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…