Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Melyssa... In Rio

Melyssa Hutchinson is currently a BJJ blue belt under Vitor "Shaolin"Ribeiro in New York who started her jiu-jitsu training at Abhaya MMA in Wolfville, NS. She is in the process of changing training academies due to her experiences and connections in Brazil and also because of a family move to another city. Melyssa also teaches the children's jiujitsu class and has her own all-women's bootcamp style training program as well as co-ed conditioning classes called Fit to Fight

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.

Also,  I am a challenge seeker! And BJJ is the challenge of my life! I love it;  it is challenging to be a female in a male-dominated sport but because I'm small (you may know something about that, eh?)  I love the way it challenges my mind to be sharp; I have to be to not tap to the bigger guys.  BJJ also challenges my body to stay fit; it is perfect for me.

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.  

I have some big obstacles ahead of me but I plan on training hard and working hard to make jiu-jitsu my main focus. That's all i can say right now.

Sally: This is your second trip to Brazil, what is it about training there that compelled you to return?

Melyssa: The first trip was only 5 weeks and although I got a lot out of it, including a win at the Rio Open, I felt I needed to return. We have fantastic training in the Maritimes but there is something amazing about training everyday with black belts in a place where jiu-jitsu is a lifestyle not just a hobby.

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?

Melyssa:  Tell me about it... size I mean.  But the guys here that I get to roll with everyday are really great at adjusting to the size difference.

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.

When you roll with brown and black belts every day you pick up a lot of small details! I am lucky that I've made some great connections here with the guys at Gordo's and they are more than willing to help me with my game. I love training at Gordo's (Roberto Correa de Lima) academy; he, his instructors and students are so incredibly kind and helpful.

Cross training and conditioning is a big factor. I notice that the competition guys do a lot of conditioning, which is great because I love the physical fitness aspect of jiu-jitsu as well.

Sally:  What is your competition history?

Melyssa:  My competition history includes a gold at the Rio Open: International Mastersand Seniors 2011, Arena Buzios 2012: gold by default a great experience none the less. Other than those it's been golds, silvers and occasional bronzes in NS and NB.

Sally:  You won the gold medal at the Rio Open: International Masters and Seniors 2011 tournament during your first visit to Brazil, which indicates to me that the skill set you acquired in Nova Scotia at Abhaya MMA was superior to the skill sets of your opponents. Had they trained exclusively in Brazil or were they visitors to the country also?

Melyssa: The girls I competed against were Brasilians through and through and NOT happy to lose to a Gringa. And yes, I think I acquired some great skills in NS. I also had a great coach that day, a man that I had only just met, Mr. Hywel Teague of Wales, film-maker,  entrepreneur and current co-worker. He helped a lot. I felt prepared but it was also tough.

Sally: When you say jiu jitsu is a lifestyle in Brazil, as compared to a hobby in NS, what do you mean? Do people who train there have careers outside of BJJ or do more people train full time? If so, how do they generate income?

Melyssa: I mean that people make it a priority to train every day. Every. Single. Day. And train hard. I think at home there are a lot of people who do it as a hobby, once or twice a week. There a lot more "serious" guys here. I think it's pretty competitive; they do have day-jobs but the recreation and/or training is of more importance than working. Brasil is all about life first, work second

Sally:  I've seen you and others spell Brazil with an "s": Brasil. Is it spelled that way in Portuguese?

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?

Melyssa:  Hmmmm. As a trainer I am in full support of recovery time. The body needs it. But these guys are smart about it. They know what they're capable of; they rest when they need to and roll light when they need to. And they've been doing it their whole lives! It's not like they jump into training that hard. I know it took me a couple weeks to adjust to the training but you get used to it pretty quick. and when you're hurting a bit the guys are more than willing to work on technique.

Sally: How do you spend a typical day in Rio?

Melyssa:  My day in Rio:

06:30 -  wake up
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.

Sally:   What does your weekly training schedule look like? Do you have a full-time job there?

Melyssa:  I train BJJ 5-6 times a week, cross train with some running most days, and light weights 2 times a week.  I have a "full time" (by full time I mean that I am always on duty but the work load varies) job as part of the Connection Rio team. We are a full service BJJ hostel. I'm currently house manager...sweet gig.

Melyssa Hutchinson and Hillary Williams
Sally:   What have you learned since being in Brazil that has improved your jiujitsu game the most?

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?)

I also had lunch with Milton Vieira, fighting in the UFC June 23, 2012) and Rousimar "Tonquinho" Palhares.

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!

Follow Melyssa on Twitter and keep up with all of her adventures!

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