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Abstract

Since the 1990s, embodied research on sports and martial arts has proliferated, inspired by the idea of using the ethnographer’s body and sensory experiences as an object and method to comprehending other people’s lives. However, embodiment in sports research tends to overemphasize the researcher’s description of bodily sensations without adequately contextualizing them. I, therefore, analyze the martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) as an education of the body and the senses that creates a specific habitus, putting practitioners into a dynamic relationship with their urban environment. To grasp the life-changing quality attributed to BJJ by its practitioners, between 2017-2018, I became a disciple of coaches self-identifying as belonging to the Fadda lineage founded in 1950 in Rio de Janeiro by Grandmaster Oswaldo Fadda. The Fadda BJJ practitioners in Rio de Janeiro view their identity as closely related to Rio’s North Zone in delineation to both the rich touristic South Zone and the drug trafficking affecting significant parts of Rio’s periphery. In this urban context, evangelical jiu-jitsu coaches fuse sport and religion to educate “faithful disciples,” making it part of their spiritual and worldly battle against evil forces. Fadda coaches strive to educate underprivileged youths into “good citizens” by integrating them into their Fadda jiu-jitsu community so that they do not become drug traffickers. The hypermasculine aspects of the sport producing a forced athletic body are countered by the undoing of stereotypical male gender norms through practices of care. Since Fadda practitioners see society as lacking fundamental values like respect, discipline, and hierarchy, they put exactly these values into their pedagogy of the body. Fadda Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills are, therefore, not mechanic movements but a way of being in the world.

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