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.