I arrived back in Rio for another extended stay in my home away from home. Rocking my sleep deprivation like a badge of honour, I skipped off the plane at 4:30 A.M. on an already humid Saturday morning. Even at that hour there was Olympic based craziness going on; cats in team tracksuits with bemused looks on their faces being herded in different directions by tirelessly cheerful Olympic staff, sporting a somewhat bizarre combo of yellow shirts with beige pants.
My plan after making my way to Ipanema was to traverse the big-ass hill into Cantagalo’s favela community, spend some time with my adopted Brazilian family, before making it out to the open-mat at Filipe Costa’s academy at 10 A.M. After nearly three weeks off the mats, I was fiending to strangle fellow human beings.
However, upon my arrival at the fam’s abode, my stomach was lovingly filled with a ‘breakfast’ of bread, cheese and cake, whilst I regaled my adventures up to that point in incomprehensible Portuguese. That was me done. I could only dream of Jiu-Jitsu; my body decided a visit to snooze-town was of utmost priority.
This homecoming was all types of awesome. It was the third year that I have been staying with Selme, her daughter Anna Paula; and Anna’s two sons, Gabriel and young Vinicious. I was reminded just how privileged I was, I had acquired a second family, fortunately, one less dysfunctional than my own.
Above all, the highlight of my return was kicking it with my little brother and partner in crime, seventeen-year-old, Gabriel. He was my main training partner on the mats, as well as off the mats where we indulge in marathon sessions of Dragon Ball Z and the consumption of inhuman amounts of acai.
Post-nap, my afternoon was occupied by a family birthday party for Gabriel’s aunt, Renata. The bulk of my time was spent attempting to explain why I wasn’t eating any meat, which in Brazil is akin to suffering from a complete psychological breakdown. I did not possess the linguistic skill to explain that I’d had a vision under the influence of ayahuasca, which convinced me of our oneness with all the creatures of the Earth. Thus I had made an immediate decision to stop the consumption of animal carcasses. What I was able to say was, ‘because I like animals’. Consequently, and justifiably, I became the butt of everyone’s joke.
Monday brought my first day back on the mats after nearly three weeks estranged from my love. This was the longest time we’d spent apart in seven years, I was under no false illusions that there could be a failure at performing to my usual standards.
During the evening training at the FT Academy battle lines were drawn and cats slap hands and go to war. International black belt competitor, Switzerland’s own Thomas Oyarzún, was training at the academy. He was readying himself for the Masters Worlds after foregoing the 2016 competitive season to raise money for Terere’s charity, Terere Kids Project. Having watched the dude compete for years now, it was awesome getting to train together. My first roll meant a full seven minutes fighting to maintain my consciousness.
My second roll was with Mestre Tererê himself, which is still a magical experience no matter how many times we share the mat; as we slapped hands that Christmas morning excitement was visible on my face for all to see. After that, I had exhausted what little I had in the tank, but there would be no respite for me.
Returning this year, the mats at the academy have become a scary place, there was no easy rounds. Case in point as training continued, I was paired with one of the young dudes from the project, fourteen-year-old orange belt, Leo “Bebezao” Bandeira. I immediately discovered that he possessed a passing game akin to a young Rodolfo. In the interest of honesty, this young Spartan was delivering me a beat-down of seismic proportions. He performed blitzkrieg and my guard crumbled. To survive this onslaught, I am not too ashamed to admit; I was forced to foot-lock him. Attacking the feet is something that is still considered untoward here, and foot-locking a child is deemed a cardinal sin, I was condemned to Jiu-Jitsu hellfire!
Walking back through the favela after that evening’s session, Gabriel and myself encountered two young gentlemen; one held something to my chest. Due to the darkness I immediately arrived at the conclusion that it was a knife. I reacted accordingly and jumped back, unfortunately letting out a rather high pitched yelp. Gabriel hastily informed me it was actually one of the academy’s young students wanting to shake my hand. In my defence it was pitch black, nevertheless it was rather humiliating!
I actually ended up teaching the following morning due to Professor Fabricio suffering a knee injury, this was an amazing experience, delivering a session at my hero’s academy. Well, until disaster struck.
During positional sparring, I inverted to escape a back-take. As all my weight was on my neck, my partner chose that moment to jump on top of me. The resulting situation was two dudes on one neck. The multiple popping noises alerted me to the fact that something was awry. One full day of training and I was hurt, with my birthday the next day. An inability to train wasn’t exactly the present that I had been looking for!
As a result of the Olympics, there was a much diminished police presence in the favela. There was only one occasion during the week that I had a gun pointed at me – by the police anyway. As officers rolled past in their squad car, it was impossible not to notice the long barrel of some godforsaken weapon protruding ominously out of the window in my direction. This was unsettling no matter how many times it occurred, a device of death in the hands of cats you wouldn’t trust to look after a sandwich.
Due to this lack of police, there were young guys brazenly strolling around with their own weaponry out. On my way to training one evening, three young dudes casually rolled past, each armed with a pistol, with equally menacing expressions on their mugs.
A couple of days later, I was walking back up through the favela in the middle of the day. I was confronted by a teenager with a pistol in hand. This guy could have been no older than sixteen. My issue with this chance meeting was, the aforementioned pistol was pointed directly at me; he demanded to know exactly what I was doing there.
In fairness, he was one of the least threatening individuals you could hope to meet (minus the gun!) so the situation wasn’t as intimidating as it might sound. When I explained to him that I lived in the community, he became cordial, even throwing me a ‘valeu’ or two at me (thanking me) before sending me on my merry way. Nevertheless, I was somewhat relieved that he asked me a question that I knew how to respond to – things might not have ended so amicably otherwise!
Friday night’s training (well I should say, me watching Friday night’s training) brought a measure of hilarity to my otherwise glum, Jiu-Jitsu repressed mood. I watched two large black belts, one over a hundred kilos and the other one dangerously close to the same figure, cajole one another as they rolled with a fifteen-year-old green belt, Jhonathan ‘Moicano’ Marques. Whilst Moicano was berimboloing and climbing on the back of one of them, the other would be taunting from the sidelines, providing a running commentary of the action. Although, extracting some measure of revenge, I watched said black belt attempt to gogoplata the young whizz-kid with his own leg, in what was one of the weirdest positions I have ever seen. Sometimes flexibility can work against you!