Wednesday, January 25, 2017

IBJJF Europeans: Live From Lisbon

2017 Europeans in Lisbon, Portugal
Working with Flograppling

“The effortless, lazy, and safe has nothing to do with heroism. The hero is one who beats the odds, who chooses to not take the conventional road just because that’s where he’s expected to be”

At 10 A.M. on Monday morning, I was outside of a Bengali guest house frantically pushing buttons, kicking the door, and trying to peer through the cracks. Europeans had finally ended and I had reserved my last day to try to explore some of Lisbon, but in actuality, all I wanted to do was find a warm place to sleep. 

The Bengali guest house was definitely not that, but my suitcase which I had left with Thomas and Moicano was locked inside. So there I was, at 10 A.M. with two bags and a bad attitude trying to reunite with my belongings. Three years ago I probably would have been a little more concerned about my own welfare or that of my belongings, but considering that I have my life spread out between Virginia, D.C., Philly, and Rio and always have a bag or two stashed at Terere’s, in Curitiba, or with a friend in New York, the fact that the majority of my possessions were currently unobtainable and the owner of the house unreachable was nothing out of the ordinary.

3 years ago I probably would have accepted defeat, maybe cried a little out of frustration, and then sat around waiting for the guy to open the door. That was before I started working with kid’s in D.C. though. One time after almost peeing myself trying to find a bathroom driving around with one of my students, he made a comment that changed my perspective on handling problems. He asked me why I didn’t just ask to go to the bathroom before we left his house. I did I told him, but he didn’t hear me.

“You should have made me hear you,” he said.

So that’s what I did, I turned around and I made the first person I saw get me inside of the guesthouse. It took about 5 more minutes of button pushing and several phone calls but then a freshly dressed Bengali man came strolling down the street and let me in. 

The guest house cost 12 Euros a night and was a veritable piece of shit that retained no heat what so ever, but I was only staying there until I left for my flight at 4:30 in the morning and after a short nap I knew I would be out wandering the streets until late that night.

Had everything gone according to plan I would have spent 5 nights bundled in blankets trying to deal with the unbearable draft (for some reason people always leave doors and windows open to air things out and maybe try to catch pneumonia.

But things didn’t go as planned, they never do. Instead of spending the week with Moicano, who I had spent month raising money to get him to Portugal in the first place, I ended up in taking care of an unexpected addition to my crew: a kid from the first social project that I was involved in when I lived in Barra da Tijuca.

Roque (Pronounced Rocky)
Brotherly love just without the city
Somewhere between London and Lisbon, I started getting text messages from Roque, a 17year old blue belt that I know from Rio. He wanted to know where I was staying.

I met Roque 3 years ago at a Kyra Gracie seminar when I first moved to Brazil. For my first 3 months, we trained together at Gordo Jiu-Jitsu in Barra da Tijuca and two days a week I would go over to the Gigoia Island where he lives to train at a social project with Perninha, a black belt. Because of his long blonde hair, it took me about 30 minutes to determine his sex and about 3 minutes to pass his guard. Now I’m 100% sure that he is a guy and about 25% sure that I can still pass his guard. Puberty is a son of a bitch.

Frankly, I wasn’t too sure where I was going, so I took my time in responding. I had an address with no house number, a Whats App number for a guy named Kidd (that’s for texting), and a lot of faith in Terere (who had arranged our accommodations with a friend). I got picked up by one of Kidd’s students at 7 P.M. after almost 24 hours of traveling. We hopped on the metro and headed back to Kidd’s house… Or at least that’s what we thought. In actuality, we ended up at the kid’s house waiting for Kidd to get home from training (and seeing his girlfriend). In the morning, Kidd went off to train and left me at home with Playboy who gave me a quick rundown of how to get around in Portugal. Sound confusing... it definitely was, especially considering the differences in the Brazilian and Portuguese pronunciation. After about twenty minutes of trying to decipher Playboy's Portuguese I finally found the best way to meet up with Roque. 

It turned out that 17-year-old Roque had managed to acquire the sponsorship necessary to travel to Portugal, but he failed to acquire a chaperone or to tell his parents about said detail. His mom took him to the airport only to find out that his sponsor and supposed travel buddy was nowhere in sight. He wanted to know where I was staying because he didn’t actually book a room to stay in until he arrived in Lisbon. I found this all out the next day when we met up with each other. I would have caught a proper ass whooping from my dad had I tried to pull something like that.

I met Roque when he was 14 years old at a Krya Graice seminar when I first moved 
to Rio. It took me about 30 minutes to determine his sex because of his long blond hair. 
A black belt from Gordo BJJ used to take me over to Gigoia island to train with people my size.
Now I'm 100% sure of his sex and about 25% confident in my ability to pass his guard. 
Moral of the story: Puberty's a bitch. 

If it wasn’t for Roque I would have spent Monday, and one of my only days off of work sleeping, playing GTA and moping because my suitcase was lost in transition somewhere on my way to Portugal.

 To be continued....

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kunta Kinte, Castles, and the 2017 Europeans


“The answer is to let go and move with the chaos that presents itself to you- from within it, you will find endless opportunities that elude most people”

I was training with Kunta Kinte’s father in New York when it occurred to me that I could hustle my way to the 2017 Europeans in Lisbon, Portugal.

 I’ve spent the last 5 months in a transitory hell trying to find pieces of sanity in between D.C., Virginia, New York, and Philly. It only seems natural that I would escape this chaos by booking my first ever trip to Europe.

If I could make it to New York. I could make it to Portugal. Right?
and if I was going to Europeans, why not compete?


The 2017 IBJJF Europeans is historically one of the biggest jiu jitsu competitions there is with the exception of IBJJF Worlds. I say historically because now the growing number of super fights, sub only events and the rise of competing federations like ADCC are slowly beginning to cloud the once omnipotent presence of IBJJF’s point based tournaments. There's going to be a lot of people from around all over Europe and the U.S. there to compete so it should be an interesting week. Normally this is the kind of competition you spend months training for but I'm just kind of going with the flow.

When you drink and philosophize about jiu jitsu. 

So, like I said, I was training with Kunta Kinte’s father in New York when it occurred to me that I could actually make it happen. I was in the city to work the IBJJF New York Pro with FloGrappling and I stopped by Fabio Clemente's gym to interview his daughter, Vedha Toscano and a lot of time World Champion, Dominyka Obelentye (I think I can finally spell it without looking it up!) for an article with Digitsu. Both of those endeavors were financially gratifying but due to the fact that its about time to file taxes I'm just going to insert a commercial break instead of actually explaining how I'm financing my trip...

Mr. Kinte's insight on training jiu-jitsu
You can find Kunta Kinte's father (aka Babs Olusanmokun)  teaching at Jiu Jitsu For the People 
in New York

And then pick up back here.

So, I'm getting to Portugal the same way that I got to New York with the added bonus of actually getting to compete. I might not be able winning double gold like Vedha and Dominyka had done at the BJJ Pro, but at least I will have half the European jiu-jitsu community there to console me if I don't win. More importantly, Fabricio and Moicano would be there from the social project. Terere and I have spent the last couple of months raising money to get these two to Europeans. We raised over a thousand dollars and with the help of some sponsors and companies like I Ain’t No Saint Tattoo Studios (in England), Fightland Vice (with the favela jiu-jitsu articles, and Tatame we were actually able to make this happen.

"Your opinion of yourself becomes your reality. If you have all these doubts, then no one will believe in you and everything will go wrong. If you think the opposite, the opposite will happen. It's that simple." 

Never. Never in the constant turmoil of my daily life would I have thought that I would compete in Europeans. I mean, it's Europe. That's far, so far it seems almost impossible. And, of course, I have shit to do here, important shit. I lost my license last month and still haven't replaced it and my winter jacket doesn't even zipper. I could, maybe/should invest in a better coat before traversing a whole ocean, but that would have been using fear as an excuse to turn down a free trip to Europe.

The next step on the path to living the dream was to tell at least 3 people. Most ideas sound good in your heads but when they are actually articulated by other people. When your crazy ass ideas that you think about after one too many beers are actually manifested, not as unsubstantiated ideas, but as facts, it becomes more tangible.If everyone else thinks that you can or you are, then you either start to do or be or you're going to look like an idiot. This method worked for me when I was planning on moving to Brazil, and trust me, the first time I heard coach Issac say it in front of the entire class, I was no longer able to hide behind poles and try to avoid rolling. Once other people started asking me about the trip, I had no other choice but to get my shit together and go to Europe because trying to explain to all those people why I was NOT in Portugal would be worse than any apprehension I had about actually going. So yeah, I fly out on Saturday. Hopefully, I'll win a medal, see a lot of friends, get to visit some castles, and eat some good food.

The whole favela will be watching Moicano and Fabricio compete next Saturday. O bicho vai pegar. It's about to be LIIT.

and I'll be mat side

with my new camera.

= )

Fabricio at Brazilian Nationals in 2015. Moicano, Moleza, Fabricio, and I took a bus down to Sao Paulo. It was the first trip outside of Rio that the project sponsored with food, registration, and transportation all paid for from donations sent to TKP. Watching Fabricio eat his victory acai after winning gold for the first time (after many attempts) is definitely something I'll never forget. Fabricio has changed a lot in the three years that I've known him, he's an amazing teacher, a great friend, and a father of 3 beautiful children. 

Last year the project sponsored Moicano to travel 
to San Diego to compete in IBJJF PanKids
It was a long, stressful, crazy, amazing, humbling,