Monday, October 1, 2012

New Digs and New Books

If any of you readers are still landing on this page, please be aware that this place is pretty much non-active now. All content has been imported to, which is my official website, and all current and future updates are/will be there. So if you haven't checked that out yet, you might not know that my novel, The Day I Left, is available for purchase.

Buy The Day I Left in Paperback. Want an autographed copy? Contact me at jasonkorolenko (at) gmail (dot) com.

Buy The Day I Left for Kindle.
Want a personalized, digital signature? Request that, HERE.

And check out the Facebook page for my next project, Relentless - The Book of Sepultura, an in-depth history of Brazil's heaviest export, HERE.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Truly "Brazilian" Jiu-Jitsu

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While in Brazil, with the exception of my weekend trip to Vila Olimpia where I trained with Leo Vieira and team Checkmat, I trained exclusively with Alliance. My "home" academy was located in Sao Caetano do Sul, about a five minute walk from my apartment. I'm very grateful to Cristiano Spadone, my instructor, and all of his students there at Academia Runner who welcomed me from day one, even though communication was sometimes difficult. I made a lot of great friends there, and I was definitely sad to leave. If any of you are reading this now, I hope to see you again soon, and if you ever come to the States, consider this an open invitation to train with us at NH BJJ.

At the end of November, Cristiano took myself and two others to a special class hosted by Luciano "Casquinha" Nucci, open to all of his affiliates. Casquinha is something of a local celebrity. Earlier that year, at the Brasileiros (one of the largest and most elite jiu-jitsu competitions in the world), he took the gold medal in both his weight class and the open weight division. In his final match, Casquinha submitted his opponent (a man fifty or sixty pounds heavier) with an omoplata (shoulder lock).

At forty or fifty students, this was by far the largest class I've ever attended. But Casquinha, besides being a funny and friendly individual, was very focused and attentive, clearly not content unless every single person in the room received personal attention. He broke down one technique (an armbar from spider guard) into sections, and ensured that each student was comfortable with each section before moving on. At various times while explaining the technique, he would even stop to make sure my friend was translating everything for the Gringo (me).

The Gringo on the far left, looking awfully studious

As usual, once the technical portion of the class was over, Casquinha paired us up to roll. Since there were so many people, there wasn't enough room for us to all spar at the same time, so the lower belts would roll for a seven minute round, then the higher belts would do the same. I was thrown in with the higher belts, rolling first with a slow and technical brown belt, then a fast and athletic blue belt.

That's me in blue, almost directly in the middle of the picture

And for my final match, I knew something was up. Only moments before Casquinha picked our partners, I had seen him speaking quietly with Cristiano, my instructor. They were in cahoots, I knew it.

So yes, for my final seven minute match, I rolled with Casquinha himself. And it was probably the most fun I've ever had while training.

Casquinha's style is very fast-paced, and during our match, he not only let me play a little bit by setting up sweeps and transitions, but he coached me the entire time. Telling me to go for the arm. Urging me to speed up. Yelling, "Vai, vai, vai!" (Go, go, go!) when he felt me slowing down. When the match was over, after a hug and a handshake, Casquinha shared his philosophy that jiu-jitsu is about movement, not rest, and you should never stop moving. (Incidentally, since then, I've noticed a huge improvement in my game when I play fast-paced like this.)

With Luciano "Casquinha" Nucci and Cristiano Spadone

A week or so later, I got to witness the final graduation ceremony of the year at Casquinha's academy. What an honor for me, a relative outsider, to be embraced into this community and treated like a friend, like these people had known me for years. So much so that I was invited to wrap up the evening with pizza and pinga, hanging out until 2 am with four of Casquinha's coolest black belts. You guys are all awesome.

So I'd like to extend a huge thanks--again--to all of my new friends, training partners, instructors, for making me feel like a part of your crew. Sao Caetano to Sao Paulo, and now from all the way in the northeastern United States, I salute you. Obrigado, valeu, e abraços!

And to close this one out, a little video I took from the graduation ceremony. This is what happens when you receive a new belt in Brazil.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


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Last night, in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Jose Aldo defended his featherweight championship belt against Chad Mendes. Aldo dominated the fight, putting on a performance that was practically flawless. In fact, just like the last UFC Rio event, in August of the previous year, Brazilian fighters dominated the card. Some say it was because they had the home-field advantage. Some (those who like to wear tinfoil hats, and think 9/11 was an inside job) say it was all a setup. Me, I like to think the Brazilian fans had a lot to do with it.

Watch Aldo run into the crowd after the fight is called, his countrymen hoisting him up and chanting "É CAMPEÃO!"

Brazilian sports fans are hysterical in their loyalty. In Portuguese, they are called "torcida," a word that not only means "supporters," but also "cheering." And "cheering" (to put it lightly) is something Brazilians are excessively good at. In 2006, Maria and I went to a soccer match in Santos (the team we support), and the following day, toured the locker room. The guide explained to us that the warm-up area is actually located right below the seats where the Torcida Jovem (uber-fanatical Santos supporters) sit. This is because the fans are so loud, so raucous, so vocal in their dedication, that it hypes the players up and prepares them for battle.

This level of fanaticism is not easily understood by us Americans, who believe that painting our faces the color of our team, or going shirtless during a winter game, is about as extreme as it gets. The difference can cause misunderstanding and, in some cases, outrage. For example . . .

The day before every event, the UFC holds a public weigh-in session. Since Jose Aldo's card took place in Rio, the weigh-ins were--naturally--attended by a small arena full of Brazilian MMA fans. Every Brazilian fighter was greeted with roars of approval, while every non-Brazilian fighter was met with ear-splitting chants of, "Vai morrer!" For those of you who don't understand Portuguese, I'll spare you the Google search/Babylon translation, and tell you that "vai morrer" literally translates to, "You're going to die."

Sounds harsh, right?

But languages are funny. They don't always translate literally (God, I hate that word--literally--and that's already three times in this post that I've used it). Did the Brazilian fans really want Jose Aldo to kill Chad Mendes? Did they actually expect Anthony Johnson to die in his fight against Vitor Belfort? Of course they didn't. It's no different than a Red Sox fan stating to a Yankees fan, "We're going to kick your ass." It's figurative, people. (Though, in some cases, Red Sox fans do kick the asses of Yankees fans, and vice-versa, but that's not what I'm getting at, and you know it.)

My point, of course, is that such rabid support is powerful. Santos Futebol Clube knows it, which is why they enter the pitch directly beneath the Torcida Jovem. And for the second time in a row, in Rio de Janeiro, the UFC learned how powerful a crowd's support can be.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

From The Jungle Back To The Woods

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It was three weeks ago now that I returned to the cold, icy hills of New Hampshire, after three-and-a-half months in Brazil. When I boarded a plane at Guarulhos airport in the early evening of December 11, 2011, summer lurked just around the corner. 85 degrees fahrenheit, skies clear enough, if hazed with pollution. Some sixteen hours--and an early morning layover in New Jersey--later, I arrived in Boston during winter, frozen clusters of snow on the sides of the road, my breath fogging in the air.

It's been a while since we've seen an update here, but rest assured: my return to North American shores is not the proverbial nail in this blog's coffin. There are still plenty of stories to be told about my last month in Brazil, including a weekend trip to Rio de Janeiro, special jiu-jitsu classes where I trained and rolled with a champion, food, a jiu-jitsu graduation ceremony that saw lucky participants running a gauntlet and getting belt-whipped by sixty other people, Christmas on Avenida Paulista, food, Dutch colonies, Japanese colonies, beaches, food, credit card cloning, a haunted subway station, more wacky adventures involving vehicular transport, a number of visits to lesser-known, out-of-the-way locales with The Girl, food, and so much more.

So until next time, enjoy this picture of a monkey.