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!

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