by: Stephen Kamphius
If you love Brazilian Jiu Jitsu there’s no better place to train than in Brazil where new techniques and skills are being developed everyday. Having the opportunity to train and compete in Brazil is an experience not to be missed. Brazil still has the highest number of winning competitors in worldwide tournaments. At the Mundials, nearly 90% of all the medalists come from Brazil. For the past five years, I have been fortunate enough to go to Brazil for competition and training, this has giving me a first-hand look at the way Brazilians train and compete and a better appreciation of the Sport.
Training with Brazilians
Having both trained and competed I thought it may be of interest to pass on some of tips to others who also may also decide to train and compete in Brazil.
To start with, unless you are moving around, my advice is to find just one school to train with while in Brazil. Building up a relationship with the other students and the instructor is the best way to learn, you will make many new friends and have a great support group while you stay in Brazil. If you compete it is a big help to have a group of guys looking out for you. If your school has an affiliated school in Brazil go to this school they will be very happy to have you train with them.
Many schools will charge you a flat monthly fee; it does not matter if you train for just a night or for the whole month. Private classes with the Black Belt instructor are also available, and highly recommended if you can spare some cash. However, do not expect the instructors to show you their latest game plans unless you are connected with the school.
Unlike BJJ schools outside of Brazil most of the guys on the mats are high belts you will find it is the reverse of what you are used to, there may be more Black belts than White and Blues belts on the mat combined.
Another thing that is different about training in Brazil although a few guys are out to prove a point, many of the guys train hard but train quite light, it is more about learning as you roll, perfecting techniques, experimenting and working positions, quite the reverse of training in the States where I have been a couple of times.
New techniques: you will learn a lot from all belt levels, training and watching. Many guys are specialist and their Teammates know their games so well you see some good contests and counters. The fun part is when you jump in and do not know how any of the guys fight; it will be a great learning experience as you may end up being in many unfamiliar positions.
Teaching; most classes are taught by the Black belt students while the Instructor teach’s now and again and focus on private classes. I have found all the classes to be a great way to learn from a variety of people.
If you want to perfect your techniques or learn about what’s new the privates are best way to go, but as I mentioned loyalty to the school counts.
Accommodation / Travel Expenses
If you intend to stay for more than one week, it is best to book an apartment. I have been staying in Copacabana on my past visits to Brazil. Although it is not the safest place at night, it is the closest to the school I train at. Late night strolls at the beach are not recommended as it can get dangerous after 10pm. On one occasions I had street kids who distracted me from the front while some another tried to grab my pockets from behind.
Below is a summary of the expenses you should anticipate when staying in Brazil:
Rates vary from about US$35++ depending on the location and the size of the apartment.
You can book online, or book a hotel for a couple of days and find a cheaper accommodation when you arrive.
The guys at the gym will often know someone who can help out
I just go out side and get my own taxi, but if you are not confident about this just book at the airport (it is a little more expensive though).
Buses are great and very cheap only 2 Real or so, There are private busses as well which are more expensive but more comfortable. Be aware public buses get held up.
Transit Vans are more expensive than a bus but makes fewer stops and you get a seat.
Food can be quite cheap at the small take away shops, and they have great fruit salads and Acai drinks. Many restaurants base their prices on a per kilo basis so you are charged by the weight of the food on your plate. The supermarkets are everywhere; it may also be convenient to cook your own food if you have time.
I find using a credit card to get money from an ATM the best way to get cash while traveling. Withdraw from the ATM’s during the day for your own safety. I was there a few months ago and the exchange rate was 1.7 Real to the US dollar, which has dropped from 2.8 Real over the last few years.
In Copacabana there are plenty of Laundromats, as most apartments do not have their own washing machines. Take at least a couple of Gis’s or buy one there.
In Rio there is quite a few places that sell BJJ/ MMA gear. The best way to find them is to ask the guys at the club, some of the gyms may have special relationships with a certain store or Gi manufacturer so you may get items at a discount.
Competing on Brazilian Soil
Sign up early on the net or ask the gym to sign you in. You can also make the trip by bus or Taxi to Gracie Barra and signed yourself in. You may have to do this as to compete in a CBJJ comp you may need to have your grades registered in Brazil especially at the Brown / Black belt level. Make sure you recheck your division and the fight schedule online a couple of days before the comp, look for the time and day of your division.
Joining tournaments in Brazil has given me a first-hand experience of the competition scene on Brazilian soil. As a foreigner, there is always a sense of anticipation when you compete in Brazil.
You will get the chance to see some of the latest techniques and variations of old favorites. The comp has a great atmosphere and you will see some great matches at all belt levels. There is always a few big names competing or supporting their teammates.
The area in refereeing which I have observed as the most inconsistent is the awarding of penalties to competitors. One referee may restart the match while another may award a penalty.
Make sure you bring some spare pants in case they get ripped and make sure your Gi complies with the International standards. If it does not meet the criteria you will be disqualified. Weigh in will be just as you go onto the mat to fight.
How foreigners get caught?
If you are fighting a close match it is quite easy to be penalized for minor infringements like stepping out of the mat area. This can sometimes make all the difference to winning or losing.
Any perceived stalling will cost you and I find sometimes the spectators seem to influence the reffs. Even in positions like half guard in both positions if it appears you are stalling you will be penalized. It can be difficult to stay tight and make small adjustments, as you must be aware that the referee may penalize you at any moment. With a lack of international competition experience and exposure from different referees, players that compete Internationally for the first time in Brazil can do so with a false sense of the rules and their application.
It may help if all local comps mirrored the application of the rules in Brazil, the point system may be the same but the awarding of penalties and advantages may not be as strict. It can be confusing for players who compete locally under different rules and then go to Brazil not quite sure of the way things are done at International comps.
The higher you go up the belt level in international competitions, the less submissions you may see. Many fights are won by advantages and penalties. The rules play an intricate part in determining the outcome of the match. In this situation a good referee is vital for a true and fair outcome.
You spend most of your pre-fight time trying to listen for your name, division and your team name, which are called in Portuguese through an almost inaudible sound system. Once on the mat the referee may give you some instructions, which are in Portuguese, so you just nod your head and act like a local. If he is warning you of a penalty it will also be in Portuguese, which makes it difficult to be aware of what is going on. You are not allowed any coaches in the competition area but they can be close by outside of the barriers.
I often wondered why the mat area is so small, being only 6 x 6 meters of mats, as a competition area. Once you are out of the green area, any techniques executed on the yellow area are not counted. In fact, I have been penalized for attacking in this area. Once you see the Tijuca tennis centre you will understand, as this seems to be the only size that can fit into the facility.
Having said all of the above, the experience is well worth it. You will enjoy the training and find many new friends who love this sport.
If you are going to compete in Brazil, try and get a respected coach who speaks Portuguese and English to corner for you. It will help keep the referee on their toes. And most of all, HAVE FUN! You will find that Brazilians very friendly and the trip as enjoyable as expected.