First of all, I would like to thank Murilo Bustamante, Marcello “Penka” Carvalho, Vitor Pimenta, Rubens, Vavá, Ricardinho, Noé, Yoshi, Giovanni, Serginho, and all of my friends and teammates at Brazilian Top Team Lagoa for all the knowledge you blessed me with and for making my gringo ass feel like any other Carioca. I’m forever grateful, and I look forward to returning the favor when y’all come to the USA, tamo juntos.
Brazil is not the USA. As Jiujiteros, many of us think we know about Brazil because we say osss and porrada, but apart from the obvious differences in language and choice of men’s beachwear, our idea as Americans of modern Brazil, and mainly Rio de Janeiro, is polluted.
I recently returned home from living in Leme, Rio de Janeiro, for almost two years. So hopefully by writing this article, my experiences as an American living in Brazil help explain what to expect if you’re a visiting Gringo.
JIU-JITSU TRAINING IN RIO IS TOP NOTCH; IF YOU TRAIN GI
It’s few and far between that the clubs (in Rio at least) have no-gi practices unless you go to a Luta Livre (Brazilian catch wrestling) club, but even they are lightyears behind the no-gi game we have here in the US. Yes, many Brazilians are excellent no-gi fighters but take a look at where they train now. Most of the no-gi practices that exist are with MMA teams.
The quality of rolls in Brazil goes up too. The rolls are intense like combat sports should be, and there is no flow roll bullshit. You should expect your partner to try to tear your head off. You should also expect him to give you a big hug after and thank you for the roll.
When comparing levels, our Black Belts are for the most part equal in skill to Brazilian Black Belts; but their browns, purples, and blues will eat Americans of the same belt alive. Why? Because they don’t give out belts in Brazil. If you’re reading this and you’ve never competed, but you’ve done “the required hours that my club told me I had to do for my belt,” don’t go to Brazil. You’re gonna get fucked up.
THERE ARE MANY CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
People respect Martial Artists. Cariocas remember the days of the Luta Livre vs. Jiu-Jitsu wars of the 80s and early 90s. They know first-hand that if you have never trained in any combat sport, even a mediocre fighter of any combat sport will fuck you up.
How many high school friends in the states do we all have that think they are badasses because they knocked someone out one time on a lucky, poorly thrown overhand right they only landed because their opponent went deer in the headlights?
Brazilians, in general, don’t street fight, at least not like Americans do, and their fighters definitely don’t go around looking for trouble.
Also, in Brazil (and most other Latin and Mediterranean countries), happiness is worth more than money. This attitude was a welcomed change of pace from the American ‘time is money’ mentality, and if you can live like this, it will relieve a lot of stress.
With that being said…‘On time’ in Rio is thirty minutes late.
If you expect people to respect your time, you’re in the wrong city. I can’t tell you how many times I agreed to meet someone somewhere, went there, the other person didn’t show up, I called them ten times, and they didn’t answer, and then an hour and a half later they sent me a text back saying, ‘hey, in the end, I couldn’t make it.’ No shit. Even the trainings start at least fifteen to thirty minutes late there.
LEARN SOMETHING, ANYTHING IN PORTUGUESE BEFORE YOU GO TO BRAZIL!
Yes, some people speak English in Rio, but it is their country, speak their language. I have lived in two foreign countries, and I was responsible for learning the language to live my everyday life. Someone often noticed my accent and asked, “Do you want me to explain in English?” and I replied, “Não, estamos no Brasil, então vamos falar em Português.”
Every time the person who offered to speak English thanked me for speaking Portuguese and told me it pisses them off that gringos come to Rio and expect them to talk to them in English. No matter how long you’re going to stay, you can at least learn please, thank you, how are you, good morning/afternoon/evening.
RIO CAN BE A DANGEROUS PLACE
As a gringo you will be a target to get ripped off and or robbed. So, don’t buy anything that doesn’t have a price already marked on it, and if you ask in English, they will tell you twice the price.
I personally was never robbed in Brazil. Like pickpockets in Europe, robbers pick people that look least likely to struggle (old people, blonde girls, etc.). Combat sports athletes tend to be left alone.
My father is also a retired policeman and instilled enough common sense (or paranoia) in me to know that bad things can happen anywhere, even in wealthy, white American neighborhoods, and especially to know not to walk down dark streets at night. So, if you’re in Rio, and there’s ever any doubt, just get an Uber.
If you’re reading this and you’re still wondering if you should visit Rio, you definitely should. Go visit BJJ and MMA’s birthplace, the city that tried and hardened almost every legend of our sports. But learn to say something in Portuguese, be polite, kiss that flow roll bullshit goodbye, and keep your head a swivel. Because you’ll be in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, not fucking Disneyland, and it’s not for amateurs.
Patrick is wrestling coach (former NCAA wrestler and FL HS State Champ), judo black belt, and bjj purple belt. Also a writer and English teacher that speaks three languages.