Monday, December 25, 2017

#tbt Christmas

Bitchy on the plane to Miami. It’s that point in my life where I start to realize that maybe I need some professional help. PoloGod keeps telling me that I’m crazy. Bipolar to be specific…. Justifiable in his case considering I did kirk out on him.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas, but then again, I hate Christmas. I do need a break though.
All I do is work and train and compete and only one of the 3 jobs I have includes a real paycheck.

One week off.
Two weeks to prepare for Europeans.

Hopefully I warm weather will make me less crazy.

Carioca Christmas 2013

I moved into the Favela in 2013 right before Christmas. 
I lived with Terere's secretary, her husband, and her three sons. 

I spent my first Christmas in Brazil with them. Then I met up with my friend from Argentina on Ipanema beach before heading to Barra da Tijuca to see my friends from the Connection Rio Hostel.

By the time I got to Connection Rio there were beer cans and baby oil everywhere. The house was empty... everyone had gone down to the beach or was already passed out.

They tried to wrestle on mats in the pool. 

Belo Horizonte 2015

This was probably the best Christmas of my life so far. I had been in broke in Brazil for two years and was no longer accustomed to normal things in life like being with family, sitting on real couches, watching or owning TVs, real cups and silverware, not waking up to weed and ak47s and gunshots... 

In 2014 my mom's Brazilian friend came to visit from the U.S. and invited me to spend Xmas with her and her family. It was the first time I got to leave Rio and do normal things. I stayed with her family, visited their house in the historic town of Ouro Preto (black gold), explored mines, saw where Gold in Brazil was discovered and didn't have to worry about all the things that I normally have to worry about. 

Christmas 2015

I didn't have a Christmas in 2015. I went to the beach and longboarded a little. I think I went home and ate oatmeal....

This was a hard time a good friend went to the hospital the next day. 
I was living in Curitiba and came back Rio for a few weeks to do work for the Project.

Apparently, I don't have any pictures from last year. It was my first year back with my family. It was too soon for me to be ok. I made the mistake of going with them to the movies and fell asleep. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Us against Them

Do you remember your favorite childhood memory?

Can you close your eyes and picture it? 


Picture it, and if you can't, then picture mine. 

I grew up with my half-brother and my mother on a cul-du-sac in Pennsylvania. My favorite things were ice pops, play stations, and playing batman with Mike Penn. All the boys had skateboards or roller blades, but all I had was a Barbie limousine, so I would stick one foot in the hot tub that was in the back of the limousine and the other small ankle through the sun roof and I skated around on that pink limo until the wheels popped off.

But imagine as I was sitting there contemplated my options, the anguish welling up inside of me because the boys on their skates and bikes were doubling the distance between us, there was a loud pop. And I look up to try to find the back of my brother’s head amongst the distanct forms that were circling the cul du sac, but then there was another pop and then the street lights flickered. A third pop announced the presence of dark 6 dark figures at the entrance of a cul-du-sac. They broke through the line of my brother and his friends as smooth as scabbed elbows cut through a giggling mass of tanned hands linked together in a Red Rover line.

Red Rover Red Rover everyone wearing black come over. 

Except we didn’t invite these guests. 

They didn’t come to play.

One grabbed my brother by the neck of his shirt causing his body to convulse, arching back as if a demon were about to be exorcised from his body.* Maybe there was a demon in my brother’s eyes because his look made the officer drop him in disgust, sending him head first into the same asphalt that was where our bike tired burnt skid marks.

Behind my brother kids coming home from school scattered in different directions. Backpacks were left forgotten and stray sheets of homework took brief flight into the air before being tramped back down by black boots storming towards us.

A guy my dad always talked to on the way home ran by my left. As he passed, one of the black figures lifted both arms and sent a deafening sound through the night air, splitting my senses in two.

His name was EJ. He was our neighbor's son. I used to have a crush on him. I used to confuse his name with OJ, as in OJ Simpson, who was on trial at the time. The last few times I had seen him, I clammed up, too scared to speak because I might confuse him with a killer.

But I wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore because they killed him.

Thes same sound that sent an excruciatingly painful noise ricocheting around my head, sent EJ crumpling to the ground. His bottle of v8 shattered leaving splattered red remnants on the walls car park.

I used to climb the tree next to the car park and lay flat on the roof to hide from my friends. To me, it was the highest and safest place in the world.

It took me a couple years to realize that there were higher and better places in the world to hide.

It took me a couple days of nagging the older boys to realize that Ej didn’t drink v8, that it was his blood, not juice that stained my favorite hiding spot.  Now every time I walk by I look at the hole that Ej's bullet carved out in the carpark and think of the night when I came bounding down my stairs in my light blue mermaid pijamas with a coloring book in hand to see show EJ his name, misspelled in blue crayon next to mini mouse.

This never happened to me, but it’s happening right now in the favela I call home. Their childhood memories are being systematically snatched away and replaced by nightmares.

I remember the first time that an 8-year-old, who was walking home to the favela by himself, told me about hopping over puddles of blood on his way to school. He said it like he was talking about baseball statistics. Bare chested, cell phone clipped to baggy pants, key swirling between his fingers, he was only eight, but he was no child.

City of God Favela

They keep telling me it's dangerous. That I shouldn't go there. 
So I came to tell him that. I tried to take him home. 
But he wouldn't leave, so I'll keep going back, leaving little trails 
of bread crumbs, till he can't find a way to get by and you, 
you can keep calling them dangerous and leave them to die. 

 I wonder if he ever spent a summer eating ice pops with his best friend and using cheat codes from the internet to beat his favorite PlayStation games. I wonder if he had ever played on a real soccer team, with real shoes, or if his sports aspirations were limited to deflated balls, guided by bare feet, on crumbling cement courts. I wonder what he wants to be when he grows up or if he even sees growing up as a possibility for his future.

Vidigal Favela

Kids playing with a soccer ball in the Alleys

Today they came at 6 A.M., but a lot of time they come in the afternoon when the streets of the favela are filled with life. When kids are coming home from school. When parents, tired from a long day’s work are hauling bags of groceries up endless flights of stairs. When grandmothers are serving lunch and opening their doors for the uncountable number of cousins and uncles that claim refuge at their dining room tables.

There are 38 supposedly "pacificed" favelas in Rio de Janeiro. 
That means they contain police stations but that doesn't mean they have 
stopped the violence or the drug trafficking.

You can’t always hear the shots, especially if you live on my side of the neighborhood, but you see the messages. The pictures of armored trucks with ARs protruding from any available opening, missing kids lost on their way home from school, the futile prayers and pictures of white doves asking for peace.

Police have occupied favelas but have done little to foster
community engagement. Police in most communities are very 
hostile. Notably they are working in very unfriendly environments
and engaged in urban guerilla warefare, but does that justify 
the inhumane practices?

They killed someone on Valentine’s Day in June and that set off two months of incessant shooting.

They shot someone off the side of the mountain and that set off a series of vulgar Youtube videos degrading people from the community.

They blew someone up with a grenade last month, and that, well that just fucked with my mind as I walked through Columbia heights wearing hundreds of dollars’ worth of clothes with 1,000s of dollars worth of electronics in my backpack.

It’s hard, as an educated adult, to understand how you can go from sipping coffee and discussing politics in Ipanema to laying on the floor in the dark wishing you had put credit on your phone because they shot out the electricity and you have no means of communication with the outside world.

It’s in that dark, silence, isolated from the world, that hate is born.

Hatred for the police. For the government. For every intruder that comes into your neighborhood and shoots down your dreams, takes pictures of your misery, and tries to use you as a political ploy to get more votes.

It’s hard, to take a kid raised in this situation and try to teach them to dream because when they close their eyes, all they see is nightmares.

It's hard, but we still try.

Favela Jiu Jitsu: Projects for Life 

Find out more about Jiu Jitsu based Social Projects in Rio

*while this is a fictional story about my childhood it is based off real events that I have seen while living in Cantagalo. The most disturbing thing I saw my first month there were 6 armed police officers patrolling the neighborhood yank a kid out of a corner where he was hiding and stick his rifle in his face while barking at him. It was standing two feet behind them watching them shove an automatic weapon into the face of a child that I understood for the first time in my life what it means to embrace the "fuck the police" mentality. 

War In Rochina

(From a past post)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Buda

The first time I’d seen him was an old picture folded away in Terere’s resume book. It wasn’t a resume in the traditional sense that most people know them to be because most things in the favela lack the same traditions that most people know. Terere’s resume was a book filled with old new paper clippings, podium pictures, and other relics from his competition days.

It was a blurry picture of scrawny kids with worn white gis, throwing their arms up in a t formation. Terere, Leandro Martins, Fabricio da Silva, Jackson Sousa, and Buda.

Buda was a legend at the project. He was just as good as Terere they said. He found with Leandro Lo they would brag. He had just as much potential as anyone else but some questionable life decisions landed him in jail.

My friend sent me a new clipping announcing that they had finally arrested the right-hand man of Pitbull. Pitbull is the owner of my favela. Yes, that’s right, the owner. He is in charge of our local branch of Commando Vermelho.

The article said he was dangerous. The Ecuadorians said that the police came and took him at the end of training, then they came back and searched the gym and people stuff for drugs. The American from California said they came in while he was rolling. Two ARs and a handgun drawn and took him. They said he was dangerous, but that morning he was leading class and helping an engineer from the United States with his first jiu-jitsu class.

I wasn’t there when they came and took him because I was taking pictures at another social project. I trained with him that morning though. We tapped fists and he dropped down low. One would think that three years in jail would fuck up your conditioning, but Buda was jumping around, chanting Ui Terere, and laughing as he hook-swept me in true Terere fashion.

Terere has a lot of family, friends, and fans, but few people truly know him through and through like the people that grew up with him.

They say he’s dangerous, but he was there at the project day and night training and trying to stay out of trouble.

Favela Jiu Jitsu: Buda at Terere Kids Project


Friday, August 11, 2017

City of God: are favelas safe?

City of God is one of Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously dangerous favelas. A quick google search will confirm that, listing incidents of gunfights and drug apprehensions every few days. The taxi driver was also quick to confirm it.

“It’s not bad, it’s horrible” he corrected us. “No so much here, down the side streets.”

Is it  really safe?

It’s sossegado, they’ll tell you. It’s quiet. They always tell you that, despite the fact that there had been shootouts 3 out of the 5 days of that week. To you, that may not seem safe, to someone that lives in the favela, that’s normal. Any fighter will tell you that the difference between winning and losing is in the small details. Inches could make the difference between life or death and blocks can make the difference between war and peace.

The dealers in my neighborhood reminded me about that before I left out today. They had pointed out to me the holes from last month’s gun fight and were retelling stories. Police operations (shootouts) have been going on since the olympics, escalating in June on the Brazilian valentines day, and finally culminating when they arrested the head hood, but both the police and the dealers were both still heavily armed. In facet I almost walked smack into a guy holding an odd shaped gun that I mistook for a t-bar while heading out in the afternoon.  We both just side skirted each other, brushing elbows, and continued on with our days.

They continued their story, alternating details as they passed a joint between them.

The fist-sized hole in the wall a few inches from my arm.

The shattered glass window of the house that stood 10 feet from my own.

And they just laughed.

About the bullets flying by their head.

About the day that one of their own got shot in the neck down by the Pistao.

“You almost died, but you laugh?”

First, it’s the adrenaline. 
Then comes the fun.  

Most people are scared of them, but I'm scared for them

I took precautions before leaving for the City of God. I might think lightly of my own saftey but I was taking 4 other gringos with me.

We all got our asses kicked by 17 year old Gabi. 

So I asked directions and landmarks, checked who the local gang was, made sure I had credit on my phone and cash in small notes, and asked permission to film out of the gym window towards the street.

I wasn’t actually worried, but knowledge is power, and I know I push my luck always talking to dealers and taking pictures of police.

Everyone is scared of the favelas, but I'm scared of getting robbed on the bus or on the beach. I didn’t care if it was  considered “safe” or not. I haven’t checked the statistics, but I’m pretty sure more gringos die in plane crashes and car accidents then getting gunned down in favelas.

Everyone knows City of God is a violent place, what I cared about was making sure they know that there’s more to it than that. That in the middle of all the violence there is still a small room above a church where kids come every day looking for a way out. That when Flograppling and Graciemag are following Mackenzie Dern and Leandro Lo all over Portugal for Europeans, that those same kids are right there huddled together playing card games and  eating left over bagged lunches that the refs bring them. If you look closely you’ll find them at most of the major competitions, watching and waiting. They’re there all day every day waiting for their coach to finish working so they can go together back to their small Airbnb where they sleep together, alternating between mattresses and floor space, cook huge pots of spaghetti to save money, then relax restlessly waiting for their own fights.

Is it safe?
I get this question all the time.

If you ask the kids from City of God, they say yes.
If you ask my kids from D.C., they say the murder rate is up 80%.
If you ask anyone I took out to City of God today, they’ll tell you they had a good time.

Safety is subjective.

Projeto Social Lutadores do Cristo

Thursday, August 10, 2017

From DC to Houston to Rio

Most people think I'm on vacation but Rio is my New York and I have a lot of new photography equipment that I plan to do a lot of filming with so I'll be balancing my time between the beach, training, and filming at different social projects around Rio.

Straight to training. 
I packed my camera, a gi, and training clothes
in my carry on suitcase. 

My luggage got left in Houston so instead of going to the hospital or the eye doctor, I had to hang around the favela and wait for united to deliver my two suitcases. There's been a lot of police operations (i.e. shootouts) in Cantagalo so the guy refused to go all the way up, which meant me and my friend from Maryland, that has been watching my house had to haul the two suitcases up a crazy long flight of stairs.

Note: When I got the call that the guy had dropped off my suitcases at the stairs I was with two Ecuadorians that are training at Rio. I had taken them to get their haircut at Terere's cousin barber shop in the Gaza Strip, the most dangerous part of Cantagalo. I got the call, grabbed my bag of bananas, and then left them there. They'd only been in the favela for two days, but apparently, they made they're way out because they were in training later that night. I left my bag of bananas with the lookout by my house so that I could have my hands free and went back to get them a couple hours later after I recovered from hauling the suitcase up the stairs. 

I still haven't gone to the doctor...

I've pretty much been working and training the whole time I've been here. Three athletes from the Project are going to Curitiba Open tomorrow and I have arrangements to stop by and film at other projects around Rio.

I'm starting off today at Projeto Social Cantagalo, a former Checkmat affiliate that's here where I live and then tomorrow I'm heading off to the City of God Favela to check out the Projeto Social Lutadores de Cristo.

City of God

Click here to read about Gabi 

Terere Kids Project

Cantagalo Jiu Jitsu

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Everything's Bigger in Texas

Partiu (verb:partir): To leave

I started this blog about 4 years ago when I first got it in my head to drop everything and move to Rio.

I was a brown belt in kickboxing at MiKiDo and I didn't train any jiu-jitsu at the time (nor did I speak any Portuguese). Most people thought I was crazy at the time, but I think people that spend $100s of dollars at happy hour and spend any amount of money on meaningless shit like books to adorn coffee tables are crazier.

I thought I would be there for 6 months. I spent 3 years. 2 1/2 of which I was an illegal immigrant.

I came back for two reasons, in fact, for two Nicoles. Ironically enough, one Nicole is from Mikido in VA and the other from Connection Rio where I first lived in Brazil, and I credit those to places as being the baseline for who I am today.

I've been back for a year and it most definitely was a difficult transition after living in the Favela for 3 years. Now I work at a night school as an ESL teacher and at Beta Academy in D.C. during the day in exchange for training.

I've been broke for most of the year but I've still managed to get to South Carolina, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Montana, California, and Portugal this year. I got to compete in Worlds in Cali and Europeans in Portugal. I lost both fights and then spent the rest of the tournament working for Flograppling. It was beyond dope being mat side at some of the biggest tournaments of the year. Erbeth Santos is a beast on paper, but in person, he's breathtaking... and of course, I always seem to be in Leandro Lo's way right around the finals or some other important fight.

Other then traveling and losing at all the major tournaments of the year I've been kicking ass at local tournaments and formalizing the Project as an official 501(c). That means we're a nonprofit. it's supposed to mean that we can get more donations or sponsors, but up until now, it's just a lot of extra work for me.

Leaving D.C.

On Monday I'll be back with my people in Rio. 

Right now, I'm on my way to Texas to meet up with Pretty Boy.  

It just occurred to me that I don't know Pretty Boy's real name and I don't remember what he looks like. I met him once, in Rio, we were at the corner of General Osorio and he walked up with a flask in his hand on his way to get a massage. Lack of Portuguese did not keep Pretty Boy from enjoying Rio. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

I'm Going to Kick your Ass, but Can I Use your Scale First?

I’m going to FUCK YOU UP… but yo, can I borrow your scale right quick though?
And how are you getting to the fights in the first place? Wanna carpool?

This weekend has been somewhat like that.
 There's a popular saying in Brazil on the back of a lot of shirts that says 
"You are my adversary, not my enemy" 
Just cause your going to fight someone, doesn't mean you have to hate them! 

Amazing insight on the life of female fighters 
from Marq Pioca @ Wombat sports 
Someone who has been saving are asses here 
with transportation!

I’m here in Montana with Priscila Souza a friend from Brazil that will be fighting Roxanne Modaferri in Fusion Fight League. Modaferri is a veteran in the sport. She’s fought in Strikeforce, was on TUF, and is currently signed to Invicta FC, so it's pretty bad ass that Priscila's first fight in the U.S. is so high profile. 

Win or lose, it’s an amazing opportunity for Priscila. She got an American visa (an almost impossible task for Brazilians in general and now even harder with Trump's fascist immigration policies). If she wins the fight her chances of getting a contract with Invicta FC will increase astronomically.  

We got her on Thursday, the day before weigh ins, and naturally, we came unprepared with no scale knowing that Pri still had to cut 5 kilos (that’s 11 pounds). It was a lot of weight. I would never do the day before weigh ins, but whatever Pri has more fight experience than me and Claudinha gave me instructions for how to cut the weight.

Which involved a lot of salt, hot water, towels, and threats.

I would have leaned towards jackets, jump ropes, and mitts… but whatever to each his own.

In the end. The weight was not cut. She came in 3 pounds over, lost $150 dollars and will not be eligible for the title... but on the bright side, she is more than ready to kick some ass tonight! 

 Frenemies: Fight First, Friends Later

MMA is a professional sport. Which means that once the fight is over. the animosity should be over as well. Win or lose there is no need to hold a grudge, harbor hate, or resent the winner.

Unfortunately, Priscila doesn’t speak English, which limits her ability to communicate with the other girls on the card. 

I do, so I’ve been here meeting some great people. One of the best parts about being at fights or tournaments is generally the people you get to meet.

Since we arrived without a scale we had to ask the promoter to get in contact with another fighter so we could use theirs. The scale we ended up using was Roxanne’s. Her teammate Serena who is also fighting on the card, brought the scale over while we were doing a round of baths. Serena happens to be from Philly and trained with Daniel Gracie, which is funny because I’m from the suburbs of Philly and when I’m home I train with the same Renzo Gracie PA crew.

I met Roxanne the next morning when I was searching out some food. She gave me some nice recommendations and let me know there was a Walmart close by, where we eventually went to go buy our own scale.

If you want to be the best. You have to beat the best (at their best). And you shouldn't have to worry about making their life hell by not sharing a scale, degrading them on social media, or being hostile every time your in the same room. 

Priscila Souza Vs. Luciana Pereira at Shooto
ya know cause ya gotta relive the good times!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ladies Fight Night Fiasco

Currently on my way to Montana to corner an MMA fight 
How and Why?
Who knows! 

This girl got KNOCKED THE FUCK OUT. 
And I mean that with every ounce of gravity that can possibly be transmitted through capital letters and curse words.

Not only did she get knocked out. It was her second loss to the same girl. In her own gym’s promotion, a promotion known for feeding its fighters with quick wins.

When PRVT left Curitiba Priscila and I both left the team but 
We would still see each other occasionally at the boxing gym 
in my neighborhood. 

Luciana Pereira from the famed Nova Uniao team is a giant. Pleasantries aside (cause let’s keep it real she was always a bitch to me anyway) the girl looks like she’s been guzzling steroids for a couple years. Unfortunately, it didn’t help.

The much shorter, less muscular Priscila Souza ended up taking home the belt after catching Luciana with a wild right hook off. She went down. Hard.

When I went up to congratulate her on the victory she was still hyped up, wiping sweat from her forehead. She had the belt thrown over her shoulder and a bag of something that looked like Funions clutched in her arms, but none of that stopped her from giving me a huge hug when she saw me!

“You need to come to Curitiba!” she said, “Parana can get you a fight for sure!”

I’d met Priscila once when she came up to Rio with her MMA team. She trained at PRVT (Parana Vale Tudo) with Jessica Andrade from the UFC. PRVT is a shit show and that’s another story all in itself. It would be a stretch to say that me and Priscila were friends at that point, so I was shocked at her warm greeting and the fact that even in the height of her victory, she was even thinking about my fighting career in any shape or form.

It was touching and ultimately the reason I decided to leave Nova Uniao where I was training with Claudia Gadelha. It was a hard decision considering Claudia was one of the main reasons I decided to move to Brazil to train, but the fact of the matter was I wanted to fight… and Nova Uniao wasn’t making that happen.

My boxing, Coach, friend Poliana, and Me 
and my first MMA disaster... I mean fight.

I fought one time at Nova Uniao. It was a couple of years ago around Christmas time. It was finals for Claudinha and the middle of her fight camp for her UFC debut… but she managed to find some time to get me a fight. She made all the arrangement, helped me with my training camp, and advised me during my weight cut, all while preparing for her own fight and finishing her last year at college.

One of my first nights living in Curitiba. I stayed in the gym with Priscila 
for awhile. She lived there in the back and eventually brought her two daughters from 
Rio. Like I said the team was a shit show so we eventually all ended up leaving. 

She couldn’t go to my fight to corner me because she had a final, but my other coach from Nova Uniao had no excuse. He bailed on me the day of the fight. So, a couple of hours before my fight I ended up going to the pharmacy to buy tape to wrap my hands and catching a bus out to the middle of friggin’ nowhere.  In the end, Claudinha managed to get my boxing coach and another teammate to show up for me. but I was blown. Nova Uniao is like that. They’re a factory and they give zero fucks about their fighters.

Random places in Curitiba where I spent a lot of random time. 

So last week, I’m a work…  Like real work, like after 6 months of fucking around I actually have a real job… So I’m at work and I get a message.

“Yo I’m coming to the U.S. to fight. My visa got approved. If my coach can’t go you’re going to go to corner me”


“Ok what’s your full name. You’re going!”

I was shocked to say the least but this kind of last minute, drop everything and run stuff happens all the time in Rio.

Claudinha apparently got her this fight.
And when the promotor tried to tell Priscila that they couldn’t change the plane ticket and she would have to go alone… Claudinha raised hell.

Training with Claudinha and Master Claudio

So now, I’ll be working till 9. Running home to grab my trusty red suitcase, catching a bus to Jersey at 11 and then getting picked up in the morning by Claudinha and then taken to the airport to fly out with Priscila.

Priscila will be fighting Roxanne Modaferri who is one of the veterans of women's MMA. She was on the ultimate fighter and is currently signed with Invicta (I think).