Favela Jiu Jitsu: Training with Terere

Published on by Nico Ball

5x World Champion Fernando Terere is known for being one of the most charismatic people in the Jiu Jitsu scene. In addition to coaching top competitors, Terere also runs a social project that offers free Jiu Jitsu classes to the kids of the Cantagalo favela. It only took one class for me to be instantly sold on his passionate teaching style and overzealous personality! Terere and the members of the community adopted me into their family and now, over the last two years, I have been living and training with the legend in his academy located in Rio de Janeiro at the base of the Cantagalo favela. One of the biggest things that sets Terere and his school apart from the rest of the BJJ academies is the amazing vibe and a sense of camaraderie that they foster. Jiu Jitsu has created numerous opportunities for athletes like Terere who hail from some of the poorest communities in Rio. Now, thanks to his hard work and dedication to the sport, kids from the favela have the opportunity to learn and train alongside psychologists from Argentina, Teachers from France, and lawyers from Australia. (All Photos by Hywel Teague)

I strolled into Terere’s gym located 3 blocks from the beach of Ipanema about 40 minutes late because I had been downtown teaching English. The gym was packed and the music was loud! I screamed my greetings over the hip hop music blaring in the background and searched the mats for Mestre. Terere was sitting in the corner sipping on his favorite drink, Herba Matte. He was passing his cup around to some gringos that were apparently visiting for an upcoming IBJJF competition. A lot of Terere’s students from South America and Europe take advantage of major competitions and stop by the academy to train and pick up some last minute tips or private lessons.

I threw my bag behind the desk and bowed onto the mats to greet everyone as they finished the technique and lined up against the walls to await further instruction. After making my way around the mats a I retrieved my bag, I pulled on my kimono, and searched out an empty spot in the corner to “warm up”.

I say, “warm up” because all I was really doing was jumping up and down and talking shit with Pato, one of Terere’s cousins. Pato owns a barbershop in the Cantagalo, the favela where Terere was born and raised. The favela, often feared by foreigners because of drug trafficking and tales of violence, is the closest thing I have to a home in Brazil. A month after meeting Terere, he found me a place to stay just around the corner from his house. They opened me with welcome arms and I have been living in the community ever since.

Pato does the fade on the side of my head where some of my thinner dreads fell victim to Jiu Jitsu. He never charges me for doing my hair and in return I never charge him when he finds the time and energy to sign up for one of the local competitions. When I first got to Brazil, he was on the mats religiously, but now his presence has tempered off to the occasional session. He works hard to make ends meet at the barbershop. On top of that he is always looking after his little brother who dances for a local TV station. Between dance practices in the morning and cutting hair well into the night, it’s hard for him to make it to the mats.

Terere, who was laying down some instruction over the 50-cent track that was playing the background paused, abruptly and turned towards me still running my mouth in the corner. I look up, somewhat guiltily; after all, this type of lackadaisical behavior is generally reserved for veteran black belts in other academies.

"His eyes began to glow fiendishly like a child about to play a trick and he smiled as I approached. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me a hug that lifted me off the ground."

He nodded towards the unfamiliar faces that had been sipping tea earlier. I smiled back at him and stood up as I realized what he wanted. I started translating as I made my way to the center of the mats and stood next to him. For an instant his demeanor completely changed. His eyes began to glow fiendishly like a child about to play a trick and he smiled as I approached. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me a hug that lifted me off the ground. Once my feet hit the ground he immediately switched back into professional mode. The laughter left his voice and he began talking rapidly about the importance of stabilizing positions in order to maintain control in competition. Experience allowed us to alternate back and forth seamlessly. Portuguese, English, and that day a little bit of Spanish sprinkled in, until everyone understood the drill and the theory that he was trying to lay down.

Once the timer started, I flipped the music back on and grabbed my phone to snap a few pictures before finding my place at the end of the line. I’m constantly bouncing back between the mats and the desk handling registration fees and updating the academy’s social media in between rolls.

After 20 minutes of specific training drills it was time to roll. Despite the amount of higher belts visiting the academy that day, I found myself sitting across from Terere right off the bat. The rolls were 7 minutes long and he proceeded to spend a good half of the roll slaughtering me. Once he got up 50 points or so, he slowed it up and started giving me some advice to defend his complicated sweeps.

Terere has many ways of teaching, but this is my favorite: action and reaction. No instruction, no drilling, just training. I’ve translated numerous private lessons for Terere and no matter what belt level the student is, he always stresses the need for them to loosen up and “feel” the positions. He always emphasizes the importance of learning to transition from one move to the next as opposed to trying to force a position.

We flowed through different situations (the majority of them had me flying through the air) and when he saw I didn’t know how to handle myself he slowed down, gave me some pointers, and then put me back in the same situation again and again, letting me slowly feel my way out of it.

"In full competition season, high caliber athletes often forget that Jiu Jitsu is supposed to be fun."

Soon I was laughing and joking with him as we rolled, “Porra Mestre! Noo!” I cursed at him as he popped my hook out a second before I could officially score my 4 points for back mount! We both laugh; because we both knew he is intentionally screwing around with me. In full competition season, high caliber athletes often forget that Jiu Jitsu is supposed to be fun. A lot of times when guys are gearing up for competition, egos collide and rolling gets excessively aggressive. Terere, on the other hand, never loses his charismatic spirit that he is so well known for. He truly is one of the most easy going guys I’ve ever met.

The time counts down and I continue to curse.

He continues to laugh. The music continues to blare.

This is the Favela Jiu Jitsu.

 

 

 

Nico Ball recently left her life as a teacher to train mixed martial arts full-time in Brazil. Originally from Pennsylvania, she attended George Mason University in Virginia and received her Masters degree in Educational Psychology studying the impact of martial arts-based social projects. She’s now living the fighter’s life and pursuing her dream to become a pro mixed martial artist, alongside Jiu Jitsu legend Fernando Terere.

Additionally, Nico has found a way to continue her interest in creating social change by helping organize Tererê Kids Project, a nonprofit for the children living in poverty in the favela of Morro do Contagalo. You can keep up with Nico through her website or check out Fight Land Vice for more stories about living and training in the Favelas.


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