Category Archives: Brazil

How I Found Myself In a Football Riot In Brazil

Brazilian football fans are presented as passionate and fun-loving, a fanbase that dance in the stands with their faces painted, and turn games into one giant party. I recently discovered this isn’t a complete picture.

Leaving the Tijuca Tennis Clube on Sunday, sporting broken ribs and an insatiable desire for pizza, our group managed to walk into the middle of a pitched battle between Brazilian football hooligans.

Brazil’s most popular team, Flamengo were playing Sao Paulo based, Corinthians that afternoon. Whilst not a local derby there exists a passionate rivalry between the two teams.

As we reached the end of the street, in the square across the road, chaos was unfolding before our very eyes.

There was none of pseudo macho posturing or the usual ‘come-on then’ rhetoric that is predisposed to the idiots at home, I didn’t even see a single ‘wanker’ gesture. Fists were flying from all angles. Many of the angry looking men had acquired weapons of sticks and bats and were using them to bash each other.

Whilst we were close to the action it seemed a relatively safe vantage point, that was until a mob decked out in Flamengo’s red and black charged in our direction.

As they entered the street, there was a collective ‘shiiiiiit’ from our group as we sprinted to get away from these weapon-clad brigade of hate-filled mentalists. Broken ribs or not, I moved like the Flash.

There appeared a very realistic possibility of being beaten by a large blunt object had we failed to react. We weren’t the only ones who’d come to this same conclusion, a middle aged woman, apparently more attuned to the danger, had taken off slightly earlier and left us in her dust.

Other fleeing people took refuge in whatever shop or business they could find as shutters slammed down.

We made it back to the Tijuca Tennis Clube, figuring a venue full of grapplers would be the safest place in Rio. As we reached the entrance in an effort to help an acai vendor save his stock, the doors were shut on us, we had to plead to be let in.

The word soon went out and jiu-jitsu athletes started pouring into the street, many appearing far too eager for an opportunity to choke out some football fans.

Making it home later that afternoon – after eventually acquiring pizza, to discover this violence was just the tip of the iceberg following serious disturbances within the stadium.

Brazil might have some of the most passionate and fun-loving fans in the world, but they are equally passionate about punching each other in the face.

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.


God Bless the Dead?

I am always shocked by how quickly things return to normal in the favela. Tuesday morning, the sun was shining and people went back to their day-to-day routines; besides an increased police presence, the was no sign of the explosion of violence that had occurred the day before. There was no visible evidence of the running gun battles between police and the local traffickers which had left three young men dead in the streets.

So, I was surprised to find on Thursday that everything was closed again: bakeries, general stores, bars, and restaurants were all locked down. Walking through the community I feared the worst,  maybe the ‘tiros’ was about to start again. Arriving at the academy for training, I discovered the reason, it was the funeral of the dead traffickers. Everything was closed as a mark of respect.

I have written about this before, the strange relationship between the traffickers and the residents of Cantagalo. These young men had brought terror into the heart of the community, they had put the lives of everyone in danger, caused all of those owning and operating small businesses to lose an essential day’s wages; led to residents being effectively held hostage in their homes or trapped outside unable to get to their families.

I personally struggled understanding why their deaths should be commemorated. Yet, they were looked upon by the community as their own. They were once the innocent children of Cantagalo, and regardless of their choices in adulthood, they had left behind grief-stricken parents, wives, girlfriends, young children and friends, all who wanted to celebrate their lives and the rest of the community showed their solidarity by joining them.