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!

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