Culture and BJJ in Rio: Some Thoughts

As we’re getting to the end of my second month here in Rio, I wanted to reflect on some of the things I’ve noticed about the way of life here, culture, and how they relate to BJJ. Here are some of my (humble) observations about why it might be easier for Brazilians to train BJJ than, say, Americans:

  1. BJJ classes are cheap here. The Alliance Academy in Leblon is the most expensive at about $120/month. Many schools are much much cheaper, at around $50-60/month.
  2. Young adult Brazilians generally live at home, partially because of culture, partially because rent is really expensive. This means they don’t have to pay rent, nor do they have to worry nearly as much about what their next meal will be (guess who’s cooking? yup, mommy dearest.. or the maid). So guess what that leaves them more time to do? Yup, BJJ.
  3. College is free, so if you’re in college, you ain’t payin’ for it. More BJJ!
  4. Career opportunities are worth less. has a really great article about this called “Why Brazilians Will Always be Better: The 10,000-Hour Rule and Opportunity Cost.” Often, middle and upper class Brazilians go to college where they major in their career field of choice (they don’t do liberal arts degrees they way we do). It’ll be something practical like “Business and Administration”. Then, they intern for free or very little money (yes, still living at home). And THEN maybe they’ll get a job in their field. But all of this takes time, and you rarely get a job before any of these steps because…
  5. Class is everything. Middle and upper class kids don’t work part time jobs in the service industry like many Americans do. They just don’t. It wouldn’t be “appropriate.” And the flip-side is: If you aren’t middle/upper class, then you are probably part of the working class. And if so, you are much less likely to have the resources to pass the entrance exams to get into college, and, in turn, you’ll probably be working class for… well, a while. And if so, then you probably aren’t making that much, and so your opportunity cost to train BJJ (as in the article linked above) is much lower.
  6. Rio, as a city, is very laid-back. People generally have much less of an inclination to work their asses off, to make more money, to be workaholics, etc. My guess is that the average work week here is probably LESS than 35-40 hours a week. And nobody lifts a finger on the weekends. It’s like unholy or something. Cariocas (Brazilians born in Rio) are THE professionals when it comes to enjoying their free time (BJJ!). And I mean, come on, it’s hard not to when the beach is right there…

Apart from the above, it’s also been fun learning and observing what BJJ gym culture in general is like here. I’m sure it’s different at every gym to some extent, but I’ve also noticed that…

  • People don’t wash their gis. At least not NEARLY as often as germaphobic Americans do. I first heard this from some American guys who were visiting our gym. One of them asked me, “Have you heard how they wash their gis here?” I thought for a second. “Um.. no.. how?” “They don’t,” he replied, grinning. Later, I took a poll from the people in my BJJ class, and asked people how they liked to wash their gis and when they washed them. Most people said, “Oh I just leave it to air dry and I’ll wash it eventually..” In fact, one day I came home, and my roommate’s boyfriend and I started to chat about BJJ (he’s a purple belt). He was absolutely SHOCKED when I told him I wash my gi once a week at the laundromat down the street. In fact, his words were, “Holy shit you can NOT do that! You need to just leave it to air dry. Wash it once a MONTH at most!” I shit you not. My response to him was, “Look dude, I can’t stand the smell of sweaty, dirty men on me, getting worse each day…”
  • You should shake everyone’s hand when you enter the mat. Even if the class is in the middle of warming up, you still go to your professor, the black belts, and everyone else to shake their hand. I’ve found this to be kind of awkward (but only because I’m an awkward American).. There will be 2 lines of people warming up doing back rolls, and I’ll be trying to shake someone’s hand right when they get up.. Ha! Awkward. Because the thing is you gotta greet everybody as soon as you get in class! You can’t wait around and THEN do it. That’s even more awkward.

And of course here are some adorable pictures of the girls I train with. Ossss!

Sweaty and tired after rolling with the guys..

Sweaty and tired after rolling with the guys..

The lovely ladies :)

The lovely ladies :)


One response to “Culture and BJJ in Rio: Some Thoughts

  1. Rachel, you’re spot on about waiting to shake everyone’s hand. Just like you said–you have to do it right away as soon as you arrive! If you wait, it feels like you’re introducing yourself halfway through a date. Awkward indeed.

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