Posted July 9, 2022
was a BJJ purple belt, like the rest of my friends and training
partners, the thought of securing myself financially or developing a
career outside of jiu-jitsu wasnft even considered as something of
concern or as a viable option. Naturally, we all struggled financially and
took advantage of the Latino tradition of having the luxury of living with
our parents for as long as we needed to in order to develop a career
and/or get married.
struggle was real, so I began to think of creative ways to make
some extra cash through jiu-jitsu in order to pay for all my competitions
Since making money by teaching jiu-jitsu was out of the question (due to
the low monthly fees and the glut of highly qualified instructors in Brazil) I began to think
of ways of taking advantage of the growth of jiu-jitsu around the world in the
early 2000s. In 2001 I
began a inviting foreigners via the internet to come live and train with me
in Brazil for only 500 dollars a month (food, training, housing and
transport included). At the time $500 was a bargain for foreigners while
simultaneously being a small fortune for me.
the next few years, there was a busy influx of Americans, Swedes,
Australians, Canadians, etc. who visited for weeks, months and
sometimes coming back yearly or staying permanently. Needless to say, it
fell on me to train them as well as helping them navigate the intricacies of Brazilian society. Which to me, always felt
like a fun and engaging exercise.
after coaching one of these visitors at a local tournament that I
had realized the importance of simple daily words as a symbol of specific
cultural practices. To my visiting friend, I simply couldnft explain why
he had lost. The words were missing in my English vocabulary.
Portuguese, the word gmalandroh and its execution (malandragem)
didnft make their way into my vocabulary forcefully. As a child, it was
effortlessly absorbed, like every other Portuguese word I had absorbed,
and in parallel to the cultural context in which it was used almost daily
by those around me (particularly males of lower economic strata). It wasnft until I began interacting with other Americans
and Europeans visiting Brazil that it dawned on me that I couldnft
translate the word to them or even explain the concept.
word gmalandroh loosely translates as: cunning, deceitful, full of
tricks and borderline thuggish in a street-smart way and someone who
manipulates the rules to their advantage. As an example, think of a soccer
player who upon a light contact with a member of the opposing team throws
himself on the grass in an act of pain in order to impress the referee who
will hopefully grant the opposing team member a yellow or red card. That
is a classic display of malandragem
and it can be seen everywhere in Brazilian society. Naturally jiu-jitsu
doesnft escape its cultural reach.
fair, the behavior isnft exclusive to Brazilians and can be seen just
about anywhere one lives or visits. The difference is that the behavior is
so ingrained in Brazilian society, that they have a word for it (once
while having this conversation with an American friend, he observed that
street Basketball is exactly like that, in other words, malandragem,
isnft an exclusive Brazilian feature, it is only more widespread and
commendable in Brazil, while in the US the feelings may be
somewhere between commendation and condemnation, depending on the
environment). It is so ingrained in fact, that it wasnft until that
tournament and my attempt at explaining to my visiting friend why his
opponent had run circles on him for the entire match, that I had even
given this any thought.
I try to explain this to my American students, by giving real examples,
their understanding of it is often voiced back to me in the shape of the
question: gyou mean lying?h or gbeing dishonest?h or something equivalent. Yet the bigger issue here, isnft the behavior itself
(which is questionable), but rather that it isnft normally perceived as
bad behavior or as behavior to be reprimanded by social peers, but that in
fact, malandragem is often used in context of a compliment given to
someone who so cleverly manipulated the system to their advantage. The
degree of the manipulation matters, but so does the execution and
subsequent success in this endeavor, with the extent, complexity and level
of success of the manipulation being determinant of its quality in a
malandro is someone who can be a savvy business man who evades taxes, a
womanizer with no boundaries or integrity, a car salesman who doesnft
mention that the radiator is broken or even someone verging on a
con-artist. In fact, con-artistry can be seen as an extreme example of malandro
behavior, but not quite a translation of the word, since the line between
a malandro and a criminal is
drawn and is mostly clear. In other words, all con-artists are malandros, but not all malandros
criminal who evades capture is a malandro
because he hasnft been caught, and in case he does, he loses the title
because, had he been a true malandro,
he wouldn't have been caught. In this case, ele deu mole (he edropped the ballf as in, he lost his malandragem).
In sum, a malandro is someone who successfully manipulates the rules to
his favor, with the lines between the ethical and legal being up to the
competitive jiu-jitsu, malandragem
can be many things, and not all necessarily dishonest (which is why the
word gdishonesth isn't an accurate translation), such as:
exaggerating an injury or purposely untying your belt to take a moment to
breathe; circling the square matted area in order to avoid contact and buy
time in case you are winning; stalling; wearing a lighter kimono and/or
belt in order to make weight easier; use of such tactics
as purposely not sweeping your opponent until the last few seconds of the
match; going for a submission only to score an advantage and not actually
finish it (perhaps knowing that the submission may not be actually
possible for a variety of reasons); etc. In other words, being a malandro,
is essentially being an astute competitor and playing on the very edge of
what is permitted by the rules, but not necessarily dishonestly breaking
them or doing anything illegal per se.
in Brazil, requires not necessarily the assimilation of the behavior, but
certainly requires being able to recognize it if only in order to survive and not be taken
advantage of in a multitude of ways. From my observations, Brazilians are
to a large extent naturally introduced to malandragem.
It comes to them with less effort than it does to other peoples because it
is so wide-spread in Brazil (also contingent on upbringing, geography
and social-circles and far from a unanimously accepted or tolerated
behavior in Brazil). An observation always made all the clearer to me when
I try to explain the concept to my American students who donft all
instinctively grasp the concept and normally have to learn it by trial and
error, which is to say, by competing extensively until they learn, unless
of course, they donft learn. With the degree of their success largely
contingent on their ability to quickly grasp this.
I never had to explain any of this to my Brazilian students, who
instinctively knew they had to manipulate the rules, the time, the score
and the referee to their favor. It all came with little to no effort to
them, possibly made easier to their collective exposure to soccer where
the practice of malandragem is
practically a necessity as well as the Brazilian penchant for womanizing
where malandragem is equally useful.
jiu-jitsu, I believe much of the resentment that some of the jiu-jitsu
world feels towards Brazilians can be explained by this entrenched and often overlooked quality of Brazilians. This resentment
is rarely spoken out loud, but is
real nonetheless, and tends to manifest in vague generalizations or unsubstantiated conspiracy-theories,
for example, that Brazilian
referees are biased against non-Brazilians.
Malandragem, as it
pertains jiu-jitsu competition, is likely to be the only actual advantage
Brazilians have over the rest of the world. For the time being at least.
other nations all eventually end up indulging in it. Well, at least the
successful ones do.
Personally, at least in terms of jiu-jitsu, I have mixed
feelings about malandragem. I have often scored tactical advantages in order to win close
advantages. At other times, in total exhaustion, I rode the clock
while eagerly counting the seconds in order to win what to me meant as
much as an arm or a leg. And if on one hand the astuteness necessary for
high level competition is truthfully a display of an equally high level of
intelligence and skill, on the other hand the manipulation of any situation to
your favor does often come near the border of an unethical
practice. Nonetheless, condemning from afar is cheap, ignorant and easy.
called "wrong" because that's what it is. Yet competition
coupled with ambition can, often blur the lines. Malandragem, only adds to the blur. Still, as the adage
goes, nice guys finish last.
When we come down to it, competition, all competition, is in all truthfulness a wild jungle
filled with far more ambition and cunning than scruples.
deception, malandragem. They
all lay underneath what the 21st century commonly refers to as
gsuccess.h We would do well in
rethinking what is behind these words to which we attach
life purpose to. We may well reach the conclusion that while some words are dubious, others arenft
so much. Some by being unequivocal just do a better job at concealing from
the surface all the malandragem that is implicit in their fabric. If we are willing to
dig a little deeper than this surface, we may find that in fact, malandragem
is nothing but the modest and poorly equipped cousin of what we
assertively and commonly refer to in life, as gsuccess.h
by Robert Drysdale:
Fallacy of Sub-Only (forthcoming soon)
of Breathe, by Rickson Gracie
ADCC Blind Spot
at Jiu-Jitsu while Keeping it Real
Loyalty versus Self-Perfection
Rectification of BJJ's Rules: To Gi or Not to Gi
of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Penn for President
on the Evolution of BJJ
Taught Oscar Gracie?
Gracie is Wrong
of book by João Alberto Barreto
Promotes Five Brazilians
and Sanity in BJJ
Oswaldo Fada Jiu-Jitsu a Non-Gracie Lineage?
(c) 2022, Robert Drysdale. All rights reserved.