Part 6: Grapplers are Weird
During my time in Brazil I spent many a weekend hauled up in huge gymnasiums and sports halls. This resulted in the mass consumption of terrible acai, and sitting through endless hours of jiu-jitsu whereby all but the most sublime guard passes, sweeps and submissions eventually faded into obscurity.
A typical tournament day with your team can last a resolve-testing twelve hours, from the kids who compete early doors through to master white-belts who demonstrate their unique brand of grappling right at the death. During this time, guaranteed you will bear witness to a whole host of funky shit.
Black belts wear what they want
When you are a veteran black belt and your cauliflower face bares the scars of a thousands war-torn battlefields where you waded through a sea of dispatched kimono-clad corpses, nobody is going to tell you what you can and cannot wear, regardless of how ridiculous you may look. This includes Havaianas with socks, wrapping yourself up in a leopard print blanket, or even rocking dress shoes to warm up in.
When you’re a black belt you are also free to announce to the world that you are indeed a badass who has achieved this highest of accolades. So, if you want to rock a shirt with a black belt on, that’s cool; matching bracelet, no doubt; fitted cap with the black belt printed on that piece, no fucking problem. You want to take it to the next level and stick a black belt on your glasses, go ahead, no one is going to say shit to you!
‘Sweep him you son of a bitch’
The impassioned and somewhat crazed nature of Brazilian crowds is well documented – jiu-jitsu tournaments are no different, which is one of the things that makes competing in Brazil compared to everywhere else so special. This craziness is predominantly positive but it can overflow into critique, anger and even extreme vitriol when directed at athletes from rival teams or an official who makes a bad call.
Critique of the other in a sporting context is the natural order of things, and jiu-jitsu is no different in this respect. However, the derisive nature in which some instructors and teammates coach from the side-lines can at times be bewildering. I for one would struggle to find a modicum of strength to pitch that last-ditch effort after being lambasted for being a ‘filho da puta’.
One of my friends insisted on calling everyone ‘mulher’, somehow he assumed that using this gender pronoun as a pejorative would will one on to an inspired victory, it didn’t.
No Germophobes Allowed
Over the summer I saw someone throw up in the bullpen, it was as inconspicuous as one could hope given the circumstances, the dude in question ejected a little watery vomit at the side of the railings and scarpered pronto. I seemed to be the only one who noticed. This was not the grossest thing that I witnessed in the bullpen, I became aware of a curious phenomenon, competitors that felt no shame in hocking up and firing big fat, phlegm filled greenies onto the floor. This was repugnant on some many levels not least the fact that I had to use the very same cold concrete floor to carve out some semblance of a warm-up.
When I first began training in Brazil I was shocked by teammates who would blow their nose directly into their kimonos between rounds. Although, it didn’t take too long to become comfortable with the practice, eventually it became normalised to such an extent that I began doing it myself. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between one’s own bodily fluids and that of random dudes’; expelling snot-ridden spit onto an area where other dudes would come into direct contact with it, was just straight nasty!
Coming from the secular land mass of the British Isles it never ceases to baffle me the level of religiosity that finds its way into jiu-jitsu competition in Brazil. Personally, I feel those athletes who so fervently thank God in-victory, should be thanking their coaches and their teammates. Nevertheless, each and every tournament, you will find athletes praying, and making the sign of the cross prior to their match, hopeful of Jesus’ intercession in their respective contests. I imagine an omnipresent God would take a great deal of interest in jiu-jitsu.
This belief in a metaphysical helping hand makes perfect sense when you consider, Brazil has the largest Catholic population of any country in the world, a staggering 130 million people. This is coupled with the evangelical church which now accounts for 22 percent of the population after years of exponential growth. In this sense the mats of Brazil’s jiu-jitsu tournaments foster the true spirit of ecumenism – different denominations gathered together praising their God in (relative) harmony.
Although, it would be interesting to poll the data to see which interpretation of God’s word proves the dominant one on the mats, maybe the analysis of such data could prove once and for all which is the correct path to true salvation.