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.
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.