Alliance Jiu Jitsu Alto Leblon, Rio de Janeiro

12596708_10207950982670249_1703152434_o 12596543_10207950983670274_1818768408_oDuring my BJJ journey through Rio de Janeiro I found myself at the door step of one of the famed Alliance founders Alexandre ‘Gigi’ Paiva. I was looking forward to visiting as Gigi had been the man to promote my coach Vicente “VC/cabeça de pipoca” Cavalcanti to the level of black belt.

Alto Leblon is located between the Connection Rio hostel and Copacabana where I had been previously travelling for training. I decided to take the seven pm classes following afternoon drilling sessions at the Connection Rio house as the morning class began at seven am and I desperately wanted to avoid the nightmare of the morning bus commute. I allowed myself roughly an hour to get to the class. But true to form the Rio traffic was absolutely insane with road works preparing for the forthcoming Olympic games. It took me roughly two hours as the snail crawls to arrive at Leblon beach.

Earlier that week my training partner Renato had arranged for me to meet with Santiago, an old friend of his and Vicente’s. He was a brown belt and one of the coaches at Alliance RJ. The only contact I had with him had been through facebook meaning that the only visual representation of him that I had was from his profile picture. As we all know our profile pictures aren’t always the best visual representation of what we regularly look like. If you look at mine I’m sure you come to the conclusion that I am currently tanned, with a decent haircut and in the best shape of my life, and by that assumption you would be wrong. You might also think that I would be over 5’7” tall, on this fact you would also be wrong. The only way I though I could recognise Santiago if I saw him was through his tanned skin, black hair and Jack Sparrow type beard. As these are clearly uncommon features in South America I thought it shouldn’t be too hard to recognise him (Sarcasm level +6000). We had arranged to meet at Bibi Lanches (remember this name if you ever find youself in Leblon. The best Pastel de Cammarao and Acai you will find anywhere! Anywhere! Yeah that’s right I said it!)

I had arrived late because of the traffic. I knew there was class starting at seven and that Santiago might not be afforded the time to wait for this gringo to stumble awkwardly to the rendezvous point. As usual, I was right. Shit!
After many fruitless conversations with shop owners, passers by and other assorted random people filtered through my broken Portuguese I finally established the location of the academy. Making my way there running in thongs (flip-flops for non-Australian readers. Trust me I have to clarify this terminology of footwear. I’ve had international troubles with this definition in the past) I suddenly found that the remainder of the journey would be entirely up hill and getting steeper rapidly. By the time I had made it to the complex I was covered in sweat and breathing as I would when first entering the cold ocean anticipating the freezing water’s caress on my armpits and genitals, complete with facial expressions and high-pitched wheezing. Great! I’m late, I’m fatigued already and to top it off I’m a sweaty gringo… they are going to love me here.

Walking in to the facility I was instantly impressed. This was an amazing location for a gym. A large matted area, a little shop for food and drinks and even an area with stationary bikes complete with a tv to simulate the Tour de France for members of the academy who enjoy that kind of thing. The gym was packed, like totally full. I couldn’t imagine training in a gym with that many people every night. And then it dawned on me. This wasn’t an ordinary night of training. Something special was happening tonight. Rubens Charles Maciel, better known as Cobrinha, would be teaching a seminar… HOLY RED FU&*^NG FIRE TRUCK BATMAN!!!!

12562456_10207950983950281_1780391694_oAfter putting my gi on and entering the matted area I began to scan for Santiago. Against what I had previously believed the look that Santiago had was as unique as a pre nightclub Instagram selfie in a bathroom. I couldn’t see him anywhere! Oh man WTF I don’t think he’s here. What do I do? Just try to be quite and fit in and hope that my Italian appearance transfers over into a Brazilian look and I camouflage into the band of cariocas like Homer Simpson retreating backwards through Flandereses the grassy fence. Too late! Just as I was closing my eyes trying to blend in with my surroundings one of the other inhabitants of the mat began to speak in Portuguese to me at a million miles an hour. I don’t know what gave it away first. My Australian accent while speaking Portuguese or the shear panic of my face as I was trying to explain my self and thinking back to my Portuguese classes back in Australia presenting a face similar to the one I had when my parents found the stack of K mart ladies wear catalogues hidden under my bed as an awkward prepubescent. (Don’t Judge me!)

He looked at me and laughed. I asked him if he knew Santiago. He nodded and pointed to a guy sitting on the mat next to Cobrinha who looked nothing like the Santiago I knew. The Santiago I knew had a beard, dark skin, was fat and shorter than me. This new Santiago was fair skinned, clean-shaven and, much to my dismay, considerably taller than I. Damn it another one! We introduced our selves to each other and bonded quickly by making jokes about my professor Vicente’s big head and his other many assorted short comings. I also learned some nice nicknames to call Vicente but I will save these for another story.

The seminar had begun and I was fan-boying out hard as Cobrinha looked out amongst us all with his big friendly grin. I couldn’t believe my luck; on top of all the top BJJ competitors and coaches I had met already I was about to learn some secrets from an absolute legend of the game. I was sure this moment would increase my level of Jiu Jitsu more than any other moment in my life and that I would be analysing every singe word and detail he spoke forth. And then he began speaking Portugues… Shit a brick I forgot I was a gringo in Brazil.

I speak to you as if my Portugues is lacking in proficiency. Actually I exaggerate this idea a little as at times I feel my comprehension and application of the language is lacking and at other times I just zone out and get in touch with my inner Mario Sperry and become a Portuguese Zen Master. Thank god this seminar was one of those times. Just like Neo in the Matrix “I knew Kung Fu! (Portuguese Kung Fu!)”

With out detailing the exact content of the seminar I would like speak about how much of an inspiration the seminar and Cobrinha himself were. To watch him move was to watch a true master of the human body move. When he transitioned his feet he was silent as though he was make of air. The details he added to familiar positions made the flight from Australia worth the deep vein thrombosis. While Santiago and I were drilling one of the techniques I saw Cobrinha walking over to our location. “This is it Del Giacco” I thought “Now’s your time top shine mate, if you get a compliment here we can retire in Jiu Jitsu and spend the remainder of life getting fat on the beach.” At that moment He stood right next to us and watched as I applied the movement from the current drill. “That’s very good! You move well with the techniques!” Oh man that’s it. I reached the pinnacle of my career. Some people strive to be world champion; I strive to clutch at any form of approval from world champions, like grabbing coins from the floor that had fallen out of my pocket. Hang on a second… did he just speak English to me? “Thank you, I appreciate that I replied.”

“Where are you from my friend?” He asked

“I’m from Australia. How did you know I wasn’t Brazilian?”

“I can tell.” He said that while laughing.

12620633_10207950984070284_1505727211_oI wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing but at that point I didn’t care. He stayed with us and asked questions about where I trained and how I was enjoying Brazil. He was a truly nice guy and this only increased my respect for him. He then left Santiago and I to watch over another pair drilling. At this time I was pumped, I was really happy. I met one of my heroes, he was super nice and humble with me and he complemented my technique. This was Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. I was so inspired that I hit the technique in the following set of drills with extra gusto and enthusiasm. A little too much actually. So much that when I initiated the rolling segment off a back take he had taught I failed to notice that he was standing about two steps in away with his back towards us. You guessed it Santiago and I (mainly I) took out Cobrinha’s legs and sent him crashing to the mat. I thought “Oh shit he’s broken his leg… I’ve broken his leg!”… No, no let me rephrase that as liability still maybe pending, “HE’s broken his leg!” Luckily he laughed and wove it off. Thank god nothing bad had happened or I would have had to take my gi off, roll it up and walk home with my head down like the dumb sweaty gringo that I am.

The seminar was really great. Basically familiar positions and ideas were covered, no spectacular radical movements. But finer details of each position had been illustrated and focused on. This was far more rewarding than any acrobatic, inverted sequenced would have produced.
After around two and half hours of technique it came to question time. He answered questions ranging from diet, to competition preparation, drilling, balance, mindset and many others. But unfortunately at this time my Portuguese idiosavant skills had all but disappeared. I was completely lost and I had no idea what answers or even questions were being spoken. Luckily Santiago was there to translate some of the more important details. One I found particularly inspiring was his answer for the question “What do you change in you diet for competition preparation?” His answer “Nothing.” He went on to explain that Jiu Jitsu was a lifestyle. Being only ‘ready’ for a competition meant you were not really ready at any other point in time. Jiu JItsu means you are always ready. You should seek to perform and be optimal at all stages of your life and not rollercoaster peaks between athlete and garbage. This is poison for the body, the mind, Jiu Jitsu and for your life. I found this really inspiring. This was a man who talked the talk and backed it up with not just a walk but also a freaking breakdance. I forgot all about retiring and getting fat on the beach and decided to take on this mindset. I will admit I had many beers the very next day with my house mates but I still consider his words everyday and with the choices of food and activity that I take part in.

12583778_10207950993630523_2139126785_nBefore I finish this blog post I will revisit the fact of Cobrinha’s attitude towards the students and especially to me, the sweaty gringo. He was more than accommodating to every ones questions no matter how vague or detailed. I had a question regarding positioning of the body during the leg drag which he enthusiastically answered for me in front of the whole class, in English. He repeated the position many times explaining details and making sure I was moving around to see all of the angles. Can you imagine he stopped the class of fifty to teach a position in English purely for the benefit of the only gringo on the mat? To be fair, later I was to find out that there was another English speaking Gringo from north London there as well. I had thought he was French at that time and still did for about a week of training with him. His name was Chris. Good geezer that Chris.

Coming up in part 2 of this Alliance blog post I will focus on the classes taken by black belts “Puga” and Gigi.

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