With my imminent return to the cradle of Jiu-Jitsu, I thought it was time to put out a little something, something. During my year in Brazil, I competed in just shy of twenty competitions between Rio and Sao Paulo, since coming back home in September I have competed across the UK as well as heading out to Europe on a number of occasions. This got me thinking, there really is a marked difference in competing in Brazil compared to everywhere else.
Here are some of my observations:
1. The crowd
There has been a noticeable change in competitions here in the UK in the last few years, they are definitely getting bigger. It used to be the case of a few competitors sitting around the mats ready to jump on, now you see dudes with their whole team, Mum & Dad, chick and kids there to support. But it is still a pretty chilled atmosphere, you might get the odd angry parent admonishing the ref for saving the arm of their four-year old but on the whole it is a layed back environment. Competing in Brazil is essentially the polar opposite to this. I was fortunate enough to compete at possibly the most famous venue for Jiu-Jitsu, the legendary Tijuca Tennis Clube on a couple of occasions. This ageing stone based gymnasium is steeped in Jiu-Jitsu history and folk-law, legends have been created on the famous green mats there. As soon as you walk through the huge hanger like doors you can feel the intensity. Each team has their own section of this old grimy gymnasium, huge banners are put up so cats know not to step into an opposing academies’ territory. Brazilians are known to be passionate people and these sections lose the plot when their fighters step on the mats.The most famed competitors have their own chants sung for them, drums are beaten and every single point, advantage and restart is argued with incredible ferocity. Winners are celebrated as heroes and losers commiserated with the love that only a family could offer.
Safe to say it was a nerve-racking experience competing at the Tennis Club, especially the first time which was my first competition in Rio but it was impossible not to revel in the atmosphere there and similarly every other competition. Even as a blue / purple belt being there with my team and with Terere in my corner, I couldn’t help but feel like a superstar. This made it hurt so much more when I lost but when I won it felt like an atomic bomb of awesomeness had just exploded in my body.
I have spent a good deal of time complaining on here about refereeing decisions in both Brazil, UK and well every other country I’ve competed in. A lot of that is probably that I need an excuse whenever I lose a match! In my experience refing in one place is about the same as everywhere else. Jiu-Jitsu is a massively complex sport with a scoring system which thanks to ‘advantages’ relies heavily on the subjective opinions of the officials. There is massive scope for human error which unfortunately occurs frequently and obviously it sucks when you happen to be the recipient of it. But having said that being a gringo competing in Brazil does mean that the refs will look for any way to screw you over! You won’t win a decision, you will be denied advantages, positions will be restarted differently and God forbid if your foot is creeping close to your opponent’s hip. You basically do have to beat cats straight out.
3. Bull pen
I didn’t attend one competition in Brazil that had an adequate area to warm up in. There are 200 dudes packed into the pen like battery hens all doing a few star jumps before diving on the mats and going to war. I suppose when you look at the logistics of things, you would need a large amount of mat space to allow all competitors to get warm efficiently. What really sucks, the IBJJF as essentially the brand leader in Jiu-Jitsu competitions dictate the market so the largest and most prestigious comps world-wide go on without a matted area for athletes to warm their bodies and reduce the risk of injury. In the UK the mid-level tournaments all seem to have used their common sense and given mat space for cats to do their thing. But then somehow you still get dumb-ass spectators standing on said mats to watch their brother-in-law compete at white belt.
4. The loo-roll man
There is nothing worse than when you need that pre-comp food escape and you hit the loo, there’s piss all over the seat and floor, the toilet roll dispenser is empty and what is left are shit stained tatters on the cubicle floor. In Brazil they simply do not have this problem. There is a dude who stands outside the door with a table full of neatly piled loo roll – you take your individual pile and move on and do your business. Somehow it took me eleven months of being there and competing a few times a month before I realised what was actually going on and why there was a load of paper on a table. This might be the highest level of efficiency I ever experienced in Brazil.
Although in terms of bizarre toilet based findings, I competed at a Sub Only match at a competition in Manchester where the organisers had very thoughtfully brought in some portable toilets to cut down on queuing. When I entered this ‘Porta Potty’ I noticed the skin of a freshly scranned banana. Somebody obviously felt the need to immediately replace the potassium they had just excreted from their body.
5. Less treading in piss
I know that I am not the only one to notice that in competitions up and down, people feel the inexplicable need to visit the toilet without their kicks on. Everyone knows when competing toilet visits come more frequently, so then why on Earth would anyone want to sit down to take that nervous shit whilst treading piss with your bare feet. Then stepping on the mats with their weird, stink piss feet potentially creating some sort of hybrid urine based stain of ring worm. In Brazil, I didn’t see any cats just rocking bare feet, although predictably dudes would be rocking Havianas, I’m thinking that they don’t offer much protection either and you still end up with pissy toes.
A non-comp based hygiene observation – in general mat based hygiene seems to mean less in Brazil, a good sweep of the mats usually is enough to clear any threat of any dangerous infection. I remember hearing prior to my first visit to Rio, that dudes on the mats would simply open up their lapel and blow their nose out in their own Gi. After a few months there this wasn’t anything and after three months I was doing it myself. But the favourite example of hygiene related business came when one of the dudes brought his young son to the academy. The little dude can have been no older than two. In the course of rolling Terere had noticed that this little guys’s nose was cascading with run away snot, he gave Dad the heads up. Mid-roll my man stops, walks over to his son, uses sleeve of his Gi to wipe the snot clean from his nose before jumping right back in with his partner.
For me competing (& winning) in Brazil is the most exhilarating feeling, the feeling of euphoria is comparable to nothing else, tomorrow I get to hop on a plane and do it all again.