New Years In Cantagalo With Terere, Sousa and Matias

Published on by Nico Ball

It’s easy to lose sight of the holidays when you’re dealing with 90-degree weather, grueling training sessions, and tiresome weight cuts, but that didn’t stop us from celebrating the holidays in our own special way here in the Cantagalo favela. Cantagalo, located above the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema is home to several internationally known names in Jiu Jitsu that have used the Arte Sauve as a stepping stone to a better life. Most of them now reside abroad or spend their time traveling for seminars, but they made sure to make their way back to the community where they were born and raised so they could spend some quality time with friends and family before the start of the 2016 competition season.

For most Brazilians the end of the year is a time to celebrate, drink a few caipirinha, and spend some time on the beach with friends and family, but the 2016 IBJJF European Championship taking place in Lisboa, Portugual January 20-24th cut  vacation time short for a few athletes from the Cantagalo Favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Fernando Terere, Jackson Sousa, and Bruno Matias all returned home to their native country of Brazil but instead of spending time at holiday parties they are sacrificing time with their family for extra training sessions and seminars.

I myself abandoned the cold climate of southern Brazil to make my way back to the Cantagalo favela in Ipanema to spend New Years training Jiu Jitsu with Fernando Terere at Terere Kids Project in Ipanema. Terere, who had been visiting Russia and England for some seminars arrived the day before Christmas, and as usual, went back to business, holding his annual belt test on December 28th with the presence of Elan Santiago (Alliance) and Rodrigo Achilles (Checkmat).

A few days later I was ambushed on one of the main streets in the Cantagalo favela. Someone came up behind me and snatched my brand new FT Jiu Jitsu hat right off my head. I immediately threw up my guard ready to fight, but when I turned to face my attacker, I was standing in front of none other then Cantagalo’s Bruno Matias. Matias is one of the many BJJ legends that was born and breed in the Cantagalo Favela. He started his career in Jiu Jitsu as a student of Fernando Terere back when he was running the Amigos do Morro social project alongside his cousin Leandro Martins. After receiving his blue belt from Terere, Matias joined the ranks of the Rico Vieira Checkmat team. Like Terere and others that came before him, Matias used Jiu Jitsu to avoid entering into the local gangs. While many of his friends are dead or in prision, Matias currently resides in Sweden with his family and used Jiu Jitsu to make a living. This year he was in Rio for the Christmas and New Years and he has plans to stay here till February managing a social project that he supports in Jacarapagua.



A couple of days after the New Years festivities settled down I got a message from Matias.

“I love the hat. I’m coming to the project tonight with Jack (pronounced Jacky) to get one of those Terere shirts”

Jack. Could it be…

Several times when people have been laying down the history of social projects here in the Cantagalo favela they would mention this little kid named Jack (pronounced Jacky). Jack this, Jack that. It took me awhile to realize that they were talking about the Jackson Sousa.

Jackson Sousa is another Cantagalo native and also a black belt under Rico Vieira. Before then I had never met him peronsally, but he appeared momentarily in a group FT chat and I was able to exchange some words with him. He seemed like an all around cool dude so I was really looking forward to actually meeting him.

Sure enough, Monday evening on the first training session of 2016, a large group from Checkmat came strolling in the front door. Bruno Matias, Jackson Sousa, and Sandrinho Vieira were all born and breed in the Cantagalo favela alongside Fernando Terere, Professor Julio Nogueira, and Professor Fabricio Silva from the FT academy. Although they now represent different teams and live in different countries, they still get together and relive childhood memories of fighting as yellow belts or playing soccer on the beach. Technically Terere and Checkmat are two rival teams on the BJJ rankings, but in the favela, people are loyal to their own and don’t pay much heed to the hype about creontes, or traitors, that cross train at different academies.



Jackson Sousa will be moving to Germany with his family, but before making the transition from Sweden to Germany (via a small stop in England) he decided to come home and spend the holidays at his mother’s house in the Cantagalo, Pavao, Pavaozinho favela. Although he is happy to be back with his family in his native country he doesn’t have much time to play around. He is currently training to compete in IBJJF Europeans in Lisbon, Portugal as well as working on his visa so he can return to compete in IBJJF World Championships in California (Sousa has already gone through the complicated visa process, but unfortunately he lost his passport!).

Word of their return had spread through the favela and the FT academy was packed for the first training session of the year. Kids from all over the favela had made a point to come to attend that night. Plus there was the added presence of the gringos who were also here in Brazil training for the European Championship. I had to elbow my way into the center of the mats as Sousa began to teach the first position from spider guard so that the translation could be heard above the hip hop music and loud whirling of the fans.

We rolled well past the allotted time for class. When they realized how late it was Professor Nogueira called for formation and all of the black belts lined up in front of the academy. They were all (with the exception of one student visiting from the U.S.), born and breed in the harsh slums of Rio where most of their friends had fallen victim to the many plights of poverty. Most of the kids looked up to them as if they were super heroes with the power speak foreign languages, earn money in strange currencies, and provide for their families and for the community. They take their roll in the community as teachers very seriously, they know first hand how hard it can be to continue training when your family is pressuring you to put food on the table and bring in more money. They know how temping it is to spend time with your friends and relax on the weeks. So when they come home they make a point to share their stories and their experience, they spend time with the kids from the community and try to show them that there are other options available to them.

Before releasing the kids from class Matias and Sousa each took some time to share a little bit of their experiences and impart some knowledge onto the next generation of champions being raised here in the Cantagalo Favela.  It was well past 10 P.M. when we all managed to grab our stuff, lock the academy, and head back up to the favela together. While some people may like to spend the holidays hoping from party to party and enjoying fireworks on the beach, here in Cantagalo, we spent the holidays putting in a lot of long hours on the mats with good friends from around the world.