Category Archives: Brazil

Competing BJJ in Brazil

Part III: Cheaper Than Protein

If you spend any time training in Brazil you will notice that a lot of dudes appear inhumanly shredded and have the strength to uchi-mata a bison. You will probably conclude without a great deal of pondering that these bodies have not been attained by chicken and rice or the twenty press-ups performed in the warm-up. If you bring your conclusion to someone with a little more knowledge of Brazil, you will invariably be informed steroids are cheaper than protein.

To unpack this longstanding claim, a 900g tub of a decent protein in Rio – will cost around 200 reals (£50). For some bizarre reason the smallest tubs of protein come in 900g portions rather than a whole kilo. A month’s supply of synthetic anabolic steroid, Winstrol also costs 200 reals. For an athlete training twice a day, 900 grams protein isn’t going to last too long. So, in essence this claim is in-fact true.

Winstrol was definitely not the only substance being used, amongst other things TRT was widespread, but PED use was very much unspoken. When questioning someone who appears to have had their head inflated with a balloon pump, they will invariably deny any infraction, thus making it difficult to gather information.

This use of PEDs for athletes in Brazil could not be more apparent than at tournaments themselves, regardless its size, from small region competitions to the CBJJ’s huge events, one only has to look around the bullpen to see their prevalence.

To call testing in jiu-jitsu lackadaisical would be to lavish it with high praise, the IBJJF test a handful of athletes each year. While, the most prestigious submission grappling championship, the ADCC does not test at all; testing in Brazil is completely non-existent.

You can notice PED usage most acutely in the Master’s division. Dudes in their forties with jaws as jacked as Andre the Giant and abs like the Ravishing Rick Rude. These aging black belts are some of the most intimidating men on Earth, many look like Mongol warlords who could rip limbs from mere mortals with relative ease.

The real concern for me are the teen athletes – purple and even blue belts who look as though a perfect set of abs has been superglued onto their frames.

Adults are responsible for themselves and should have done the necessary research before using PEDs, if they haven’t they deserve to suffer any negative consequences for their ignorance. But, impressible and in many cases uneducated teens for whom the top of the podium can seem like a matter of life and death can be convinced of upping their testosterone to astronomical levels by unscrupulous adults who they look to for guidance. These teens may have little or no understanding of possible long-term effects upon their bodies.

Competing in Brazil, you need to be aware that there is a very good chance that you will be competing against cats whose testosterone levels dwarf your own. I have both won and lost matches against such opponents. One always looks for excuses after losing, but, it is genuinely difficult not to feel aggrieved after being defeated by someone who has an unfair advantage.

The issue of PEDs is a highly divisive one, I think to be against them as an absolute is to not take into account all the nuances. There is an argument that at the highest level if everyone is using them, there is a level playing field, so how can it be considered cheating?  That being said, competitions in Brazil are beset by people who abuse them; from my perspective the onus should be on organisers, but frankly there appears no desire in Brazil to clean up the sport.

Competing BJJ in Brazil

Part 2: The Most Difficult Part

Looking through my notes the other day, I worked out that I’d competed ninteen times during the calendar year I spent in Rio; only three of these occasions were outside of the city.

Rio is home to a plethora of federations and organisations that hold competitions. This is by no means an exhaustive list but, there is jiu-jitsu’s official body the CBJJ, then there’s, FJJ Rio, FJJD Rio, SJJSAF, SJJIF, and the CBJJO.

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You are literally spoilt for choice and could compete every weekend if you are willing to travel, placing your life in the hands of the city’s homicidal bus drivers.

The difficult part is actually signing up. I am assuming like myself, you are used to entering tournaments via the organiser’s website, fill out a form, use a credit card and booya you’re good to go. However, in Brazil with the exception of the CBJJ’s events the process of actually securing your spot on the bracket is not nearly as straightforward. Each individual federation requires you to become a member.

The best possible scenario is, you have an academy as your permanent base and the professor is willing to help you sign up. In which case, all you have to do is find a photography shop (I have never seen a single passport photo booth) and get some pictures taken, hand them over with the money for your membership and entry and the rest will be done for you.

Both memberships and entry fees for regional competitions typically cost between 60-80 reals (£15-20).

Bearing in mind the example above is a best case scenario, if you’re dotting around academy to academy you will have to do it yourself. This means heading over to the federation’s offices to collect your card. An understanding of Portuguese is extremely beneficial, the process will already take longer than you would have ever deemed imaginable and despite the advertised hours the office might not actually be open when you get there.

If you already have your membership and just want to sign up – then you have to physically put your entry fee into the account of the organizer, which means going to the bank with their details to deposit the money. This is more arduous than it sounds, banks in Rio tend to have queues that tax years from one’s lifespan.

This should come as no surprise to anyone that has ever visited Brazil, where even the most basic of tasks seem to have multiple layers and inexplicable intricacies which makes just about everything complicated and time-consuming.

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Whilst this may appear to be a needlessly long-winded and frustrating process (it is!), but its culmination leads to some of the most gratifying, fun, challenging and self-defining moments that you are likely to have on the mats.

Part one can be found here.

Old School Jiu-Jitsu with a Twist of Eccentricity

After finishing training at 10 pm, getting up the following morning to attend a 7.30 am session was a tough ask. But taking a class with legendary teacher, ninth degree red belt, Mestre Paulo Mauricio Strauch was an opportunity too good to let tiredness or a broken body get in the way of.

Achieving his black belt from Mestre Reylson Gracie after only five years of training, Strauch established his own academy in Rio in 1984, opening up before my first birthday. He was a legend of the sport, while never actively competing he had become a teacher of world renown and as I would come to discover, one funny dude.

Getting on the mats at 7:30 am tired, sore and without the assistance of any caffeine, I was treated to a session of jiu-jitsu that was unlike anything I’d ever experience before.

Beginning with the warm-up – as we ran around the mats in single file, Mestre Strauch produced two thick wooden sticks. One by one, he had us jump over said sticks as he held them in a variety of positions.

To begin he held them stationary as you made your jump, but then he would keep them moving vertically or horizontally, forcing you to time your leap, it felt like a real life game of Mario. Although, failure wasn’t simply a case of losing a life, it involved looking like a penis and being hit with a stick for your troubles.

There was a strong emphasis on standing techniques. We drilled a foot-trip as one might practice waltzing, up and down we moved with our partners going trip for trip, Mestre Strauch was keen to impress upon us the importance of foot-work.

He didn’t teach isolated techniques, everything worked logically in a system, each technique led to the next, from standing to the ground, from the pass to a finish.

Mestre Strauch ensured that each student understood and could apply each technique, understanding was reinforced by having each pair demonstrate their proficiency in front of the entire class. I thought this was awesome, the fear of not wanting to look like some hapless idiot really motivated me to iron out all the nuances.

He really was a funny dude, constantly throughout the session he would dish out press-ups as punishment for a plethora of arbitrary reasons. After an individual had been punished he would quiz the class on their infraction, if you hazarded a guess then you would find yourself doing your own press-ups.

I did feel somewhat aggrieved after being admonished on multiple occasions for sitting in a way that was presumed to be gay; it’s 2016, being old-school doesn’t give you a pass for some homophobic bullshit.

About half way through the class, I looked on curiously as Mestre Strauch whipped out some boxing gloves; students were brought before the class and tested on how they would use their jiu-jitsu in the face of being smacked upside their heads. I was more than relieved that I wasn’t chosen to get up in front of everyone to be beaten with a stinky old boxing glove.

This was followed up by a  Q&A session on self-defence, it worked as an open forum with students asking questions and others offering their own solutions.

Then we were paired up and I assumed we would spend the rest of the session rolling. But, after one round, we moved onto one-on-one games of basketball, with the loser being forced to demonstrate the session’s techniques.

We finished up with four on four jiu-jitsu battles. They worked like traditional Survivor Series matches, when a person was submitted they would be forced to leave. But, teams could work together attacking one person, it could end up say, three on one, you might have someone on your back attacking your collar, another with your arm locked out at breaking point, while the obligatory wrist-locker conducted his own brand of sadism on your free hand. The only submissions not allowed were foot-locks which was a slight disappointment.

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My brother Gil and me with the legendary Mestre Strauch

While there was a decidedly old-school flavour to the proceedings, this was hands down the most unique session of jiu-jitsu, I had ever taken part in. Admittedly, it was not how I would like to train everyday, but it was refreshing to see how jiu-jitsu could be taken in a completely different direction to what is currently the norm.