Category Archives: Jiu-Jitsu

What to Expect Competing BJJ in Brazil

Part One: Why Can’t We Be Friends? 

Last year whilst training at Robert Drysdale’s academy in Las Vegas, the former ADCC open-weight champion delivered a class on competition strategy. As well as giving excellent advice on the athletic side of things, he provided useful tips on tournament etiquette.

He explained, when competing you must never interact with your opponent prior to the match. To paraphrase, there was nothing positive that could be gained from engaging with an opponent prior to stepping on the mat, you have to be mindful of the fact, this is someone who wants to stop you from achieving success.

Pity Drysdale didn’t give me any useful advice on my beard.

Now, I’m sure this is a sound piece of advice, and it obviously worked for him, but it is something that is near impossible to achieve whilst competing in Brazil.

The labeling of Brazilians as warm and friendly may be a generalisation, but in my own experience it is one which is difficult to dispute, and the competitive environment of a jiu-jitsu tournament does little to dampen these positive traits.

I would struggle to count the times that I’d been invited to stay at dudes’ homes and train at their academies while awaiting our match.

I’ve even been lent a rash-guard by an opponent when my own did not pass the stringent requirements imposed by the authoritarian tournament officials. Typically, the officials who subjectively wield their power with impunity are the only cats that you won’t find smiling.

Another new bestie at the IBJJF Brazilian Nationals in São Paulo.

After competing, I have been shown around cities, taken out to eat and even dropped off at the airport.

One of the biggest fears for the first time competitor in Brazil is failing to hear your bracket being called. This could be a legitimate concern, even when you do understand the language the sound systems are typically inaudible.

However, the chances of missing your match are incredibly low. By virtue of being a confused looking gringo in the bullpen you will acquire a new ‘irmao‘ or two who will go out of their way to ensure you’re checked off the competitors list and out onto the mats to do your thing.

Bottom line, you might be trying to fashion the Drysdale silent treatment but this process will more than likely be derailed after you’re inundated with introductions, smiles, friendly conversation, messages of good luck and man-hugs. And personally, I’m all for it.


Next up:

Black belts wear what the fuck they want

The Legend Returns

Tonight the mats at Polaris see the return of one of jiu-jitsu’s greatest champions and the rekindling of an old rivalry.

Fernando Terere and Vitor Shaolin have a storied history meeting three times previously, with Shaolin emerging victorious on each of those occasions.

Shaolin himself, has recently returned to jiu-jitsu competition and has been on a tear – with a gold medal at this year’s Master’s World Championships, as well as submission victories at Polaris 3 against Nakamura Daisuke and Daniel Moraes at the Abu Dhabi World Pro.

Since returning to jiu-jitsu after battling the personal issues which stole his prime, Terere has competed sporadically and with mixed results. He took silver at the Europeans in 2013 but was soundly beaten by Vinicius Marinho in the Alliance vs. GF Team challenge at Copa Podio later that year. But he bounced back winning gold at the 2014 Europeans in the Master’s division.

This match is not something that he has taken lightly, his preparation has included training with Alliance compatriots: Fabio Gurgel and Lucas Lepri, as well as bringing in Cantagalo’s finest black belts including Sandro Viera and Leandroratinho ‘Ratinho’ Luizdasiva. This has been coupled with a new strength and conditioning regime that has seen a significant change in his physique.


There has been no playing in the last eight weeks, the jovial character, the dancing and the joking has all but disappeared, replaced by a seriousness and a quiet resolve that I have never seen from him.

As the contest has got closer, training with him has gone from being something I looked forward to everyday, to something I began to dread as his ferociousness and intensity increased exponentially. To roll with him has been to get a small taste of what it must have been like for his opponents at the turn of the century: fruitless, painful, and soul destroying.

His jiu-jitsu has been galvanised by this challenge. He has been ruthless with his training partners, destroying guards with his famed back-step pass, moving as quick as the young man in the grainy videos that I’d studied endlessly; showing absolutely no mercy as he’s choked and arm-barred with impunity.

I wouldn’t like to predict what will happen tonight, but to see the legend back where he belongs, doing what he loves to do is enough for me.


Competing with a Broken Rib

The Tijuca Tennis Clube first opened its doors in 1914 as a facility for young people and their families to play tennis, it soon expanded to other sports including: swimming, football, badminton, volleyball and gymnastics. However, it is most revered by the jiu-jitsu community who consider it a sacred venue.


The club hosted the inaugural world championships in 1996 a tradition which continued until 2006. It saw jiu-jitsu history on its mats with legends such as: Royler Gracie, Saulo and Xande Ribeiro, Mario Sperry, Roger Gracie and Fernando Terere winning world championships there; it played host to some of the most famous battles in the history of the sport.

Standing by the side of mats at the Tijuca Tennis Clube, I was about to compete in the Brasilerios Sem Kimono, it would be my fourth time competing there; stepping into the middle of those mats, in front of hundreds of cheering Brazilians was always a monumental occasion.

But, I was faced with a dilemma, the inability to actually do any jiu-jitsu.

To back up a little – at the academy last Wednesday, whilst rolling with fifteen-year-old Leo “Bebezao” Bandeira, a Rodolfo-esque hulk of a youth, disaster had struck. He had sunk in a clock choke, which resulted in a struggle for dear life to prevent a trip to Snooze Town.

As I moved my lower body in the opposite direction of the choke, my upper body remained rooted to the spot. Then I’d felt a sickening pop from my ribs.

I knew damage had been done but resisted offers to get it looked at, confirmation would have kept me from competing.

Besides pain whenever I sat up, turned in my sleep, laughed or sneezed, there was an additional issue, being 2.5 kilos overweight. In lieu of any exercise, losing the weight meant not eating, this really added to my misery.

So I stepped out onto those famous mats which had hosted Jacare’s herculean effort in defeating Roger Gracie with a broken arm. I wanted to invoke the spirit of Jacare and claim victory despite the injury, but discovered instantly that I couldn’t do a thing.

After pulling guard, it was apparent that I wasn’t able to move onto my side to play half-guard or dive underneath for deep half, it just hurt too much. I managed to get to X-guard but was unable to sit up as my whole ribcage felt like it was about to explode.

I was able to prevent my opponent from passing, but lost via two advantages, after being pinned flat to the mat.

My visible grimacing throughout the contest must of been a dead giveaway to my injury; exiting the mats I was pulled aside by the doctor who wanted to take a look at me. Examining my ribs, she concluded immediately that they were broken. She wasn’t overly amused when I explained that it had happened four days earlier but I’d decided to compete anyway.


With the knowledge gained from hindsight, I shouldn’t have competed, yet, I couldn’t resist another opportunity to step foot on jiu-jitsu’s hallowed ground.