People always ask me how I came to make my life in Brazil. I came for the sole reason to further my skills and develop myself as a martial artist, but once here I fell in love with the country and the people and never wanted to leave.
This is a common sentiment among visitors – Brazil has that effect on you.
Visiting Rio de Janeiro to train BJJ is one thing, but relocating is another, altogether more different and difficult prospect.
Following on from Part 1 of my story of training BJJ in Rio de Janeiro, here is the second part of the interview. I hope it inspires you to follow your dreams much like I did and join us here in Rio – see you on the mat!
Dennis A. Asche
Were there many other foreigners there at this time?
There were a few who would come through, spend a few weeks here. Not too many who would spend longer terms though, because it wasn’t easy to find somewhere to stay. They would usually end up spending massive amounts on a hotel somewhere.
Who helped you the most with your BJJ back then?
I couldn’t say one particular person helped me more than another. One of my favourite training partners was Giuseppe Schembri, Nino’s brother. He was about my weight, a technical black belt. And he was tough! A good guy to train with. I trained with a lot of black belts there. I really enjoyed learning from Flavio Almeida, who had an excellent top game, great positioning. David Mills spent many, many hours training with me at Gordo Jiu-Jitsu. For a long time he was the only other foreigner there, before he had an accident that left him in a coma [not a training incident].
Ten years on Brazilian soil.
Did you compete at all while in Brazil?
I competed in state championships, as a brown belt I was ranked number 2 in the state under FJJRio. I competed gi and had one MMA fight.
Did you get promoted in Brazil?
I got my brown and black belts here under Gordo.
Tell me about learning Portuguese – how long before you were competent?
It took a while. It took a few months before I could carry on a conversation. I remember after a year I went to the cinema to see a Brazilian movie all in Portuguese and I understood everything and laughed at all the jokes. But I’ll always have an accent, and learn how to speak better.
Did the lack of Portuguese when you arrived hinder you?
Yes it did, it made it a little more difficult to gain acceptance into the social circles, but this was a different time. Also it made harder to get around the city and stuff. But a lot more people speak English now than they did back then, and the attitude toward foreigners has changed since back then also.
What about the city – what did you think of Rio? Was it much different then?
Rio de Janeiro was wild when I first arrived. It was untamed compared to today. I’ve seen a huge change in the last 10 years: infrastructure, and how the city is run. When you walk down the streets at night now, you can tell there’s a big difference. It’s much more relaxed, you could used to cut the tension with a knife. But some of the most uncomfortable moments – I was on a bus going past Rocinha and saw a gunbattle, I could see the muzzle flashes and hear the shots going off. Definitely not a pleasant experience. There were a number of experiences like that. But it’s much more relaxed now and overall, a lot better to be here.
You see more foreigners coming through to Rio now?
Yes, back at Gracie Barra and even at Gordo’s academy, there were long periods of time when there were no other foreigners. It’s a lot easier now.
What advice would you give to somebody thinking about training BJJ in Brazil?
Come here with an open mind, and be respectful of whatever academy you’re at. And if you want to train at a lot of different academies, if there’s a drop-in fee, pay it. Don’t haggle, just pay it. These guys spent their lives building up these academies and their reputations, and it’s important you show that respect to them.
If you could go back in time to before you went to Brazil and tell yourself one piece of advice base on the experiences that you’ve had, what would it be?
Train at more academies right from the start. I spent the majority of my time at certain academies. While I don’t suggest spreading yourself around the place I do recommend visiting other academies to experience how different professors teach.
Interview conducted by Hywel Teague