If you’re thinking of going to train BJJ in Rio, then you definitely need to read this post from Jeremy Arel. Jeremy lived in Rio for over a year, getting his black belt after teaching and training intensively. If anyone is qualified to give advice on visiting the Cidade Maravilhosa, its him. His threads on Sherdog inspired many to go to Brazil to train BJJ, and his helpful nature saw many of them follow up on their dreams and make them reality.
In this guest blog Jeremy provides some excellent advice for the travelling jiujitsu practitioner, stuff that’s applicable to both on and off the mat.
Tips for Visiting and Training in Brazil
So you’ve made the decision to go to Brazil. You’ve got your passport, your visa and you’ve packed your luggage. You have searched the internet and checked out the travel section at your local book store, but oddly you still feel unprepared. Don’t worry, I’ve been in your shoes before and I’ve taken the time to write down the eight most important things about traveling to Brazil.
Tip 1- Beware the Jet Lag
You have been waiting weeks, months, even years to go to Brazil. When you arrive you’re going to be overwhelmed and if you’re anything like I am, you’re going to want to train as soon as you step off the plane. If you can stifle this urge, wait until you’ve had a good nights sleep.
If waiting is not an option then keep in mind that you are not going to be at the top of your game. At the very least your timing will be off, your blood sugar will be wacko (compliments of airplane food) and you’ll probably be sleep deprived because you’ve been traveling across the world. But don’t stress, because you wont feel any of it. You’ll still be on that adrenaline high of making one of your life dreams come true.
As much as I would like to think you will heed my advice and skip the very first training session, I know better. Just keep in mind that it’s going to take some time to get adjusted to the intensity, high tempo and the climate. The heat and humidity in Rio has a way of trashing your cardio (even if you do P90X).
Tip 2- Buy an English to Portuguese Dictionary
When I arrived in Brazil I did not speak a single world of Portuguese. The plan was to learn through immersion. I’m not exactly sure how I envisioned my lack of Portuguese working out but when the Brazilian Federal Agent at immigration laughed at me I should have taken it as a clue. I was in over my head.
Every time I tried to communicate with someone I became frustrated. I would flip through my phrase books looking for the words that I needed, but could never find them when I needed them. At restaurants I resorted to ordering from my phrase book (via the “food” section) instead of from the menu. I quickly learned the words for “chicken” “rice” and “beans”.
Directions were impossible and at one point I even tried charades. In the end I resigned to looking pitiful and saying “gringo” (foreigner). It’s amazing how much success you can have with looking pitiful and pointing at objects. That’s right folks, I had reverted back to the basics, to my origins, a 2 year old toddler.
The answer to this problem is simple. Get an English to Portuguese Dictionary (or a dictionary that corresponds to your native language). I have found, through much trial and error, that one single word (as long as it’s the right word) can get the job done.
When the waiter is standing in front of you and you want some more ice in your drink you look up the word ice. When you have a headache and you need some medicine you go to the counter at the pharmacy and look up the word “pain” and then point at your head. Really the possibilities are endless and infinitely helpful. I can not tell you how much use my dictionary got.
Tip 3- Listen to Your Body
No one knows your body as well as you do. You’re going to have to return to work, school or at the very least go back to your life. Be real with yourself and plan your training according to how long you’re going to be staying. If you are only in Brazil for a week then try to make as many classes as you can. Drag yourself even when you’re tired, sore, or don’t have a dry kimono, even if it’s to watch, because you’re on a limited time table.
The people staying longer than a week should pace themselves. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re going to stay for two weeks and on day three you’re sore and have trouble moving around it’s time to do a little cost-to-benefit analysis. If you go to class and you injure yourself then you’re out of another whole week of training in Brazil. Sometimes it’s better to take that day off! Remember pain is part of the game but injury is not.
Tip 4- Bring Your Sunscreen
You will find out quickly that space is limited when packing for Brazil. There will be a 1,000 things that you will want to bring and only enough space for half. Some things like the camera and kimonos will be non negotiable, but other objects will seem easy to replace once you get to Brazil. One of those objects that usually doesn’t make the cut is sunscreen.
The Brazilian economy is extremely bizarre. Some things in Brazil are dirt cheap. Juice, for example, is INSANELY cheap. You can get a litre of freshly made juice for less than $2. If you’re a meat eater you can get a package of six filet mignon for $10. If you like fresh produce, a tomato is like 5 or 10 cents.
Now if you want anything that is electronic and that could be considered a luxury item the price is outrageous. Shoes can cost three or four times as much as they would in your home country, computers are at least twice as expensive and for reasons unknown to me things like sunscreen are crazy expensive.
Regardless of what you decide to bring and what you decide to buy upon your arrival there will be some instances where you will be left scratching your head in wonder. Just realize that it usually works out in your favour in the long run. From my experience it is extremely cheap to survive but extremely expensive to thrive.
Tip 5- Get Private Lessons
This is one of the best tips I can give anyone going to Brazil to train. Set this aside into your budget. Typically the cost is about R$100 per lesson, although I’m sure you can get them for less if you buy in bulk. Check the exchange rate and make sure to negotiate.
If you’re only going for a week I highly recommend getting one every day you train. Allow it to replace one of the training sessions in the day. This can be a way to still get in great training while saving something in the tank for later.
Do not limit yourself to the same instructor for every private. Vary it up and try to have the instructor show you things that they are good at. If you have a favourite position or just want to know a specific technique look around the academy during roll time and see if anyone is doing it. If you cant find someone it’s a good idea to ask around.
Do not limit yourself to only black belt instruction. There will be some amazing talent that is a bit young. There were three or four brown belts that I would take classes from (and I’m a black belt). You need to remember that some of those guys that are wearing brown belts are in their late teens and early twenties and have been training for 13-15 years. As an added bonus when you ask one of the brown belts to teach you a private they often will give you a discounted price, give you extra attention and are more enthusiastic to do it.
Tip 6- Make Friends
Wether you’re going to Brazil to train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or just taking the family on vacation, it is important to become friends with someone that knows their way around and can show you the real Brazil. As much fun as the beach in Copacabana is, it is nice to get away from the touristy parts of Brazil and enjoy some of the more cultural experiences that Brazil has to offer. Some of my fondest memories were made possible because of my Brazilian friends. These things would never have been possible as a gringo because I wouldn’t have even known they existed.
Remember that foreigners are exotic by definition and people are drawn to exotic things. People will want to be your friend, they will want to talk with you (even if you only speak cave man Portuguese) and they will want to introduce you to their friends. Immersion is easy, just be light hearted, smile a lot and don’t be afraid to get involved.
Just about everything is in your favour. It is almost impossible to say something stupid (or at least get held accountable for saying something stupid). Not only is it amusing to a Brazilian when you cant say something, it’s hysterical when you say the wrong thing. Play it to your advantage, if you don’t get it right they’ll laugh, feel sorry for you and then help you out.
Tip 7- Take Notes
You are going to experience so much BJJ in such a short period of time that it can easily slip your mind what you worked on yesterday morning never mind last week. After you return home everyone is going to ask you what you learned and it would be a shame to show them one or two techniques and then say “well, we rolled a lot”.
Every day when you get home from class write down what you did. Don’t be afraid to ask the other people that you’re staying with (if they train BJJ) what you guys went over in class. When taking notes write down key words in your description that can help you recall the technique when you return home. Do your best to record everything because when you go home and you don’t have a classroom with 15 black belts in it you will want to rep out the techniques.
I can not stress this enough, write it down!
Tip 8- Take Photos of Everything
Buy a digital digital camera, maybe even two (in case you lose one or one breaks) and take photos of everything. The time you spend in Brazil is going to be a memory that you have forever and the photos you have will be very important to you.
I have close to 3,000 photos of the time that I spent in Brazil (although in my defence I was there a long time) and I constantly look at them. Aside from Brazil being beautiful and wanting the photos, I have a terrible memory and when I look through the photos it instantly transports me back to that time. And in case you didn’t know there is a huge difference between looking at a photo of a monkey and looking at a photo YOU took of a monkey. If you don’t believe me…well you probably never took a picture of a monkey.
Jeremy is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and the head instructor at Great Grappling in Charlotte, NC and Fort Mill, SC.
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