(Note: This is one of those jiu-jitsu-centric posts, so move on if you're not interested. Don't worry, I won't be offended. Just promise to come back later.)
One of the most common questions I get from my training partners back home, as well as my new friends here in Sao Paulo, is a variation of the following:
How is jiu-jitsu in Brazil different from jiu-jitsu in the States?
Until a couple of weeks ago, I was too concentrated on studying my instructor's movements and paying close attention to detail to even consider the question. Most days, I'm the only person in the room of fifteen or twenty who speaks English, so I'm often forced to rely upon my (very) limited Portuguese, my existing knowledge, and sharp observational skills. The more comfortable I became in my new environment, though, the more I was able to pick the question apart a little bit.
We all practice the same techniques. We all drill armbars and chokes and guard passes, and there are certainly right and wrong ways to do these things. But the beauty of jiu-jitsu is that some of the finer details vary from person to person. You know, one guy may take the metro, another guy might take the bus, but they both get to the city. If you've spent five years going to the city by bus, then someone suddenly shows you how to use the metro, your options increase and thus your life is made easier. Now, if the bus drivers go on strike, you can still get to the city.
Okay, so I may have stretched that metaphor a little far. My point is that the details don't make the difference between countries, it makes the difference between schools. On a smaller scale, it makes the difference between all the practitioners of jiu-jitsu.
After training in Brazil for almost six weeks now, and discussing this very question with people who've been studying much longer than my (comparably) short five years, I've come to realize that the difference isn't what we train, but how.
As far as I can tell, here there is a greater focus on rolling than in the States. In an hour-and-a-half class, forty-five minutes of that is spent sparring, with the first half split between warming up and drilling. From my experience, in the U.S., up to half of the class may be spent drilling. Why this difference? I have no idea. I could speculate that it's a reflection of each culture's educational traditions, but I'm not going to get into that unless someone pays me to do the research.
Additionally, in the States, I find that many instructors make new students attend a certain number of classes before they're even allowed to spar. I, for example, had to wait six weeks before rolling, and even then, I could only work to pass the guard. I understand the reasoning behind this. Someone who doesn't know how to move, how to defend submissions, how to breathe, could potentially injure himself--or his partner--in a rolling session. It's about control, basically. When you're new, you know nothing about control.
Here, though, new students are encouraged to roll--with very strict limitations so no one gets hurt--from their very first class. They teach newbies the basics of movement by forcing them to feel those movements in a "live" situation.
So, while I can't say that one method of training is better or worse than the other, I can say that my game has improved drastically over the past five weeks. For whatever reason or reasons, I am glad for that.
Anyone out there with a different experience? Drop me a line in the comments. I'm curious to know what others think, whether you agree or disagree with me.
Thursday and Friday of next week I'll be visiting Leo Vieira at Checkmat headquarters, and soon we'll have a special class in my "home" academy with Luciano "Casquinha" Nucci. Pictures forthcoming.