In 2011, Melyssa travelled to Brazil for the first time and loved it so much, she had to return. Her original intention was to visit for three weeks but that three week visit turned into a five month term as the House Manager for the well-known jiujitsu travellers hostel, Connection Rio.
Sally: Melyssa, thank you for joining me today to talk about your experiences training jiujitsu and living in Brazil. Let’s start from the beginning: why did you start BJJ and how long have you been training?
Melyssa: I have been training for 4 years. I started because my kids (then 4 and 6) were involved and I had misguided perceptions of what it was all about. I wanted to see for myself if it was something I wanted my kids involved in. I felt passionate about it right away.
Sally: The BJJ scene in Atlantic Canada has been growing over the past few years but not a lot of us travel specifically to train for jiujitsu, especially not for long periods of time. The only Nova Scotian I can think of who has dedicated his life to BJJ is Jake MacKenzie, a black belt world champion who is soon to release an instructional DVD, Competition Guard Secrets, with Robert “Cyborg” Abreu. Do you see yourself following in his footsteps, career wise or do you have other aspirations?
Melyssa: Tough question. I am definitely interested in pursuing BJJ full-time, obviously, as I extended a 3 week trip to Brazil to 5 months.
Sally: This is your second trip to Brazil, what is it about training there that compelled you to return?
I also am lucky enough to train with an amazing group of guys here, some of whom are small like me. There is a black belt and a purple belt that I train with almost daily that only have a few kilos on me; can’t find that in NS!
Sally: It sounds as though you are training with some really high level guys there. It’s so much different when you’re training with someone your own size; you’re the only person over the age of 11 I’ve ever rolled with who is close to my size (105 lbs). I think the lightest person at Titans weighs about 145 lbs but he’s an absolute killer.
You’re training in the birthplace of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a martial art which was developed for a smaller, weaker person to defeat a larger, stronger opponent. Is there a difference in the way it is taught in Brazil? Is strength and conditioning still a priority when training for competition there like it is here for serious competitors?
A difference in the way it’s taught… hmmm… .not really. At the academy I train at here in Rio (Gordo’s Jiu Jitsu in Barra) there is a focus on positional training. We focus on one position for weeks at a time with a lot of specific drilling of that position. And then, of course, a lot of rolling.
Melyssa: Yeah…Brasil with an “s” in Portuguese.
Sally: I’ve read a lot about the importance of recovery time for athletic performance; do you feel that training hard every day may actually be less beneficial than maybe 5 days a week? How do the Brazilians keep up that type of training schedule and prevent physical exhaustion?
Sally: How do you spend a typical day in Rio?
08:00 – training (1.5 hour BJJ and 30 min stretch)
10:30 – computer work
14:00 – sun by the pool break with some Portuguese studying
17:00 – run along the beach
06:30 – wake up
08:00 – run to shiprock (20 minutes steep trail run to rock overlooking Barra) followed by light weight training
10:30 – computer work
14:00 – trip to Ipanema
18:00 – BJJ training
As you see, I only train once a day; I have the option for more but I think I would just end up over-trained and broken. I like to enjoy the city, beach, sights, mountains, Brasilian food (and drink), tropical fruits, etc. I have a good life here.
Melyssa: I ‘m not sure that I’ve learned one specific thing to improve my BJJ. I know I have gotten better but I think it’s just overall details; being a little sharper, a little quicker, without losing the technique. And that being small can have its advantages.
Sally: Besides jiujitsu, what do you love about Braziil?
Melyssa: I love everything about Brasil. I love the people; they are super kind. I love the lifestyle, too. It’s more laid back than North America. And I love the city of Rio; it is so amazingly beautiful with its mountains and beaches. Even the favelas have their charm. It’s an urban-meets-nature beauty that is breathtaking.
Sally: Have you been able to meet or train with any well-known competitors during your visit?
Melyssa: Hell yeah! On my first trip I bumped into my hero, Hillary Williams, after being here for a total of 48 hours. I also got to meet Kyra Gracie on that first trip. This time ’round I have had the pleasure to train with Felipe Costa and tomorrow I am going to train with the Nogueira brothers!!!! (WTF, yo?)
Sally: Are you staying in Brazil indefinitely?
Melyssa: hahaha… I would love to stay here forever but I have 2 sons, who I love dearly, at home in Canada and I can’t wait to get home and teach them what I have learned!
Sally: Well, Melyssa, it sounds like you’ve found your home away from home and hopefully others will be inspired by your experience and find the courage to live their dreams. I’m looking forward to rolling with you when you get back and learning some of your new moves!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and enjoy the rest of your visit in Brazil!
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