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Living the Dream: Training BJJ in Rio

By: Erik Carman

Quitting my job to pursue BJJ full time was something I put considerable thought into. Moving to Rio to train for two months wasn’t.

It’s been a little more than two weeks since I abruptly left Colorado for the mecca of jiu-jitsu. Rio hasn’t disappointed: the beaches are gorgeous, the women are beautiful, the people are warm and the training is intense.

There are a lot of stereotypes associated with Rio, and over the years TV and films have painted the city as a cesspool of crime and violence. While there are certainly many areas where these concepts ring true, the places that I have frequented feel a lot like Europe, except more friendly. Most Brazilians don’t speak English, but they are extremely accommodating and sincerely try to understand my attempts at speaking their language (a far cry from Paris, for example).

Roberto Corrêa de Lima (Gordo)

Roberto Corrêa de Lima (Gordo)

Brazilians have a sense of community like I’ve never seen before. On my first night riding the bus there was a young lady sitting at the front, crying and distraught. Within a few minutes another, older lady got on the bus. It was clear she did not know the young woman in distress, but she stroked her hair, saying comforting things to her the way a mother would console her own daughter. This type of compassion seems almost antithetical the hustle of a big city, yet here in Rio it is prevalent.

True to its reputation, the people of Rio are some of the most attractive in the world. It seems like eating healthy and exercising are the norm, rather than the exception. The food is tasty, affordable, and I am developing a serious addiction to açaí with granola.

Connection Rio, the hostel for BJJ practitioners that I’m calling home, is situated in Barra da Tijuca, one of Rio’s nicest neighborhoods. The diversity of practitioners here at the house is astounding. Actually, I’m the only American guest. Other countries represented are: New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, England, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy and Israel. Gordo, the legendary instructor often accredited with the half guard game, is headquartered just around the block.

As a member of Easton BJJ, I received a warm welcome at Gordo’s. Many of the students wear the familiar Renzo Gracie kimono, whose image is also on the wall, and it feels like an extension of my home team. I use the phrase “students” here liberally, because most of those attending class are high-level black belts. Training with multiple black belts every day has been both informative and humbling; at least one of them has informed me that I focus on fancy open guard techniques at the expense of my fundamentals. This is feedback I’m taking seriously and striving to improve upon.

As you would expect from a martial arts master, Gordo has the calm reserve of a man who knows many things—like Mr. Miyagi, except younger and with better English. He holds two classes a day, morning and night, and teaches each one personally. Gordo is a fantastic instructor, always offering an English translation for each technique, and always willing to answer any questions. The atmosphere is jovial, friendly, and I’m reminded that one of the greatest benefits of jiu-jistu is the relationships you develop while practicing it.

I also had the chance to visit Terere’s, which was awesome. Terere is quite the character: a high-level competitor with goofy antics and a smile that never fades. He elected to roll with me, and even let me try the worm guard on him (which didn’t really work.) Budo Jake and his film crew were also in attendance, I’ll be sure to post the video once it’s released.

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This weekend I compete in a no-gi tournament. It will be interesting because no guard-pulling is allowed, giving me a chance to use some of the “wrastlin” Eliot Marshall makes us drill. Hopefully next week I can make the trek out to GF Team (it’s about a 2 hour bus ride). I’ll keep you guys updated on both!

When Erik isn’t training, he’s usually drinking coffee, eating açaí and playing on Tinder. He can be reached at Carman.Erik@gmail.com

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