Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thursday Afternoon: Gracie Floripa


Florianopolis is the capital of the state of Santa Catarina, with a population of around 400,000. We have been staying on the outskirts, in a little beach community called Lagoa de Conceicao (we are actually on the outskirts of Lagoa – in Porto da Lagoa.) So far, I haven’t even made it into the city itself – besides my one trip to the university district last night. This is partially by design.

We didn’t want to be in a city due to safety concerns for our daughter. I had some work to do a few weeks ago and stayed home the day everyone else went into town. And I’ve been doing so many lessons with Glenio, there really wasn’t much need to go elsewhere.

But today I am Marvio’s guest at Gracie Floripa – right in the middle of downtown. I’m not sure what to expect. Gracie Floripa is one of the most-successful competition teams in Brazil. Alexandre Souza is one of the best grapplers in the world. This should be interesting.

Liz agrees to drive me into town so she and Aya can do some shopping while I’m at the gym. I get stressed anytime I am late for anything. The drive to Centro Floripa is full of wrong turns and false starts. Downtown Florianopolis is a snake pit of narrow, cobblestone streets. I’d planned to meet Marvio out front 15 minutes before class starts. I got there 2 minutes after the scheduled start time. I hate being late. I am counting on the legendary Brazilian aversion to punctuality to save my skin.

I don’t see Marvio out front so I go in on my own. The club is another fitness centre. This place seems to be primarily a karate/muay thai/fitness gym. The guy at the front desk doesn’t speak English, as usual. I bust out my white-belt Portuguese, pay him $R12 and head to the locker room.

There’s a brown belt getting changed. I can’t be too late.

I hustle upstairs. The first person I see is Alexandre Souza. I take a quick scan of the guys gathered at the edge of the mats. There’s at least five black belts and no Marvio. Alexandre nods in my direction and lets loose a stream of Portuguese. “Uhhh, nao falo Portuguse.” How many times have I said that on this trip?

Everybody laughs. “Oh, you must be Marvio’s friend,” says Alexandre. A great wave of relief swept through me. Marvio must be running late, but at he’s called ahead.

The class begins like most other classes. We jog, we jog with our knees up, we jog with our heels up. We sidestep to the inside, we sidestep to the outside, we alternate in sets of three. It’s sort of reassuring to do the same warmup everywhere in the world. There’s little variations, but we’re all working from the same playbook. It’s sort of amazing if you think about it.

The big difference here is the black belts. I’m not used to training with more than one black belt – and that’s the instructor. I believe I have only ever been in three classes with an additional black belt – and those were all guests visiting FitPlus. Here, there’s a growing pool of back belts at the edge of the mat. They weren’t warming up. That’s only for the coloured belts. A few black belts are stretching as they chat about big name jiujitsu fighters like Werdum and Gonzaga. They’ve paid their dues, I guess. They can do what they want. I notice Marvio’s arrived. He gives me a quick hello as he warms up with the other certified badasses.

Today’s techniques are from scarf hold. Oh sweet lord, I have a shameful love affair with this position. I love scarf hold. When I wrestled in high school, I knew if I could get your head and arm, I could win. I love it. Understand?

The first technique Alexandre demonstrated was the Americana with the legs from this position. Aha! This is the first technique I ever learned in submission grappling. I love it. It’s like a trip down memory lane – but the brown belt I’m partnered with still has a few pointers for me to tighten it up. I’ll take all the help I can get.

But the black belts have concerns. They call Aleaxandre over. I can’t follow the Portuguese, but I know what’s going on. Standard BJJ dogma says this is a weak position. Can’t your opponent get your back? Isn’t there a reversal available to him? Isn’t it better to underhook the far arm? The truth is it is a more stable position, but less offensive. Alexandre listens to their concerns, and demonstrates his response. You must use pressure to keep your opponent flat. And you have to be ready for the reversal. If he tries to reverse you, pass to the other side. It’s a funny coincidence that this parallels exactly the advice Marvio has been giving me about passing – if they block one route, switch directions. There's a little lesson in there - you are always learning.

Next, we go over the reversal against the scarf hold. No problem here. More high school wrestling. More than anything, this helps with my Portuguese. I know this technique step by step, so I picked up a few more words just listening to Alexandre break it down.

We split into two groups. Black belts and brown belts in one group. Purple belts and below in the other. The lower belts head off to an adjoining group. We lay down a set of puzzle mats on a hardwood floor. It’s time to roll.

First, I’m partnered with a blue belt who introduces himself as Photographer. He seems like a nice guy. He tells me he is 50. He looks like he goes about 200lbs, but maybe he;s shorter than I imagine. He’s been training two years. He has good technique, but he gets a bit winded during the roll so we take a breather. I’m relieved, too. It’s a six minute roll and my legs are still worn out from the run and BJJ the day before.

Second roll is against a white belt named Bruno. We’d been partnered for some ab exercises during the warmup. Another nice guy. I didn’t ask how long he’d been training but he seemed pretty green. But he is a big, strong guy who rolled with a lot of control for a beginner.

Third roll is against the only person I’ve seen in Brazil with red hair. It turns out the ginger is not from around here – go figure. I cannot remember his name but he is from Norway. He is a white belt with some previous submission wrestling experience.

I pull guard. He moves into combat base. I’m looking for a chance to work my new De La Riva sweeps. He seems to anticipate that – but maybe I was just working the DLR poorly. In any event, I switch to the scissor sweep – and then it happens. He tries to hop over the sweep and ends up getting sort of half swept – right off the mat and onto the hardwood floor. He’s hurt, but it’s nothing serious.

Still, he’s sitting out the rest of the class. And now I’m that fucking guy who shows up out of the blue and injures someone during a roll. The two worst things – showing up late and being that fucking guy.

Another roll – another white belt. Photographer looks at me sternly and says “Go light. Technique, no strength.” Fuck, I’m that fucking guy.

I go light. I pull guard because the guy is smaller than me. I work on a triangle setup TJ taught just before I left fitplus and it works. My partner tries to escape but winds up tapping to a mounted triangle. We slap hands and begin again. Now he pulls guard. And it turns out his guard is very good. I’m defending constantly and having a real tough time getting posture. I finally get it together, stand up and open the guard and time is over. He was very good and legitimately had me in trouble with a collar choke at one point. The quality of the beginner students seems very good at this academy.

It seems like class is over. I stop to chat with Marvio at the water fountain. But it turns out not everyone was finished. “Hey American. Let’s go.” There’s no time to correct him. This guy isn’t wearing his belt, but he’s rolling in the big kids’ room so he’s at least a brown. You do not refuse a higher ranked player if he asks you to roll.

We slap hands and go. I pull guard, but I’m not defending my collars. H zeros in on it right away and X chokes me from inside my own guard. Humiliating. We both sort of chuckle about it and start again.

It’s obvious he is letting me work positions and sub attempts. I guess I’m doing okay. Every once in a while he says “good,” so I must be doing something right. I had him in danger with a triangle once, but he escaped, passed my guard and choked me. It’s an education.

It tuns out this guy is a brown belt. Afterwards, he gives me his assessment. “Your guard is pretty good, but you’ve got to work on your passing.” It’s not that my passing was bad in this roll – I didn’t even attempt it. “Guard work is good, but you need to pass with pressure, because you are a heavy guy.”

I thank him for the advice. It’s something I really plan on taking to heart when I return to FitPlus. I’ve worked a lot on my guard in the past two years. It started when guys didn’t want to roll with a big guy on top. I figured if I played guard all the time, the rest would just come naturally. It’s not that easy. I need to work my top game now – and work on escaping from bad positions. It’s a long road to purple belt. I’ve got plenty of time.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sometimes the best-laid plans go wrong.


We started the day at the beach. This time we headed out to Mocambique, but went a little further down the beach hoping to find something a little more secluded. Russ brought his kitesurfing rig and was hoping for some wind and waves.

Liz and Aya set up under the umbrella. Russ hit the water and I decided to go out for a little jog. I’m not a great runner, but I love running on the beach. It’s easier on your feet and feels great with the surf hissing at your feet and the sun beating down on your face.

From where I began it looked like the beach curved around the bay to a point near a big, lush island. I figured I’d try to run out to the end of the point.

It was a beautiful run. The beach was more and more deserted the further I went. Past the kiteboarders; a woman gathering crabs; a few scattered naturists. Finally, it was just the surf and I. I startled a flock of gulls who hung in a cross breeze as I ran underneath them. After about 3 miles running, I could finally see I would never make it to the point. There was no point, no island. It was an isthmus. The mist from the pounding surf made it vanish from a distance. I was only a few hundred yards from the island when I decided to turn back – the run had gone a lot longer than I’d planned.

The way back seemed faster than the way there. But by the time I got back to the umbrella my legs were dead-tired, I was soaked in sweat and my eyes were burning from sunscreen running down into them. When I arrived everyone else was ready to pack it in.

One thing I’ve been dying to see is a big academy with a dozen or so black belts. I’ve never really trained at a place like that. Ataque Duplo has 30 black belts on the books, so I’m expecting to see quite a few tonight.

I check the website and plug the address into google maps. The classes are held at a modern health club in the university district of Trinidade. I’d actually gone looking for a class at this sports complex before and discovered the schedule had changed as of January 1. So tonight’s the night.

I arrive, muddle through some Portuguese at the front desk, sign a waiver and pay my R$10. The gym employee leads me up the gym – and it’s not at all what I was expecting. There are four people total. They’re just beginning their warmup The instructor is not wearing his gi top or belt. There is a blue belt in a full gi and another student without kimono or belt. But the only guy with a kimono had an Ataque Duplo patch – so this must be it, right?

The employee waves over the instructor. “Oi. Desculpa, eu nao falo Portuguese.” I start as usual. “Nao Falo ingles,” it’s the usual response. “Eu sou uma faixa azul de Jorge Gurgel do Canada.” There’s been a funny little thing happen every time I do this song and dance. My accent is atrocious and people must just hear Gurgel as the only clear word that sounds like anything they recognize. “Oh, Fabio Gurgel. Muyto bom…” “Nao, Jorge Gurgel. Lutador de UFC,” I pantomime some jabs and hooks. “Oh, sem probleme…” he points me to the change room. God only knows how much or little of that conversation was actually decipherable Portuguese.

So the class starts and it is just like every other BJJ class ever, with a few twists. The instructors stretching routine is a little unorthodox, but I like it. He really incorporates breathing and movement. “Como yoga,” I say. He smiles. Who knows if I am actually speaking Portuguese or not?

Then we do some shrimping and variations. This is another little joke I have learned to share with Brazilians. They call it “escaping the hips” (fugir de quadrils.) Most do not know we call it shrimping and once I explain it (“como um camarao”) they always laugh.

There are a few minutes to rest after shrimping and I turn to the instructor and say. “Eu sou uma discipulo de Glenio Weber a Lagoa de Conceicao. Eu fais sex ou sete classes particulare de Glenio.” I know for sure this Portuguese is mangled, but the meaning is pretty clear. The instructor looks at me sort of blankly and says “Glenio…nao…” I can’t remember the exact turn of phrase – but he doesn’t know Glenio. “Aqui e Ataque Duplo?” I ask. “Nao.”

This isn’t the class I was looking for. I’ve accidentally stumbled into another teams’ practice. Only in Brazil.

So here’s the story. The fitness club used to be host to Ataque Duplo’s classes. But at some point for whatever reason, Ataque Duplo stopped holding practices there. The fitness centre entered into a new agreement with Gracie CL.AN, a Gracie Barra academy. The instructor is Ibanor Reblato, a brown belt. What’s the deal with the blue belt with the Ataque Duplo patch? Oh, it’s his first day after switching teams.

At this point I’m 15 minutes into the class. And I don’t care much about affiliations anyways. This sees like a nice bunch of guys, so I’m more than happy to see the class through. It also turns out these guys do speak a bit of English. It’s a welcome relief after all the fumbling and stumbling I’ve been doing in Portuguese.

Today’s lesson – escaping the turtle. Great news for me. I need work in this position. We work on the basic roll from turtle to re-guard. The technique as taught by Ibador is this. Walk your hands to the outside a little to create an angle. Dive your inside arm between your legs. Roll over your inside shoulder. Stay connected with the inside leg. Don’t roll up and through, but stay on your back and pivot to reguard.

Ibador’s instructional technique is interesting. He makes us spend a long time drilling the roll without a partner; perfecting the movement on our own. Then we drill with a partner – a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if I got more than 50 reps of each technique. We drill the roll by rolling, reguarding, getting flipped as though to pass, then rolling and reguarding again. I once had a match with Steve Greencorn where he used this movement very well to keep me from getting control of his back.

Next is a reversal from turtle. This time the opponent reaches over. Grab the wrist. Drive it between your legs. Extend your far leg. Grab the pants and open your leg to help turn him. Move to sem kilos without pausing between positions. Again, we drilled this 50 or so times each.

With all the drilling, the class ended quickly. I found it strange that there was no rolling, but who am I to question their approach. Frankly I was a bit relieved to wrap it up. My legs still felt dead from the run on the beach.

I snapped a few pictures and promised to email them out to everyone involved.

It’s always intimidating to walk into a new school and introduce yourself – especially with a language gap. But it’s reassuring to see how these guys welcomed me, despite nothing making any sense: wrong language, wrong academy, right attitude. It’s easy to tell what’s important.

Catching up - Tuesday


Today Russ and I have a private scheduled with Glenio in the afternoon.

We needed to review the techniques Russ has learned. At this point, Russ has done more classes with Glenio than he has any other teacher, so hopefully some of it is starting to stick.

Here are the techniques he knows:

- Basic breakfalls.

- Scissor sweep and two variations; the knee push and the hook flip.

- X choke from mount and guard.

- Basic standing guard pass.

- North/South kimura.

Glenio has a few more techniques for Russ today: transition to mount and arm bar from guard. I know Russ has done the arm bar from guard before with Penao, but he doesn’t remember much of it. It’s been interesting to watch Glenio work with someone who has almost no experience and to see what techniques he thinks are important to learn first. I think Penao also did the scissor sweep with Russ his first class. It’s also one of the very first techniques on Draculino’s new website. So there is at least some agreement that this is a cornerstone technique of BJJ. I also personally love the scissor sweep.

Russ also wants to learn the scissor-leg choke Glenio showed me from North/South. I think this is putting the cart way before the horse, but Glenio obliges. I’m not 100 per cent certain Russ understands the technique, but it is a good lesson for him. This technique begins to show Russ the complexity of the attack-defend-attack dynamic that can happen in a real roll.

Glenio asks to see my arm bar from guard. No problem. I always grip the collar to break the posture. This is because I always work the scissor sweep to one side and the arm bar to the other. The grip stays the same. Glenio thinks it can be a bit tricky to get the collar grip and prefers to take the grip on the loose material on the shoulder of the kimono.

But what he really wants to show me is a choke setup against an opponent who defends by holding his bicep. Glenio’s preferred arm bar set up is to open the bottom of the lapel and use it to trap the elbow and draw it across. Once you have the leg over and the opponent defends, you can reach around his head and grab the tail to draw the lapel across his throat. It’s a nice technique since the your opponent is so busy defending the arm bar he’s not even considering the choke. He also cannot free a hand to defend without giving up the armbar.

Glenio shows a few ways to finish it. You can try to finish the choke right there with your leg over. Alternately, you can open the guard, and sweep your opponent. The technique for the sweep is like the butterfly sweep, but you must resist the temptation to go to mount. Instead, flatten your outside leg so you come to a sitting position. From there, you have three or four options for finishing with a choke or armbar.

Next we went over a few more grip breaks when an opponent is blocking the armbar in the spider web position. In addition to the ol’ heel in the armpit, we wnet over two more options. First, when an opponent uses the double grip, you can grip his collar and use his own grip to choke him out. The second is tricky to describe: thread your outside arm through his arm. Reach your inside arm across and put the elbow on the outside. Lean towards his hips so you can connect your hands. Pry towards his head to break the grip.

I rolled with Russ for a bit and tried to give him a realistic look at what a roll is like. I tried to keep it fluid and not let my ego force me to tap him over and over. Russ is beginning to catch on. He’s herky-jerky like any beginner, but he is at least thinking about the techniques and not spazzing out.

Next I rolled with Glenio. Glenio is a little monster on top. I’ve been working on my side control escapes, but I could not get Glenio off me. Glenio finished me twice with a one-armed choke from half guard. I made him promise to show it to me next time.

Tomorrow my plan is to find the main Ataque Duplo Academy in Florianopolis. That’s the academy where Glenio received his BB and the home academy to UFC fighter Thiago Tavares. I have not had any experiences here with a big academy (though I do have a visit to Gracie Floripa planned for Thursday,) so it is something I’m really looking forward to.

Catching up - Monday

A few days behind - my apologies. I am catching up. Pictures to come later.

Monday night I had a class with Marvio. On the way to the gym, Marvio surprised me by asking if I’d like to go train at Gracie Floripa sometime this week. For whatever reason Marvio had been reluctant to take me when I initially asked about it. I’m not sure why - maybe he just didn’t want to be the guy showing up with a gringo. I’m just glad he’s offering now.

“I think it will be a good experience for you,” he said. “You’ll get to see a big academy, with many black belts. And you’ll get to meet Alexandre.” Now there’s an enticement. Alexandre Souza is one of the world’s best grapplers. He won his weight and absolute at the 2008 European championships and the 95kgs+ ADCC 2009 World Pro cup. He took silver at the 2008 mundials and again in 2009. His mundial losses were to Xande Ribeiro Braulio Estime, respectively. Yes, I would like to meet Alexandre. We set it up for Thursday.

Marvio had promised to help me with my hip movement. Good luck, Marvio. My hips are like cinder blocks. But like all good things in life – the key to good jiu jitsu is moving the hips.

Anybody who knows anything about jiu jitsu knows the importance of the hip movements – and so do I. But there is a difference between knowing something, knowing how to do something, being able to do it and doing it when you need to. That’s the reason there are no “black belt techniques” in BJJ. There are only the same techniques executed with maximum efficiency and perfect technique. I try to be as frank as possible about my deficiencies and to look at every lesson with an open mind. I’ve known hip movement is important since my first day grappling, but I am only beginning to understand what that really means and struggling to apply it. If I’m not honest with myself about that, I’ll never improve.

Marvio showed me some drills to begin with. The first was like shrimping, but you bring your hip about half way over to inverted guard, then drop it and shrimp to other side, come up to half inverted and so on. It took a while to get this just right. I have no problem getting into an inverted position, but I have problems with control. My hips control me, not the other way around. We both knew I wouldn’t master these movements today – but I intend to work them diligently.

The second drill was to roll my hips into and inverted position and bring them all the way over with control and down to the mat. Again, this is all about control. I ‘ve done this before, but always sort of rushed through it. I couldn’t even do this much when I began BJJ so at least I’ve made some sort of progress.

Marvio showed me how to use this movement to re-guard. Frankly it was a bit of a mess when I tried it – but it is something to work on.

The next drill was using the hips to move back to guard when the open guard is passed. This one was a lot trickier for me. Marvio steps around my guard. I hook my outside leg on his outside arm, lift my hips, swing them into the guard and lower them. Then Marvio steps to the other side. When it’s done quickly your hips are swinging back and forth. It is a great drill not only for hip movement, but also developing some core strength.

Next - working a few positions. Marvio showed me two submissions from the north/south. In return, I taught Marvio to stop referring to the position as “69” in English.

1) North South with your elbows inside your opponents: Giftwrap the arm – moving back to side control. Sink your arm deep under the head to maximize your opponent’s discomfort. Open your opponent’s lapel and pass it to the gift-wrapping hand. Move to mount and pull up on the head to finish or pass to the far side to finish a la the arm triangle. You don’t absolutely need the lapel so this also works nogi (maybe I missed a step in here somewhere?)

2) Elbows outside opponent’s arm: Threaten the kimura – when he grips his belt, switch to magic grip (Marvio prefers to grab the pants,) – take a grip on the back of the collar before coming to one knee and moving to the far side – sit through and extend the near leg putting all your weight on your forearm across his throat for the paper-cutter choke. I worked on this same technique with Glenio, but still had a bit of trouble. I was glad to get some help from Marvio. One sticking point was really keeping the weight across the forearm. The key is not to sit on your hip, but to keep you inside hip and leg off the mat.

Instead of rolling this time, Marvio and I played a ‘chess match.’ This is sort of a your-turn-my-turn type of rolling with minimal resistance. As usual, any rolling with a black belt exposes all your flaws. Marvio helped me with my triangle escape after I got a bit flustered. Marvio also showed me a few more tricks – always look for the inside hook when your opponent turtles away from you. The one technique of mine Marvio approved of was the forward roll to cross-collar choke I learned from Penao. Anyone from FitPlus knows we have practiced this move approximately 1,876,341 times. I'd better be good at it by now.

Marvio and I wrapped the session up with some more chitchat about our favourite jiu jitsu fighters and made plans for Thursday at Gracie Floripa. I can’t wait.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Days 15,16 &17

Private lesson with Glenio. Glenio and I have rolled a lot now. And with the language gap shrinking a little, we can discuss my many mistakes.

“Every rolls begins the same,” he says. It’s true. I sit, pull guard and Glenio passes. This all goes back to my leaky open guard. Glenio sees spider guard as a solution. Glenio prefers the leg-lasso version and runs over some basics with me. We do the basic sweep and quickly review some submission setups. What’s important is that I understand how I can use spider guard to slow down an opponent who is trying to use speed to pass at a distance. I will never be able to keep up to these guys. What I have to do is snare them in the spider guard, slow them down and work to sweep, submit, or tie them up in full guard.

There’s an interesting moment for me during the discussion of the sweep. Glenio is explaining that if you perform the sweep properly, your opponent will feel almost weightless. “Como uma pena,” he says – like a feather. He makes a swoppoing motion with his hand, like a feather falling to the floor. This is one explanation I’d heard for the significance of Penao’s nickname – it means big feather.

The important details on the sweep were to avoid the foot lock by figure-fouring the legs, bridge one way to bait your opponent, open the knee to pull his weight towarss the sweeping side and to use the grip on the pants to push out – rather than to pull him over (this may make sense to nobody but me – still, I am writing it down for posterity.)

Glenio and I had also talked a bit about De La Riva last time. De La Riva is sort of my go-to open guard. When somebody is moving too fast, I find it relatively easy to grab an ankle and establish the outside hook. Trouble is, I only use a couple sweeps. And to make matters worse, Mauro, one of Glenio’s brown belts was running a footlock clinic on me every time I used it last time. Glenio’d promised to help me with it today.

My main mistake is that I keep the hooked foot too deep on my opponent’s hip – I’m just asking for the footlock. Glenio says it doesn’t need to be that deep, keep it down around the knee.

He asks to see my DLR sweeps. Here’s what I’ve got: tomoe nagae, single leg, basic DLR sweep and taking the back. Glenio says they’re all fine. But he wants to show me his preference. Glenio likes to have control of the far arm and to pass it to his inside arm under the leg. He takes a collar grip with his outside hand. He lets his hooking leg fall to the mat and uses the other foot to keep the far leg back. Basically, once he gets you here, you’re swept. It’s just a matter of when and where.

I always think of DLR as being for lankier guys. Glenio is built like a potato. I was a little surprised. He told me he loves playing DLR and X guard. It’s funny how your perceptions of ‘old-school’ vs new-school’ change. I had Glenio pegged as an old school guy; playing closed guard and finishing with lapel chokes from side control. It’s true – he loves that stuff. But it’s obvious he is keeping up with competition results and experimenting with newer techniques. I know DLR and X guard aren’t exactly the newest, flashiest techniques – but it’s still not what I expected.

I like rolling with Glenio. He lets you work your game, but doesn’t let you get away with glaring technical screwups. When he gets a submission, he just wait until you realize you’re caught. He has great control. Today Glenio lets me work my open guard. I get the spider guard going and manage to pull off the sweep. I’m not imagining I actually swept Glenio, but I must have been doing it okay since he let me finish it. I also worked the lapel choke from the first day (I was worried I’d forgotten it.)

My side control escapes are still pretty weak. I did manage one I’d learned from working on the Draculino site; the one where you make space between your bodies, slide a knee in and swing a leg over for the armbar. I think it caught Glenio by surprise – but only because we hadn’t worked on it and I’d never tried anything like that in any of our rolls. Frankly, I’ve never even tried it before, but it ties in thematically with what I’ve been working on with Marvio. I think Glenio was sort of amused by it. It took me a minute to break his grip – finally I remembered the ol’ heel in the ribs. Glenio gave me the arm bar, but he made me work for it. That’s the kind of roll where you learn a lot – you see the moves in context and figure out how they all fit together.

Not to say Glenio didn’t give me a good ol’ fashioned ass whoopin’. He did. At one point he lured me into the baseball bat choke from guard. I’ve been wanting a little refresher on this technique and Gelnio was just the guy to give it. I’ve heard this called the baseball bat choke and the samurai choke. But in Brazil, the call it the Alleycat choke. I think the Alleycat is a name brand for vise grips or something? Anyways, I love this choke now. I think people at FitPlus are going to hate it…

I am planning to go into the city Monday to attend a daytime class at Ataque Duplo. I have a private lined up with Marvio that night.

Spent Saturday and Sunday at the beach. Nothing really to report except that Praia Solidaud is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to anywhere on the planet.

We’ve got a week left here. My list of things to do is short: I want to have a nice night out with Liz, get into a few group classes, do two more privates each with Glenio and Marvio, go on a decent hike and have a BBQ. Sound doable. I also want to make sure Liz gets to do whatever is on her list, too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Costa Da Lagoa & 1st Group Class

DAY 13 &14

After a slow start, we head out to the centrinho. Our plan is to take a boat to Costa de Lagoa. It’s a little group of fishing villages on the lagoa that can only be accessed by boat.

Liz’s friend Melissa has arrived with her mother for a few days’ stay. Melissa is out old roommate who married a brasiliero and now lives near Sao Paulo. Her Portuguese is perfect and it’s nice to have a translator for a change.

The municipality runs the water taxi service but it looks like each boat is operated by an independent contractor. The boats all have the same blue and white paint job but otherwise are not standardized. Passengers are packed in. I couldn’t even spot the life jackets on the first one we took. It’s probably no such a big deal since the lagoa appears to only be waist-deep.

Costa de Lagoa is beautiful, but there’s not much to see. Climb a steep hill to a waterfall that looks fantastic – but the man-made pool at the bottom looks a little stagnant and gross. There are a few shops, but they’re just selling the same tourist trap treasures as any shop in centrinho.

Still, it looks lovely. There are no cars here. The closet thing we saw was a strange, busted up contraption on the edge of the woods – like someone tried to build a flying car out of a golf cart. The narrow, winding alleys and flowers busting with colour give the place a fairy tale feel.

After touring the village we settled in for lunch. A stray black and white kitten, only about 8 weeks old was mewling under one of the tables. It stole Aya’s heart. But the poor little things eyes were infected and crusted shut. It stumbled a bit aimlessly until it settled down right in the path of the restaurant’s foot traffic. People sighed and stepped over it until a waitress wrapped her hand in plastic and moved the tiny invalid to keep it from being trampled.

We all had a great fish lunch (except Melissa’s mother who is allergic. She had chicken,) and caught the water taxi back to centrinho. The local kids were swimming right next to the boat and play a game of cat and mouse with the taxi operators. When the drivers are at the back of the boat loading passengers, the kids hide on the top deck of the bow. They wait until the drivers discover them and dive off the bow 50 or 100 meters from where they started. It’s the lagoa version of bumper jumping.

I was particularly excited for jiu jitsu tonight – my first group class. When I got to Glenio’s I was a little disappointed – only two other students. Everyone else is still traveling, he explained. Still, any new training partner is exciting and I am sort of used to smaller classes. There was a Mauro, a brown belt and Eduardo, a three-stripe white.

The class started off as usual with some stretching. Then Glenio announced we’d be palying a game to get warmed up. His daughter’s boyfriend translated it as “piggy in the middle.” I remember it as monkey in the middle, but soccer-style. Glenio got a ball and we went to it. The only thing worse than going against a Brazilian in Jiu Jitsu is going against three of them in soccer. Especially when I’m not wearing my glasses and I‘ve been drinking beer for two weeks straight. I managed to get out of the middle a couple times but at the end I was stuck in there for at least five minutes. They were laughing as they shot the ball through my legs and around me at every imaginable angle. I was so out of breath at the end that Glenio asked if I was a smoker. Soccer cardio is different than BJJ cardio, I guess.

Glenio asked if I wanted to go over anything particular from any of our lessons. I didn’t want to impose on a group class, so I just asked to do what they normally do. What they normally do is just roll.

I started and finished the night with rolls against Mauro. He’s a little taller than Glenio, but probably not much heavier – around 75-80 kilos. Glenio late told me Mauro has been with him since white belt and has been training about eight years. Glenio reminds me to go light, nao force and to work the techniques we’ve covered in the lessons.

I pull guard and go to work on the scissor sweep series. It’s not really working for me – but just because it’s obvious to Mauro what I’m up to. We go back and forth with a few sweeps and reversals. Mauro’s real strength is in his guard, but I was playing bottom so much, I didn’t really see it for a while. I decided to stop hunting for the new techniques and just play my game. I’d work Glenio’s techniques when the time came. Here are some things I remember:

• When I pass, I am doing something wrong with my head. Mauro is catching it in a guillotine all the time. The guillotine is on the wrong side and he never finished it, but wow is it annoying.

• Gotta watch the footlock on the De La Riva sweeps. Three times I swept Mauro, and three times he went straight to the footlock. I wonder if he was baiting it. The way he sits in base with one knee up invites the DLR.

• I had success with the Gringo grip triangle setup. I have been writing the technical descriptions for Draculino’s new website and this is a tip from Brandon “Wolverine” Mullins. It’s a setup that pins one arm to your opponent’s chest so you can get the leg over for the triangle. I used it twice and it worked both times.

• After all the work we put in this week on breaking the grips for the armbar – I couldn’t do it. Didn’t try the ol’ heel in the ribs, though – I probably should have. I did manage to keep him from turning into me by lifting my butt of the floor the way Glenio showed me.

• My passing still seems like the weaker part of my game. I was trying to change directions and keep him guessing, but Mauro is just too experienced for my crude passing game. Got by a few times, but he would always get a hold of my head. So annoying.

Next I rolled with Eduardo. Eduardo is maybe about 190lbs or so. Glenio said to go real light and that Eduardo had a sore arm. I went light, but somebody forgot to give Eduardo the memo. I can’t blame him for taking an opportunity to look good on a big gringo. Here’s how it went:

• I establish guard and go for a triangle.

• I can hear Glenio walking Eduardo through the escape, so I just decide to chill and let him do it. I keep my legs tight, but don’t try to make the angle or lock the triangle.

• Eduardo escapes and begins to pass.

• I turtle and Eduardo jumps to my back like it’s the mundials final.

• He’s working for the choke, but I keep my cool and eventually escape. Spent too much time hanging out on my back.

• I pass his guard. Hang out in cem kilos for a few seconds before transitioning to mount.

• I go for the X choke. Glenio is standing right over us. I realize I’m not doing it the way Glenio showed me. I switch my grips and begin putting the choke on. Just as I am beginning my squeeze, Glenio calls time.

We get a water break and Glenio says next time, he’ll have some bigger people for me. He says I’m too strong for these guys. I’m trying to go easy and be technical, but a big guy can never catch a break – I’m used to this.

Then I roll with Glenio and he completely destroys me. Experience and skill make up for any size difference. It’s the beauty of jiu jitsu. He’s passing my open guard like it’s nothing (and apparently it is.) He was holding me in cem kilos to force me to work the escapes I leaned from him. I couldn’t get any of them working. Pretty much every time he passed, he held me, began working to north/south and finished me with a one-handed lapel choke. It was a nasty affair.

Glenio took a few minutes to explain what was going wrong. My timing was bad. Glenio showed me a trick to bait an opponent to try for mount so you could reverse him at just the right second. He also showed me a bit of a nastier reversal where you reach around, grab the chin and pull the chin up as you lever down on the neck with your elbow.

After that it was another 20 minutes straight of rolling with Mauro. Mauro’s got more tricks than a Vegas show. He caught me with the same reversed arm bar out of two different places. And a lot more of that annoying guillotine control. I was using the shoulder choke on occasion to break it up, but Mauro got wise quick and controlled my outside arm before I could sink it behind his back.

By the time I got home I was exhausted, Everyone else was in a festive mood. The fixer and her boyfriend had cooked supper. It was my request, maqueque de pesce – a sort of fish stew, almost like a curry. The version I’ve had elsewhere was thicker and used more shellfish. This was almost like a soup with great hunks of boney fish in it. It was still delicious. So was the dessert – sort of a passionfruit trifle. It was fragrant and not too sweet. I was so tired from jiu jitsu I could hardly enjoy it. I fell asleep uncharacteristically early on the couch.

Everyone else went for caipirinhas. I stayed home and dreamt of omoplatas.

Today I am staying home with Aya so Liz can have a free day with Melissa. Jiu Jitsu tomorrow afternoon with Glenio. Need to schedule something with Marvio. Still need to figure a way into Centro Floripa for a class at the main Ataque Duplo academy.

Turtle and Shrimp

DAY 12

First thing today we got it together and headed out to Project Tamar. It was amazing – but I’m not 100% sure if it is exactly as I had billed it – a turtle rescue and rehabilitation centre. Turtles are sometimes accidentally caught and brought there for tagging and biometrics before being re-released. I’m not sure if there is really any hospital or rehab work. It’s part of a larger project all along Brazil’s coast. They employ former turtle hunters to protect nesting sites (they know best where to find them,) and create jobs through eco-tourism and by hiring recent biology grads for fieldwork. Project Tamar employs 1,300 people along the coast. It seems to be something of a cause celebre here and they even have Gisele Bunchen as a spokesperson. Pretty amazing. Sort of depressing that nothing like this is going on in Canada or that we don’t have that sort of star support for places like Hope for Wildlife that are operating on shoestring budgets and volunteer labour right in our own backyard.

There were probably a dozen or so turtles onsite. Mostly hawksbills and olivas. Aya was thrilled as usual to see them and we got a few decent pictures – though the turtles rarely co-operated.

We headed into town for an early lunch. I had an 11:30 appointment with Glenio. Besides being a BJJ blackbelt, Glenio is also a barber and I could use a haircut. I told him to make me look like a typical Brasilero. That caused some confusion – so I just told him to give me the same haircut he has. Glenio’s been cutting hair longer than he’s been practicing BJJ – 25 years versus 14. He says he can’t make a living teaching jiu jitsu here. I can understand. It’s a small town. Jiu jitsu para couracao nao para carteira – jiu jitsu for the heart, not for the wallet.

The haircut looks decent. Glenio does it old school – with a straight razor shaving the back of the neck. Glenio explains that every day he cuts hair until noon, then shuts down for lunch. He teaches an afternoon jiu jitsu class until about three. Then he goes back and cuts more hair. He gets home around 7pm and teaches another jiu jitsu class from 8pm – 10pm. Then he has a beer and goes to bed. It doesn’t come as a surprise to hear it. A few days ago, he told us he dug his basement by himself with a shovel. The ground here is all clay. Glenio works his ass off.

An hour after the haircut, it’s time for another private with Glenio. This time I’m by myself. Glenio asks if I have any duvidas – doubts, uncertainties, positions where I don’t know what to do. “Escaping knee on belly,” I reply. I have to pantomime it before Glenio understands.

We work three different escapes – in the order of Glenio’s preference:

• Both hands on the belt. Extend your arms and escape your hips to create space. Turn your hips to the mat.

• Get a grip on a the sleeve with on hand and a grip on the panst with the other. Escape your hip a little and bump his knee off your chest with your thigh/knee. Try to get the shin across his belly and enter the other shin to his bicep. From here you’re set up for a spider guard sweep.

• Reach under the shin of the leading leg. Grab the belt if possible – or as high a grip on the kimono tail as you can get. Escape your hips. Drive towards your opponent and use the palm of your free hand to push into his chest. If your time it right he just falls right over. This was my favourite of the three – but it requires just the right timing.

After this we went over some ways to break the grip on the armbar. It was interesting to see Glenio’s preference compared to Marvio’s. Glenio is old school and prefers a good ol’ heel in the ribs. He also showed me the same breaks Marvio used. We also reviewed some tip for keeping your opponent flat on his back in this position (spider web.) Keep your feet flat on the mat you can lift your hips just a little every time your opponent tries to sit up.

When it’s just me and Glenio, something always gets lost in translation – but we do our best. At the end of the class we talked about our country’s respective obsessions with soccer and hockey. I think hockey is sort of mystery to Glenio. From what I can tell, all he knows is that it’s played on ice and the players fight a lot. I think Glenio invited us to a BBQ at some point down the road. At the very least, he wanted me to know he is the churrasco mestre.

Monday, January 18, 2010

“Look for that space. If you don’t see that space – create it.”

DAY 11

Today was mostly just spent at Barra de Lagoa. My daughter has a little cold so we left the beach early and didn't make it to the turtle sanctuary. I had a jiu jitsu lesson lined up for 6:15.

“Look for that space. If you don’t see that space – create it.”

This was the lesson with Marvio tonight. Creating space along the flank of your opponent’s body and using it to set up attacks. The individual techniques were less important than just understanding this concept.

We reviewed the techniques from last time. Basically, I had retained them all – but as usual I missed some important details.

Tonight Marvio wanted to go over submissions from guard. Could I show him an armbar from guard? God, yes! Finally somebody asks for a technique I am 100% confident in. Can I show him my armbar from open guard? Awww, crap.

Here’s the thing about my open guard – it’s a real hot mess. Once somebody staning starts to pass, it’s over. I’ve developed some tricks to deal with it – establishing De La Riva or turtling up – but basically my open guard is a sieve.

So it’s time to go over some basics. Arm bar from open guard. Marvio sets it up as though he is passing my guard. I’m on my hip on the side he is passing – with a spider guard grip on the sleeve. Reach over the arm to control the elbow with my top arm. Move my hips into the space under his arm. Bite down with my leg. Push away on his face, swing my leg over and extend the hips.

Okay – now let’s go the other way with that arm bar. I’m on my hip again. Reach deep under the arm this time with my near arm. The bend of my arm has to be at the bend of his arm. Swing my leg over his head and throw my hips up and over so I am on my knees with his arm between my legs. Make sure my hips are high up his shoulder. Extend my legs back. Grab his pant legs and roll over my shoulder towards his head to move into the spider-web position to prepare to finish.

I hope I’m explaining it well enough. I’ve always thought this was one of the most beautiful armbar setups in jiu jitsu. I figured it was a little bit out of my reach. But Marvio helped me understand the concepts that make it work – move into the space, the bend of your arm is at the bend in his arm, try to keep his elbow against your belly button If his elbow moves, follow it with your belly button – this ensure you move your hips in the correct direction.

We go over what to do if he blocks by grabbing my leg. Long story short – another armbar. This one was key to understanding the idea of following the elbow with your navel. When I did it the first time, I made the movement way more complicated than it needed to be. But once I understood following it with my navel, it was easy and efficient.

We went over a couple of grip breaks from spider-web position (I realize I am using 10PJJ terminology for that, but just don’t have a better name for it.) I like to wristlock to break the grip. Marvio prefers to use the ‘bone-on-bone’ grip break. He showed me how to triangle the legs over (without going for the bicep slicer,) to break a particularly stubborn grip.

Next – the triangle. My triangle is methodical and it turns out Marvio approves. I take my time and cross the ankles, then make the angle, then lock the triangle. A small tip tonight was that if you can’t get your foot to the hip, don’t bother. You can push off the floor to accomplish the same thing. I know I should have known that. Sometimes at this level it seems you learn a technique step by step – but you don’t really understand why you are doing each step. It’s putting the practice ahead of the theory. I feel the theory side is just finally opening up to me a little – perfect time for this trip.

Onto the omoplata. First the basic omoplata from open guard. By this point, I got it. Then Marvio wanted to show me the spider guard omoplata – the one where your sort of move inside underneath your opponent and come out the side door. This technique has always been really awkward for me. I feel too big. But he showed me a nice setup. We’ve all been there – the guy is passing. You’ve got a hold on his sleeve between your legs as he passes to the other side. I always thought that grip was useless – but there it is – the omoplata. Turn inside, up on your shoulder. Kick your hips up to secure the omoplata and Bob’s your uncle. I like it. We also reviewed the sweep from there and the transition through to the triangle.

Somewhere along the line we also went over the knee-push variation of the scissor sweep. It wasn’t that I didn’t know it – Marvio just wanted to demonstrate clearly the idea of creating that space along the flank of your opponent’s body and how many attacks that opens up.

It sounds like a lot of techniques – but there was just one concept behind it. Marvio didn’t teach me anything I hadn’t seen before, but he showed me how to apply the techniques in live situations and make adjustments on the fly by following simple principles. I like his approach to teaching.

I have a private with Glenio tomorrow afternoon. But before that – I have an appointment with Glenio for a haircut. It turns out he’s a barber and I figured I may as well get the standard issue Brasiliero buzzcut while I am here.

I’m also very excited to finally go to the turtle sanctuary tomorrow – where fishermen bring turtles that have been caught in their nets for rehabilitation and release back into the wild. Big Day!

Brazilian Portuguese Tip for Gringos:

The water taps are marked Q & F

Q is for Quejo
F is for Frango

Thank me later.

No BJJ over the weekend. Going to the turtle sanctuary today. The fishermen bring them any turtles that get caught in their nets. They get patched up and released back into the ocean. It's Hope for Wildlife of Brazil.

I've got a 6pm private with Marvio tonight, I think. He has not confirmed yet. Also setting up a 1pm private with Glenio tomorrow. Going to a group class at Gelnio's Wednesday. I think I'll try to get into one of the big academies in the city this week, too.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Just focusing on jiu jitsu for this post


Russ and I had another private lesson with Glenio today.

Glenio is the kind of guy who always seems glad to see you. Today he was waiting for us in the basement. He said had a surprise for me – a friend of his who is a blue belt was coming to train and maybe help with translation.

His friend didn’t arrive until mid-way through the warmup. His name is Gustavo. He looks about 25. He’s maybe 6’, 190lbs.

We went over some more techniques. Gustavo doesn’t really speak much English, but four heads trying to bridge the language gap is better than three.

Here are the techniques we covered today.

- North/South Kimura.

- North/South Kimura – opponent grips belt – scissor leg choke.

- North/South Kimura – opponent grips belt – magic grip – paper-cutter choke.

- North/South Kimura – opponent grips belt – magic grip – cross collar choke.

- Side control escape: hip bump reversal.

We also reviewed the standing guard pass, scissor sweep variations and X choke from last class.

The highlight for me was rolling with Gustavo. I know it seems silly, but itt was a little bit nerve wracking to roll with someone my own level in Brazil. Getting mauled by black belts is easy, because you don’t expect much of yourself. We were told to go light and work through the positions. It wasn’t a competitive roll, but it was fun and productive. I started in guard and managed to work a few new favourites – including the De La Riva tomo nagae sweep I learned from Marvio. I was just happy that it worked, and that I didn’t feel as though I was using any strength in the technique. There was one point when I had Gustavo in a twister and I wasn’t really sure what to do. It’s not legal in BJJ competition, but it’s not something you just want to give up. Eventually I just gave it up and scrambled to mount.

It was a fun and spirited roll. I don’t feel like I was using my size too much and I was still able to work my techniques. There was no win or lose, just co-operative training. Made me feel like I deserved the blue and that I could work with people at that level anywhere.

Had a roll with Glenio after that. He was still obviously toying with me, but I feel I had a better showing. I was just feeling a lot more comfortable trying my techniques rather than freezing up thinking “Ohmygod, I’m in Brazil rolling with a black belt.”

I think Glenio would let me hit a technique if he thought I was doing it correctly. He let me pass (one of the passes I learned from Marvio,) and work an Ezekiel choke. He showed me some finer points on the Ezekiel at the end of class. Marvio prefers it from side control, so we went over that for a while.

Glenio says group classes resume Wednesday, so I’m looking forward rolling with more people on my level. I also talked to Glenio about going to the big Ataque Duplo gym in Florianopolis. That gym has 30 black belts, which is the sort of thing I’ve never seen.

I have another private scheduled with Marvio for Monday night.

So far this trip is exceeding expectations – it’s easy when you have none coming in.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to draw a monkey

Day 7

Today I realized something sort of amazing. Aya has begun to draw representational pictures.She's always been a prolific scribbler, but you can see how she is trying to make sense of things. She drew a monkey (we've been seeing a lot of our resident monkey family.)

She drew its head, body, legs and tail. They were all more or less recognizable (a circle, a sort of square, four stick and a long, squiggly thing,) but they were all in the wrong places. The tail came out of its head and all four legs came out of one part of the body.

It was an amazing thing to see unfold before my eyes. As a father I was really proud.

After my lesson with Glenio and Marvio, I am beginning to realize my daughter is slightly better at drawing monkeys than I am at jiu jitsu. I know some of the parts and what they look like, but they're still crude and I haven't even begun learning how they all go together. I doubt I'll ever be a Rembrandt, but maybe someday I'll be able to draw a decent monkey.

No lesson today - just a long day at the beach getting burnt. Russ and I are going to see Gleno tomorrow and I 'm setting something up with Marvio over the weekend. Glenio has some group classes starting Wednesday - hoping to find one sooner than that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010



Today turned out to be the best day of the trip for me – but not for the reasons I expected.

This morning I woke up early with Aya – about 6:45. At home this is our time together. So I made her breakfast as usual. She loves smoothies and the fruit here is amazing. Unlike Halifax, there’s no hustle and bustle to get ready for work or anything. It’s slow-paced, relaxed, tranquilo.

We spotted another gecko on the outside of the house. Every little animal sighting gives Aya a real charge. We spent an hour or so catching bugs in a jar, looking at them for a few minutes and setting them free. This place is so lush and she is so enthralled by nature – it’s really just perfect.

Just after everyone else woke up and came down for breakfast, Russ spotted it – a monkey in the yard. It is our second monkey sighting. This time we went outside to investigate. As it turns out, there are at least five monkeys in the yard.

Aya was absolutely thrilled. We got some bananas (what else do you feed a monkey?) and put chunks on sticks to lure the monkeys close enough for some photographs. The little rascals would snatch the banana and scurry back up the tree like they stole something. It was adorable. I’m not sure Aya will remember this as she gets older – but one advantage of being a member of history’s most-photographed generation is that she will always have a picture of it.

Onto the main attraction. Jiu Jitsu. I had two private lessons booked.

Early in the afternoon, Russ and I went for our semi-private lesson with Glenio Weber. As it turns out, Professor Weber is a bit of a joker. We had to be ushered in past his huge pit bull again. People here love dogs, so I figured it would be polite to ask its name. He replied “Pega.” Later I found out it means “attack.” This was Glenio’s joke. Funny stuff, Professor Weber.

We got inside the garage and got down to it. It was onky Russ’s fifth jiu jitsu class ever. He’s got himself an ancient-looking unbleached judo gi. I taught him how to tie his belt properly as we got ready for the lesson.

We started with the same stretching routine to warm up. I was feeling stiff and sunburnt. My skin felt like thin hide stretched over a drum and burned every time I rolled onto my shoulders. If you come to Brazil I recommend bringing lots of sunblock. They charge R$50 (about $30 Canadian) for a bottle here. There oughta be a law.

I knew this lesson would be geared towards Russ. I’m totally okay with that since I seem to need constant review of even the most basic techniques. The class began with instruction on breakfalls. I think a lot of people forget how important it is to learn to fall properly. This is the stuff that can save you from serious and permanent injury. I was happy to get a solid review for a few minutes and it’s essential stuff for Russ.

Around this time, Glenio’s daughter’s boyfriend showed up. As it turns out, he is from Vancouver and is there to translate. Fantastic.

I requested we go over side control escapes. Glenio reviewed a simple guard recovery that both of us could use.

When we rolled the other day, Glenio noticed that I went to the scissor sweep a lot, but didn’t have a ton of success with it. He thought it would be a good technique to teach Russ and wanted to fine-tune it for me. He reminded us to pull your opponent forward first to load them up across you shin, over your hips. We went over the push-on-the-knee variation. Glenio asked what I do when my opponent steps up to his foot on the side of the sweep. “De La Riva,” I replied. The De La Riva is good, he said – but he wanted to show me something else. It was a simple, clean technique: switching to the other hip, controlling the sleeves and inserting the hook for a hook-flip sweep. I liked it a lot.

Glenio then taught Russ the X choke from the mount as a follow-up to the scissor sweep. I am always reluctant to do this choke with both palms up – not sure why. I guess it always seemed a bit finicky to get that second arm in. Glenio had a few small details to share about the grip on the collar and the placement of the hands. It turns out he learned these from Paulo Filho who had learned them at one of Rickson’s invisible jiu jitsu seminar. Great stuff, but I am not sharing it here if only in the interest of perpetuating the Rickson mystique.

Then we did a basic standing guard pass. I don’t know what it is - but I draw a blank whenever a black belt asks me to show him how I normally do something. Glenio asked for a standing guard pass. I did something sloppy that resembled one. Then Glenio demonstrated the exact same guard pass I had reviewed with Shane Rice a week ago. I love that pass, but clearly I needed the review. It doesn’t matter that it’s the most basic pass – it’s also the one that works best.

That was a big theme of the lesson. The best jiu jitsu is basic jiu jitsu – from white belt to black belt to mundial champion.

Then Russ got to roll with Glenio. It’s only Russ’s second time rolling and it’s with a black belt in a sweltering basement in Brazil. Russ didn’t really have enough techniques to make any sort of showing for himself, but Glenio let him try every attack he knew. At one point he let Russ mount him and try out his newest weapon – the X choke. “Choke me like an animal, not like a child!” Glenio said through his translator.

The lesson wrapped and Glenio saw us out. We’ve got another lesson set up for Friday, but Russ’s brother is coming in that day and his airport pickup might scrub that plan. We both agreed that Glenio seems like a genuinely nice guy and is a great instructor. Those are two things that translate across any language barrier.

We didn’t realize the lesson had run two and a half hours until we got back to the house. Liz needed to pick up some things, so I watched Aya for a few hours while she and Russ went to the mall. I haven’t seen the mall and am having a tough time imagining such a thing exists here.

While they were gone, I re-sewed the patch that was falling off the back of my blue gi and got packed up for my second lesson of the day.

At 6pm, Marvio Charles picked me up. I got his name from a now-defunct surf school that advertises BJJ for tourist online. In 2006 he took second at the mundials at the brown belt level. He has competed against the likes of Andre Galvao.

The small talk came a lot easier. Marvio speaks perfect English. It turns out he was once a student of Glenio’s and now trains out of Gracie Floripa. He was once a dentist, but gave it up to work in tourism. It sounds weird, but dentists don’t make huge money here like they do in North America. He has retired from competition and just teaches jiu jitsu for fun and a few extra bucks.

He also has a good story about Canadian Conservative MP Brian Jean who came down to train with him and broke his foot. I made Marvio promise he wouldn’t break mine.

We headed up to a big health club with an indoor pool and spa. There were some puzzle mats in the weight room. This was a far cry from Glenio’s basement. We got changed and began stretching. Marvio wanted to roll right at the beginning to see what I liked to do and where my strengths and weaknesses are.

When I rolled with Glenio, he told me to take it easy. Marvio wanted the exact opposite. “Don’t respect me too much. Get mad. Show me what you can do!” Those are intimidating words from a black belt like Marvio. We worked our way through a number of positions; a half guard sweep, De La Riva, side control. Marvio was letting me work, but passed my guard like nothing and was hitting arm bars from everywhere.

When we stopped Marvio explained what he was looking for. He said you have to be aware of what your body can do. He could tell my hips are tight and closed. I need to work on it, he said (I know and have taken up yoga.) He asked me to show him a shoulder roll to re-guard. I know how to do it. But when I did it, Marvio pointed out that I didn’t have control of my hips – that my hips were controlling me. It’s going to take a lot of practice and more mobility in my hips to gain control of them. It opened my eyes a little bit to my own limitations and the sort of work required to really overcome them.

We started the lesson with guard passing. What guard pass do I like? I decided to show him the one I’d done with Glenio early in the day. Marvio pointed out a few details I’d somehow dropped in the three hours between lessons. How’s that for retension?!? Burro gringo!

Marvio pointed out that during our roll, I made the same mistake over and over again. I would try to pass to one side. Marvio defended, but I would keep struggling to pass to that side. There are four ways to pass, he said. You can go left or right, over the legs or under the legs. When your opponent puts everything into defending one direction, an opportunity opens to pass to the other.

Marvio says if you are far from your opponent you need to pass with speed. If you are close you need to pass with pressure. We discussed that I am a big guy and that I do not have much explosiveness – if any. We decided to work on some passes that favor the slow, grinding brand of jiu jitsu that works best for me.

* CUIDADO: The following technical descriptions are for my benefit and may not make any sense to anyone else.

We went over another pass. Basically, you sit in close to your opponent’s hips and isolate one leg – almost like a half-butterfly. Grip his pants at the hips on the other side and pinch your elbow tight. Reach over the leg and get a grip on the pant leg high on the ankle. Sprawl your hips hard into the mat to pin his knee and begin to walk your legs around towards side control.

Every time we worked on a pass, Marvio would show me how if an opponent pushed off my chin or chest to defend the pass, I could change directions and jump over to the other side. Marvio said this is part of what makes Galvao such a beast. He tries to pass. You defend. He changes directions. You defend. He said Galvao has superb conditioning so you are going to get tired of defending before he gets tired of switching directions.

Next, a half guard pass. I know this pass already but Marvio had some great details. Cross face with shoulder pressure. Put your head on the mat on the far side. Use it to trap his arm – almost like an arm triangle. Step up onto both feet and pinch his legs between yours. Push his knee below yours. Slide your knee to the mat. Use your free hand to base as you use the free leg to push off your opponent’s thigh. Sprawl and drive your chest across his face as your press back with the shin to free your leg.

If your opponent makes a hook to sweep you – let him try. Switch your hips in mid-air so you land in a stable position. Then switch your hips again so they are facing down and establish side control.

And another half guard pass. This time, you cannot get the underhook. Move yourself back, down his legs a bit. Wrap his legs with your arms as close to the top of the knee as possible. Sprawl your hips into the mat and kick your trapped leg back to free it. Move to side control. Again, if he blocks the pass, switch directions and go to the other side.

Marvio also went over two DeLa Riva sweeps with me. Marvio had correctly deduced that I feel safe establishing the De La Riva, but don’t do much from it. The truth is, I am a closed guard player. But I couldn’t when I cannot get my guard closed, the only open guard I feel comfortable in is DLR. We went over a basic sweep and a tomo-nage-type up-and-over sweep. They were simple and I understand them.

When Marvio was showing me the tomo nagae, my foot slammed into a table just off the mats. I accused him over having it out for Canadian feet.

We closed the class with a roll. Marvio let me apply some of the techniques from the lesson, especially the DLR sweeps. The highlight was when I successfully switched directions on a failed pass. I still didn’t pass his guard, but it was the right thing to do at the right time. I was getting it.

We wrapped the class with a photo and a lot of chitchat. Besides this blog, I haven’t really had anyone to talk to about BJJ on this trip. If you know me in person, you know how I blather on. Marvio is a great teacher and a nice guy with funny stories (he had War Machine stay at his house!)

Tomorrow is a day off from BJJ, but I have no regrets about it. So far, I have had two amazing instructors and two very different jiu jitsu experiences in Brazil. I had no real plan before I got here, so I am lucky to have found both of them. And there’s still 16 days left in the trip!

Despite everything, the monkeys were still the highlight of my day!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010



Here’s a little life lesson from the beach yesterday:

There was a huge moth right at the edge of the water. It was soaked and stuck to the sand. It was beating its wings as hard as it could to free itself, but it was no use. A little girl was working feverishly to build a breakwater out of sand to protect it from the waves. A big wave crashed over the breakwater and swept the moth out to sea. The little girl shrugged her shoulders and walked away.

I figure the moral of the story is this: when your shit is really on the line, you can’t rely on anybody.

We spent today driving around and checking out some more beaches. A beautiful morning turned into a scorcher of an afternoon. The sand at one beach was so hot I have blisters on the bottom of my feet. I have the weirdest splotchy sunburn today, too.

The only jiu jitsu content in today’s drive was the accidental discovery of an academy on the road to Praia Campeche. It is in a fitness centre that offers boxing, TKD and bodybuilding. Here’s a link. It’s not a priority, but if I have time I might check it out.

We had a great afternoon at Lagoa Pari, a freshwater lake that seemed more popular than the ocean beaches in the area. I can see why. The lake is ringed by mountains and the water was shallow and warm. Aya just loved it, because she could wade out far from shore and only be n up to her waist. I was still watching her like a hawk of course. The lake was full of tiny fish that kept nibbling at my feet and legs. Between the fish and the bugs, it’s like this country is trying to eat me one tiny morsel at a time.

The lake was in this amazing little park that was set up with family BBQ areas. There were about a half dozen families hanging out, having a few beers and grilling meat on those giant sword-kabobs. I only have a few days to base my impressions on , but it seems like family is important here. It's just a nice thing to see.

We’d arranged for the fixer and her boyfriend to cook us some traditional Brazilian dishes for supper. There were two kinds of fish, some sort of shrimp stew, a mango salsa and rice. It was all great. And it’s nice to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning for you in your own house.

I also got her to make some more calls about jiu jitsu. She confirmed my appointment for 1pm tomorrow with Glenio for a semi-private lesson for me and Russ. It’s Russ’s fifth jiu jitsu lesson ever, so I am stoked for him to be training in Brazil already.

She also helped me set up a private lesson with Marvio Charles. Marvio competes for Gracie Florianopolis and teaches privates to tourists at a local surf academy. I only know a bit about him from google, he has a silver medal from the 2006 mundials as a brown. He has competed against Andre Galvao – so you know he’s competing at the very highest level. The price is a bit steeper at about $70 Canadian. But he has bills to pay and he also picks you up and drops you off. It’s still reasonable by Canadian standards. My plan is to just ask what his specialty is and go from there.

Two private lessons in one day – should be memorable.

Tonight it’s raining as usual. What’s unusual is all the bugs on our deck. I tried to get a decent picture of one – but it doesn’t convey the scale. Suffice to say it’s a bright green, big-ass bug and not the sort of thing you want to see on your kitchen window.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Don't Force It.

Today is a big day for me. Liz proposed this trip, because she loves the sun and one of her best friends lives in Brazil. But she knew I would agree in a heartbeat for one reason – jiu jitsu.

My plan is to train at night whenever possible, so I don’t miss out on any time with Aya. The class schedule online says tonight’s class is at 8pm. I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve.

We start the day with breakfast at the bakery. This is a part of our little routine now. Liz and I take turns working our busted Portuguese on the staff, who seem patient and gracious.

This morning the sun is beating down on us by 9am – seems like a perfect beach day. We head to Joaquinho – about 20 minutes drive. The rural areas we drove through had sort of cowboy feel with horses and horse all along the route. As we got close to the beach we saw people sandboarding on the dunes. It’s like snowboarding – but frankly looks like a lot less fun.

We had an amazing day at the beach. We all got a bit pink – except for Aya, who we’d slathered in sunscreen. She had a great time gathering up shells and playing in the sand.

More Hinterland Who’s Who back at the house. This time it was a three-foot-long lizard. It looked like some sort of monitor lizard, but what the hell do I know. Again, it was Aya who spotted it. She’s got a hawk’s eye.

The whole time, all I can think about is jiu jitsu. But I was having some nagging doubts.I decided I needed some help, since I’d heard the instructor spoke no English. I emailed the fixer to call the jiu jitsu academy.

There was bad news and good news when she called back. It turns out classes are cancelled this week. But the good news – private lessons were available, for only 25 Rhiales ($17 Canadian.) Can he schedule me in tonight? Yes!

Ever since I was a little kid taking karate, I’d dreamed of studying a martial art in its traditional setting. As a hundred dogs barked at me while I ambled down the cobblestone side street to Glenio Weber’s house, I realized I have no idea what that setting would be for BJJ.

Every house has a gated yard out front. When I got to Glenio’s house I could see him sitting inside inside watching TV, wearing gi pants and no shirt. He didn’t see me. I looked for a doorbell. None. Then I saw the hundred-pound pit bull growling at me from the other side of the fence and realized he was the doorbell.

I waved my arms and the dog erupted – barking and lunging at the end of his chain.

Glenio let me in the side gate, far away from the cachorro. We exchanged awkward introductions and he told me to head down to the garage and get changed in the washroom. My Portuguese comprehension is improving. It’s a little like French and dusty memories of high school are coming back one word at a time.

Inside the garage was a little sitting area with old copies of Tatame and other Brazilian fighting magazines. The academy itself is in the basement under his house. It’s a modest-sized area decked out with blue mats. A support column stood in the middle of the room – wrapped in more blue mats. I’ve seen places like this dozens of times in old videos on youtube. I imagine this is what jiu jitsu looks like in small centers all across Brazil.

Glenio came down after a few minutes and got his kimono and belt on. He’s short and stalky. He told me later he weighs 77 kilos and is 39 years old. He got his black belt three years ago after training for 11 years.

The lesson began with stretching. Standard stuff. We had a bit of chitchat, such as it is between people who don’t speak the same language. We talked about where I cam from and what kind of people I’ve trained with. We talked a little about Thiago Tavares, who is fighting in the UFC tonight and is a member of the same team, Ataque Duplo.

Professor Weber asked what I wanted to work on. I told him I wanted to learn whatever was his specialty. He said lapel chokes.

The first technique was a basic lapel choke from side control. I’ve learned it before, but I rarely hit it in rolling. He showed me a lot of small details that make the technique work. But the most common refrain was the same thing I always here from instructors. “Nao force,” don’t force it.

I’m a big guy and the tendency is to just crank a technique when it doesn’t seem to be working. Professor Weber broke down this relatively simple technique for me and showed me how each part of it worked without any effort. The neck is the same on a strong man or a weak man, he explained – you don’t need to force it.

Then we rolled for a bit. Rolling with a black belt is always a treat – and humbling. I am almost always bigger than they are, but it doesn’t matter. I try to use finesse, but compared to them I am just flailing and gasping. Professor Weber kept reminding me to go light, with control. I was doing my best to play a suave guard game, but he just kept shutting it down.

After a reset, I get tired of playing guard and decide to try and take the top position. We get into that ridiculous wrestling-from-the-knee scenario that only happens in the gym and never in competition. I turn Professor Weber with an over-and-under. It was pure muscle and frustration without a lick of technique. “Nao Force,” again. I know it, too. Sometime it’s hard to overcome the balls-out approach that comes from years of wrestling. I consider it my biggest challenge in jiu jitsu – just trusting the techniques and learning to execute them properly.

Professor Weber noticed a basic half guard sweep I use and showed me a few more details to make it work better. He also cleaned up my transition to side control after the sweep.

Next was something new to me: a simple reverse arm bar from the top of half guard and a transition to the X choke. The arm is wrapped up in the lapel for the arm bar - similar to the magic grip for those who are familiar with that.

We took a little break for water. We talked about the fact that the academy was closed for the week. New Year’s is a big deal here and people like to take some time off in early January. I knew this might be a problem before I came. I thanked Glenio again for squeezing me in.

We rolled again. This time it was a little more spirited. Professor Weber tapped me with a variation of the choke he’d just taught me. It was clear he was toying with me to see where my strengths and weaknesses are.

At the end of class I thanked him again. He’d let the lesson run a half-hour over time. We took a few photos and arranged for another lesson on Wednesday. This time I’m bringing my brother in law who has only had four previous lessons in jiu jitsu. Glenio says next week classes are back in full swing and there will be plenty of other students to roll with.

I have heard about a few more small academies in Lagoa and the big ones in Florianopolis. I’m sure most of them will be bigger and fancier than Glenio’s garage academy. But it’s not about the size of the academy – it’s about the quality of the teaching and the experience. Glenio is a great teacher in any language and Ataque Duplo Lagoa will always be special to me – my first academy in Brazil.

* Pics coming tomorrow!