Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at 9:28pm BRT.
Quick run-down: I now have (what seem to be) two broken fingers and a broken thumb, and training has been, let's just say, tough.
I'll spare you the details on the injuries cause I want to tell you all about training at Alliance and De la Riva's Academy, but let me give you a bit of advice: When you go to a pharmacy in Brasil, you'll need to ask for "ah-jee-veel". Asking for "Advil" will get you the same reaction your dog gives you while you point to the ball you threw when he wasn't looking.
So, we woke up at 5:30am to catch the 557 bus to Leblon to train at Alliance. The class starts at 7:15, so we wanted to make sure we didn't screw up the trek there (Remember the Nogueira incident?).
Side note: I don't know why i thought of this. I either hate or love (like a pugs face, I can't decide) when people say "supposeably". The biggest problem is that the word would actually make sense if it existed, so people who don't know any better can't help but argue their case. I would like to hard fart on the pillow of the guy who supposeably coined the term.
The 557 was so packed (twice) that fitting another regularly sized person, not to mention a physical specimen of a man like myself, would have been tougher than repackaging the self enema kit you accidentally bought thinking it was sports bottle for drinking water.
We walked down to a cab stand and asked for a lift to Leblon. There were three of us, which led me to a dilemma. Would the three of us sit in the back of the car, tightly packed in with our backpacks, or is one of us supposed to sit up front with the driver and play with the buttons on the radio? Luckily he only unlocked the back doors so I was spared the embarrassment of a cultural faux pas.
Training at Alliance was awesome. To deal with my broken fingers, I've been taping them to splint them against further damage. The problem is, I've been taping them to each other for support, and I can't do so with my thumb, so accordingly, I've been taping a paw for myself on my right hand. Guys have been asking me what happened before we rolled, so I either try to mime the words "broken thumb", or just say "tudo bem", which means "everything's good", and pretend it is. The latter is easier, so it's gotten the most use.
Victor Paiva was teaching the class. Victor is Alexandre "Gigi" Paiva's son, and a phenomenally good brown belt. From what intel I gathered, he was filling in for his dad while Gigi teaches seminars in
Australia. Victor recently won his bracket (Brown belt under 70kg) at the Mundials (world championships), and his jiu jitsu reflected it. His game was outstanding. We covered a variation of a half guard pass that seems to be the soupe du jour for Rio at the moment. This is the third gym that has had a variation of this pass taught in class and as with most jiu jitsu techniques, the devil is in the details. I was able to roll with a white belt, a blue, and Victor Paiva himself.
There is a definitive style that can be associated with all of the schools I've been to, and logically, it is fairly consistent with most of the students in the room.
For example: Gordo's students are very methodical, have very good half guards, and seem to be keenly aware of even the slightest imbalances in your base.
Nogueira's students were generally very basic in their approach to jiu jitsu, but very confident in their basics, and rightfully so.
Alliance guys seem to be bred for passing, and have a bit more of aggression in their approach to the game.
De la Riva guys seem to be the least predictable of the schools because everyone there really does have a game all their own. I can't speak as to whether or not that is a good thing, but it was a very eclectic blend of styles in that gym and was fun to watch to say the least.
Victor's game was miles ahead of mine. Up to this point, I have felt comfortable rolling with purples and browns, and in my mind, at least making them earn the submissions they manage to catch me in. I've hit several sweeps, and the occasional guard pass or two, so when I shook hands with Victor, this is what I expected. Now, don't get me wrong, I am by no means saying that I can hang with the brown belts and pressure them into making mistakes. I might catch a lucky choke or something, but it's important to give them the respect they earned by putting me through the ringer. They're on another level. That being said, Victor Paiva is NO brown belt. He didn't break a sweat in the time it took him to mop the mats with my face and tap me out somewhere between 5 and 75 times. I didn't break a sweat either because I spent most of the round tapping out, fixing my gi, and dying inside.
Fast forward through breakfast at a cafe, a nap on Ipanema beach, lunch at Bob's, a nap on a park bench, and a subway ride, and we find ourselves at De la Riva's for the 6:00pm class.
De la Riva is what you'd expect of a phenomenal guard player: he's small, wiry, and has a look on his face like he knows something you don't. That look will get you in trouble if you're in his guard, because it's justified. Unfortunately, I didn't get to roll with De la Riva. During warm ups, several of his students dog-piled him (not sure why), so he's definitely not frail, but for a reason apparently unrelated, he didn't roll yesterday.
Class was what you'd expect from a gym run by a household jiu jitsu name. 15 black belts on the mat, and lots of great jiu jitsu. Rio is a hotbed of talent. Jiu jitsu isn't a huge part of the culture here, but by no means is it uncommon. They sell gis in sporting goods stores. I would equate it to the popularity that wrestling has in the United States.
The 557 bus starts four blocks from De la Riva's, so after a shower and a price negotiation at the front desk, we headed over to get on the bus, and actually get a seat!
Tomorrow is my last full day in Rio, and broken fingers or not, I'm training. We're headed to the Olympic training center (or the Brazilian equivalent) to train with the Brazilian Olympic Wrestling team.
Pray for me.
Okay, first of all, I misinformed my constituency about the presence of a Gracie at Gordo's academy. I was given this information in error and passed on the fallacy as fact. Although there are Gracies that come through Gordo's gym from time to time, after researching, I discovered that Rafael Gracie is actually named Rafael Something-else. His nickname is "Magreza", which, according to the Larousse Portuguese Dictionary, means "thinness" or "slim build"... And when pronounced as a native Brazilian, sounds remarkably similar to "Gracie". This must have been the misunderstanding that was made by my fellow Connection Rio housemate when the tale of Rafael Gracie was related to me, therefor, I am posting this correction.
So, with that disclaimer out of the way, I'd like to report that progress is definitely being made on my jiu jitsu skills while I've been down here. On Friday, Magreza told me (with the help of a purple-belt translator...belted in jiu jitsu, not in translation) that he has been working on his half guard passing since I got to Rio just to deal with my half guard. Needless to say, I was extremely flattered, being that a Gordo Jiu Jitsu purple belt respected my half guard game enough to refocus his own training on my account.
That, I would have to say, is one of my favorite moments of my trip. Now, to be transparent about this anecdote, I did manage to sweep Magreza twice with my half guard, but I found myself on the receiving end of a slick triangle set up shortly after the first sweep, to which I tapped. I'd like to inform you, I did learn my lesson, and avoided a similar setup by a black belt the next day, but I thought it only fair to give credit where credit is due.
Now, without further ado, on to the title-topics!
I have been getting stuck in a certain spot in my deep half guard game while trying to hit a waiter sweep. When my opponent feels this sweep coming, he'll oftentimes shift his weight forward and post his hands on the mat in front of him (Don't worry if you can't follow this so far... There's a layperson's version coming up), preventing the sweep. I have seen several transitions to back control, but always felt uncomfortable with my opponent's weight distribution when attempting this... SO, I decided to talk Beto into helping me troubleshoot. The beauty of my knowledge of deep half guard is that it is very extensive up to the exact spot that I always get destroyed. It's a lot like playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out for Nintendo. I can just about guarantee to get up to a certain point in the game, followed by a guarantee that I will get stopped in my tracks upon arrival (Believe it or not, I never beat the guy with the band-aids over his belly button. I'm not a very astute video-gamer).
I came up with a transition to x-guard that I hadn't yet seen (maybe I invented it?!?!) on the far-side leg that I repped about twenty times before the 6 o'clock class was beckoning a demonstration of my new skills.
Wouldn't you know it, deep half to failed waiter sweep to x guard to SWEEP on one of the gym's better brown belts!
Layperson's version: I suck so I practiced a move that would allow me to suck much less if I ever found myself in a certain position... And it worked!
Troubleshooting 101: identify a problem, identify and practice a solution, and try not to fart when drilling moves with a partner. They'll kindly suggest that, "maybe we've done enough drilling for the day".
Catching a bus from Barrinha to Recreio seems simple enough: stand near the passarella in Barra and hop on any bus with "Recreio" flashing on the marquis in the window. It wasn't too tough to catch, but it turns out that guessing the timing on a 30 block trip in rush hour traffic in Rio is as futile as guessing the number of bites it'll take to finish a bowl of Grape Nuts... You will ALWAYS guess too low.
I'll spare you the details on the commute, but let's just say we were grateful for the lax attitude that most Brazilians seem to have toward punctuality.
Class was being taught by a 7th degree black belt by the name of (???? Help me out if you think you may know who that might be). We jumped in, and being that there was limited mat space, Rogerio Nogueira (Lil Nog... As opposed to Rodrigo, who is Big Nog) opened up another segment of mats that was partitioned off by a cage wall. He ushered us through the cage door and onto the mats, where he began demonstrating an omoplata (type of shoulder lock) set up on one of his black belts.
Rogerio is an extremely welcoming person, and on three different occasions thanked us for visiting him in his gym. The techniques he taught were simple and complex at the same time. Simple enough to b.s. your way though them if an opportunity arose, yet beautifully complex enough that if adhering to all of the details, the moves would practically apply themselves. He was extremely understanding of the leverage principals being applied in his maneuvers and was conscious of the fact that it benefits his students to understand just as completely as he does. I find it very beneficial when an instructor teaches concepts through specifics, so when in live sparring the specifics vary, the concepts can spawn improvisational modification to the application of the techniques. Following me so far? Good!
Anyway, this post is getting long winded. Let me start to breeze through a few summaries so I can take a nap before drilling and class this afternoon.
I was complimented on my Portuguese by the desk manager at Nogueira's gym! I've been using Portuguese (and accidental Spanish on occasion) exclusively when communicating. I have noticed that English tips them off to the idea that I'm American, and since I'm still undecided about how they are receiving that knowledge, I'm trying to blend in. I was asking permission to purchase a Team Nogueira shirt that didn't seem to be on display with the rest of the apparel, and upon explaining that I would like to buy two, I was told, "Ah! Fala bem Português." I said, "Obrigado" ("Thank you"), and slipped away before she could expose the fact that I had reached the end of my Portuguese capabilities in our 30 second conversation, and retract the compliment.
He was in the gym on Saturday. He wrecked me. What a great opportunity it is to roll with so many amazing jiu jitsu fighters (some of whom are world champions)! I counted on Saturday, by the way, specifically for the purposes of this blog... There were 11 black belts on the mats. It wasn't a holiday, or a celebration, or a competition training camp. It was just Saturday. That's how Saturday's are here at Gordo's.
Friday: Clay Guida... Seriously? I'm not a huge fan of Greg Jackson, but I can't imagine he envisioned the game plan for Guida to look like that.
Saturday: Lots of good jiu jitsu on that card, and it felt good to watch Rich Franklin win again. I just wish he would stop running straight back when he gets into trouble, especially against a guy who loves to barrel straight forward.
We went to Ipanema to check out the beaches there and go to a swap. There was a footballer (soccer player) who was juggling magnificently to the delight of all of the onlookers. I suggested to him that I didn't like any sport where you don't use your hands, just as he stood up to yell, "IN THE FACE!", and proceeded to tell me about how halftime is his favorite part of the game.
For those of you that haven't been to a swap, let me explain. It's a block (or multiple blocks) of kiosks that sell just about anything you can imagine. Need a gun rack? No problem. Don't even own a gun, let alone many guns, that would necessitate an entire rack? They don't discriminate.
The problem with the swap in Ipanema is the tourism. I've had the luxury of hearing nothing but Portuguese around town, with the exception of my own annoying voice when explaining to Adam and Beto that laying on the beach for four hours makes me feel restless. Ipanema is swarming with English speaking tourists (especially Americans) who don't have much of an aura of subtlety about them. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Dan, you're American". Correct as this may be, it rubs me the wrong way when other Americans perpetuate the stereotype that we have no social tact or cultural finesse. I suppose the benefit of living as a white guy in El Paso is that the coarseness of my American audacity has been filed down a bit.
Portuguese phrase of the day:
"Desculpe. Eu não falo bem Português."
Translation: "I'm an idiot. Thank you for not farting in my açai."
20 minutes after leaving the house and walking up what seemed to be miles of concrete and cobblestone hills, I came to two conclusions:
1. If my legs are tired now, and we haven't event started the trail yet, I'm going to embarrass myself.
2. I should have remembered to pack toilet paper, or an extra pair of socks.
We started up the hill, towards a landmark called "Shiprock". It is aptly named as it resembles the bow of a wrecked ship. The Gracies (more or less the first family of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) have told many stories about racing from the trailhead to Shiprock to see who could log the best time. Some of the claims were around 15 minutes, give or take a couple. Our time? A brisk 38 minutes. So much for making local legends of ourselves on Pedra da Gavea. In all honesty, as long as we didn't break the record for most hiking related deaths, I'd be satisfied with the turnout of our excursion.
Sidebar: I was just asked by an Englishman, "Who tidied up the books and put them in a proper stack?". It was me mate.
Pedra da Gavea has been the stage for many stories in the jiu jitsu community (the jiu jitsu community is a lot like Del Boca Vista, but with gis). The word on the street is that Kenny Florian (multiple time UFC #1 contender) went down to Rio to study jiu jitsu and climbed Pedra da Gavea. At some point during his climb (there's one spot that is noticeably more difficult and dangerous than the rest... A rock climb in the vicinity of an intimidating cliff) he slipped and "almost died". Now, truth be told, the section that involved the rock climbing bit wasn't terribly difficult. It likely wouldn't even rate as a 5.(x) on the Yosemite Decimal System (Google can help explain) judging by the fact that we managed our way up while wearing running shoes, but its proximity to a cliff made you want to confirm your footing a second time before moving toward your next hold. I only became uneasy about the section when I reached the top (a minute or so after Beto, who didn't realize we were supposed to be intimidated by the climb and scurried up like a Katie Holmes monkey up a tree), where I found rope anchors embedded into the rock face. Usually, where there are rope anchors, it is recommended that you use ropes. My discomfort with the situation was soon balanced out by the sight (on the summit of the mountain) of a Brazilian wearing Birkenstocks. At that point, I assumed we'd be just fine.
As you can see from the pictures posted below, the view from the summit was incredible, and gave great views of Barra, Leblon, Ipanema, and plenty of other places that I don't know the names of.
Climbing down was uneventful, save for a monkey sighting and a deep longing for a roll of Charmin. (Have you ever seen the Charmin commercial with the bear cub who is about to use a half a roll to wipe himself before his mother jumps in to inform him about the ultra absorbency of the butt tissue and rations him down to 5 sheets? He was convinced he needed half the roll. He must have wrecked it. I'm surprised, based on their keen sense of smell, that the mother didn't make a face.) I'm kidding about needing the roll of Charmin by the way. I got keyed on my excessive use of fecal based humor on my last post, but I don't know how to stop. I need an intervention.
The one thing that DID happen on the way down was my knees took a beating. By the time we made it back to the trailhead, all I wanted to do was slide down the street on my belly like a penguin all the way home. Convinced that my nipples would chafe against the cobblestone, I walked the rest of the way home.
I had to take a day off of training yesterday which made me quite a bit grumpier than I would like to admit as I was teeming with jealousy for anyone who had been beaten up in the gym last night. There is something to be said for a sport full of individuals who go to train, day after day, with absolute certainty of defeat, and love every second of it. If you train, and EVER go to a gym where you aren't guaranteed to lose against at least a handful of opponents, you need to find another gym.
I woke up this morning, excited to train after spending yesterday warming the bench on account of my knee soreness, and hurried to the gym. I am aware that I've forgotten to take pictures of the gym thus far, and the central hub of my existence here is still left up to the imagination. We are training at the Nogueira brothers' gym tonight (not Gordo's) so I won't have any photos up until tomorrow after morning training.
Rolling with one of the black belts this morning was eye opening. I pulled half guard repeatedly, and every single grip I made was countered with an airtight submission set up that made me feel like I would rather be home crying into my pillow. It was awesome. I wasn't tapped with the same submission twice, which was not only a testament to my quick learning as I was able to avoid an attempted repeat attack, but more so a testament to the skills of the black belt I was rolling with. Each step of the way I would defend what I had been smashed with ten seconds prior, and my defense was an opportunity for a fresh new submission hold served up on a silver platter. I tapped out to an armbar, a triangle choke, a cross collar choke, an ezekiel choke, and a bow and arrow choke, all in the course of a 7 minute round. Feels good to be back in the gym.
I have to cut this blog short because there is a very temperamental Brit pacing by the door, threatening to leave to lunch without me. I don't think he's bluffing.
I got to class at ten 'til six and walked into an empty gym. The janitor (who is a blue belt) was the only other guy there, and he was sitting on the stoop.
"Boa tarde (pronounced "taj"... Like the Taj Mahal)" I said in a brilliantly fluent Portuguese accent.
"Hey man. You too."
I walked by him as my mind's ear did a double take. His accent was so neutral he could have dubbed audio bites for a Denver meteorologist. I'm fairly sure he isn't fluent in English, but he must have learned what he knows by watching reruns of The View.
I sat down on the mats by myself and started to pretend to stretch out while I tried to replay the rundown of the week's schedule I had gotten from the gym's desk manager. (I've worried about her English a couple of times, like when I asked for a black t-shirt I wanted to buy. She tapped the blue one on the counter and said, "I'll be right back". Sure enough, she came back with a black shirt by the time I had already convinced myself that the blue shirt she was about to bring me was the better choice). I was pretty sure she said 8am and 6pm Monday-Friday... but sitting alone had me second guessing.
Gordo walked in at three 'til and sat down on a Swiss ball (I think that's what those huge inflatable exercise balls are called. Side note: Why do the Swiss insist on putting the name "Swiss" in every product they make? Swiss cheese, Swiss Army Knife, Swiss Miss... The Swiss are the white version of Tyler Perry). He asked me where I am from, and if El Paso is close to Dallas. He mentioned having seen a map of Texas and mimed a tracing of the outline. I assured him that the dreidel shaped border he carved in the not-yet humid gym air was a fair representation of the Lone Star State, and pointed out the whereabouts of El Paso. He asked me how the training is in El Paso, and I let him know that there are several places to train, but only two formally affiliated Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools: 1. A Relson Gracie affiliate, who has reasonably close ties to the lineage of Gordo's Jiu Jitsu Academy... and 2. A Team Alliance affiliate, who seem to be bitter rivals with just about every other jiu jitsu school under the sun. (Team Alliance has racked up notoriety as a team by winning the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation overall team crown a ridiculous number of times over the last several years). I train with team Alliance in El Paso, and was thankful that Gordo didn't ask me about it. I'm not sure he would mind (he is a very cool guy), but I'm glad to not have found out.
Tatsuo Goya is my current instructor in El Paso, and is a team Alliance black belt under "Jacare" (Portuguese for alligator) Calvacante, an extremely reputable instructor and one of the three founding members of team Alliance. I am grateful that Tatsuo is so supportive of my training with Gordo, despite the fact that he doesn't fly the Alliance flag... although, if you're reading this Tatsuo, I promise to drop into Alexandre Paiva's gym next week. Although Tatsuo is open minded about this, and I'm comfortable assuming a legend like Gordo would understand my wanting to be at his gym for a month, as I said, I'm glad the team affiliation conversation never came up.
Class was structured the same as usual: warm up, take down drills, technique, positional drills, etc... So I'll spare you the details on that. During rolling (that's the word for sparring in jiu jitsu in case you've been lost in the vernacular for a week) I had some interesting match ups. One of the most entertaining is when I roll against a guy who I think is named Rafael Gracie (1. Yes, from what I understand, he is an actual Gracie. 2. He is probably 5'6", 135lbs, a purple belt, and surprisingly does not breathe fire, fly, or see into the future), who seems to have the same strategic ideals that I do. We'll get stuck halfway through a sweep and end up with exactly the same grips, mirroring one another. Our rolls end up being some of the most tactical stalemates ever. I haven't rolled to a stalemate every time with Rafael. To be honest, he represents his purple belt well enough that I walk out of the gym with a smile when I can create a balance between survival and embarrassment against him. Every movement he makes is like a wave of diarrhea- You try your best to fight it off, but even when it subsides, you can't help but think that your survival was greatly attributed to luck, and the next attack promises to test your resolve.
I'm beginning to feel more comfortable in my half guard, having been coached by every black and brown belt that has run through my guard over the past week. Iron sharpens iron, so they say... Apparently iron can also polish a turd.
As promised, I'm going to attempt to address all Facebook requests I have received for my blog right ... about... here:
1. Amanda Hernandez from Albuquerque, NM writes: "Hello handsome man who has a build not unlike a Greek god (I'm paraphrasing). Please post pictures of the interesting food you should be trying while you're there, rather than the mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs you've been eating every day."
Well, Amanda Hernandez, stand by... for a day or two. I have been enjoying the solidity of my movements, so I didn't want to tempt fate. Let me see what I can do.
2. Mark Clifford from Rockwall, TX writes, "Where are all them fly honeys at playboy!? Holla, holla! Shoot me some tushy with your hi-res dog. Hit me back son."
Mark from Rockwall, I appreciate your enthusiasm, and while I would normally not hesitate to oblige, I ask that you submit a formal request for such footage with my media manager, Ms. Amanda Hernandez.
3. Joseph DeSantis from somewhere near San Marcos writes, "Why don't you video tape yourself rolling with Gordo's black belts because these internet videos of bears mauling small children aren't violent enough for me?"
Mr. DeSantis, I will ask Gordo if filming in his gym is acceptable. God I hope he says no.
4. Larry Marquez generously agrees with everyone.
5. Joseph Rubacalba from El Paso, TX (I think he's still here) writes, "How has years and years of practice to become a wildly mediocre musician affected your approach to practicing jiu jitsu (again paraphrasing... I added the mediocre part for statistical accuracy)?"
Joseph, that's actually a great question. There is an extreme amount of parallel between music and martial arts in that, 1. The importance of fundamental concepts CANNOT be over-stated. 2. No matter how good you get, someone will ALWAYS be out there with the ability to make you look like you have no idea what you are doing... and 3. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
And last but not least:
6. Sarah Clifford from Rockwall, TX writes, "It is ubiquitously agreed upon that jiu jitsu sucks, and you only have 6 followers on your blog because you write about jiu jitsu. Please tell me more about monkeys."
Well, Sarah from Rockwall, whatever floats your whistle. If you feed the monkeys (which against household rule #3, right after #1- no drugs, and #2- no prostitutes... and yes, those are really the first two rules at Connection Rio), according to a Canadian CR inhabitant, they will worship you like a god. He claims that you will find carcasses of small dogs laying on the porch, sacrificed in your honor by the Katie Holmes monkeys. While I doubt this is to be taken literally, I did notice one of the females batting her eyebrows at me while I reenacted scenes from Top Gun in my underwear.
OH!!! ...and I just remembered the reason I named this entry "Jinxed Myself". Last post, I mentioned I hadn't been hurt yet. Damn. I hope my back feels better by class on Monday.
-Dan (No longer "Texas Dan" because Rhode Island Dan went back stateside.)
So far (mid-day Thursday right now) I have trained 6 times since Monday morning, and I'll be honest, I'm tired. I'm taking tonight's training session off to sit around on my phone and update this blog for the 6 people that chose this over reruns of How I Met Your Mother.
To be honest, I don't think that training twice a day all week should be considered overtraining, especially if you have the better part of the day to rest, BUT, I haven't slept well all week. Under-sleeping is a problem. It could be Beto's snoring from the other side of the room, or my 4' blanket that can never quite cover my feet and shoulders, but whatever it is, I can't seem to knock out at night.
Oddly enough, this lack of sleep is balancing itself out in regards to its impact on my jiu jitsu. I lay awake until two or three in the morning (or until the noxious gasses from pre-movement flatulence have lulled me into a cornea stinging slumber... thanks roomies) thinking about all things jiu jitsu.
Here is a stenographer's rendition of last night's thoughts:
Me #1 (evidently mildly schizophrenic): "How can I defend the cross collar grip from bottom half when a guy is passing to his free-leg side???"
Me #2: "Nice of you to finally ask that question after a week of being choked like restaurant patrons before Dr. Heimlick invented his maneuver."
Me #1: "Hey, cut me some slack. Wasn't it you who was supposed to remember not to flush toilet paper in Rio? Could have shut down the cities infrastructure in one fell swoop."
Me #2: "Wasn't it you who spelled S-A-L-E-B-O-A-T in first grade and cost us the K-2nd spelling bee?"
Me #1: "Jesus, we need to check the expiration date on the eggs. I'm pretty sure someone just crapped in his underpants."
This morning, I crawled out of my second story luxury loft (read: top bunk), and moped to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I looked in the mirror to find a scuff above my right eye. A week of training and I've gotten a handful of bruises and a scuff on one eyelid. Not bad!
In my almost 6 years of training, I've:
1. Had a sprained cervical spine (That is a made up term that may or may not be accurate saying as I unwisely diagnosed myself. I was thrown on my head by a judoka and couldn't turn my head for a month. Also, I made up a term for inventing something that already existed, but you never knew so you essentially discovered it - autodidactisized. Help me catch that on. It'll be in Tupac's next holographic show.)
2. Broken forearm (I had my radius snapped impressively with an arm crush by my friend Sam. Sounded like a broomstick. Apparently jiu jitsu works.)
3. Broken left pinkey (I shot a double on my friend and jiu jitsu coach Brandon. He outweighed me at the time by 50 pounds, and can wrestle circles around me. I've had better ideas in my life.)
4. Partially torn supra spinatus muscle (I was defending a double leg and when I hit the ground, I couldn't breathe. Reminded me of getting the wind knocked out of me playing tetherball in second grade, it just didn't go away for a month.)
The technique we covered today was a sweep from half guard that requires you to feed your opponent's lapel behind his back in a way that forces you to flatten your shoulders more than I would normally be willing to do (For those of you who don't do jiu jitsu, getting your shoulders flattened in half guard is an opportunity for your opponent to create immobility on your part and begin to free his leg from your control. Bad for me, good for him). I was skeptical about this move because of this, and drilled it diligently, but planned on never using it (convinced it wouldn't work). Of course, the last thing you should ever do as a guest in someone's gym is to doubt a technique being taught, but it wasn't Gordo teaching this one, so I figured a loophole investigation was in order. Let me cut to the chase: I'm an idiot. I rolled with the black belt who showed the technique, and laughed at myself in embarrassment as he swept me with the technique I had written off. I don't know if he taught his favorite move that day, or saw the doubt in my eyes, but I learned my lesson.
I had better conclude this post to go check the expiration date on the eggs. This pungent air can't be good for my lungs.
Beto and I woke up early to attend the morning class at Gordo's gym, which starts promptly at 8am. In order to make it on time to this class, it's vital that we leave the house NO LATER THAN 7:59am, to leave plenty of time for the grueling 80 meter walk down the street.
On our way out the door we saw a troop (flock, herd, platoon?) of monkeys in the tree in front of the house. They are likely the cutest animals I've seen since I saw the baby panda scare its mother by sneezing on YouTube. They look a bit like a mix between a squirrel, a chihuahua, and Katie Holmes. Based on the fact that the number of barking dogs in the morning has only ever been rivaled by a Cesar Millan nightmare, it's safe to assume we reside in one of the VERY few properties without canine roommates, which I'm sure is very attractive to the little Katie Holmes monkeys. After verbally demeaning the monkeys to discourage a self-empowered uprising (like in Planet of the Apes), we headed over to the gym.
Having paid for the month of training at Gordo's, we received our attendance cards, which are presented to Gordo at the beginning of class so he can tally the number of times we looked like Taser victims on the mats of his gym.
Warm up consisted of laps around the mats, shrimping, sit ups, pushups, planks, and other repetitious movements that afforded me the opportunity to count to ten in Portuguese when the rounds made their way to me (each guy counts to ten: # of students x 10 = number of reps). Fumbling through, I managed to make ten mildly coherent noises every time the spotlight was turned my way, and began to feel like a local. On a side note, I have been told by 3 black belts that they thought I was Brazilian. It could be my cocoa brown toe hair, or my very careful pronunciation of "bom dia" (good day, used commonly as good morning) and "bom treino" (good training, said before each roll as a sign of respect, and a ploy to blend in and keep from being the American bullseye) that led them to that conclusion, but regardless, I was flattered.
Today's technique was a half guard sweep/back take that had enough detail in it to allow me to forget a piece on every rep, causing Gordo to shake his head in disappointment and make corrections in fluent English. Truth be told, this blog is very self effacing for comedy's sake, but I feel well prepared by all of the jiu jitsu coaches I have had to represent them well and absorb information comfortably. Back to the technique. As I said in a previous post, the techniques here are very detail oriented, but you only get a couple chances to watch the technique as you're expected to pay enough attention to grasp most of the details quickly (and I don't know how to say "does anyone want to see this again?" in Portuguese, so it's possible I've been overlooking that part). Staring at the instruction like a toddler stopping mid-run to gaze blankly through you while he fills his diaper been my go to learning strategy.
I have been lucky in that I have already rolled with Gordo (someone with 3 months in Rio is still waiting for the opportunity), I have been shown several techniques that tie directly into my game, I haven't had diarrhea yet, and have avoided being imprisoned for an unknown social infraction... So I'm feeling fortunate at this point.
I'll make it a point to read this blog before coming back, if that ever happens to be in the cards, so I'm going make a list for myself of things to remember before my trip.
1. Bring protein. R$150 ($75) for a small container here. Probably cheaper to buy steroids and acai.
2. Bring clippers for my beard. I look like Kenny Loggins.
3. Bring a computer. Writing a blog on a phone is ridiculous.
We woke up early yesterday morning (Sunday) to go to see Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer... The giant statue of Christ that overlooks Botafogo and Copacabana). The gym is closed on Sundays so we had a day's agenda to fill, and the Connection Rio hostels don't provide venue to participate in America's favorite pastime- watching television. There is no media in either hostel save for a few fight magazines and a handful of literary classics- Catch 22, Larousse Portuguese Dictionary, and a couple of Harry Potter books that I suspect were abandoned by the previous owners of the household. The few decorations in the house also seem to be incumbent paintings, who likely only won the popular vote by the slimmest of margins over the yellowing wall paint.
So, out the door I went (with Rhode Island Dan, as opposed Texas Dan - me, and Beto). A bus and a cab later, we were at the base of the mountain, at the Corcovado entrance. Corcovado, from what I understand, is the national (state?) park that houses good ol' JC. The statue can be accessed by shuttle, or by train. The word on the street is that the train ride is an event all its own because of the path it takes directly through the forest up to the top of the mountain. Although the shuttle was more expensive and less interesting, being that it is relegated to the roads, we opted to avoid the two hour wait time for the train and hopped in. The boy organizing the seating and collecting money for the ride couldn't have been a day older than 12, and was wearing a woman's engagement ring on the middle finger of his right hand. Ballin' hard knows no gender related boundaries. His diamonds are reckless.
At the top there was a ton of fog which dropped the visibility range to about 50 meters (I typed 50 yards at first, but thought I'd better get with the metric system so I seem more cultured in my blog... Although 50 yards doesn't convert to 50 meters. Cultured and mathematically competent are mutually exclusive), requiring patience and luck to get some good photos of Rio from the walkway near the statue. Side note: I managed to ask our taxista (cabbie), in brilliantly fluent Portuguese, what time Christ the Redeemer is exist. He got the idea, and you'll be interested to know that Jesus de mi vida (as Rhode Island Dan so lovingly calls him after hearing the expression in a conversation between Beto and I about the frustrations of being a teacher) is only about 70 years old. If a Google search reveals this to be bogus, I blame the cab driver, not my fluent Portuguese communication skills.
Anyway, we took plenty of pictures to put up on Facebook so as to give the impression that we're up to activities, and after an argument between cab drivers, a confusing conversation about the 557 bus, and a stroke of luck, we made it back to the house.
This morning, I woke up early to a batch of hard boiled eggs I made yesterday, excited to get back into the gym to train. I didn't sleep well at all last night for one reason or another, so I needed a bit of a pick-me-up and the eggs were just the thing. I started peeling them and whoosh... liquid-boiled eggs went into the trash. Damn.
Training was great. Good warm up, great details on a half guard sweep, positional drilling, and rolling. Still getting passed by upper belts, but I'm starting to discover deterrents to their passes. I realized a counter grip and knee position I needed to negate the start of a pass I had no answer for last week. They switched grips and passed a different way, but hey, it's a step in the right direction. One thing about Gordo's that has impressed me so far is the sheer number of blackbelts on the mats. There were more black belts than any other color on the mat for all of the four classes I have attended thus far. I learned an interesting set up to a half guard pass from a very skilled brown belt named Tiago Something (it's the same name as a supplement company that I had never heard of), which I drilled for 45 minutes on the mats at the house, and was able to use on a white belt. The only other person I remembered to attempt it on was a black belt, who foiled my plans long before I could claim that it almost worked.
Instruction here is very detailed, albeit in Portuguese, which makes visual learning an important asset. I intend to make the most of my time here by dropping into a couple other gyms in the area and soaking up what I can with the small amount of space I have left in my brain (remembering the Portuguese word for pineapple, "abacaxi", is occupying a good majority of my cognitive powers at this point).
Okay, to catch you up to now (4th day here), I'll give you the short version.
I have trained at Gordo's Jiu Jitsu academy for 4 days now, and in that time have rolled with several black belts, brown belts, and purple belts. I have decided to gradually up the pace of my rolling, so I didn't give anyone the impression on the first day that they needed to put me in my place. First few days rolling so far I have had my game entirely shut down with a combination of superior grips, deceptively composed bases, and exploitation of the holes in my game.
I'm convinced that Brazilians became so detail oriented because every hole in your game, or in any single movement you make, is like unrolling the red carpet for better skilled opponents. There is no backspace button here. The second you make a mistake, you take three steps back (or more). The guys at Gordo's gym (and probably most of the gyms in Rio) will not give you time to recover. The beautiful thing about this is that it only takes a grip change, or a switch of the hips, and backtracking down the route you came becomes impossible. The path is sealed.
Rolling with Gordo, which I had the opportunity to do yesterday, was...well... hard to describe. He was letting me work my technique, and allowing me to set my grips, adjust my angles... Basically anything I wanted. When it looked like I was content with my position and ready to make my move, he would make the smallest of adjustments and I'd have to start from square one. 20 seconds of guard passing was negated by a 1 second knee movement.
My game, at this point, is half guard. I was very comfortable on either side of the coin (top or bottom half guard), until now. Gordo is known for his half guard. Actually, he is credited for being one of the primary reasons the half guard was developed so completely. Legend has it (probably true, but I don't recall my source), that at one point in his life, Gordo had an injury (knee?), that prevented him from using most positions while rolling. Rather than stop training, Gordo (Roberto Correa by the way) decided to develop what he could from the positions his injury would allow. Thus, the half-guard centered guard game was born.
Realistically, there must have been several other guys using this position fairly skillfully, but Gordo is cited as the man so commonly, there must be SOME truth to it.
The bottom line is this: I came to the right place. My half guard has been all but nullified, and it's probably easier to pass kidney stones than some of the half guards I've been in over the past few days. If I can take with me a little bit of insight about how to fill these gaps in my game, my trip down here will have been well worth my time and money.
I'll be posting from my phone, so bear with me if there are any autocorrect issues.
I had my first conversation in Portuguese on the flight to Rio with an Italian man I was sitting next to. He was telling me, from what I gathered, that I needed to beware of unmarked taxis, who are apparently known for dropping tourists off in the favelas (ghettos) to be mugged, or taking the scenic route to your destination and overcharging.
So... I got off of the plane apprehensive about getting to Connection Rio (CR from now on) safely. Long story short, made it safely, walked it to the CR yard (standby for the corresponding picture) and saw the hostel manager Melissa on her way out.
"You the new guy?"
"We're on our way out to BTT. Wanna go?"
I walked into the house, tossed my stuff down, and followed the guys out to the bus stop down the street.
CR is very culturally diverse. There are people here from Nova Scotia, Vancouver, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, somewhere in Africa, England... Probably elsewhere but I forget at this point. I'm impressed with myself that I remembered that many.
Hopped on the bus, went over to Lagoa to BTT, passing a delicious looking Subway on the way, to check out some training. Murillo Bustamante is the jiu jitsu coach at BTT Lagoa, and was on the side of the mats running the timer. I didn't realize it was him because he was wearing khakis and boat shoes, with a windbreaker. Toquinho (Rousimar Palhares) was in the gym training for a potential fight on a near-future UFC card. Also saw Milton Viera getting ready for his UFC fight against .......? (Somebody do me a favor and comment below this post to let me know who he's fighting... Don't feel like Googling).
We didn't get to train, but we did have lunch with Toquinho and Milton Viera. The plate of the day was ligua de bovina (I think). That means tongue. Being that it was my first meal in Brazil, I decided to take it easy on my stomach. I actually didn't know what I ordered, I just pointed at someone I suspected wouldn't have wanted the tongue and asked the garsom (waiter) for the same thing. Chicken. So far so good.
Interesting note, according to those more familiar, Brazilian custom dictates that when a check arrives at your table, everyone pitching in is expected to pay the same amount regardless of what you ordered...SO... If you're dining with Brazilians, eat up 'cause you're paying for it anyway.
Anyway, back to CR, got cleaned up, and went shopping for groceries. Did you know they don't have peanut butter here?! I found peanut cream... Close enough (it's fluffier). I didn't buy a whole lot because, unless it had a picture on it, I didn't know what anything was... OR, it required preparation and I couldn't understand the instructions.
And something I'm still not convinced is jelly
The weather is great. Winter means 80 degree highs and frequent rain. Truth be told, this is NOT the rainy season, but it has rained every day since I showed up.
I'm writing this on day 3. I'll try to get caught up, but the idea of blogging my trip didn't cross my mind until my good friend Brandon said he'd help me get readers if I put one together.
Been training every day... And I'll fill you in on that in my next post.
Valeu (Portuguese for thanks for kicking my ass today, I'll see you later),