Felipe Costa on the Dangers of Training Jiu Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro

Published on by Nico Ball

Photos by: Gilmatic


Felipe Costa is a black belt under Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros. Costa earned his first gold medal at the 2003 Worlds, a feat that gained him considerable recognition in the BJJ world. He is also known for his annual Jiu Jitsu camps where he infuses intense technique packed seminars with relaxing vacations in places like Cancun.

Traveling so much has given Costa the opportunity to teach athletes from around the world, but recently he decided to settle down and open his own academy in Rio de Janeiro. Ipanema Fight has a prime location nestled in between the affluent neighborhood of Leblon and the ever-popular beaches of Copacabana. At the academy, Costa welcomes athletes from around the world that come to Rio to experience the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle.

This summer the influx of practitioners has decreased, mainly because of the Olympics that sent ticket prices skyrocketing, but Costa admits that there is also a growing concern for safety.


Is Rio as Dangerous as They Say?

Costa assured us that no matter what you hear, Cariocas (people native to Rio) are warm and welcoming people. They are more than willing to give directions to a lost tourist or come to your aide while you're ordering in a restaurant, but equipping yourself with some degree of knowledge of the Portuguese language will be helpful, as most Cariocas don’t speak English (and your Spanish won’t pass as Portuguese either).

Acros de Lapa in the historic downtown area of Rio de Janeiro. A popular spot known for its historic monuments and busy nightlife.

It's also important to take into consideration that Rio is not a resort, it’s a major city. Just like when traveling to New York or Los Angeles, people should be cautious of normal city crime. Cellphone snatchers and people looking to pick up a bag or two on the beach exist, but that doesn’t mean that all Cariocas are out to get you!

If you’re planning a trip to Brazil, Costa recommends getting in touch with a local before booking accommodations.  A local will always be able to give you a more realistic account of what is going on in the city than any news station or tourist guide. Costa also recommends staying in one of the more centralized neighborhoods like Ipanema or Leblon which are located in Zona Sul (the South Zone) of Rio de Janeiro. These areas have tons of restaurants, bars, and juice shops for tourists to enjoy and they are safe places go out and enjoy at night.


Finding the Best Academy

An outdoor gym located in between Copcabana and Ipanema beach great for getting in a workout in-between training sessions.

Creonte (traitor) is a popular term in Brazil used to describe someone that switches from one academy to another. For Brazilians, who place a strong value on team allegiance, this is an extreme offense, but for tourists looking to make the most of their trip, it’s a common practice to check out more than one academy.

Costa’s academy Ipanema Fight located on Rua Visconde de Piraja, 151 in Ipanema

Some athletes travel to Brazil with a specific academy to train at, whether it’s an affiliate of their home school or a recommendation from a friend, but there are a lot of people that need a little more orientation in respect to finding the best academy.

Different academies have different styles of teaching and finding a style that matches your own is important. Costa, for example, offers a special class for lightweight opponents, whereas Gordo Jiu Jitsu is more suitable for the big rollers. There is nothing wrong with athletes that don’t have a specific destination trying out 2-3 academies in order to find what works best for them. However, Costa recommends that they try to find one particular academy to center their training around.

“If they stay in one place people will see that they’re there trying to learn like everyone else. Maybe only for a week or a month, but they become part of the group.”

Finding a home base allows professors to become familiar with you and your style and facilitates an open exchange of techniques and ideas specific to your needs. You can find out a lot of information about different academies on Facebook or by googling guides like Train BJJ in Rio (somewhat outdated but still a good starting point).  


Tips for Traveling to Rio

Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city and it's well worth a visit whether you're coming to do a competition camp or just to get in a few rolls at different academies in between visiting the beaches and other cultural attractions.

“Rio has one of the biggest urban forests around,” says Costa. “It's perfect for hiking trails, visiting waterfalls, rocking climbing, or surfing.”

On top of that, there is a juice shop at every corner where you can pick up a coconut water or acai for some temporary relief from the heat.

Kiosk da Tica in Copacabana one of the best places to stop by for Guarana, a healthy salgado, or a bowl of acai after training.

If you don’t have any friends or contacts in Rio you can always look for a contact online. Costa’s site BrazilianBlackBelt.Com has contact information including his email and Whatsapp number (Whatsapp is the way that most Brazilians communicate so you should download it before traveling!). You can also contact most academies via their Facebook pages or through sites like the BJJ Globetrotter.


Guarana, Acai with Granaola, and a baked salgado.

Most people coming to stay in Rio find amazing beachside accommodations using AirBnB, but for athletes looking for a little more support, there are is always Connection Rio, a Jiu Jitsu based hostel located in Barra Da Tijuca.

Rio, like any other city, has crime and socio-economic problems but despite what the news may tell you, that it’s not an unsafe place for all tourists! If you’re interested in coming to train in Rio, you should reach out to an academy or someone living locally to get the best tips on the DOs and DON’Ts of the city. Most academies have an English speaking employee and are more than willing to help make your trip a reality by giving you advice or helping you find the best restaurants and juice spots when you arrive.


Photos by: Gilmatic