJJ/Vale Tudo placards pasted up inside of stores, restaurants, and even hotels. I was told by some that BJJ is the second most popular sport in Brazil behind Soccer. Judging by the number of people who practice it and the number of stores that carry the gear I wouldnít doubt it.

On the other hand though there are a lot of fights in Rio and many times participants in the fights are BJJ students. Itís unfortunate that this reputation has developed, but from what I gathered fighting is just a way things are settled. One Brazilian expressed it to me in this way: In the US if you get into a fight the police come over, break up the fight, and arrest the person who started it. In Brazil if you get into a fight, the police will come over and make sure the people form a large enough circle so as to not interfere with the fight. I didnít see this myself, but I was trying to avoid getting into problems or going to places where problems would be (night clubs especially).

The ďPremiere CombateĒ Channel

Just in case you didnít think Brazilians like sport fighting, did I mention that in Brazil you can get a ďCombat ChannelĒ that shows nothing but BJJ/Boxing/Vale Tudo/NHB fights all the time? Check it out:

http://globosat.globo.com/premiere_combate/

Beating up Method Man and Redman

A funny story I should also relate. Two of the Brazilian BJJ guys we met claimed that when they were bouncing in an Orlando bar they saw the rappers Method Man and Redman lighting up and smoking pot in the bar. When they went over to tell them they couldnít do that a fight broke out and they claimed to have beat up both Method Man and Redman as a result. The fight involved several other security people as well and apparently lasted several minutes. They didnít realize who the guys were until several months later when they saw them on TV and remembered getting into a fight with them at the bar. True or not? I donít know, but truth is stranger than fiction so who knows.

Continued...

Omega Supreme
7/27/2004 8:49pm,
I want to see half naked redheads now!!!!!

katana
7/27/2004 8:50pm,
The Mundials

The Mundials were held at the Tijuca Tennis Club in downtown Rio. The indoor stadium was large and could seat a few thousand people quite easily:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=1980.jpg

The tournament was very well run and organized. There were six active mats with fights going almost constantly. Thursday was the Juvenile and Womenís divisions (Blue-Black) as well as the Menís Feather-Lightweight blue belt divisions. Friday was the rest of the Menís blue belt divisions and blue belt open along with some purple belt divisions. Saturday was the rest of the purples and the start of the brown belts and black belts. Sunday was the conclusion of the brown and black belt divisions.

My Fight

Well it was my first BJJ tournament and here I am in another country fighting against the best blue belts that Brazil had to offer with my eight months of BJJ experience. Nutty? Probably a little, but I already came this far so there was no backing out.

With my BJJ Confederation card in hand I approach the holding pen where all the fighters were:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=fa6d.jpg

Iím surrounded by at least 60 guys all bouncing up and down and warming up. I see a couple foreigners (one guy from Finland I spoke with), but everyone else is Brazilian. Remember, the Brazilians had to qualify to get here by winning state and national matches. I get in just because I happened to afford a plane ticket. Neat eh?

Iím now waiting while surrounded by bouncing guys. Iím listening hard to decipher the Brazilian announcer as he calls out names and suddenly I hear the Portuguese version of my name (the ďRísĒ pronounced as ďHísĒ). I hand him my card and through the gate I go.

The Weigh-In

Iím told to stick my arms out straight. They take a short stick and make sure my Gi is the right size. They check the sleeve length, the fabric slack around my forearms and overlap of the lapels. They also check for loose fabric, patches, holes, or blood on the Gi. This whole process takes about 15-30 seconds. Then you are shuttled over to the scales to weigh in. I signed up for Medium Heavyweight that had a maximum weight of 88kgs (194lbs) with Gi. I hit the mark around 86kgs.

Now before I move on let me tell you something about the above process. If your Gi is out of spec by as much as a fraction of centimeter on the sleeves or collar you will be disqualified. We had one student whoís Gi was out of spec in the forearm fabric slack and he was given about 60 seconds to swap it out with someone else. We were lucky that we found a replacement that quickly otherwise he would have been given his walking papers. If you ever want to go to the Mundials I suggest you ensure your Gi is exactly within spec before you even show up.

Walking to the Mat

Forget all this junk ďReality Based Self-DefenseĒ (RBSD) instructors spew about ďAdrenal Stress ConditioningĒ while dressing up in a big padded suit and play-acting with you. If you want adrenal stress what you need to do is fly to a South American country without speaking the language and without having competed before and get in front of hundreds of screaming Brazilians. If that doesnít get things moving for you then nothing will. If you donít want to do that, I think that any fighting competition would get you just as good of an effect.

So how nervous was I? Iíve done martial arts tournaments before, but just not grappling. Also in my professional life Iíve actually done a lot of public speaking so Iím used to the feeling of getting in front of a bunch of people to perform and the adrenaline rush is (oddly enough) identical for me. It gets me nervous, but not so much that I canít function and certainly once things get underway I donít really think about it any more and just do what I practiced to do. Besides, when youíre walking onto the mats with lots of people watching you itís kind of too late to turn back anyway. Itís like hearing the CLACK CLACK CLACK of the rollercoaster cars as they go up that first really big hill right before the drop. Just hang on for the ride and it will all be over soon.

I approached the mat and shook hands with my competition. He seemed like a nice enough guy and was from the De la Riva BJJ academy. He was slightly bigger than me, but didnít look like a steroid freak like some of the others Iíve seen. His belt was pretty worn out and Iím guessing heíd been doing BJJ for a few years at least (Brazilian schools really donít use stripes on belts they way you see in the US). Phil was in my corner and told me to watch out for the famous De la Riva open guard. Itís basically a way of intertwining the leg and trapping the same side arm to work attacks and sweeps (http://bjj.org/techniques/thetechniques/sucuriPassRiva). I had also noticed that a lot of the Brazilians were playing a point game in these BJJ matches and many would jump to guard almost immediately do a few things to get points and then stall. This is much different than what Relson and Phil teach which is to always go for the submission and donít worry about points.

We listened to the pre-fight instructions. I didnít know Portuguese that well so I just shook my head and said ďSimĒ (Yes in Portuguese). For all I know he was reading me my last rites. We then shook hands with each other and were off.

My opponent immediately grabbed my collar and jumped guard (which I expected). I established my base and began working my escape. During this time he was working various sweep and submission attempts and ultimately got a sweep once I broke his guard open. I was swept into a mount that he held for about 5-10 seconds before I reversed him back to guard. At this point he was up on points and began stalling. He would grab a sleeve and collar and hug very closely and attempt a forearm, collar choke, kimura, or other submission every now and then. I would defend the attack and then go back to attempting various escapes and avoid the sweeps. The fight itself was pretty unremarkable and over at the six minute mark with no submission, but he beat me on points (6 to 2?).

So what did I learn from this? For one, Iím going to enter more competitions now. I felt that lasting six minutes with this guy without submitting was a pretty good accomplishment considering this is my first tournament and that it was the World Championships. At the same time, the Brazilian fighters play much more for the points than we do at our academy. I would have loved to had gotten side control on him and rip his arms off. I guess Iíll have to work on my guard passing some more (but DAMN his guard was tight!). I had some solace in knowing that the guy had to go the full time without submitting me and had to burn a bunch of energy for his next match.

I would have liked to have won, but honestly I needed to keep things in perspective with the level of guys I was going to fight. I just wanted to step up and try out my skills and next year Iíll be back with even more experience and a lot of new surprises.

Continued...

katana
7/27/2004 8:51pm,
Black Belt Matches

The initial black belt open match was held Saturday evening and was impressive. The crowd at this point was several thousand people strong and the Brazilian sports network was broadcasting live from the event. We had gathered in the stadium and I think the Americans were attracting each other as BJJ blackbelts Lloyd Irvin and Todd Margolis sat near us along with Phil and the rest of our Brazilian Crew. Todd Margolis had just fought a good match in the black belt division but lost on points after launching several aggressive attacks and near submissions.

The remaining BJJ blackbelts were now fighting (Marcela Garcia, Jacare, Terere, Roger Gracie, etc.). School rivalries were hot and Jacare/Terere had their own cheering section of bussed-in people:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/katanahamon/detail?.dir=364b&.dnm=5a13.jpg

The crowd went absolutely nuts after Roger Gracie beat Terere to make it into the finals. Terere got up quickly after the submission and began working the crowd into a frenzy challenging Pe de Pano (who was in the stands) to come out and fight him. The teams were giving each other the middle finger and cursing at each other. Ahhh. BJJ brotherly love!

Unfortunately I had to leave the following day so I didnít see who won the black belt open division. Iím sure it was a good fight though. I did hear that Daniel won his Black Belt weight division though the next day.

Other Points

There were a lot of well-known people in the grappling world at this tournament and virtually all of them were approachable and willing to talk with you and have their photos taken. I have some photos of myself with Marcela Garcia, Jacare, etc. and they seemed to really like the attention and were always quick to invite you out to train at their schools when you are in Brazil. No one I approached seemed to have a major attitude and they all seemed really happy to be at the Mundials and to spend time speaking with you. It was a really neat experience talking with these guys and then a few minutes later seeing them out on the mats wrenching on each other.

Conclusion

Well I made it back in one piece. I wish I could have stayed longer though. After the Worldís everyone was going to go out partying and Relson and Phil were talking about maybe going out to see Helio Gracie at his farm that week (like they did last year). I donít know if it happened, but if it does I donít want to hear about it because it will make me even more sad I couldnít stay.

So will I do it again? Absolutely. Brazil is a great country and Phil was a great leader and very encouraging in all of our fights and in helping everyone train. I have another year to train and will be back again with hopefully a few more competitions under my belt.

Thanks to Phil Cardella and my teammates at Austin Jiu-Jitsu (http://www.austinjj.com) for making this a great trip!

Pandinha
7/27/2004 9:08pm,
Excellent report. Way to test yourself.

I find the point game in sport bjj to be interesting.

Way to go!

supercrap
7/27/2004 9:10pm,
Amazing read! Well done...

cafezinho
7/27/2004 9:11pm,
Sweet you got to visit Brasil, and Rio on top of that! During my visit this one guy (homeless, emaciated) threatened to stab me with his aids infected syringe needle because I didn't want to buy milk for his little brother. I love that country!

Some of my pics from Salvador (way up north from Rio) https://webspace.utexas.edu/shabadu/www/barra.html

cafezinho
7/27/2004 10:55pm,
We went to many Brazilian BBQ restaurants. They keep bring out skewers of food until youíre about to burst.

Churrascaria. Excellent food.

atek3
7/27/2004 11:26pm,
one person from my dojo went.

Antagony
7/27/2004 11:54pm,
HEY! WE TRAIN AT THE SAME PLACE! WHO ARE YOU?

*settles down*

No seriously, two people at the academy have recognized me. E.G. "Hey, are you Antagony?" But neither of these guys told me who THEY were on Bullshido. Are you one of those guys?

katana
7/28/2004 12:12am,
I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

ravenink
7/28/2004 12:46am,
you went to brazil and you didn't have any brazilian women or pics of them? I don't care how good your Jiu-Jitsu is, I'm going to kill you :)

jk man, props for being willing to step up against the really good brazilian guys.

Antagony
7/28/2004 12:58am,
Originally posted by katana
I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.
With you being a blue belt, you could probably accomplish that easily too.

Ronin
7/28/2004 7:45am,
Excellent posts katana :)
Glad you had a great time.
Nothing quite like internatioanl experience.
As for the adrenaline...as hard as you try and as much as you train and compete, its always there and its always a GOOD thing.

Gezere
7/28/2004 7:57am,
*weeps softly* :(

I know I was in an accident but I am still a bit pissed about not being there!