Training diary: two months in Rio de Janeiro

My body tells this story better than I do. I'm covered in bruises from head to toe. My upper arms tell you I've been stuck in spider guard numerous times while the growing calluses on my fingers laugh at my incongruous manicure and cheerfully interject that I've caught a few people in my own. My hips bashfully yet proudly state that although I still get stuck on bottom too frequently, I'm learning to escape. The front my knees scream that I end up in side control on a good day or stuck in someone's half or closed guard on the other ones. The sides of my knees have been vandalized with a tag that says "De La Riva was here", while my jawline nonchalantly manifests evidence that I've been very ineffectively choked by a few people. The perpetual smile on my face despite all of this says the simplest and most important thing of all: jiu-jitsu is awesome.

While you read this, you should blast this song in order to more fully inhabit my emotional and mental space. If you hate Juan Gabriel, you're wrong.

Despite the optimism above, last month didn't begin well. One of my ankles has ligaments that are equivalent in strength to wet noodles and I caught that foot on the side of a mat and twisted it and was subsequently stuck sitting in bed, ankle elevated and wrapped with ice, bored out of my skull and watching Law & Order reruns for a week. There were work emergencies that kept me out of the gym for several consecutive days. And when I did go, I seemed to only roll with Tarantino-esque in their hyperviolence are the white belts, Joe. It was frustrating to feel like I was making no progress and not really enjoying myself, but I used the forced downtime to reassess the situation and fix my approach. After that I began going every day to the earlier classes (more blue+ belts, fewer musclebound psychofuck white belts, more people my size) with a lot more focus and had so much fun that I recently began going 8x/week instead of 5x, with the goal being 10x/week starting next week.

And you know what? Everything is getting better, except for the part where I wake up every day in pain and have trouble falling and staying asleep because it hurts to roll over. Some specific updates about issues I experienced in the last post:


This has undergone such a drastic transformation that my instructor has complimented me on it multiple times. Paraphrasing: "YOU WAR NOW!!!" Part of it is physical: I end up rolling with the big guys at my gym -- the 6'+, 200lb dudes, who outweigh, outmuscle, and out-experience me -- and previously I wasn't even capable of standing up while in their closed guard, much less creating space when they were in top position. They'd end up in side control and I'd be on my back thinking "how do I get this huge mutherfuker off of me without using my fists?" If I ever did end up in a dominant position, I'd use my weight incorrectly and immediately get swept or not have any idea how to go for a submission.

But I'm getting stronger every day, my balance is vastly improved, and I have better technique (which is to say, I have some rather than none). Instead of people worriedly consoling me and immediately offering me advice, I'm getting more pats on the back these days. Chipping away at the physical boundaries and understanding that I can escape has improved my willingness to try. Or, put another way, has decreased my willingness to give up.


Guess what? Repetition improves your ability to retain and utilize information that's presented to you! Now you know the whole secret of the universe. Basically, I remember the things we're taught much quicker now, and I remember them from class to class more frequently.


I still hate eating, but I'm eating more. I switched to doing basically the paleo diet for athletes, and I mostly live on spinach, bananas, chicken, red meat, and guacamole. I feel energetic and all of the normal markers for health are present (healthy hair, nails, and skin). I had to begin eating even more (which is horrible!!! how do you guys do it???) after increasing the number of classes I go to and I'm also consistently taking vitamins and began taking BCAAs before and after class, with the standard recovery shake after as well.

Rolling with Women

I finally rolled with other women! IT WAS TERRIFYING.

There are some other white belt women in my gym who, while still not close to my size, are merely 5 inches shorter rather than 8. They are still significantly smaller than me, but since we were all separately assessed as being unlikely to murder or accidentally dismember people, they let us roll together. (At my academy they try to prevent new white belts from rolling with each other as often as possible, doubly so for big size mismatches. This is more difficult in the later classes which are about 80% white, but much easier in the early classes which are closer to 20%.)

I have to say: it was really weird. Not only am I not accustomed to rolling with people who are that much smaller than me, I am also not accustomed to rolling with people who are much faster and a lot less strong. If they kept top position, I had trouble because I sometimes simply could not move quick enough to stop them from passing my guard (though long legs were very useful) and couldn't tell what the fuck was going on because they were zooming all over the place. This was a vaguely familiar dynamic that I remembered from muay thai: every time I sparred with a tiny woman, she would brutalize me partially because I couldn't keep up and partially because I was afraid to respond in kind. They'd kick me really fucking hard, and it would hurt, but I always thought "if I do that to you, you will fly through the wall." In jiu-jitsu, it was more or less over as soon as I got top position, but it was a really interesting and strange experience.

Life in Rio

It continues apace. I go dancing almost every weekend, still (as most of you in Friday & Saturday night live threads probably know), and I desperately wish I could pick up jiu-jitsu as quickly as I did forró. Recently I went with my academy to the Campeonato Brasileiro de Jiu-Jitsu and watched ten gazillion matches of brown and black belts which was a blast. But mostly it's just work and jiu-jitsu.

Edited to add a very weird story: one night I was in Lapa (the party area of Rio with tons of clubs and drunk people milling about outside and where I go get my dance on) and this group of guys began talking to me. Standard boring chit chat "where are you from? why are you here?" and when I told them I came to Rio to learn jiu-jitsu, they didn't believe me. One of them was so drunk that he actually semi-seriously attempted to go for a takedown and I somehow magically caught him in a guillotine and made him tap.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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