Favela Jiu Jitsu: Tererê Kids Project Dispatch 1

Fightland Blog

By Nico Ball

Photos by Jair Sinistro Lacerda

[Nico Ball recently left her life as a teacher to train mixed martial arts full-time in Brazil. Originally from Pennsylvania, she attended George Mason University in Virginia and got her Masters degree studying the impact of martial arts-based social projects. She’s now living the fighter’s life and pursuing her dream to become a pro mixed martial artist, but has found a way to continue her interest in creating social change by helping organize The Tererê Kids Project, a nonprofit for the children living in poverty in the favela of Morro do Contagalo. The project is centered around jiu jitsu star Fernando Augusto da Silva, widely known by his nickname Tererê, who used the Gentle Art as a way to escape a life of crime. We asked her to send us periodic updates of how the Project is going.]

Tererê calls the attention of the students. I turn down the music as he positions himself in the center of the room standing above his cousin and fellow instructor, Fabricio. He pauses and stares at me. I stare back confused for a couple of seconds. What does he want? Then, out of my peripheral I catch a glimpse of a pale face wiggling uncomfortably in the corner as his kimono rubs against his sunburned skin. That’s what he wants. I walk over to the gringo and begin to translate as Tererê begins to lay down the basics to his signature guard passes.

When Tererê finishes, I leave the gringo to drill the guard pass with Moicano, a 14-year-old orange belt who spends his free time watching Miyao videos on YouTube and perfecting his Berimbolo technique. In Brazil, kids only go to school for about 4 hours a day and can chose between morning, afternoon, and evening courses; so it’s not uncommon to find Moicano in both the morning and evening classes schooling grown men on their guard game.  I have had several rather serious conversations with other adults where we shared tips on how to kill this kid’s guard… and we still can’t do it. So now, instead of trying to pass his guard, I’m trying to send him to compete in the U.S. next year.

“Push my leg, PUSH MY LEG”, Moicano tried to explain to the rather confused looking gringo who was trying to shove the kid’s leg in the wrong direction. He was completely lost in translations, and understandably so. Moicano was trying to tell the gringo to pull or “Puxe” as they say in Portuguese (pronounced pushy).  Pull in Portuguese sounds a lot like “push” in English and this often causes confusion on the mats. It didn’t take long for a frustrated Moicano to abandon his attempts at communicating in English and resort to good old-fashioned pantomiming in order to correct the Gringo’s guard pass. Soon enough, they fell into sync with each other and began to flow through the movements. Jiu Jitsu is a universal language.

At Tererê’s gym, nestled at the bottom of the Cantagalo favela in Ipanema, it is not uncommon to find gringos mixed in among the nonpaying community members. Tererê’s name attracts a wide variety of arte suave enthusiasts that travel to the mecca of Jiu Jitsu to seek knowledge from their idols. When I’m at the academy, part of my job entails translating classes and private lessons for Gringos. When I’m not here, Tererê’s and the other instructors make do with pantomiming and using their limited English.

Jiu Jitsu may be a universal language, but English is a gateway language; one that can open the door to countless opportunities for skilled Jiu Jiteiros that come from favelas. Tererê’s has experienced this first hand, traveling from the favela to the rest of the world to give seminars (in English) and compete in Jiu Jitsu competitions. Now, his goal is to show more kids from the favela that their dreams don’t have to be limited by their economic condition. He started Tererê’s Kids Project in order to arm the kids from the Cantagalo favela with the skills they need to survive. More importantly, he wanted to create a safe place for them to grow and to foster their dreams. 

Tererê Kids Project isn’t just about jiu jitsu though. Every day we try to push our kids to be better, on and off the mats, and to be champions in whatever they choose to do in life. Aside from Jiu Jitsu, our kids also learn the business skills they need to market themselves internationally as professional athletes. Each athlete that competes has a profile at TerereKidsProject.com and a jiu jitsu curriculum that they can share with potential sponsors. They are learning how to market themselves professionally on social media and how to approach potential sponsors by working with companies like Deus Fight Co in California and I Ain’t No Saint Tattoo studios in England to produce monthly blogs and technique videos in return for the financial support these companies provide. Now as the project continues to grow and gain support, we can begin to provide even more support for the kids, as well as the instructors, through a jiu jitsu based English program. 


Check out these related stories:

Social Change Through Jiu Jitsu: The Tererê Kids Project

Ground Play: Tererê is the Jimi Hendrix of Jiu Jitsu