Home to Rodolfo Vieira, the man many consider to be the number one heavyweight black belt in the world today, Grappling Fight Team (known as GFTeam) is well-known in the BJJ community as a home of champions. The team has international representatives in Europe and North America, and as such it is a dream for many to visit the hallowed tatame that has produced such amazing grapplers.
Located deep in the North Zone of Rio in the neighbourhood of Méier the GFTeam headquarters is a modest academy with few facilities, yet it boasts a huge team of competitors. Few foreigners ever venture there, as it is far from the well-trodden tourist areas of the South Zone (Zona Sul). To get to the academy in Méier from Zona Sul requires either multiple bus rides, a local train service, or sometimes a combination of both. It is an area of the city not exactly friendly to tourists – the local population are mostly lower-income working class, and there are many favelas nearby (some as yet unreached by the growing pacification program).
The academy is best left to those who either speak Portuguese or have strong local connections, preferably with transport. A few outsiders have made numerous trips there, including Canadian black belt competitor Jake MacKenzie, who spends seven months in Rio every year based at that academy. Aside from Jake, who is happy to help visitors, few people based full-time at the academy speak English.
A Typical Class
Classes are always well-attended. Warm-ups vary depending on the day. Some days will see standard bodyweight exercises mixed with stretching, whereas on other days the emphasis is placed on sports-specific movements. On these days, the class will perform sets of entries to judo throws, moving onto armbars, sweeps and other jiu-jitsu movements. During these warm-ups the pace is kept high.
The instructor will show 2-3 moves, giving about 10 mins to work each position time before sparring commences. As mat space is limited, around 6 pairs will roll at the same time while the rest of the class line the walls and watch the space.
Rolling is, as to expected, very competitive. Due to their strong reputation and excellent results in competition, many athletes from other teams have decamped to GFTeam in the hope of also tasting success.
Competition team training sessions are only for brown and black belts (with some purples, but by invitation only).
There is a strong camaraderie in the gym, with a number of the team living in the academy in a small space above the mat. Conditions and facilities are basic and below what a tourist would expect; one English visitor who thought he might save money by staying there left after 36 hours as it was not what he expected at all.
One of the best-known teams in BJJ, the competitive powerhouse that is GFTeam is not exactly a hotbed for visitors due to it’s remote location and relative inaccessibility to foreigners. But it still has the power to attract brave and dedicated souls who wish to experience one of the best training environments Rio has to offer.
There are a number of satellite GFTeam academies closer to the areas of Rio more popular with visitors, including one in Ipanema and one in Recreio. TrainBJJinRio recommends visitors to consider checking these out before attempting to visit the main academy in Méier.
Academy Fact File:
Head instructor: Julio Cesar Pereira
Matspace: Approx 70 sqm
Facilities: Basic (mat, punchbag, small changing area)
Av number of people per class: 40
Av number of BB’s at training: Up to 20-25
Speak English?: Some of the guys in the gym may speak limited English, but not many
Location: Méier, Zona Norte
Suggested transport: Bus / train
MMA / no-gi: Yes, both
Other martial arts: No.
Years open: 10+
Titles / champions / championships: IBJJF Brazilian national and state team titles, numerous individual IBJJF titles.
Rua Arquias Cordeiro, 478
Méier, Rio de Janeiro
0055 21 3497 0478
The gym is an anonymous blue building next door to a mechanic. There is a small sign on the outside of the academy next to the entrance. The gym sits next to the train tracks from the nearby station Méier.
An inside look into GFTeam by BJJPix.com