The Copacabana sun smiles through the doors of Strauch Jiu-Jitsu as I reach the top of the stairs. Windows line the wall that faces the street, and from one story up the street below loses any sense of menace. All I feel is warmth and energy. Gis and belts sway imperceptibly on a railing against these open windows.
No matter how many times I step inside here it makes my face flush and my heart beat faster—like the sight of a new lover—something special is about to happen. Something unexpected, and so, a little scary. Even now, writing this, I feel it my body, the nerves deep in my belly.
Because my Portuguese is poor, I am quieter here. Without language you can take your eyes off yourself. Disappear into feelings and observation. I wonder what complexities, what gravity, I miss out on in America because I am busy making noise. It feels magic here. I do not need words because my jiu-jitsu says everything about me that needs to be said, and I am proud of what it says. I did not know this about my jiu-jitsu before. I did not know this about myself. This is something Brazil taught me.
Blue, red, yellow. The school itself is all primary colors. The people more diverse. We are not black or white or brown people here, we are white, blue, purple, brown, black, and Mestre Strauch, he is red. Unity through hierarchy. We line up by rank with the black belts facing us against the opposite wall, so I am often at the head of the line. Five years ago, I was here and I was a at the other end of the line. It is as if I can see the last five years of my life distilled into the simple act of moving down that line.
The gravity of the journey feels stronger here. I feel like part of something bigger than myself. As though history grows up, like roots, through the mat and my feet, tethering me to something beautiful and powerful. Something lost in the noise and the shuffle of America and its striving.
I trot around the room and shake hands. It is 7am, the room beaming with smiles. Here in this room, there is no animosity toward us Americans. I would sleep here on the mat if I could. I don’t care about the beach or the shopping or Christ of the Redeemer. Here in this small room big with history, everything that is strong, and true and good about me, is all that shows up. I want to be this person all the time.