Christie in Rio

Most people will tell you that they don’t think it’s a good idea for a young lady to travel to Rio de Janeiro alone—especially when they hear you are going to train & fight in a martial art.  I hear the usual things from friends and family, but also from people in the jiujitsu community. “The crime is high in Rio!” or “Who will look after you?” and “What if you get hurt?!” they say.

I Sigh….and smile kindly. ‘Training Jiujitsu every day is more risky than visiting Rio,’ I think to myself.

Those are the sorts of comments you generally hear if you are a female who trains. So we’re used to it. And yes, there is a lot of crime in Rio, you will have to be cautious & look after yourself and injuries do happen, but you can’t go into any experience in life expecting the worst! Male or female, you have to do your homework, know what you want out of your trip, do what you can to be safe and above all just have fun!

It’s day 4 of my 3 week stay in Rio de Janeiro. This is my second trip to Rio to train and compete in the homeland of Brazilian JiuJitsu.  I’m staying where I stayed during my first trip here in 2010 as a blue belt.

I’m now a purple belt. As I reached the neighborhood and house I have returned to stay at for the first week of my stay, I realize how much I’ve changed as a person and as a jiujitsu student since my last visit here.

At the base of the beautiful mountain, Pedra de Gavea in Barra da Tijuca lies the ConnectionRio Headquarters. A hostel for jiujitsu students from around the world. The house was founded by Roberto “Gordo” Correa’s first American Black Belt Dennis Asche. Since my first stay here, the project/business has grown immensely. There are now two hostel houses (one of them more premier) , both situated around the corner from Gordo’s academy. Another change from my first visit is the visible difference in the gradual shift in attitudes in jiujitsu – likely stemming from America—about the semi-okayness with cross training at other schools. (This of course really depends on your school and teacher’s attitude). When I was here in 2010, everyone in the house trained at Gordo’s. Now some do, some don’t. The house is for any jiujitsu student who wants to experience Rio, and is welcome to train where they wish. This is nice, because it’s opened up the opportunity for more people to come here, but also want to train at the Rio affiliate of their school or another one that better suits their needs—size, style, location, budget, whatever.

Since I arrived on a Saturday morning and hadn’t slept a wink on the plane ride over, mostly because I was reading the very hyped chick-flick book “50 Shades of Grey”, I decided to watch the Saturday open mat at Gordo’s and rest for the weekend. It’s winter time here in Brazil, so we did have some rain over the weekend. Thankfully that has now cleared up and it was a nice 75 degrees today. On Saturday, I met up with my teammate and close friend Brigette. I came here with Brigette (now a world class brown belt) in 2010 for our first trip to Rio, where we stayed for two months. She was planning to live and train in Rio for the next 6 months, but sadly an existing injury resurfaced and she decided to go home yesterday to let it heal and begin her physical therapy. We had a lot of time to squeeze random touristy adventures over the weekend. We checked out the Ipanema Hippy Market (a market selling souvenirs and local art), enjoyed acai more than a couple times and went out to a beautiful lookout peninsula in between Ipanema and Copacabana called Arpoador. Then I sadly said my goodbyes as she taxied to the airport back to San Francisco. Saudades Brigette!

After a weekend of rest and seeing Rio with my friend, yesterday marked the first day of training at Gordo’s. I’m almost recovered from jet-lag.  I trained at the 10am competition class, which has been set up for the week before the Rio Open. We worked on takedowns, drills, positional sparring and regular sparring. The class consisted of black, brown and purple belts who were prepping for the tournament. Since the rain was coming down hard yesterday, most of the houseguests were inside in between classes. The evening class was much bigger, with 6 or so black belts and about 25 people training, mostly colored belts. The structure was more traditional and less competition drilling based—yet the intensity still high and exhausting. The fun part about returning to a familiar academy was seeing the same guys who I was training with two years ago, who are also at a new belt like myself. Our games have all flourished and we have new tricks to test one another. (Shout out to Claudinho and Magrace!) After class, I shake everyone’s hand, stretch, blow a kiss to the same sweet front desk woman Moema, “boa noite, ate amanha” I say. I walk around the corner to return to the house. I’m aching, my face a bit scuffed from drilling the passes and I’m smiling from ear to ear.

Throughout the week I’ll continue to train at Gordo’s and also at De La Riva’s Copacabana Academy. I was not planning on training some at De La Riva’s, but find it necessary to supplement my training with people of like size and Gordo’s is known for larger weight class competitors. I look forward to training with the De La Riva team, who is known for their under 70kg fighters.  I feel fortunate to get to train these couple weeks before the tournament under two of the most recognized black belt coaches from Rio. This trip is shorter and the goal is to maintain my health and training pre-Rio Open, I appreciate and look forward to the training ahead.

As is the nature of life, things are bound to go a little differently than you expected.  You may meet people you never expected and that can take your trip in an entirely different direction. Maybe the academy doesn’t quite suit your needs, or you’ll need to change accommodations.

Some of the above happened on my first trip in 2010 and now in 2012. But that’s what’s so exciting about life isn’t it? Things go as we planned, or we tweak them some. Either way, we adjust.

Boa Noite from Rio de Janeiro! 

I’ll write again soon… 

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About the author

Christie Sullivan