Jiu-Jitsu keeps pulling us back to the Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Norte (North Zone).
The more time we spend in Tijuca (re-visiting academies like Gracie Tijuca and Soul Fighters – Evidence, and visiting new academies like Kioto Jiu-Jitsu and now Soul Fighters Headquarters for the first time), the more the neighborhood grows on us. Even though it’s a solid 45 minutes from the scenic beaches of Zona Sul (South Zone), Tijuca has it’s own down-to-earth charm. There are very few tourists and, maybe as a result, residents seem friendlier. The mostly residential, solidly middle class neighborhood is extremely walkable and is well served by 3 metro stations. It also has its fair share of restaurants and botecos, and accommodations and Jiu-Jitsu are remarkably cheaper here than in Zona Sul.
Tijuca is also a hotbed for Jiu-Jitsu, represented largely by the strong Soul Fighter’s presence with its 3 academies (yes, all 3 academies are in one neighborhood). Of the 3 Soul Fighters academies, the Delfim location is considered the team’s headquarters and is where the competition team trains. Other locations include the Evidence location we re-visited earlier this year and the Tijuca Tenis Club location which we’ll visit soon.
About Soul Fighters
In May 2008 five black belts came together to form the Soul Fighters team. These included: Alvaro Mansor (nephew and black belt under 9th degree red belt Francisco Mansor of Kioto Jiu-Jitsu), brothers Bruno “Tanque” and Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes (also black belts under Mansor), and Rafael “Formiga” Barbosa and Leandro “Tatu” Escobar (both black belts under “Dedeco” Almeida of American Top Team). In terms of lineage, this makes Soul Fighters the child of Kioto Jiu-Jitsu and American Top Team.
Formed the same year as the Checkmat team, Soul Fighters is one of the youngest teams in Rio de Janeiro’s BJJ scene. Soul Fighters has grown rapidly in Brazil and the United States since its formation in 2008, and recent high profile wins will mean even more eyes on this young up and coming team. Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes took gold in the 2013 Worlds at featherweight, and 21-year-old João Gabriel Rocha (who trains at this academy) took double silver in his first Worlds as a black belt.
Finding the Soul Fighters Headquarters
The neighborhood of Tijuca is a solidly middle-class outpost in the otherwise dicey Zona Norte. Tijuca is a large neighborhood (more than twice the size of Copacabana and more than three times the size of Ipanema). It is well served by 3 Rio Metro stations and many bus lines linking the neighborhood to Zona Sul.
Soul Fighters Headquarters is located only 2 blocks from the São Francisco Xavier metro station, the second-to-last station on Line 1 (about a 30-minute ride from Copacabana stations). Exit via the station’s only exit, walking up the stairs, and when you reach the top, turn around and walk in the opposite direction together with the flow of traffic. Take your first right onto Alzira Brandão Street and walk to the end of the street before turning left onto Pereira de Siqueira Street. You’ll immediately see the large 3-story Delfim health club with the large red placards on the exterior. If you get lost, just start walking up to strangers and say “Delfim?”
Instruction and Training at Soul Fighters Headquarters (Delfim)
A typical adult evening class is large, with roughly 20 to 30 students evenly split between white/blue belts, purple belts and brown/black belts. Training at Soul Fighters Headquarters follows the tried and true formula of stretching-warm ups-technique-roll. Class begins with group stretching followed by warm-up laps around the matted area and body weight exercises. After warm-ups, two or three techniques are taught in sequence, and the athletes drill the techniques under the watchful eyes of several black belts. On the day of our visit, Master Alexandre Salgado taught 2 sweeps from x-guard, a position used very effectively by Soul Fighters’ top competitors like “Tanquinho” Mendes and João Gabriel Rocha. Once instruction has finished, the professor chooses 6 to 8 pairs for sparring, which rotate as necessary to accommodate all of the students present.
Typical of the newer BJJ teams, the environment at Soul Fighters is relaxed and unceremonious. Students bow at the beginning of class and warm up in order of belt rank. But formality soon gives way to laughing and joking among the athletes, though not at the expense of training. Permission is generally not required to drink water, and students slowly trickle out of class rather than after a formal close. This is typical of the last class of the day at most academies, and you should be aware that earlier training sessions at any location might be slightly more formal.
During our visit several of the athletes spoke English, including a Brazilian black belt carioca who teaches at a Soul Fighters affiliate in Texas. Also present during our visit was American black belt Nathan Mendelsohn, an instructor at Claudio França Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Santa Cruz, California, on his 6th visit to Rio de Janeiro.
Dropping in at Soul Fighters Headquarters (Delfim)
The Delfim Academy operates a first-class-free policy (aula experimental) for all the classes offered at its facilities, including Jiu-Jitsu. However, you’ll need to sign a waiver before you can train. The Soul Fighters team receives fewer foreigners than academies in Zona Sul. But due to the strong Soul Fighters presence in the United States, the athletes are extremely open and welcoming to gringos.
Soul Fighters Headquarters Highlights
- The unofficial headquarters of the up and coming Soul Fighters Team
- Located in the Tijuca neighborhood in Rio’s Zona Norte
- First-class-free policy, but you will need to sign a waiver
- A medical clearance (atestado médico) is required for continued training
- Surprisingly gringo-friendly given its location off the tourist track