Prior to arriving in Rio for the year I spent here, I made the conscious decision that I was going to train with Terere, as my Jiu-Jitsu hero there really was no other choice. I knew where I wanted to be, so I didn’t have any desire to sample the multitude of other awesome academies that Rio has to offer. But arriving back and with Terere not initially here, I thought why not take advantage and go and peep a few other spots and learn from some other legendary dudes. So I visited a few academies, made a few notes, it was fun!
‘Gringo Class’ at Gordo Jiu-Jitsu
The ‘Gringo Class’ at Gordo Jiu-Jitsu in the luscious suburb of Barra is taken by owner of the world’s premier BJJ hostel, ‘Connection Rio’, Dennis Asche. The class is provided three times a week for all those staying at the BJJ hostel and selected friends too. Many guests choose to train at Gordo’s as it is a convenient two minute walk away from the front door. However many others choose to travel further a field, to train at Gracie Barra, Checkmat, Terere’s (which I did during the six months I spent there) or even an energy sapping two hour journey to Meier to GF Team. Regardless to which academy individuals are training at or what team they represent, Dennis provides the class complimentary so there is no obligation to sign up at Gordos.
I didn’t have the opportunity to train with Dennis in my two prior stays in Rio, so I was seriously looking forward to this class. He is known for his strong emphasis on drilling which isn’t something particularly easy to find in a lot of Rio’s academies. Unfortunately I am no Kit Dale and need to drill things a million times until I have them down. I was also a little apprehensive, it was the end of the week and my body felt as though it had been ran over multiple times and I knew that there would be a heavy emphasis on conditioning too. The class itself lasted nearly two hours and we didn’t roll once, if someone told me that they had done a class without sparring then I am going to assume that it was pretty chill. However nothing can be further from the truth. This was one of the most labour intensive sessions that I have ever done.
After a warm-up of takedown entrances and solo passing movements, the focus shifted to systematic sequences of drilling. Each sequence was conducted in stages, with each stage building on the previous stage until the entire movement was complete and could be done at the speed it would necessitate, if you were actually doing it in a live situation. The gradual build into the whole, ensured by the time it was reached, the technique was refined until it was performed perfectly. The drills were also constructed in a way that both partners had to take an active role, there was no chance for passivity or time to catch a breather as your partner worked his way through the technique. Both persons had work in tandem to make the experience as realistic to sparring as possible.
Safe to say both my movement and gas tank were tested to the limit in this awesome lesson. Thanks to Dennis, I was able to pick up not only the specific drills but also a system of drilling which is effective in both reinforcing and refining technique and can be applied to all positions. The lessons learned here had been a complete eye opener for me and something that has changed the way that I think about my own drilling.
It is fair to say from the offset that Alliance Leblon is the most picturesque academy that I have ever had the pleasure of being in. I could tell immediately that things were a little different. I descended down a set stairs and I wasn’t meet by a cloud of sweat vapour that you could cut with a knife or that dirty ass Gi stench that usually greets you at other spots. What also struck me was the beautiful wall to wall green tatame which stretched as far as the eye could see and which felt like rolling on pillows made from the wings of angels. Not to mention the serene changing rooms / toilets which left me with no fear whatsoever of catching a single STD.
I was seriously excited by the opportunity to train with one of the founders of Jiu-Jitsu’s most successful team and also the mestre of my mestre, Alexandre ‘Gigi’ Paiva. I have to admit that I was more than slightly intimated too. It wasn’t the exhaustive set of rules on the way on to the mats but the fact that Mestre Paiva is actually Don Corleone, from his personal appearance to the air of supreme authority he commands, he is truly the head of the family. He demonstrated variations on the smash pass with some key details that were missing from my own game. I analysed every nuisance of his movement and in order to do it perfectly and not attract any attention. This meant fighting off the day-dreaming that I acutely suffer from. Of course I failed and was then expertly guided through it by Mestre Paiva who wasn’t at all scary and even indulged me in my one-tense version of Portuguese.
Sparring took the form of a first point wins, from knees. Whilst it wasn’t the hugest class on that Friday afternoon it was tough rolling, not least when I was up with a huge black belt, dude must have been 120 kilos at a conservative estimate. I think that I made the initial mistake by trying to cartwheel over his guard, this wasn’t an attempt to showcase my flamboyance, of which I have none, more I couldn’t foresee any other way to get around him. My friend wasn’t in the least bit impressed and decided to show me how it was done. I guess it was an attempted back-step but what really happened was he jumped on my neck. I might add that I was already suffering with my neck daily and I really didn’t need such a large human being landing on top of it. There was a split second where I thought ‘Oh my God, I’m probably dead’, fortunately assessing the damage, I wasn’t deceased and managed to roll a few rounds albeit slower and more careful in open sparring. I learned a valuable lesson here.
I had heard mixed views from friends who had trained at Fightzone in Copacabana. Whilst everyone agreed that Ricardo Veira was an exceptional teacher, some explained that the atmosphere appeared quite hostile (everyone else thought it was the best place on Earth). The culture on the mats is very competitive. This isn’t too surprising given that Checkmat are one of the most renowned teams in Rio, producing the fiercest and most decorated competitors, a great deal of them also live in the impoverished Cantagalo community where I also reside. This is coupled with the fact that many gringos pass through the gym all the time to train with the legendary mestre. I feel this is the reason for the perceived ‘hostile’ environment but I didn’t find it to be the case at all. There was definitely war going on, but I felt welcomed by one and all.
Ricardo Veira is a multiple time world champion and a part of the most successful families in all of Jiu-Jitsu but his academy in Copacabana has become as renowned for his inspirational teaching style as it is for his own success in competition. His conceptional based teaching has produced his own slew of world champions. Lessons are delivered through exploration of a specific position, he demonstrates an initial technique and then gives multiple options depending on how an opponent might react. I didn’t learn any one ‘new’ technique but more importantly I was given essential details to pre-existing techniques which made them much more potent. Due to being given three or four techniques at a time, it relies on prior knowledge thus I would imagine it would be quite difficult for a beginner to access.
The concept of the lesson had revolved around being being forced into half guard with your opponent having the under-hook. We were then given a full thirty minutes to work our way through and explore the position ourselves, which was delish. During this time, different black belts made their way around the class, correcting technique and giving additional details. Sparring then began with 15 minutes of specifics, starting from that half guard position, the winner stayed on choosing whether they wanted top or bottom. What better way of reinforcing the learning than when someone is trying to kill you! The mats were filled with a mix of hungry young blue and purple belts and as well as battle hardened black belts, everyone fighting for their lives for every second of every minute of every round, I finished the session feeling like I’d been punched through the planet!
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