Friday, December 16, 2016

Jiu Jitsu for the Ladies

The goods that got left out of the Digitsu Article

Dom always takes ridiculous pictures! I would come 
out looking stupid as hell but she pulls it off. My hat is
off to her for constantly pushing to be herself and
encouraging others to do so as well!

I first met Dominyka, Vedha, and Erin at a BJJ competition while in New York catching up with some of my seasonal friends that I had met during their summer vacations spent enjoying the tumultuous winter weather of Rio de Janeiro.

The day after the competition I headed over to Fabio Clemente’s gym Jiu Jitsu for the People to attend the 12 P.M. all female open mats that are headed up by Dom and Vedha. Erin was in town for the competition (Erin and Dom used to train together at Marcelo’s before Dom switched teams and Erin moved to California) so she showed up at open mats as well…. With her whole life in tow.

Seriously. She had like 5 bags with her and was sitting disheveled on a bench with her tired eyes intent on her iphone. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that I wasn’t the only person in the game that was struggling. I mean she was a brown belt, in the upper echelons, the crème de le crème, and if she could have her life thrown into an upheaval at the drop of a dime thanks to untimely accommodation issues, then the Everest-sized mountain of problems that I was dealing with didn’t seem so isolating after all. It was reassuring to know we're all in the same boat!

The struggle is REAL and I confirmed that as we sat there shooting the shit for 30 minutes notably not donning our kimonos and getting in on the open mats that were starting. Dom finally laid down the iron fist and sent us to change. Either way the girls ended up spending more time in the corner huddled around a cellphone discussing boy issues and food porn than they did training.

There was mad talk about boys, tacos, and ice cream. Like they like 
food just as much as they like jiu-jitsu.

And why shouldn’t they? They had each double medaled at the previous day's competitions after multiple fights and still managed to make it to training the very next day. Dedication needs a day off every now and then.

The next day I interviewed the 3 for an article that I was writing for Digitsu on women in the sport. I get a lot of question from girls that are just starting or thinking about competing so I thought I would be insightful to hear what someone more experienced than myself had to say. This blog is a follow up with interesting tidbits that got left out of the official write up.

Have fun. 

Feel the BJJ love!

Jiu-jitsu is about learning (not winning). That means learning about yourself: what you’re capable of doing. Learning about other people: how to build relationships and how to diffuse tension.

Erin says the best advice she ever got was when Kron Gracie tried to console her after losing a fight.
“No one cares.”

Simple yet powerful. Compete to compete, to learn new things, to test what you’ve already learned, to have fun. But other than you, your mom, your dad, and social media following that have faithfully double clicked the selfies that you have inundated their timeline with… no one is really going to remember or care who blue belt absolute champion was at Worlds, Europeans, or any other local competition.

So don't take yourself to seriously and just go out and have fun (then follow it up with pizza and icecream with friends).

Boys are meant to train with not to fight.

It’s insulting when Reddit warriors, couch samurais, and youtube black belts try to speculate on a sport that they are not involved in or on topics that are irrelevant to them. One particularly frustrating fantasy that has been floating around the web is the idea of women fighting men. I mean, women want equal pay and equal attention so why not put them up again men, they’re age-old oppressors and let them go neck for the same cash prizes! Right?

Wrong! Men are men and women are women. This is a physiological fact and there are concrete physiological features that accompany it that make the idea of a fair fight between men and women to be purely fictional and highly insulting.

So, no, Dom will not be facing off against King Gordon anytime soon.

Quitting is Not Ok. Avoiding is. 

Don’t banish yourself to a world where you’re only training with females. It’s important to learn to train with guys just as much as guys need to learn to make the training environment more accessible for women.

Prone on the ground with your eyes closed: The best position to stay in to avoid eye
 contact and unwanted training partners. Just kidding. Vedha relaxing in between
fights at IBJJF New York Pro

You have to train with the boys but that doesn’t mean that you have to roll with every last spastic white belt, smelly blue belt, or pretentious purple belt. Learn to say NO! Erin recommends telling the truth, let them know what’s up. Maybe they’re too aggressive, maybe they need to invest in better laundry detergent, maybe a rash guard to cover up their chest hair would make them a more amenable training option.

If you’re like Vedha and are too timid to drop the truth bombs, well you better undo your ponytail right quick and take your sweet time re-braiding it and re-re-braiding it while the time one the clock winds down.

It was funny to hear the girls trade horror stories of training with over rambunctious boys or how to tactically tie their belt in the slowest way possible to avoid an undesirable training partner.

“I got you tomorrow” or “I’m really tired” can only go so far. By the time you get to the higher belts you don’t just learn to train, you also master avoiding training as well.

Maintain the power by keeping your hair dry and:

Just drill.

You don’t need to roll with everyone and you don’t always have to roll. Sometimes drilling, or reviewing positions and techniques is enough. You go over a lot of stuff in class and most of it probably goes in one ear and out the other as you insist on doing what you do best… and if you’re a lower belt doing your best thing and doing the right thing are rarely the same thing. Break your old habits and develop new ones by drilling (preferably to music). It’s fun, it’s easy, and you don’t have to get sweaty so you don’t have to wash your gi or your hair when you’re done.
Save time. Save energy. Save shampoo. And just drill.

Submit the Stigma: Fight for a Cause

I know about Erin through (her now officially registered non-profit) Submit the Stigma a campaign that started off to promote awareness for mental illness. After losing her father to suicide, Erin started the movement to with the hopes that more people would become aware of mental illness and the signs associated with it. 

Erin is a brown belt having made her way up the ranks while working for Gracie Mag, studying for a college degree, and traveling around the world to compete and write about jiu-jitsu... all the while coming to terms with her own anxiety and personal problems. 

Jiu-jitsu has helped change the lives of a lot of people and for me, it's definitely inspiring to see someone going out and creating awareness on the therapeutic effects that BJJ can have, I hope that my own organization Terere Kids Project will also reach official nonprofit status one day! 

Find out more about Submit the Stigma:
Submit the Stigma OrgSubmit the Stigma of Mental Illness- FloGrapplingSubmit the Stigma Charity Seminar on Demand- Digitsu

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

You Can't Submit What You Can't See

Training @ Padilla Bjj

on asking for forgivenness, not permission: 
Epic photos pirated from Lynn Tran's facebook! 

I drove hours out into the middle of nowhere….

Ok, that’s a lie. I drove maybe about 40 minutes, but after passing the 2nd open field, 4th farm, and at least 3 shiny, red tractors, it was safe to say that I was definitely in the middle of nowhere.

I grew up in the area, but long stretches of single lane roads divide the towns that populated the peripheries of Philadelphia creating a sense of isolation that is a stark contrast from shooting up and down I 95 highway in the D.C. area that I now call home.

I drove back and forth on a solitary road looking for a sign that would substantiate my GPS’s claim that I had finally reached my desired destination. I found none, so I parked in a large empty lot in front of a church or an antique shop or something of that rural nature so that I could figure out where the hell I was.

When I looked up, address on the sign in front of me revealed I was indeed in the correct location. Less then a minute later a figure with a shaved head, swollen ears, and massive legs appeared out of nowhere. He was making his way towards the large warehouse with a duffle bag in hand.

I fell into step behind him as he headed around the corner of the building to a small door that had a Padilla BJJ sign plastered in the lower corner. For an American, this might have been considered to be subpar marketing, but for someone coming from Brazil, it’s not uncommon to have trouble locating, identifying, and entering some of the biggest BJJ gyms. Real jiu jitieros, after all, care about jiu jitsu and don’t waste mental effort on menial things like signs.

The gym is located inside of a warehouse that shares its space with an assortment of different businesses. In order to get to the mats, you had to walk by a huge stack of boxes and some haphazardly placed office materials that looked suspiciously like the headquarters for some kind of Ponzi scheme.

I followed the sound of break falls, skirting the edge of the tower of Ponzi merchandise, and made my way to the matted out half of the warehouse. The coach Mike Padilla was drilling shoots and sprawls with a little kid while guys on the sidelines started stretching and getting ready for Sunday morning open mats.

Some people might have questioned the random boxes or the oddly placed desk at the top of the stairs, but the only thing that registered in my mind was:

“Damn, that’s a whoooole lot of mats.”

And it was. Freshly laid wrestling mats covered a good portion of the warehouse providing more than enough space for people to train.

The gym may have been lacking showers or glass vitrines for selling merchandise, but there was more than enough mat space for everyone (and there was music). There is nothing worse than cramped rolling sessions where people are lined up on the wall waiting for a chance to roll.

I sat down amongst the guys that were lined up on the side of the mats stretching out their thick necks and massive legs (I have a serious small man complex when it comes to open mats so everyone over 150lbs is a giant to me). Jiu-jitsu has long been empowering the undersized nerd, coach mike himself is a small dude, but these guys.... were not.

As they sat discussing John Danaher, the vicious beast that lives in the basement of Renzo Gracie NYC (Padilla is an offspring of Renzo Gracie PA), I wondered if I was in for some gentle flow rolls, or it was going to be one of those days to practice my framing, shrimping, and breathing while have my ribs pushed into my lungs.

For some reason, open mats always seem to be NoGi. Oh, how I hate NoGi!

Mike ended what appeared to be a private with a highly skilled kid that barely came up to his waist and then we started to roll. The only thing I actually remember about training that day was the sensation of trying to catch a ghost.

That feeling of lunging forward in a desperate attempt to capture it, but instead, your arms hug thin air and you face dive to the floor.

That’s was rolling with Mike was like. I’ve rolled with a lot of people from around the world in Rio, New York, DC, and PA, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone that was so elusive. Hands down must be the fasted person I’ve ever encountered on the mats.

He would move and I would try to counter, but by the time I could even wrap my mind around what I was supposed to do, let alone get my body to obey, he was gone.

I know it's done right when jiu jitsu gets awkward and confusing!
Cause seriously how do you go about getting out of that?

Occasionally, he’d reappear, snatch up a limb or a joint, give a little tweak or bump his hips in the subtlest of ways. You'd barely notice it happening because it was so quick, but it was his little way of telling you, “I could have submitted you, but let's just keep flowing”.

Eventually, he’d stop, lie still, and let me score a few pity points. There is nothing more terrifying than when a black belt lays still and lets you slither your way from side control to mount without defending. You’re either walking into a trap, where you will probably get viciously submitted without realizing your folly until its too late. Or a test, where you have to defend your honor and prove your knowledge, but generally will end up getting nervous and mentally thwarting yourself because, really, what black belt is just going to let you armbar them from mount?

At the end of the round, he confirmed, that after 3 years in Brazil, my jiu-jitsu had most definitely improved.

Which I guess brings me back around to the beginning of the stories, and in essence, the very origin of this blog.

This January it will have been 4 years since I found out about Renzo Gracie Pa and discovered jiu-jitsu (not to be confused with NoGi submission grappling which in Brazil doesn’t count as BJJ). For 6 months, I traveled to PA once a month and trained in a gi, until I ultimately decided to move to Brazil. Before relocating, I spent a whole month in the dreary suburbs of Philly trying to absorb everything I could learn about the arte sauve before moving to the mecca. Most people thought I was bat shit crazy, but like every pretentious white belt, I thought I knew exactly what I was doing, so why not move to Rio?

I took my first private class ever with Mike. He asked me what I wanted to do. I had no clue. So we worked guard passes from open guard.

6 months to a year into my trip, there was a click, a light bulb began to shine, and I finally realized what Mike had been trying to show me that afternoon so long ago, when I had no concept of what the hell I was doing. I was ecstatic that I was finally understood and highly entertained by the fact that it took me that long to fumble through basic positions, techniques, and philosophies just to understand the beautiful intricacies of a knee slice!

In true creonte fashion, I’ve trained at  a lot of academies and studied with multiple black belts. Some people may consider this to be traitorous behavior but I’ve definitely been able to learn and develop a style based on the different thing I’ve picked up from different people.

Dennis Asche has some of the best speed drills. (Connection Rio Academy)

Terere is a long-stepping legend and all around beast. (FT Jiu Jitsu)

Rich Latta is like a college professor that has given me a lot of detailed insight on my game. (Renzo Gracie PA)

Perninha is the man to go to for all things to do with the lapel. (Gordo BJJ)

Beta academy has some of the best leg locks I’ve seen and a highly technical team of training partners. (Beta DC under Nak)

I learned to escape mount to half guard from a purple belt from Boston while staying at Connection Rio. This in combination with my friendship with Moz sparked my subsequent relationship with (a failed/fucked up version of) deep half which has become the foundation of my game. 

And Mike Padilla (Renzo Gracie PA/ Padilla BJJ) is hands down the fastest mofo I’ve ever hit the mats with! He’s a small person with a dynamic game and seems to be well rounded in both gi and nogi. 

When I grow up. I want to be like Mike.

Everyone wants to be like Mike
~Bad Boys

Find out more about Padilla BJJ on their 
Facebook or by going to their website

Friday, November 18, 2016

Long Island Hustle. Jiu Jitsu for the People

I just finished moving. Now I’m leaving again. First stop Philly. A quick stop. I left my kimonos there because I didn't have enough room to haul them back to D.C. with me. So I have to stop by, say hi to my dad, and then off to New York less than 24 hours later. 


New York is loud. And fast. People rush by in all directions caught up in the whirlwind circus of their lives. I cleared my throat, clutched my belongings, and looked up from my phone in search of the exit.

Hesitation attracts attention.

Before I could complete the 90-degree turn that put the subway entrance to my back a skinny black guy with a worn out baseball cap and an oversized coat was asking me where I was going. New Yorkers are a mix between warm generous direction givers and rough, cutthroat entrepreneurs looking for the next naïve person they can scam a couple dollars off.

I shrugged the guy off and made my way towards the door with the faked confidence of someone who knows exactly where they are going in life. Bright lights and the overwhelming sound of rush hour traffic invaded my senses as I exited the Port Authority.  Once outside, I looked for a stationary figure that looked like they belonged. I hate blundering up to someone to ask for directions only to find out that that person was just as lost as I am. I also despise the ever-present tourists with their eyes glued to cellphones trying to orient themselves in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. Both actions leave you tainted with the mark of the beast, a naïve, unsuspecting beasts that are 100% more likely to have their possessions snatched up in a random act of robbery.

New York

I quickly found someone that looked like they knew what they were doing and walked up to them for directions.

“Yo! Which way is Penn Station?” Polite but not too much. It was a straight shot down 8th street. Perfect, I wouldn’t have to walk around looking, consulting my phone for directions every two seconds.

I returned to faking an impassive façade of confidence as I made my way down 8th street. I was heading to Long Island. I had two hours to get over there and find my friend, a brown belt who teaches classes to kids at a local library. 

A lot of people train Jiu Jitsu for a lot of different reasons. Some want the medals. Some fall in love with in intricate allure of the Arte Sauve. Some people are looking to be more rounded MMA fighters. Some people, like my friend’s students, just fall into the sport. Whether they like it or not, its one of the few recreational activities provided by them as an after school alternative to roaming the streets (apparently some of his kids were recently found wandering the streets which just goes to show you the lack of responsible adulthood we are dealing with in today's educational system). Government funding is quick to fix budget deficits by cutting extracurricular activities, especially those that are designed to get your mind and body moving in a creative way. 

Brazil is oversaturated with martial arts or sports based social projects, and now, more recently I’ve been peeping a lot more of said programs creep slowly into the east coast culture.

More and more people are starting to offer free jiu jitsu classes, especially in New York, where I have a few friends trying to bring the gentle art to the big apple's not so gentle school kids. On Wednesday, once I finally found my way to Long Island, I was able to catch my friend's class that works with kids from 3-13 years old at an after school program that holds free Jiu Jitsu and music classes. For most of them it's their first time experiencing something like that, for a few of them, it seems it's the first time they're experiencing any kind of mandatory physical activity. What the hell happened to gym classes and youth sports leagues? 

It was definitely dope to see the next generation be introduced and slowly find a love for a jiu jitsu. Hopefully its something they will continue to grow in throughout the rest of their academic careers. 

This Tuesday I'll get to stop back at the Bronx to see how jiu jitsu has been integrated into highschools by another friend of mine. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities, From the South Zone to the South Side

 Cantagalo, Pavao, Pavaozinho from Terere's House

They say home is where the heart is, but my heart has been broken up and scattered across so many cities in so many countries that it feels like I’ll never find my way back home. I’m moving again tomorrow… to the 4th place in 3 months. I’m hoping this place will be a little more permanent than the previous places I’ve stayed (Note: I stay places, I do not live in them), but in all actuality, I may very well pick up and head down south “sometime in the beginning of the year”. 

2 boxes, 2 bags, 2 suitcases (one small, one carry one), 2 laundry baskets, 1 TV, and 2 hours. That’s all I need to pack up all my belongings. I should be going out to watch the fights tonight with my team, but I’m too tired to say goodbye, too tired to work through the complicated explanations of the unknown rhythm and reason of my chaotic life (I’m also .too sick to stay out to 2 A.M.)

The other day, y dad sent me a text message asking for the names and numbers of the people I would be staying with… maybe I can use living with this time.  It was early in the morning and I was either ubering or on the long expensive metro trip into the city for work. I was livid. 24 hours ago I didn’t know if I would have a place to live come Monday. I guess it was mentioned that I would have to leave in November, but since it was never brought up again and since my life is a constant series of unfortunate events that generally require my immediate attention, I let other problems become more of a priority. My life is permeated with the constant tension of uncertainty.

Would I find a place to live, would I have money for the rent, could I find money to pay for the metro to get to work, could I get work, would I have to sign a lease, would I have to break the lease in a month and move down South, how much would I have to pay to break the lease, who would move my stuff, might I have to accept failure and move back in with my dad in Pennsylvania for the first time in over 10 years? 

I could be sleeping under the same roof as rapists and murders, frankly, I didn't care as long as I had a place to stay and a way to make money. What did I care about names and numbers? A simple are you ok? How are you doing? Or, have you had a nervous breakdown yet? All seemed like more appropriate, less infuriating questions at the time. I was walking. Into the cold and through the industrial park across the street from my suburban safe haven where I often worried about getting attacked in the dark of night. After all, there were plenty of big trucks and empty spaces to be dragged into. It was a 30-minute trek to the metro station. Then I’m sprawled out with my book on a metro train, two trains to get to my new “home”.  I sat reading and nervously checking the deposit tucked away in my pocket. I was supposed to be in Philly with my dad already, but I had pushed back my trip home to visit my family in the pursuit of money, I couldn’t afford to miss work. I could no longer afford the persuit of happiness that had dominated my time in Rio. This is America. Time is money. Money is power. Everything else is irrelevant. 

“Can you even pay the rent?” Jesus Christ. He must have been running down a list of all the wrong things to say, one by one picking out and accentuating all my insecurities.

Once again uncertainty jarred my senses, leaving me paralyzed in an indecisive purgatory. Trapped between the two cities that I love. My steps fell heavy with hesitation. I eyed the remnants of the old city that clung desperately to its place in the world amid the influx of overpriced, hipster coffee shops inhabited by plaid shirt wearing lumberjacks whose pants are too short and whose glasses appeared to be the spoils of a retirement home theft. Since when had the entirety of D.C. converted into an Abercrombie and Fitch ad?

Chess at Dupont circle in between where I lift weights
and where I go to BJJ open mats in the city

Cotton dollars convert to steel anchors that weighed down my pockets, threatening to tear through the material and root me in debt to a city that I love, that I’ve missed, that I just don’t know if I can commit to. 

I could use the money to run. I could wake up in two days, running on the beach with the summer sun of Rio beating down on my back. Running towards the immaculate form of the dois Irmaos Mountains that border the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon. I could run up the 27 flights of stairs that lead to the favela, through the dark, narrow, labyrinth of the community. I could run home, where I had a home, but no address, where no one could find me. Hidden behind layers of secret passages guarded by armed dealers whose eyes searched hungrily for abusive police that threaten their lives, for evasive opportunities that could lead to a better life, for noxious drugs to numb their pain. 

 Police patrolling the strip in the favela with M16s

But when I look up I’m confronted by the friendly faces of the U.S. marines that carry small handguns, instead of the menacing threats of the Rio’s military police that wreak havoc on innocent people. It’s my country, but I’m still not sure if it's my home. 

Redskins hat in the Favela??
My new room is the size of a jail cell, but its 9 minutes away from the metro, which makes it convenient. 5 minutes away from the marine barracks, which makes it safe. Without a lease, which makes it a non-threatening (semi) commitment. The only nice neighborhood in S.E., D.C., which gives me the opportunity to cling to my ghetto pass. 

My new roommates do things like sip wine, discuss new recipes, explore the vast reaches of the world on grant money, close business deals in Geneva, qualify for security clearances, have BBQs on the back patio, and host movie nights on the weekend… you know, typical D.C. shit. I used to frequent that world on a daily basis. I used to rock climb, kayak, and plan curriculum that addressed multiple intelligences, but I gave all that up when I went to Brazil. 

Now I’m haunted by the images of kids that sit anxiously with empty eyes, clutching empty stomachs.  They bear their teeth in defiance, barefooted and gaunt chested thriving on pride instead of protein. There is little difference between poverty in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and D.C. In all 3 cities, kids struggle. They lay aside the innocence of childhood and claim rights to adulthood at too young an age. Their dreams are just as malnourished as their bodies and survival is the only aspiration in their life. 

Meridian Hill Park, my favorite place in D.C.
Two blocks from the academy

There are 3 main things that have helped me in making this transition. That have grounded me without anchoring me. That have guided me without judging me. That have helped me in ways that I doubt they even realize. 
They would be: 

My coach, Rob, that has understood and advised me through the whole process.  My multiple families that, although they may not understand me, have supported me, feed me, and given me a place to lay my head. Lastly, the Academy, that has opened their doors and given me a way to preserve a little piece of Rio in my life and balance out the tension of uncertainty that rules my life. 

My coach Fabricio Silva after winning BJJ Pro
Thanks to sponsorship sent to Terere Kids Project

Doing an academy visit at Milton Vieira's gym in Rio

To be continued… 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Rumble in the Bronx

Trigger warning: this is probably not my best display of professional language

They say New York is the city that never sleeps. I may sound cliché, but it’s definitely a philosophy that I’ve embraced during my stay here.

Typically when in D.C. or when I’ve less willingly been dragged out to the suburbs of Philly, I train all day and stay in at night (I mean, unless there are fights on), but here in New York there is too little time, too many breweries, and too many people to see for me to try to sit around after training watching Power and Empire (but no I don’t watch Narcos).

This is my New York gansta face

After two extremely stressful months of trying to re-adjust to the American lifestyle and living in a perpetual state of “glorified homelessness”, coming to New York was a much-needed grounding experience for me. With the exception of one friend that I’ve known for 12 years, everyone I know in NY I met in Rio!

Word Is Bond 

I always say that I’m going to do stuff and then once I’ve told enough people it becomes inevitable. I have to do it. I always live up to my word. That’s why I ended up in Brazil, despite the fact that I didn’t know the language or have a lot of money (or ya know a visa). That’s how Terere Kids Project was founded. We made it through the first two years solely on my ability to front my own money and the faith that I could hustle it back before I starved to death. That’s why, despite a lack of any sort of solid foundation in DMV, I planned a trip to New York to re-integrate myself into the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle that I have been missing so much since I left Rio.

It's been beyond dope to see the spread of this logo throughout the world! 
FT Jiu Jitsu was already established but this particular logo was devised by 
Deus Fight Co and myself when I created the Terere Kids Project blog!

Once I’ve told enough people I’m going to do something, I do it.

Luckily one of the people I told was HT, a close friend from Rio who I consider to be my mentor in respects to writing and managing the social project. He also happens to be the senior editor of Flograppling, who happened to be streaming the IBJJF NoGi Pan American tournament in NY this past weekend. He was able to hook me up with a job working the event (if you watch any of the archived events… that was me!). Then I stayed for about a week after the comp, catching up with friends, doing a ton of academy visits, and for the first time ever, I got my hands on a professional camera to play around with.

Bronx Jiu Jitsu

BxJJ was one of the places that I knew I had to hit up on my trip considering my boy Fernando Reals, a brown belt under Shaolin and professor at his own social project, has made to pilgrimages down to the Mecca with his wife Justine, and little man Ernesto. Last year he brought a rack of people in tow, including Nat and Osiris, and Pabs Carela.

BxJJ is owned by Junior Ortega, a black belt under Shaolin, who was born and raised in the Bronx.  Opening the academy was his way of giving back to the community that raised him and the vibe is a straight up New York rude boy style. 

This was a refreshing approach to pedagogy for me seeing that anyone that has interacted with me in the last two months since arriving home from the mountainous concrete jungles of Rio running around in sports bras and yoga shorts, would know that censoring my language and transitioning back into the world of academia has been a struggle, to say the least.

Now I’m not trying to promote explicit language, but the fact that zero fucks were given as to what kind of vernacular was used just goes to show how at home everyone felt training there.

Despite the language, BxJJ is definitely a family oriented gym

Academy visits or I training at an academy that’s NOT in the favela normally entail a level of polite decorum that I’m capable of, but really prefer to reserve for when I’m being paid in a work setting.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all about respect. I bow on and off the mats, tie my belt facing the wall, shake hands, and never ever arrive late to class (unless I take the wrong subway train and just don’t make it to class). But when it comes time to roll I like to put on trap music, forget about the world, and get down with my little killas. That’s what training at Terere’s was like. Fun, family, 50 cent, and 15-year-olds trying to berimbolo their way to your back and choke the shit out of you. 

Rolling up to Bronx Jiu Jitsu was like stepping right back on the mats with my brother Terere and all the kids from the community that I miss so much.

Another reason I really wanted to check out BxJJ was to see my boy Pab's new self-defense class. The sport of Jiu Jitsu has been blowing up lately, between MMA fighters trying to improve their ground game so that they avoid embarrassing choke out's like Conor McGregor suffered or women looking to get into better shape, the sport is growing more than ever! 

His class was pretty dope. We worked on break falls (that means falling on your ass correctly), practiced some Judo throws off haymakers (that's a big punch), and some grip breaks that lead to broken arms. The class is taught in a gi but focuses on real life, drunk in a Bronx brewery scenarios.  

Shaolin Jiu Jitsu

Polaris inteviewing Shoalin for his superfight with Terere 

So I’ve made several mentions that my beloved Bronx boys are all officially under the Shaolin BJJ name. Vitor Shaolin is a black belt under Nova Uniao’s Andre Pederneiras and teaches at a posh, playboy school located a few blocks away from time square.

I got invited to go to check out their afternoon competition class by Fernando and Junior, but ended up in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan because apparently I was supposed to go down and not up when entering the subway.

Note: I know it’s a few blocks from time square because I took the wrong train, missed training, had to get off the subway at union square to pee and find cell signal and decided instead of sulking around that area I would just take a 40 minute leisurely stroll to Shaolin’s and get up with HT from Flo and my boys from the Bronx and the end of the session.

Shaolin is actually scheduled for a super fight against my brother at the next Polaris event that will take place on October 29th in Poole England. Polaris was actually there at Shaolin’s so missing class was actually an EP

I've been in New York for less than a week but definitely have been through too much stuff to fit into one blog. So check back later for more on different academies (and breweries!). 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Coming Home.

Coming home was supposed to be the easy part. Or at least that’s what most people think. I think people expected me to just slip back into my old life. Startup teaching, buy a car, take on a rent, and maybe even go as far as to finish my research. That’s what most people expect, but not at all what I had in mind.

The only reason I came home was because of two weddings. Nicole and Torryn who were house managers at Connection Rio got married in Michigan last week, and Nicole Hess, from MiKiDo my gym and second family in VA, is getting married in September. I would have missed ONE wedding but seeing as both of them were getting married, I decided to come home.

On July 21st I left Rio and flew into Orlando, Florida to fight in a kickboxing tournament. My mom, her good friend Cindy, and my Coach Rob O’heran flew down to meet me in Florida. I lost my first fight to the tournament champion but it was the perfect was to start the repatriation process. I think they may be 3 of the only people in the world that actually understand the crazy shit I do as opposed to the people that just smile and nod and patiently wait for me to come home and do something “normal”.

Repatriations a B*tch

Training with Mestre De La Riva 
for an article I wrote for Digitsu

In the weeks before leaving Rio I didn’t really have time to dwell on the fact that I was leaving the Favela where I lived and the social project where I worked. I had a lot of weight to cut, packing to do, and an apartment to take care of so I didn't have time to think about goodbyes or enjoy an acai on the beach.

I’ve been through a lot of crazy shit in my 3 years in Brazil, bouncing back between zona sul and barra, Rio and Curitiba, but I always had Cantagalo (and Connection Rio) as my foundation. I trained Jiu Jitsu with Fernando Terere at the base of the favela, Boxing with Mestre Claudio at the top of the Favela, Muay Thai with Jorginho in Pavao, and everyone knew me in Galo. As consistent as the dealers were on corners, and the cops on patrol, I was always walking up or down the hill with a kimono or boxing gloves strapped across my back.  If I didn’t have money my boxing coach would feed me, if I was sad Terere would cheer me up, if I need a fade with no money I’d go chill with Pato, when I needed a place to stay Barba held me down, if I was bored I’d post up at the Rock. Training was a sure thing, 3 times a day and on holidays I could always slide by Connection Rio. I had a million little hustles to bring in money when I needed it, most of them capitalizing on my fluid ability to switch between various languages and my knowledge of the city.

Translating private lessons for Terere was a sweet job, highly educational. I taught English, mainly to fighters but also while sipping corporate coffee at Petrobras. I took Ron Weasley on a favela tour where he caught a glimpse of a ghost with an Uzi and sat on a legend’s coach. I’ve sat on street corners at 3 A.M waiting for Dominicans from the Bronx and at post 9 on Ipanema beach for some bearded Argentines. I learned to edit videos from a guy from Wales while sipping on Starbucks coffee a few blocks from the beach and conducted my first interviews with some of the most popular black belts in Rio.

Admittedly, it was anything but easy, but I apparently I flourish at the brink of chaos and confusion.
I’m so used to leaving, it’s become second nature, but coming back has been an awkward and uncomfortable process.


1.    Meeting my best friend’s baby, my niecey, for the first time.
I’ve missed weddings, funerals, and births since I’ve been gone. Its crazy to see how my crazy ass friends have turned into parents!

2.    Seeing my family and friends (and their fridge).  
I’ve spent more time than ever with my family in the last 3 weeks. I was never really close to them when I lived in the country so it's nice to catch up.

3.     Food
You can get better food here but its hard to find natural food

4.    Traveling. 

Nicole's Bacherlorette party in Traverse City Michigan. I met 
Nicole at Connection Rio when I first moved to Brazil! 

Despite the fact that I have like 0 dollars. I have managed to get around since I’ve been back. I flew into Florida, went to a wedding in Michigan, I’m with my family in South Carolina, and I stopped by D.C. to visit some students before flying here. I have a fight next month so once I get back to Philly tomorrow I’ll have to rush straight down to Virginia for my fight camp. Then I still have obligations in New York and North Carolina.

 As my best friend says, I’m one of the luckiest homeless people alive.

5. Renzo Gracie PA
If it wasn't for the free training from Renzo Gracie PA the only BJJ close to my parents house in the middle of nowhere suburbs of Philly, I think I would have gone crazy. I only got in a few training sessions before picking back up and traveling again but without that safety net my transition back to the U.S.A would have been monumentally more difficult. Jiu Jitsu is very therapeutic.

The Bad

1.    My training routine. 

Training was guaranteed 3-4 times a day of the style that I wanted. Here there are not nearly enough training hours because everyone has real jobs. Plus… I have no car or no money to pay... Once you reach Carioca status, you don't pay to train in Brazil.

2.    My bank account
I never made much money in the first place but when you multiply Broke AF by 3.8 (that’s the exchange rate) you suddenly have a lot more money in your possession! It’s a lot easier to make dollars and spend them in Reals. I also have no hustle game in this country. In Rio, I always had a jeitinho or a little way to make some money.

3.    My Community

English class at the project. A constant struggle!

I miss my house and my favela. Its nicer to be broke but part of a community than it is to be broke surrounded by people with real jobs, car notes, rent, and 5-year plans that would never include working with poor kids in the favelas of Rio.

4.    The Bills
I want a car, but don’t want a car note or to pay insurance. I want a place to live but would rather spend my money traveling than paying rent. These are some seriously conflicting things that mess with my head on a daily basis. It’s hard to live in America without incurring massive amounts of debt.

Me and my brother at the Project with Juliana
who just received a kimono donated from a good
friend from New York!

Training with Alliance's Tayane Porfirio in Recreio

cutting weight with my coach on one of my last 
days in Rio!