Category Archives: Brazil

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.

A Ballsy Approach to Rolling

During my recent trip to Curitiba I was able to catch a session at DNA BJJ.  A school ran by third degree black belt, Joao Raphael Simpson.

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After two days of competing I was feeling a slight disconnect from any desire to strangle dudes but the academy was just down the road from my hostel, so it would have been rude to have left without paying a visit.

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There was an abundance of cardio for the warm-up which left every muscle in my body screaming “I fucking hate you” in unison at me. Although an extended warm-up was imperative as Curitiba was so freaking cold.

After some half-guard exploration we prepared for specific sparring, albeit with a twist. This rolling exercise involved the restriction of one’s grips by holding tennis balls, the higher the belt the more restrictive it became.

For example, if you were a purple belt rolling with a white belt, you would hold two balls and they would be free to use both their hands. Whilst if you were a white belt rolling with a blue belt, you would hold one and they would hold two.

Obviously, unless you have hands like Brock Lesnar, two balls is your maximum, so if a black belt was rolling with a blue belt it would still be two balls against free hands.

There was a punitive element, if you dropped your ball / balls at any point, it would result in press-ups, the more times you dropped, the more push-ups would ensue.

Not only was this a fun exercise but one which was very challenging. It made it abundantly clear how incumbent you are on your grips to do anything.

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It was also a game that serves to keep higher belts humble. Trust me, when you’re rolling with a 95KG white belt without the ability to grip, you certainly have to go balls to the wall just to survive.

Jiu-Jitsu, Jesus and Politics in Rio

A high-level of religiosity finds its way into jiu-jitsu competition in Brazil. Every tournament, you will find athletes praying, making the sign of the cross or sporting ‘Aletha de Cristo’ patches on their kimonos.

Some athletes spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to invoke Jesus’ presence prior to their match. Waiting for my opponents while they finish praying, has given me plenty of time to ponder: is there a set criteria for the Lord’s intercession in these contests?

This faith in the metaphysical  shouldn’t surprise anyone when Brazil has the largest Catholic population of any country in the world, a staggering 130 million people.

I feel these athletes who praise God in-victory, really should be praising themselves. It is their hard-work; all the hours on the mats, fighting through fatigue and injury to perfect their craft. But, it is harmless enough.

However, this week, Rio has elected Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical bishop with a preponderance for hatred to be its mayor; this on the other hand could be extremely harmful.

The Brazilian Republican Party candidate, Crivella was able to handily beat his opponent, the left-wing human rights activist, Marcelo Freixo, after gaining 59% of the vote.

Terrifyingly, he was able to do this after espousing a litany of hateful and moronic views. He labelled homosexuality “evil”, before dipping his toe into the toxic pool of pseudo-science with claims that homosexuality was a result of suffering in the womb.

Rather than attempting to foster the spirit of ecumenism with the Catholic Church, he labelled them as “demonic”.

My own particular favourite, when questioned on the theory of evolution, he explained “there is no conclusive proofs that one species could generate another species”.

It would be remiss of me to forget, he also accused Hindus of “Child sacrifice”.

Evangelical Christianity is growing in Brazil and now accounts for a fifth of the population, Crivella is an ordained bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God which is the largest of the evangelical churches.

The Church was founded in Brazil by Crivella’s uncle, billionaire, Edir Macedo and now exports its own brand of evolution denying idiocy around the globe including churches in the UK and United States.

A great deal of Crivella’s support has come from Rio’s favelas, where he had promised to end the violence and provide effective sanitation for all.

It is true that, all my friends and family who live in the Cantagalo favela hold Christian beliefs of some sort, atheism is considered a form of malignant fiction. The community is awash with both Catholic and Evangelical churches and it is impossible not to be beset upon by friendly proselytising Christians. However, Crivella’s support wasn’t completely based along religious lines.

Rio’s poor traditionally supported left-wing parties. But, the Workers Party lost their trust as a result of the corruption scandal which saw Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff impeached earlier this year. Perhaps most devastatingly, the fact that former president and hero of the people, Luiz Lula da Silva was facing his own corruption charges.

Anyone who remembers the Simpsons episode where the family visit Rio may be stuck thinking that Rio is a hedonistic paradise where one is free to flaunt their sexuality from the rooftops, whatever form it takes. You would be mistaken in thinking this.

As much as I love Rio, it would be wrong not to acknowledge the prevalent culture of machismo that legitimises homophobia as well misogyny. Women are treated as objects and gay people are treated with, at best disdain, at worst outright hatred.

I have seen it first-hand with my own friends and training partners. When questioned on their casual homophobia, I’ve been met with “it’s just wrong”, when pushed on why, it was variations on the theme of, God created men and women for each other. All roads lead back to Eden, right!

According to gay rights groups in 2014 there was a homophobic or a transphobic killing every single day in Brazil.

A man who claims that homosexuality is a result of failed abortion attempts, is hardly one to rectify the prevalence of this barbarism. Although, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God purport to have a cure for homosexuality, so my guess, it won’t be an issue for much longer.

Perhaps I have been too harsh on Crivella, everybody is free to change their mind, and God knows we all say stupid things. During his campaign, he has attempted to distance himself from his aforementioned views, citing them as the opinions of an immature pastor. He was certainly an immature 42-year-old.

Crivella maintains that the Church will have no influence on public policy. However, there are plans to freeze government spending for the next twenty years, which will result in severe cuts in education. It would not be a stretch to imagine what little money there is, being spent on textbooks that feature Adam and Eve riding dinosaurs.

Now might be the time to start praying; Rio is in trouble.