A Tale of Two Cities


Leaving for a weekend in the southern city of Curitiba to compete at the IBJJF Open, I made my packing decisions based on the fact it was Brazil, painfully oblivious to the multiple climates that exist in a country this size. In addition to my kimono, I equipped myself with nothing heavier than t-shirts and shorts.

As soon as I stepped foot off the plane and was welcomed by the bitter cold and a torrential downpour, I realised my mistake. At the hostel, I sought confirmation that this was just a blip on an otherwise unending summer’s day. These hopes were unequivocally dashed.

I was prepared to be cold and miserable for the entirety of my stay, warming myself with self-righteous indignation not to purchase a single extra item of clothing.

At breakfast the following morning, after detailing my plight, a kind Australian dude offered me his hoody. Such an act of altruism couldn’t help but make you feel very positive about your fellow man. Although, perhaps such kindness comes easier to those helping themselves to a healthy measure of vodka with their breakfast OJ.

Unfortunately, there was no good karma in store for my considerate benefactor, he was unceremoniously ejected from the hostel shortly after his charitable act. Less to do with alcohol issues and more to do with being an anti-social menace. I wasn’t privy to the details, but I had heard him belittling a crying baby; humans are full of contradictions!


At the tournament I found myself waiting for my bracket cloaked in a rash guard, two t-shirts, the hoody, and my kimono. I was still freezing.

It appeared that I was the only idiot who was unaware of Curitiba’s Arctic-esque conditions; fellow competitors could be seen sporting hats, gloves and scarves, others huddled together under blankets to escape the onset of hypothermia.

Nevertheless, it was an awesome day on the mats. I had three matches, a comfortable points win in my first, a rear naked choke in the second and a closely fought final where I was given the nod via a referee’s decision.

I was overjoyed with the result after what had been a rather auspicious training camp in preparation for the tournament; traveling for a month with minimal time on the mats, and a neck injury which had prevented me from doing much rolling. In addition to a stomach bug the previous week which had kept me from training on pain of soiling myself.


As I changed my clothes to leave, I discovered that my coconut water had leaked in my bag, consequently every item of clothing was thoroughly soaked. The fact that I was wet through, smelled of stale coconut, it was still pouring in rain and the temperature had dropped didn’t concern me with a gold medal warming up my sky rocket.

Back to the mats the following day for the no-gi, it had somehow become even colder. You know when the referee has a jacket under his shirt and his breath was clearly visible that it was too cold to be rocking nothing but shorts and a rash guard. Due to the temperature, the mats had transformed themselves into slabs of concrete which were perfect for tearing chunks of skin off feet and elbows.

I had another three matches but fell short of the previous day’s accomplishment. My adversary from yesterday’s final was able to exact his revenge with a 4-0 victory after taking my back. Even the fateful mistake of crossing his legs would not dissuade him from victory as he let his foot pop after I applied maximum pressure. He hopped his way to the podium to collect his gold and I had to settle for silver.


To my complete shock, the sun came out the next morning which gave me a chance to explore Curitiba. The main talking point about the city seemed to be, just how good its transport system was, apparently it was the envy of the world; a number of other countries (my sources varied on a figure) had emulated it exactly. In fairness, it was extremely efficient; unlike Rio, the bus drivers didn’t display any obvious genocidal tendencies.

During my aimless wander around the city, I witnessed a very large man being arrested. Struggling police officers had forced him onto the ground, one was kneeling on his head, two others stood by with guns at the ready, a fourth officer put him in handcuffs. The dude was not making their job easy, he was thrashing around, screaming and trying to stand up, basically the exact opposite of how I would react if a Brazilian policeman had a gun pointed at my dome.

I wasn’t aware, but it must have been crowd participation day. As the situation unfolded, a random member of the public appeared from the large group of onlookers and started kicking ass. I’m not being facetious; he was literally aiming kicks into the handcuffed man’s behind. I am assuming this was a misplaced effort to aid the police. What was wild, the police just stood by and let the good Samaritan do his thing.



My time in Curitiba was perfectly contrasted by a visit to Manaus, a city in the Northwest of Brazil in the heart of the Amazonas. I had visited the previous year to compete, yet, somehow in the eschewing twelve months, I had forgotten just how humid it was. In the sweltering humidity of the city one doesn’t even have to move in order to sweat. Just sitting down reading would result in a flow of precipitation cascading through your fingers.

Matters are not helped by the presence of open sewers throughout the city, the intense heat magnified the overpowering stench of faeces.


I was back to compete at the IBJJF Manaus Open. Having won gold in both the gi and no-gi last year, I was there for nothing less than a repeat.

From the offset, I was lucky to even win my first match in the gi. I fell prey to a kimura – but as my shoulder was about to explode, my opponent thankfully gave up on it, from there, I was able to sweep and pass for the victory.

In the final after a quick sweep to take the top position, I found myself in a wrist-lock out of nowhere. As a proponent of this nefarious hold, the audacity of it being applied led to my refusal to capitulate until my tendons began to tear. I had to suppress the urge to scream ‘FUCK’ at the top of my lungs.

The silver medal seemed largely irrelevant, I had just been wrist-locked in front of hundreds of people; the humiliation of it, I wanted to cry. My gracious opponent sensing my distress even apologized for his beautiful application of this universally maligned submission.

While my performance was far better in the no-gi, it led to the same result, the acquisition of a silver medal. Losing out again to my new friend, Wilson in what was probably my favorite competitive match.

In the final, I pulled guard and was nearly passed from the offset, surviving a near back-take and arm-bar attempt. I rallied and we went sweep for sweep, I had a number of near back-takes and a close call with a gogoplata attempt. The match ended 2-2 on points and 2-2 on advantages. I believed, that I had done enough to win, but it was not to be and Wilson was awarded the decision.



I had a litany of complaints due to what I felt was discriminatory refereeing throughout the day,  the arbitrary awarding of advantages to my opponents, I would do the same and receive nothing. There certainly isn’t any gringo-privilege in the Amazon. However, it is more important to lament my own performance which for the most part sucked. I had come with the goal of double gold, even with two silvers I left Manaus feeling severe disappointment. Although, I couldn’t have lost to a nicer dude.


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