There is so much BJJ in Rio that people joke there is an academy on almost every street corner. Nobody knows how many BJJ black belts there are in Rio de Janeiro, but the number is incredibly high.
It’s not uncommon to see between 10-12 black belts on the mat in an average class in a BJJ gym in Rio. Many people who come to Rio have never even seen that many black belts in one room together! And quite often, the number of black belts at the gym is far higher, as there is often a different group of guys who train in the morning than those who train in the afternoon or the evening. Add up all those black belts and that’s a LOT of experience on the mat!
This is what makes BJJ in Rio so special. Sure, you can find great teachers anywhere. Most of the current world champions decided to set up gyms outside of the country, but Rio has something you won’t find anywhere else.The depth of talent here in Brazil is something truly special. You’ll be sharing a mat and regularly get the chance to roll with 3rd, 4th and 5th degree black belts.
Rolling with black belts? Oh yes, there’ll be plenty of that. Even white belts are given the opportunity to roll with different black belts, and though they may be way more skilful than you they’ll often roll in such a way that they’ll teach you as you go.
For anyone approaching their own black belt, the chance to see how technique is refined and developed at this level is really important. Experience is what matters when you’re closing in on the faixa preta, and so learning from guys who have been black belts as long as you’ve been training BJJ is an opportunity not to be missed.
If you’re a lower coloured belt, you may wonder if there is any point to rolling with a black belt, as they’ll probably be able to crush you with zero effort if they feel like it. Black belts in Brazil are tough, it’s true – but if you go in with the right attitude they’ll often let you work your game and offer you advice and help where you need it. With the right attitude and an open mind, you can literally treat every roll like a private lesson.
Advice for Rolling with Black Belts when training BJJ in Rio
From blue belt to black belt, six people with extensive experience of training BJJ in Rio give their advice on rolling with black belts below…
Be Respectful, Ask Questions
Connection Rio founder Dennis Asche draws upon his 10 years of experience of training BJJ in Rio to give the following advice. “When training with a black belt, be respectful in asking permission to train. That’s right — go ask! Take advantage of the opportunities at hand. Then use your best judgement in training; is this a young competitor, someone who is looking for a good roll, or a professor who is there for a smooth technical training session? If you see something you like in a black belt’s game, ask them about it after the roll. There is always something to learn from each black belt and their jiu-jitsu.”
Roll At The Speed They Set
If they’re going slow, don’t try and take it into 5th gear and take advantage of them, as Connection Rio team member Torryn explains: “Let the black belt carry the pace. If we wants to relax and flow, then flow. If he wants to go hard, go hard. Look at the roll for what it is– a learning experience.”
It’s Not Disrespectful To Try and Tap a Black Belt
Sponsored athlete Sean Coates says there’s nothing wrong with trying to do well in a roll, but be mindful of how you come across during a round. “Trying to tap a black belt who is looking to tap you is not disrespectful, but exerting yourself to the point where you aren’t in control of your own movements is. Prioritise your parters safety and they will do the same, whether you are a white belt or another black belt.”
Know When To Tap and Leave The Ego At The Door
Lee Wright, a Connection Rio sponsored athlete who got promoted to purple belt in Brazil, suggests that your ego won’t just get you in trouble with black belts, you could get hurt if you don’t let go of it. “If you are consistently trying to tap black belts just for the sake of bragging you are going to annoy people quickly. Also don’t be afraid to tap quickly to things like kimuras and armbars. It’s better to train another day than be off injured.”
Seek Out Specialists
Black belts almost always love to share their knowledge with you, and Connection Rio media manager Hywel Teague says that it’s essential you find the guys who are specialists for detailed advice. “If I want to work on my spider guard, I’m not going to go and ask a heavy top player – I want to know how the guy with the great guard does what he does. There are so many black belts of different shapes and sizes each has a very different game. Find the one you want to copy and do your best to learn his tricks.”
Be Prepared to Swim With Sharks
Jeremy Arel was promoted from brown to black belt in Rio de Janeiro, but initially found rolling with world class black belts hard work, and that each black belt offers a different challenge. “I was not prepared for the experience of rolling back to back rounds with people that could whip my ass. Needless to say, I had a humbling experience my first night in Brazil. Each experience is as different as the individual person that wears the belt.”
Here’s a really important point to remember: Tapping a black belt does not mean you are a black belt. You maybe caught a guy when he’s tired from a few hard rolls, or maybe he’s a older guy who only trains part time. If you want to compete for a tap, that’s what a competition is for. Respect a black belt like any other training partner.
Article written by Hywel Teague