Luta Livre

Sundays are usually my day of adventure, but this past Saturday after practice I decided to explore Lima.  I traveled far and wide and probably walked over ten miles.  When I returned home late at night, Ben delivered some bothersome news.  “Ivan just called, you have to compete in the Luta Livre tournament they’re hosting tomorrow.”  I knew it would be beneficial for me, but I didn’t want to sacrifice my Sunday.  That was MY day.

Luta Livre is essentially no-gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  Back at the dawn of modern jiu-jistu, when the Gracie family pioneered their famous fighting style in Brazil, all practitioners wore a gi.  A gi is that heavy fabric uniform that you see people wear in karate and judo.  In jiu-jitsu, you can grab your opponent’s gi and use it to gain control.  At one point however, a group splintered off and stopped using the gi; they called their new discipline Luta Livre.


In Portuguese, Luta Livre literally translates to “free fight”, but it would be more accurately described as “submission grappling”.  Like jiu-jitsu, the purpose is to submit or choke your opponent through a series of techniques that apply pressure on the joints or the neck.  While that may sound dangerous, it is actually relatively safe.  There is no kicking or punching, so no black eyes or busted lips.  Like checkmate in chess, you don’t need to actually put your opponent to sleep or snap a limb to win – they will tap out first.

Team Pitbull was hosting the tournament and some local gyms would be attending.  I woke up at 8am to go weigh in.  I didn’t even know the weight classes, nor did I really care – I simply wasn’t going to take this tournament seriously.  I stepped on the scale in my full street clothes and shoes, with a bag of groceries in my hand.  I weighed in at 68kg.  The weight class was 70kg, so even with my surplus clothing, I was 2kg (4.4lbs) underweight.

“When does this thing start?” I asked my teammate Claudio, who speaks English.

“Not until noon.  They have to do the whole Junior Division first.”

“Damn, really?  I wish I could just do all my matches right now and get outta here.  This sucks.”  I like to complain a lot.  I shrugged, “Well, I’m gonna go in the back and take a nap or something.”

I went to the back room of the gym and found a couch.  I opened up a book and read for hours, blissfully unaware of the tournament going on downstairs.  Eventually, I fell into a deep, deep sleep.

I was in the middle of a dream – the exact details of which I cannot recall, but I remember being disappointed when it was cut short.  My teammate Enrike stormed in and shook me awake.  “Vas a pelear ahorita!”  I was up, they were waiting for me.

I stumbled down to the mats, rubbing my eyes.  I yawned deeply, still swimming in a groggy mist.  My weight class had only three people in it.  They made us all come to the center of the mat.  The ref took three sheets of paper, crumbled them, and dropped them on the mat.  My two opponents reached down and each picked up one.  I looked around confused, still half asleep, and then I picked up the last one.  It said “Vai.”  That meant I had a pass to the finals and the other two guys would compete first.  “Woohoo, finalist,” I muttered to myself.

I didn’t really pay attention as my opponents fought, but eventually the guy with the brown shirt beat the guy with the blue shirt.  So I was set face Brown Shirt in 15 minutes.  I sat down on the mat and waited until they called me.  I was too tired to care about warming up.  The whistle blew and I stood straight up.  I leaned back and left my legs completely exposed.  I let him think he had an open shot and he took the bait.  He dove in for a double leg takedown.  I quickly sprawled and spun around behind.

Most bouts don’t end in a submission, so there is a point system.  I was on his back, but I didn’t “have his back” in the technical sense.  In order to score the requisite four points, I needed to throw both of my heels (“hooks”) around his waist and inside his legs.  He turtled up and closed off so much that I was unable to get anything locked up.  I stayed on top for the entire five minutes.  The score was still 0-0 even though I was in control the whole time.  In the one minute overtime, I got behind him again but was unable to get the hooks.  It went to the ref’s decision and he ruled in my favor.

I won my weight class without scoring a single point.  Sweet, awesome day.  After I walked off the mat, I actually started to feel the adrenaline pumping.  That had felt good.  I was finally roused from my lethargy and wanted to compete again.

I asked Claudio if there was anyone around who would do an exhibition match with me.  He grew up around these tournaments and seemed to know everyone.

“Let me ask around and see what I can do.”

Just then, they announced the Absolute Division.  This is a standard tradition after jiu-jitsu tournaments that allows anyone to enter regardless of weight class or belt level.  Sometimes you get guys weighing 250 pounds that crush everybody, but thankfully today there were no behemoths.  Por qué no?  I entered.  There were eight guys in the bracket.

My first match was against Blue Shirt.  I won 2-0 when I passed his guard.

Next I had to face my teammate Enrike.  I didn’t want to face him since we train together every day, but in order to keep the trophy with Team Pitbull, one of us had to win.  I wound up winning with a pair of takedowns and I got his back.

I had made it to the finals.  The guy I was facing probably had 30 pounds on me and was apparently pretty good.  While I was now fired up about competing, I tried to keep a lid on it.  My carelessness had worked well up to this point, so why mess with a good thing?  I did the exact same routine I had for the previous three matches – nothing.  No warm up, no stretch, no problem.  I was sitting cross-legged on the side of the mat until the instant they called me to the center.  Standing out there, I heard my teammates cheering.



Above the clamor, I heard Claudio yell, “Pretend this is your last college match again!”  He had read my last blog post about my heartbreaking loss.  I looked over at him and laughed.  I put my finger to my lips and shushed him loudly.  How dare he try to put pressure on my day of apathy.

When the whistle blew, I started to regret not warming up.  My right leg was asleep.  I danced around the mat a little bit and shook it out until it woke up.

He leapt up and pulled me into his guard, using his weight advantage.  I controlled him on top.  Every time he squirmed for an advantage, I countered and maintained control.  Then at one point, our position slipped and he locked up a tight ankle lock.  If I didn’t get free, he would be able to submit me easily.  Like a slipknot, the more I resisted, the tighter it would get.  Just then, he cinched it even tighter.  SHIT!

The whole crowd hovered over the mat.  The palpable energy reverberated off the walls of the tiny gym.  “OHHHHHHHHH!” I heard the excitement rise.  At this moment, I was done in their minds.

I took a deep breath of air into my lungs and recentered my mind.  I let my leg go limp and didn’t fight it.  I rolled in the same direction.  I sat up and pushed back into him.  I was totally relaxed and took another deep breath.  I pushed forward and put pressure on his arm.  The crowd grew louder and they smelled blood in the water.  I looked up at them, lifted my arm and waived them off casually.  Then I calmly stepped my foot out.  ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

The trophy now sits on the shelf at the Pitbull Martial Arts Center.


Video of the final match:

3 thoughts on “Luta Livre”

  1. Loved the post and video. It does seem to be true that we perform better when there isn’t a lot of internal dialogue going on before we take on what we perceive to be a big challenge. I find the mind is a lot more agile and creative.

    I liked how you resisted using your last college match as a motivator. I think your instincts were right on there. Why build up a big back story in your head about this match or any other challenge that you face in this new journey? Apathy, indifference, detachment? You might be on to something here.

    PS – After reading your post I guess I can forgive you for not posting last Monday. Hah hah.

  2. I find myself checking emails each Monday for a “Rollie” post. Keep them coming. Your writing this post brought me right there along side you on the mat. I was not surprised how quickly your “apathy” turned to fervor, Congratulations!

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