Well, I guess I should start with a little about me. I am a 4 stripe blue belt at Easton BJJ in Denver and this was my first trip to Brazil. I was very excited about the trip, but just as apprehensive about stepping onto some of the world's legendary mats and wondering how my game would translate. I weigh about 250 pounds, so much of my game is based on that, though I try and develop away from it and focus more on technique. Needless to say, I was fully prepared to spend 2 weeks tapping.
We stayed in Recreio at a friend's condo, basically the next part of Rio down from Barra. It was beautiful and a very nice area, but you never really feel completely safe down there. A lot of poverty and desperation, combined with government corruption, make people do some crazy things, like rob gringos, lol. If you have not seen City of God, do so, it is a very realistic portrayal of life in the flavelas of Rio.
If you go down, I suggest a few things. Learn a little conversational Brazilian Portuguese. Don't exchange money, just use the ATMs. Don't drink the water. Go to a pharmacy and buy a 3 day antibiotic treatment. Wear mirrored sunglasses (for obvious reasons, lol).
So on to the training! Our first week we trained at Gracie Barra, which is located on the top floor of a health club. The mat is reasonably new and not nearly as bad as all the stories I had heard. It was in the 70's, but pretty humid, so you sweat almost instantly and continuously while training. I went with a GB blackbelt, so it was like a reunion for him and a lot of pressure for us to represent him well. The first thing I noticed, is that NOTHING starts on time in Brazil. We thought we were late for class and instead, we were amongst the first on the mat. There were students from all over, USA, Japan, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and others.
The classes weren't huge, usually about 30 students or so, but many were black or brown belts. I must have rolled with 15-20 different black belts on the trip! I think being a bigger guy, they put you with higher belts as a sort of equalizer. Right off the bat I find out that they love doing wristlocks at GB! Tap. Tap. Ok...enough. Time to tighten it up a bit and no more damn wristlocks!
Next thing is they love to attack from knee-on-stomach. Now while this is amazingly effective, it plays into my game pretty well and I manage to hold my own for most of the time at GB. Now, when I say "hold my own", I mean make the guys work for it and give them some trouble of my own. I managed to tap a blackbelt while down there, the first time I have done that. Swept him from half-guard, passed to mount and he left his arm across...arm triangle!
On our second or third day, I walk up to GB and look out on the mat at a female black belt...Kyra Gracie. Hell yeah! Of course, they don't allow 250 pound bluebelts to roll with Kyra, but it was still pretty cool being on the mat with her. In case you were wondering, I watched her tap some pretty decent guys her size.
So we leave GB and walking down the street is Jacare. Apparently he is no longer welcome to train at GB, but does his physical therapy at the health club. Pretty cool to see him, and he is a big dude.
So everyone at GB was really welcoming and nice to us. We did a couple of Ginastica Natural classes, led by Raphael Romano (his dad developed GN) and a lot of training there. The basic structure of the class was, warm up then train. they only showed technique one time for guys over white belt. But whatever you are having trouble with, they take you aside and work with you after the training. Most classes had at least 10 black belts in them, and they went however hard you did. If you spaz and go crazy, they will shut you down. If you use control and roll hard, that is what they will do.
So, most days, we trained in the morning, went to the beach, then went to train at night. The weekends we took off for tourist stuff, shopping and so on. On the first Friday, we decided to go to a MMA card in Niteroi, which is across the bay from Rio. One of the GB guys was in the main event and won. It was the WFC, and the fighter we went to watch is Gustavo "Ximu" Machado. So this was equivalent to a regional show in the US, but let me tell you, every fighter went after it as soon as the bell rang. This was the most action packed card I have ever seen, by far. No feeling out process, no tentativeness, just getting it on! Not only did we see great fights, but we payed like 10 Reals more (about 5 US dollars) to sit in the VIP area around the ring and got free drinks and food. Unfortunately, they sold more tickets, than they had chairs set up. So they brought out some plastic chairs and we got stuck sitting in the front row ringside! Next thing I know, some guys ass is bumping me in the shoulder. I look up and see he is pretty jacked and wearing a sleeveless, muscle hoodie...yep, Ricardo Arona. Then the fans start going nuts and it is the Nogiera brothers, who proceeded to get absolutely mobbed, but we managed to get pics! Also saw WEC up and comer Jose Aldo there. Pretty damn awesome time.
Week 2 and we spent a couple of days at the beach town of Buzios, absolutely beautiful area. Training, we trained some at GB, but focused more on getting to Roberto "Gordo" Correa's academy. On Monday, we trained 2 hours at GB in the morning, then 3 hours that night at Gordo's. So we roll in and start with a fairly lengthy warm-up, then 100 takedowns (only go down on every tenth one), then about 45 minutes of king of the mat takedowns, then about an hour and a half straight king of the mat from knees. Now these guys are no joke. You go, go hard and don't stop until you are on your way home. I have never been so tired in my life! Now, let me tell you about the mat! It is orange and it is a wood frame filled with shredded rubber tires. Sounds great, right? Problem is, all the rubber has been packed down HARD, and the wood for the framing sticks up about an inch above the rubber! You have to really watch yourself or you will be in pain.
Next, we trained at Gordo's newer academy. Same type of training, but much, much better mat, thankfully. Unfortunately, I got a little sick the last few days and it zapped a lot of my energy. No way I would miss the training, but I definitely was much weaker. Now, let me tell you, when you are 250 pounds, you don't want to get beaten by a 150 pound purple belt...and I didn't. Instead, I got thorougly manhandled by one! It was great fun and we laughed about it afterwards, but I'm pretty sure I heard him laughing while he was working me over! Got to meet Raphael Dos Anjos there, and he was about 190 pounds. He fights lightweight.
I know this is a lot to read, but I easily could make it 2 or 3 times as long. Instead, I will let you guys post any questions you might have and do my best to answer them. It was an amazing experience and I plan to try and make it an annual trip.
Going there was like making a trip to the Mecca of BJJ. Guys were great, but hardcore. It is a tremendous sacrifice for most of them to pay to train BJJ in Brazil. Guys had gis that looked centuries old, because they couldn't afford to buy new ones. I learned a lot about how good most of us have it, and we should never =, ever take that for granted.
Here are some pics I took:
That is me in the blue gi at Gordo's.
With Gordo, Marcio "Mamazinho" Laudier and Rafael Dos Anjos.
Me at Gordo's.
Me getting choked, my buddy getting armbared and another friend looking on. That guy is a super cool blackbelt at GB. He is 57 and didn't start training until he was 40.
Me at the WFC with Big Nog. So many cameras, he didn't know where to look!
Arona with the usher girls.
Kyra Gracie with my Professor Mario "Busy" Correa.
Me applying the half-guard guillotine to a brown belt at GB.
The classic Gracie Barra picture!