I’m writing this a week before I leave Brazil and 3 days before I compete in South American championships for Jiu Jitsu. It marks the end of a very exhausting, difficult but transformative chapter. The enormity of it all hasn’t even sunk in yet but my overriding feeling is one of ‘pride’ and I’m somewhat overwhelmed that I actually made it through.
I came to Brazil on my own, a white belt with 2 months of Jiu Jitsu and no Portuguese. There were weeks and days where I didn’t know where I was sleeping and in fact many nights spent sleeping on the tatami in the gym! Comfort wise, that was not too bad but the smell of feet tested my olfactory senses no end. One night I even fell asleep in my Kimono, to awake at 2am smelling of wet goat. It was one of those moments when you realize you no longer have dignity!
Training of course was going to be difficult, I was the only girl and understanding the language at times was difficult. The people here in Florianopolis speak particularly loud and fast. Probably the hardest thing for me was not being able to communicate as well as I’d like, especially as it’s something I value so highly. To not have the skills to pacify a situation which you don’t like is beyond tricky – so of course there were arguments because a lot gets lost in translation!
Coming to Brazil as a single woman to learn Jiu Jitsu already is considered unusual. Into this mix, I then add a few other characteristic traits that are unusual. I love training on the Favela project, I ride a bike 10 miles to training and 10 miles home because I like living close to Nature and occasionally I don’t brush my hair because I don’t feel like it! – This has earned me the nickname ‘mulher da floresta’ (women of the forest) and ‘mulher do mato’ (jungle woman) on two separate occasions. To top this all off, I like silence and I’ll often respond with silence. This particular combination of attributes is hard to comprehend by a culture that takes pride in looking good and that talks a lot! Whilst I’m accustomed to being called crazy – my mannerisms often get interpreted the wrong way, which created many a difficult situation in training. I have since had it explained to me, but my silence was often taken as ‘hubris’ which was to be repaid by a firm punishment on the mat. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I’m silent out of respect because I don’t know anything – I don’t have anything of value to add to an environment where I am the worst and least skilled. So these sorts of cultural differences can often come at a cost and there is not always someone to explain it to you. Aside from being misunderstood and not understanding, there have been injuries, hospital visits, illnesses and that thing we call life and all the delightful curveballs that get thrown at us.
If I only wanted to improve in Jiu Jitsu I would have opted for staying in the UK but I always wanted more than that. I wanted to use Jiu Jitsu as a tool to facilitate evolution; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I wanted ‘difficult’ and that is what I signed up for. I wanted to learn lessons that can only come from immersion in another culture….and I am learning those.
My goals and motivations for this trip were always about learning, and learning everything I possibly can about myself and others – that hasn’t changed. Empathy and the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes is fascinating. Training on the Favela and training in gyms that really value ‘winning’ has been insightful beyond belief and I do understand it. I have also improved technically because of it; but in the same breath – this is not my way. My values and my definition of success are very different to those of my team mates and teachers. I’ve tried and tested a number of preparation strategies and for me the one that works every time is based around the following process 1) Fun – enjoying the moment of competition because I want to revel in the moment I have worked so hard for 2) From enjoyment and calm, I believe you can only perform well 3) The last thing on my list is actually ‘outcome’, because to me it doesn’t really mean anything. Yes, it is most likely better to win than not, but I can win and perform badly and I can perform my best and lose. That is the paradox and I have no control over the standard of my opponent or what she will bring to that day – I hope we both bring our best.
My first competition here in Brazil was after 2 weeks of arriving and I let go of my values because I got caught up in the motivation of others. I doubted myself but also I was curious about trying a different mental preparation. I chose to ignore the system that works so well for me and it wasn’t a success. Even though I won my first fight, I didn’t enjoy any part of it. I went on to lose my second fight with someone half my body weight and I take full responsibility for that because I did’t really want to be there. Not good for me and not good for her. I was really sad after that fight; not for losing, but just not for being present, and to me that was a failure. My time here has shown me other ways of doing things and I have tried those, but for this next fight I will have to do it my way. In the end we always have choice and part of this journey, was discovering and rediscovering our power of choice. Sometimes it’s a tangible thing and sometimes it’s just changing perspective.
My prep this last week is far from perfect. I got kicked in the head two days ago and have since been lying prone with ice on my head trying to get the swelling down! The competition schedule also only got released yesterday and I’m in fact fighting on a different day, so there has been a manic change of flights and hotel – Travel! But ‘hora de lutar’ (fightime) now is just about having fun, the thing I do best.
I love Brazil, I love Brazilians and mostly I love the experience for showing me new ways and finding my own way again amongst all that. To have clarity of intent is a tremendous thing, especially when the next 6 months for me will be spent frolicking around the unknown. If I leave Brazil having learnt a little more about patience, relinquishing expectations, flexibility and clarity then that is a great success. I can’t ask for more.