Cultural Spotlight – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

“A growing and popular martial art can be found in Brazil known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While Jiu Jitsu or Judo originated in Japan and was meant more for fighting and hand to hand combat, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is more focused on using the skills of grappling and then submission in order to become victorious.”

You cannot fully enjoy a culture until you dabble in or learn about its martial arts if that culture has them available. From Karate in Japan to Kung Fu in China, most martial arts are thought to be of Asian origin but that is not always the case. A growing and popular martial art can be found in Brazil known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While Jiu Jitsu or Judo originated in Japan and was meant more for fighting and hand to hand combat, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is more focused on using the skills of grappling and then submission in order to become victorious.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has become more popular in recent years especially due to the corresponding growth of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) sport, which focuses on mixed martial arts training including BJJ as part of a fighter’s overall repertoire. Jiu Jitsu originated as a martial art in Japan and was firstly used by Japanese samurai warriors as a means of self-defense especially if they were unarmed and without any other way to fight.

While Japanese Jiu-Jitsu has morphed into the modern Judo sport, which emphasizes throws, takedowns, and joint locks, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was founded as a martial art that is similar but focuses primarily on ground fighting including submission and stamina.

A student of the traditional form of Japanese Jiu Jitsu and a participant at the Kodokan, Mr. Mitsuo Maeda brought his training and his over twenty years of experience with him over the ocean to Brazil where he arrived in 1914 essentially founding the sport which became known as BJJ. Maeda had a lot of prowess in Judo actions like throws and takedowns, but his specialty was in ground fighting, which made it logical for him to want to help create a new form of the martial art.

History was made when Maeda met Gastao Gracie, a businessman, who encouraged his sons including Carlos and Helio to study Jiu Jitsu with Maeda as his students. Over time, the two brothers adapted the Judo style of jiu jitsu to their own liking including the ability to adapt the system of ground fighting known as ‘newaza’ to be more of its own kind of sport and that anybody of different size or strength could learn about. Instead of relying on pure strength like Judo, BJJ relies more on knowledge of the various moves you could make, anticipating your opponents’ actions, and using speed to gain an advantage over your opponent.

For many years, the Gracie family would create Brazilian jiu jitsu and establish this unique fighting style, which incorporated other elements of wrestling, judo, and jiu jitsu but is primarily focused on how to grapple and submit your opponent on the ground. Since the Gracie family were experts in the sport they help found, they rarely lost a match but ended up spreading the sport around Brazil and the rest of the Latin America throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Without their influence, their competitions, and their move creations, BJJ would not be as popular as it is today.

Rorion Gracie later came to the United States in the 1970s to spread the sport to America in the hopes that it could compete with boxing, karate, wrestling, and other forms of martial arts that had gained a hold in the popular culture. Rorian Gracie’s biggest move in terms of popularizing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and helping to mainstream the sport was making it part of the skillset needed for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Rorion co-founded the UFC along with Bob Meyrowitz and others which came about in November of 199

Rorion’s younger brother, Royce, was an instrumental part of showing how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu could be instrumental in helping a smaller or less big fighter win a match due to the leverage, technique, and thinking involved in making the right move at the right time. Royce Gracie is one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time and is in the UFC hall of time. His influence helped paved the way for the Brazilian form of Jiu Jitsu being integral to competing in mixed martial arts with its grappling, submission, and ground fighting techniques.

The Gracie’s have helped create many new BJJ fighters and MMA fighters in general. From Brazil to America to the rest of the world, BJJ is an extremely popular martial art whose origins in Rio de Janeiro by way of Japan have changed people’s lives for the better. Not only great for one’s sense of accomplishment, BJJ is great exercise and good for one’s mental health too. While not as physically punishing as boxing or wrestling, you have to be in great shape to win in a BJJ match and to do rolling (sparring, grappling) with another classmate in a class.

From podcast host Joe Rogan to TOOL musician Maynard James Keenan to the late, great Anthony Bourdain, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu counts millions of students from around the world who rank from white belt to black belt. GI or No GI, you don’t need to be a certain size or weight level to get started. You just simply need to be determined, practice at least a couple of times a week, and be willing to learn a lot in order to be successful in this particular martial art. Once I have the chance to do so, I would like to start training and getting involved in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I hope that you at home will consider giving it a chance as well. Good luck.

The Maracanã

“One of the most famous football stadiums in the world and which was featured in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Maracana Stadium or Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Pelourinho

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Pelourinho; Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Museum of Japanese Immigration in Brazil

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Historical Museum of Japanese Immigration; São Paulo, Brazil

Cuisine Spotlight – Feijoada

Feijoada: The National dish of Brazil. It is delicious, fulfilling, savory, and tasty. There are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe this scrumptious plate of goodness. While also prepared in other parts of the Portuguese-speaking world such as Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique, Brazilian Feijoada is more than just beans and pork. It has a little bit of everything to make it a unique dish that has protein, carbs, and even sugar to satisfy one’s taste buds. The Brazilian Feijoada was born in Recife and developed in Rio de Janeiro but has now spread across the entire country reflecting its status as a beloved national dish.

From Salvador to Sao Paulo and from Recife to Rio, every Thursday and/or Saturday, the hearty Feijoada dish is prepared for families and friends to enjoy together. While there is some variation in terms of what is to be offered on your plate, you can definitely expect to find a big clay pot bubbling with black beans, different pork and beef parts including oxtail and tripe, as well as tongue perhaps. In the Northeast of the country, the clay pot can also include different vegetables such as kale, potatoes, okra, carrots, etc.

The side dishes can vary across the country, but it is quite common to serve couve, a kind of collard greens dish that is chopped up and stir fried adding to its overall flavor. You also can have chicken steak with fried yucca (mandioca) as well as fried plantains (bananas) as a kind of dessert or sweet tooth necessity if you still have room. To mix with the black beans and the couve, you also have cooked white rice, which is nicely mixed together with the meats as well to create a beautiful plate of both Brazilian history and culture.

To clean your palate afterwards, some fresh orange slices can also be added to the plates offered in order to help with digestion. Beforehand, usually, you will be offered a cup of savory black bean broth, kind of like the soup, to slurp down ahead of the feijoada, which can also be added to the dish if you so choose to. Of course, you have baked pieces of bread as well that can soak up the juices and the broth to add on to an already gigantic plate of heavenly food.

What you need to keep in mind about Feijoada before diving in is that you need to eat it on an empty stomach and to clear your schedule for the day because chances are good that you will need a nap and a glass of water after diving in. For those of you who get the ‘meat sweats’, it’s good to take your time and eat slowly. The Feijoada dish is very heavy so it’s good to relax, have a beer or caipirinha, talk with your friends, and make sure you pace yourself since you will be likely not to do anything else for the rest of the day.

This is not a national dish for vegetarians and Brazil is not the easiest country to be a vegetarian in. You can have Feijoada without the pork parts and the beef stew, but it is really not the same in my opinion. Vegetarians can join in on this delicious dish, but they are definitely not getting the same experience as meat lovers sadly enough. I do love that Feijoada is only offered once or twice per week showing that it’s kind of a national pastime to have it specifically on a Saturday and then you can take the rest of the weekend off as you will probably need to after gaining a few pounds or kilograms.

You can have Feijoada for lunch or for dinner, but it usually is only eaten one day a week. The only thing you should really plan to do after eating Feijoada is perhaps watching the big football match of the weekend and perhaps relaxing with a few glasses of water. You can compare it to the Colombian dish of Bandeja Paisa in a way, but the amount of different foods represented in Feijoada is definitely impossible to beat. You could compare it to the ‘soul food’ cuisine of the Southern United States but there’s still no dish from the American South that quite compares to Feijoada. Similar to the traditions of ‘soul food’, there is a complicated and rough history behind the beginnings of Feijoada which just goes to show how resilient people in very difficult situations regarding food can make a beautiful, tasty dish out of almost nothing or the scraps made available to them on purpose. In order to really know Feijoada, it’s important to dive into the history of the dish as well and what exactly makes it unique to Brazil.

From what I have learned, the origins of Feijoada are up for date but since this kind of stew with pork and beans was quite popular among European settlers, it can be inferred that it was brought over by the Portuguese during the colonization period. However, it seems that the dish was expanded upon by the slaves in Brazil who would add other ingredients such as the couve, the arroz (rice), and the mandioca as these were other foods available to them. Gathering all of these foods together and putting them as a mixture on a big plate would be a hearty yet simple meal to have when it came time to preparing it before or after a long day of work in the fields or farms. While slaves were restricted to rice and beans, special occasions such as holidays allowed them to get different pork parts or beef parts considered less desirable by their masters and to throw them together in a stew to help them feed themselves and get more protein as they worked in the kitchens. From the kitchens to the fields to the cities, Feijoada has earned its status as the national dish of Brazil.

Feijoada is very much a creative and improvisational dish where you have to do the best you can with what you have and put it all together when you don’t have much time to prepare a flashier meal. What Feijoada lacks in flashiness, it more than makes up for it in the sheer number of flavors and food groups the dish makes up. Between the rice and beans, the meats, the greens, and the after-meal delight of an orange slice or a shot or two of cachaça and you will definitely be satisfied with one of the greatest meals you could ever have in Brazil.

Pinacoteca Museum

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; São Paulo, Brazil

Independence Park at Ipiranga

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Independence Park; Ipiranga, São Paulo, São Paulo State, Brazil

Cultural Spotlight – Acai

Acai is my favorite thing about Brazil. It is difficult to choose a favorite thing here, but it is the first item on the list that comes to mind. Something so tasty and so nutritious is definitely worthy of my #1 spot. Difficult to find outside of the country and definitely not of the same flavor, taste or variety, Acai is a unique treat that Brazil is rightly known for. Whether it’s made into ice cream, a shake, a juice, or even yogurt, Acai is healthy for you and full of antioxidants. In addition, it really is a kind of superfood that boost your energy levels once you taste it and finish your fill.

If you are having an off day which happens sometimes, you may want to drop the coffee and put down the red bull and make a nice acai juice instead. You are likely to be glad you did. That extra energy boost can give you hours of extra productivity and even added focus allowing you to do your work better and faster. Be careful not to each too much acai as it is full of calories but if you want to substitute a meal like breakfast or lunch, having acai instead may not be the worst option to consider.

The acai berries come from the acai palm tree. The berries are small, round, and have a black-purple color. The acai palm tree is mainly found in the Amazonian region of both Brazil and Peru and has been a staple food in those areas since the 18th century. I would say that the fruit has gained popularity not only in urban cities within Brazil recently but even internationally as demand for the delicious superfood has skyrocketed due to the variety of health benefits.

The acai palm is usually harvested twice a year between January and June and then August and December making it more readily available than other Amazonian fruits. Acai has been part of the Amazon River for centuries and wasn’t only just used for food. Its other uses include a type of cooking oil or for salad dressing as well as being used for certain cosmetics or for grain alcohol or dietary supplements. The palm tree that acai comes from has been also used for hats, baskets, brooms, roof thatch for homes from the leaves of the tree and the wood trunk.

While its health benefits are not clearly known, it has a higher level of antioxidants than other fruits such as oranges, apples or cranberries. One bowl of acai with granola or a fruit like a banana is more than just a snack but rather a full meal that can pack up to 550 calories. What is definitely known about acai is that it has a high amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium content. Part of the reason why Acai can give you a boost of energy is that it is full of nutrients that we need to have each and every day.

Acai may not have the best taste even if it does contain sugar, but it tastes like something that really is of the Earth and can be drank or consumed naturally without any harmful additives. You can tell from the first time you taste it how unique a flavor it has and to feel the energy it gives you just a few minutes after you have the first bite or the first sip. I would not have acai every day but compared to coffee, tea, or other energy boosting products, this one may be the healthiest for you.

Acai does not have a lot of sugar when it is eaten naturally and is high in fats which is good for the body especially after you’ve been hitting the gym or playing a sport for an hour or two. If you need to replenish your calorie intake and to do so in a healthy way, acai may be one of the best options out there. If you can mash up acai fruit into a pulp, you may be able to get the most antioxidants out of consumption compared to a watered-down juice. The antioxidant content of acai can help someone by neutralizing the negative effects of ‘free radicals’, which to those who don’t know are uneven or unstable atoms that damage cells and cause illnesses and/or premature aging.

Having acai and other superfoods in terms of daily or weekly intake may help in preventing cancer, heart disease, and other serious ailments. Acai can also lower a person’s blood cholesterol level although more research is needed from what I have been reading. The plant compounds that are active in Acai can also assist in improving memory and boosting brain function partially because the antioxidant content can counter inflammation of these parts of the body and provide further clean-up of toxic cells that no longer function well.

While not a perfect snack, the high level of fats, proteins, and vitamins as well as active antioxidants can make acai a good choice especially when you are in Brazil for a visit or a longer stay. I would just be aware of the sugar content and to be aware if there are any other ingredients which could diminish the nutritious content. Acai berries do not last very long so many people have to eat acai after it’s been watered-down or sugared-up as opposed to its natural form. If you can have an acai puree or pulp instead of a smoothie or an ice cream bowl, that may be the best option if you can’t get it directly from the Amazon.

Acai is a flexible kind of food so you can always add more nuts and berries to it or even other ice cream, but you have to watch carefully to make sure you are making the food more nutritious and not full of sugar. Due to its healthy content of fats, fiber, protein, and vitamins, you would not go wrong if you find yourself in Brazil and want to try one of its greatest natural resources, the acai berry. You will be glad you gave it a try and may want your friends to try it too.

Tulum

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral and Templo Mayor

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Mexico City, Mexico