Tim Hull's Perspective on Training in Brazil at Curu Curu Land

Tim Hull's Perspective on Training in Brazil at Curu Curu Land

2019 Visit to Riberio Jiu Jitsu in Brazil

I am extremely fortunate to be able to say I just returned from my fifth trip, in the past six years, to the headquarters of Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu in Brazil - A.K.A, Curu Curu Land in Niterói, Brazil.  Frequently, Five Rings academy members ask me, “why do you go to Brazil for Jiu Jitsu training?”  I respond by pointing out things like how much the training challenges me, how I enjoy the Brazilian culture, or how Professor Pagani’s style of BJJ is a good fit for the way my body works.  In retrospect, however, I don’t think my responses give a clear picture of why I go through all of the trouble to train in Brazil.  After all, I don’t need to go to Brazil to experience those things.  The training right at home challenges me, I love the culture of the Portland area, and I can learn Pagani’s techniques through his online videos.

Curu Curu Land Academy hiding in the palms

This realization forced me to think, why do I really go to Brazil?  The flights are long, international travel is expensive, I have to take time off of work, I’m away from my family, my doctor gives me vaccines and medicine for illnesses which aren’t found in North America, and the list goes on.  After plenty of thought, I believe I have a better answer for everyone and I would like to share with you what a trip to Brazil means to me, how I feel when I am in Brazil, and why I expect to continue my annual trips.

The answer to the question is this, I go to Brazil because of the way the experience makes me feel.  There is something special about training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in Brazil.  You can feel the connection to the roots of the sport for which we all give our sweat and blood.  You feel in your heart that you belong to something grand; a prideful family of Ribeiro athletes around the world, united by the spirit and meaning of the Six Blades which adorns our kimonos.  Your blood is full of fire because you understand, perhaps more deeply than you thought, that you are a member of a strong and diverse representation of people whom accept the challenge to live a lifestyle that includes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - a sport which puts us face-to-face with the often deep and dark meaning of humility, stares into our eyes and dares us to quit, and yet rewards us with the feeling that, through the struggle and pain, we are a better version of ourselves every day for accepting the challenge.

Team photo after a morning training

In Brazil, I am outside of my comfort zone.  I am in a place where I have the essentials albeit few amenities.  I train twice per day with very tough, skilled, and disciplined athletes.  I miss my family and I am, for certain, “not in Kansas anymore.”  However, I think all of these things focus me and help me drastically improve my Jiu Jitsu, my connection to world around me, and my state-of-mind.  Coach Tom frequently points out that, as BJJ athletes, we need to, “become comfortable with the uncomfortable.”  This is how we grow; by stretching ourselves and doing the things that we find difficult, even the things that we are afraid of.  In Brazil, I cannot make excuses for myself.  I do not have to fight traffic to train because I sleep and eat about fifty feet from the academy.  I don’t have to worry about planning my meals because Professor Pagani’s wife, Fernanda, is a classically trained chef and she prepares healthy, well-balanced, and delicious foods.  As an active BJJ Green Belt herself, Fernanda knows what we need to keep nourished and strong.  By the end of each trip to Brazil, my body is tired and I have to will myself to continue training.  For me, beyond that will is where I find the best reward.  After I train, I am stronger because I know I can do more than what I believed was possible.  My Ribeiro family pushed me to keep fighting when I was tired, frustrated, and homesick.  My Jiu Jitsu gets better when I am in Brazil and I can feel it.

View from Itacoatiara beach atop Mount Costao

There’s much more to a Brazil trip than just what goes on in the academy and I would be remiss if didn’t share the other great experiences that Professor Pagani offers.  Hiking to the top of Mount Costão is an annual treat - the challenging climb offers breathtaking views and remarkable serenity.  Pagani has passions for the botany and biology of Brazil and teaches the facts and history about the plants and animals we see and hear.  I love following that hike with a cup of freshly ground açaí berries while looking at the Atlantic waves hit the beach of Itacoatiara.  As a side note, for all of you açaí lovers, the fresh açaí in Brazil is special!  The color, a nearly black shade of purple, and flavor of the freshly ground berries are amazing and makes even the best açaí that we have in the United States seem substandard.  It’s fun to watch the local species of monkeys (mico) cautiously yet curiously enjoy the banana pieces Professor Pagani lays out for them.  I love enjoying the occasional post-training Brazilian barbecue with the other athletes at the academy - when Pagani will break out his guitar and everyone takes a turn playing the cajon (a Brazilian drum box) while we relax and talk about Jiu Jitsu, family, or whatever else comes to mind.  Something new for me this year was to experience yoga classes taught at the academy by Fernanda Pagani.  I do not have yoga experience, the two classes I had during this trip doubled my lifetime yoga total, although it is great for my body and mind.  One of my favorite experiences each year is waiting for dusk, relaxing to the scents of the ocean and jungle air, and listening for the song of the sabiã; a bird native to Brazil.

Selfie after Crady's first training with Prof. Pagani

This year was extra special for me because someone else from the academy, Crady Berner, made the trip and I was able to watch him realize the same feelings I have when I am in Brazil.  For sure, Crady experienced many of the challenges I faced during my first trip to Brazil including immersion in an unfamiliar language (Brazilian Portuguese), a different class format, new sights, sounds, and foods, and new training partners whom, in majority, do not speak English.  However, I could see in Crady the same feelings I have during my trips to Brazil.  It was great to watch Crady’s Jiu Jitsu improve and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the culture from which the sport we all love originates.  Crady earned the respect of the Ribeiro family in Brazil by giving his best, opening his mind, and experiencing authentic Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; he even learned a little Portuguese!  Crady earned an especially high compliment for his work on the mat, a nickname – Caranguejo (Portuguese for, “Crab”), although specifically how he earned that name is a story I will save for Crady to tell.  Watching someone enjoy the experience of Curu Curu Land so much means the world to me.

Freshly ground acai berries with banana prata

As I write this on the long flight home, I already look forward to my next visit to Curu Curu Land.  Some of the faces at the academy in Ribeiro Niterói are different year-to-year although many are familiar and all are kind, welcoming, and honored to train with athletes from all over the world.  Many people at Five Rings ask me when I plan to go Brazil again, sometimes thinking about going themselves, and I usually don’t know.  I want to do better than, “I’m not sure” so I’m going to throw a dart on the calendar and say I plan to go to Brazil again in mid-October of 2020.  If you want to make the trip with me, I would love to help you.  Going to Brazil is never contingent on me, however.  Pagani welcomes everyone, from all over the world, whenever you like, and you can expect a concierge-like experience so you don’t have to worry about anything.  Someone will meet you at the airport in Rio De Janeiro and get you everywhere you need to be throughout your trip.

When I get home, I expect my wife will tell me, as she does every year, “you seem different (in a good way) and relaxed, like your head is in good place.”  While I don’t specifically notice the change in myself, my wife knows me better than I do, in many ways, and I believe her.  I am grateful for her support through all of my Jiu Jitsu journey and especially when I am far from home.  She supports me because she wants to, not because she has to.

A typical gourmet lunch from Chef Fernanda Pagani

For anyone who ever asked me why I make these trips to Brazil, and for anyone that wonders in the future, I hope I gave you a taste of why these experiences mean so much to me; at least as best as I possibly can through words.  I simply cannot describe the totality of the experience although I hope you all have the opportunity to enjoy for yourself someday.



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To see more of Curu Curu land, check out this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkyn7tvMGcY

Also, so previous blog posts about Prof. Pagani and Curu Curu land:

  • Brazil Trip 2016:  HERE
  • Brazil Trip 2014:  HERE
  • Brazil Trip 2012:  HERE
  • Brazil Trip 2011:  HERE

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