Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rey Pqdt "How Muay Thai Changed my life" Part 1 (Rocinha Fighters compete in Thailand)

Reinaldo "Rey" Oliveira has come a long way from being a football hooligan to a successful teacher of Muay Thai at Plataforma Corpo in Sao Conrado. Things were not always good for this young married father of 26 years. He used to be part of a football fan club where they would go to games just to seek out opposing fans to fight. Its very rare for people from favelas to get this opportunity to travel and compete. Lots of fundraising was done to help these 3 athletes to be able to compete in Thailand. 

This is Rey's Story

"At first I did not know the art of eight weapons (Muay Thai) and was involved with a fan club for (Red and Black ) of the Flamengo Football team, my life was working, and weekend go to the Flamengo games for fighting, and not as a regular supporter. Often me and my friends, we would run to not get beat up by other teams, and sometimes ran behind other teams supporters in an attempt to hit people just because of they supported other teams. One day a friend of mine Philip saw me on the street and asked me, "Why don’t you train with us Rey?” I asked “train? In what?” He told me “Muay Thai” . I thought “Wow, I take can take advantage of this to learn how to fight, and no one will be able to hold me and I will be able to fight better against on to those who cheer for other teams.”

"In the end, I went to my first practice it about four years ago, I made my first workout, that's when everything changed, I started to like this training. And Diego Buchecha, the master, began to pay attention to me, every day I improved more and more, I started competing and that was when I began to let go of the negativity (Flamengo supporting and fighting other teams thing). I just wanted to to train to and start competing in the ring. Today, I only use the art of Muay Thai for sport with rules and thank God I'm here treading my way and managing to be seen by others through my talent, not through savageness of old. Today my mother my father talk about me with much pride. My family supports me more. And I just have so much to gain today. I can say that Muay Thai and master Diego Buchecha took me as a young man from a bad place and now I have a positive future all due to Muay Thai. 

I was chosen to represent Brasil in this tournament in March. This is a life time opportunity that I thought I would never have to travel and represent Nockdown Brasil and Master Diego Buchecha

My fight in Thailand was against one of the Top Fighters. I was nervous and felt pressure. Away from Brasil in a different country fighting. 

Here are some photos of Rey's experience:

Rey and Mestre Diego Buchecha

The poster of Rey's fight vs Saiyok Pumphanmuang

Fotoshoot of Rey

Fight prep checking the hand wraps job.

Muay Thai style hand wraps

Shaking hands with his opponent

The Weigh Ins. Rey's weight class is 73 kg

Rey plans to continue to teach, train and compete. We in Rocinha are proud of his accomplishments.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Yolanda Demetrio: "We do have ballerinas in the favelas."

Foto: Cesar Salomao... Yolanda with some of her little ballerinas!

When one thinks of favelas and dancing, the first image that comes to mind for many is to see girls "twerking" to Baile Funk music. The heavy sounds that bellow out of 12 foot tall by 50 foot wide speaker systems is the "norm" here, but theres another dance scene going on here of the more classical type. One does not associate ballet with favelas. Ballet is usually seen as a dance style of upper class or rich kids.

Well, Yolanda Demetrio of Espaco Aberto in Rocinha, is trying to change that image. A dance instructor, her passion is spreading the knowledge to the many girls and young adults here who have a thirst for this kind of cultural education. Yolanda is a ballerina, choreographer and dance teacher. 
Yolanda came from humble beginnings being born in Cruzada Sao Sebastiao in Leblon, a set of 9 buildings or equal to what would be housing projects. But she moved to Rocinha as she got older. Currently she is residing in Barra de Tijuca because she is 8 months pregnant and concerned about the Zika Virus. She was one of the principal founders of Espaco Aberto. She is a graduate of Physical Education with a specialization in dance from Estacio de Sa University. She has over 20+ years of dance experience with troupes in Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro.

Espaco Aberto opened in 1998 in order to discover and enhance the skills of art and dance for children, adolescents and young people through workshops and practical classes. The majority of students are from the favela where such opportunities like this are more costly very difficult to obtain.

In addition to the classes, students of Espaco Aberto have the chance to become members of professional dance companies and attend festivals and events as well as to upgrade the artistic practice of dance. 
There are several graduated students who are dancing professionally and have created their own dance companies. The courses of Espaco Aberto has provided a way of life for them and their families.

Her school has been portrayed on television as with the fotos below were a recording from Tv Record a network here in Rio, profiling the ballerinas dancing on a rooftop in the favela.

Currently in addition to more than 100 children, starting at 3 years old, the space has parents who also participate as students. Espaco Aberto has dance classes consisting of Contemporary, Jazz, Ballroom, Afro, Samba, Stilleto and Hip Hop. The dance school has their own team of dancers and they will be participating in the Opening ceremonies for the Olympic games this august. 

Yolanda she teaches dance 3 times a week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6-9pm at Espaco Aberto in the area of Fundacao in Rocinha. But the school is open 5 days a week.

Check out some of her work with her students here, here and here. Each video shows different age groups and different styles of dance.

She welcomes volunteers to come and assist her classes but he true joy is being able to exchange information with dancers from all over the world. Having met her I endorse her as a kind caring individual and doing wonderful things here in Rocinha for those that have an interest in dance. 

She has a website here and you can email her at

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Nando Dias - Professional Photographer, Surfer and Activist.

I remember meeting Nando years ago walking through Rocinha and after many times through his work at SBR Rocinha. He was the coordinator of this Skate Bike Roller program for the children and youth of Rocinha at the Sports Complex.

Nando has always had an interest in community projects. SBR is a NGO and helps to keep youth of the favela involved in activities like Skateboarding, Rollerblading and BMX. Because of the warm weather and beach community, these activities are very popular and about 2 times a year they hold mini competitions in each discipline. They also have a Blog which talks about all their activities. I enjoy writing about people who are proactive, making things happen, Nando is one of those guys!

Nando was born in Rocinha. When his dad was a sucessful store owner, they moved out of Rocinha. Nando ended up moving back to Rocinha when he was 20 years old after his father passed away.

My knowledge of Nando was from around 2001. I always knew he was into photography but didn't know how much. After talking with me yesterday, he gave me his history and trajectory as to where he is today. From 1999 until 2001 he studied photography at Atelie da Imagem in Urca. I remember seeing much of Nando's work when we was with Viva Favela from 2001 until 2006. Viva Favela is a NGO sub group of Viva Rio.  Viva Favela specifically gives positive visibility to the favelas in Rio. The organization's members are majority those from favela communities that work through journalism and photography. I remember seeing many of Nando's pictures online when Rocinha was in the news. He eventually moved on to working with a newspaper called JB (Jornal do Brasil) from 2006-2008. Since 2008 he has been independant.

For the past few years he has been affiliated and one of the founders of ASR. He works closely with his friend Marcio Pereira. ASR or Association Surf Rocinha is a NGO, a surfing school which offers surfing opportunities for both youth and adults.

Some of ASR champions receiving their awards after a competition in Rio.

Nando is also connected with a social activist project to clean up the beach and water of Sao Conrado called Salvemos Sao Conrado. Unfortunately, Rio has this bad reputation of problems with pollution in the water. Salvemos Sao Conrado is trying to change this and get the city government to help them clean up the water for the safety of bathers and surfers.

Nando (last one on the right)  with fellow activists and the city mayor Eduardo Paes (middle holding the crutch).

He now works freelance as a photographer. I have suggested that he develop a Facebook page where he can show off and sell his work. He is also available for Photography tours in Rocinha. Unfortunately he only speaks Portuguese but is currently studying English. He also can sell large photos of Rocinha measuring aprox 50cm X 40cm. When he has his Photography Facebook page up and running, I will post it here.

If you are interested in Nando's photography skills he can be reached at:

Staying in Rocinha and RESPECT of the community.

This blog post has been a long time coming but recently there have been some incidents that need to be discussed. Let me explain. This is not the first time this has happened which is why I am writing now about this. People who decide to visit or stay here need to know this information.

This post is not to be taken in anger as much as to educate those future visitors or volunteers who have questions or who are thinking about Rocinha as a possible destination point. It is frustrating that I even have to make this post.

The foto above here is from a film being made in Rocinha by Rede Coletiva a film making group. Although this is a film, the people in this foto do accurately show the fire power that both the cops and traffickers have in many favela communities. The guns are war grade weapons and life in the favela does have this issue to contend with. Foto: REDE COLETIVA

There is an 18 year old girl from a 1st world country staying in Rocinha. She contacted me about volunteering here months ago. I have gone out of my way to show her around. I have brought her to 2 projects where she can volunteer and have introduced her to the directors of these projects and have translated for her. I have not asked her for anything and she hasn't paid me anything (not that I expected anything of her). I'm starting to have second thoughts about continuing to do this. I don't want to responsible for these young people. When people contact me about volunteering they are usually 25 years old or older and have some knowledge about favelas. When I receive the emails, I don't ask their age. I assume they are adults who know about Rocinha.

But recently there were complaints about her taking fotos in areas where she shouldn't be doing this. She was told once by the "guys" but apparently stopped as so she says (I'm only getting relayed info from the hostel owner where she is staying). But, now in the area where she is staying, there's a little tension with the "guys" (drug dealers).  She now will be watched by them. This has caused a problem now for the hostel where she is staying as the "guys" went to the hostel to speak to the owner and his mother about this girl. The last thing the hostel needs is this problem. Because she is 18, not knowing any Portuguese and little knowledge of favelas, its been difficult trying to get her to understand about the possible dangers here. I don't know, maybe she doesn't believe me, but I had to send her an article how a few years back a German tourist was shot here for taking fotos in an area that he shouldn't have been. Read about that incident here.


When travelling to a foreign country where you can't communicate or have very little knowledge of the community:
1.) Don't assume the place is like home, because most likely, it's not.
2.) Ask somebody about the culture, rules, anything you shouldn't do. Educate yourself.
3.) Respect those people in the community who are adults. If you are 18 in Brazil, you are still seen as a minor, not an adult. Respect our culture.

The thing she needs to understand that if something happens to her (or any tourist that decides to stay here), I am not responsible nor is the hostel responsible for her as she is here and acts on her own free will.

For the most part, people who come here and experience the life, enjoy their time spent here. Whether you are a tourist, volunteer or just someone looking for a cheap place to stay, there are things that need to be known to make your stay more pleasant.


First, before coming here, please read up on the history of favelas and of Rocinha. Not all favelas are created equal. They are all different and have their own unique "vibe". That being said, they can also be dangerous for the ill informed. Try to get information about the complexities of life here. This place is not cut and dry. The police will not be there to "save" you if you screw up. Get it out of your mind that Brazil (or the favela) is like back home because it isn't!

This is NOT your home. You do not live here. You are a GUEST in this community. Your behavior reflects not only on you but the country you come from. There are rules that must be adhered to. Just because you are visiting or volunteering here does NOT give you free reign to do whatever YOU want. Think the same if I was to stay in your community. Would I do whatever I want? Of course NOT!

In regards to behavior, a few years back a guy from Europe came to Rocinha to a funk party. I was not with him, but another guide was. The European dude got drunk (a big No-No here) and started harassing this girl. A few moments later a guy put a gun to this guys' head and kicked him out of the party. So, how does this relate? Its a foreigner (who speaks no Portuguese) coming here acting in a way that THEY think is ok. This being said, most people that visit here understand they can't act like they do at home. But I mention this because there are foreign young people out there that just don't "get it."

To avoid problems or mis-communications is best if you at least come here with some Portuguese fluency. To not know any Portuguese means you then have to rely on others to help you which makes you dependant. So, the people in the favela that you rely on for help, you must show respect for them and be thankful that they are going out of THEIR way to help YOU. I help a lot of people and as an elder of 53 years old I expect guests, to respect me in what I tell them, especially when I am old enough to be their parent. In Brazilian culture, youth do not argue or talk back to adults.  After all, I was born here and this is my home! And I am not trying to be an asshole. I am trying to give you advice for your own safety. Remember you are not from here!

The favela is a very busy area of about 300,000 people. There's lots going on here. The majority of those who live here are honest hard working people who just earn less money. But there is an underside to living here that sometimes is not always as obvious.

The police are in the community but there are still drug traffickers (the "guys") living here carrying out their business.
They have two main rules:
1.) Don't mess in any way with their business.
2.) Don't take pictures of them.

Just as any human being, they are no different. If somebody tells me not to take their photo, I don't, out of RESPECT for that person regardless of who they are .

There are areas in the favela where you shouldn't take fotos. We who live here know of these places. We make sure our guests know, that there will be trouble if you break this rule. The "guys" could take your camera, they could beat you up or they could kill you. This is very serious. So, If you decide to come to stay here, please ask your host where you can take fotos.

The "guys" have two fears, and rightfully so, that the person taking fotos is a undercover cop or undercover journalist. I am sure if you were a drug dealer that you wouldn't want your foto taken either. Many of these "guys" are hanging out in the tight alleyways and with all the foot traffic, you are most likely (if you are a foreigner), not going to know who these "guys" are. The problem is many people hang out in the alleyways, so the "guys" mix in with regular members of the community.


As tour guides and hosts who have hostels, hotels etc., following this specific rule (about not taking fotos in certain areas) is very important. If for some reason, the "guys" think that we are not telling our guests about this rule and problems continue, they could threaten us. Unlike in foreign countries, going to the police is NOT an option. (That's a whole other blog post).

They could shut down the hostel or tours here because they see them (the tourists) as a threat. This is something that foreigners don't think about. You, as a foreigner can leave and go back to where you came from. But we could lose the way we earn our income due to somebody's selfishness. This means myself (and other guides) and my friend who owns the hostel, would have no way to provide for our families. And how about the businesses you threaten to destroy all because you feel entitled to take a few fotos because you think its your right? Some businesses here also rely on tourists as they spend a lot of money in the favela. So, Yes, this is a serious issue!

If you are going to stay in a favela, these are the things need to be thought about. Again it all comes back to Respect!

If you are a volunteering here, you are not special and don't have special rights.
If you go away tomorrow, life will go on here as usual. It's nice that you want to help but still, you are a visitor to this community and you need to show respect to the community.

Just as I, if I were to go to your community, I would certainly do the same.
As long as people understand this, there will be no problems.

Please, all I ask you before visiting or staying in Rocinha is to do your research!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Never give up on your belief" - Diego Buchecha (Nockdown Brasil) Part 1

This is my Story

My name is Diego Buchecha. I started training in Muay Thai Kickboxing when I was 16 years old when I began to work and was able to pay the monthly fee to train.  was able to train because I was working to pay for the tuition  of the school. It was not easy because I had there was little opportunity to train in some martial arts and my parents didn't have the conditions to permit me to train in any sport, especially fighting sports.

I trained, fought and participated in many courses and seminars all that gave knowledge and wisdom about Muay Thai. I wanted this, to be the best in the world, but several times I almost stopped as it was difficult to organize training, work and school.  

One particular day as a strong blue belt in Muay Thai, which is a grade of intermediate rank and respected, my teacher called to me to suggest that I create a social project because he said in Muay Thai there was not a lot of money to be earned. With having a social project he explained that I could earn a living through teaching and fighting. At first I found it boring and didn't really want to do it. My life was already full with work, school and training. Why create another job that I didn't have time for? 

They convinced me that the only way I could be able to live, fight and have more time to train was to do this social project. My dream was to be the best in the world because in Rio, I was already one of the best in my weight category. Thinking about the possible opportunities I had began this project.

We were able to get this space with three other Muay Thai guys and we started classes for kids between the ages of 5 to 10 years old. Unfortunately things did not go as planned. After 2 months we received no help and no money and two Muay Thai guys that was with me, quit. After another month, the other guy quit. 

My teacher called me and said it was best to stop after the project could not receive aid to help run the classes. As its really hard to do a project without support, we had 60 children who were loving it. But out of respect and by my teachers orders, the next day, I did not go to the class. It was strange as at that time, I was the only one teaching the kids. When they realized that I didn't go to class, I was home asleep when somebody knocked on my door and something incredible happened. 

When I opened the door, I saw 60 children stuffed into this tight alleyway where I used to live and asking what happened and why they weren't training that day? I called all the kids in close and explained that I had received the order to stop the classes. At this moment I saw the faces of these children changing from smiling to sad and somber looks when one child spoke out and asked, "If its not going to continue, why did it start?" 

Wow! This gave me a shock but gave the courage to me to fight with this guy even at the moment that he taught me all I know in the middle of this fight (for these kids). This started the story of "Nockdown Brasil", and of Mestre Diego Buchecha. My teacher was pissed off that I didn't follow his orders to stop and would keep me out of competitions, courses and seminars. It was like he tried to black list me for not stopping the project. Eventually I was able to earn money that also transformed into love. I loved being there and see the happiness with the children and their mothers or fathers when they would come and congratulate me saying their children have improved not only in the sport but also in their behavior at home and at school, all because of my classes. I still wasn't satisfied, I began to accept older children as the project grew into children, youth and adults.

My "teacher" at this point called me to have another talk with him. Claiming that he was losing money because of my project, he ordered me to stop mine and threatened me that if I didn't that he would kick me of his Muay Thai fight team. 

He saw it as every student that trained with me, was one less paying student for him. Since I knew everyone who was there and knew they could not afford to pay for classes, if I stopped, the students would be without a sport, fun and a dream. Then again, I disobeyed his orders, I continued and he kicked me off his Fight Team.

I was saddened by this, what would I do? How would I continue as an instructor and I was not really a trained teacher. I lacked the degree yet to reach black belt and by the rules of Muay Thai, you need to get permission to teach from an master and you need to represent an existing team. So, I had to ask for help from a teacher who I knew and admired, the Mestre Shyriu de Mesquita. I explained the situation to him and asked him to help me. He registered me as his student and put his project in the name of his team. Mestre Mesquita knew my work and my fighting ability. There would be events where he would not take more students, just because he wanted to see me fight. He liked my fighting style and enjoyed having me on the team. But he would not accept my request of putting my project in his team. He encouraged me to register my own Muay Thai Team, and this is how Nockdown Brasil was born. I explained to the Carioca League of Muay Thai the whole situation as my old teacher tried spread lies and tell bad things about me but thank goodness, they all knew my nature. They knew I was a good teacher and saw it was not me who was wrong and then everyone began to help me.   

For one year I left Rocinha to train with Mestre Mesquita three times a week to prepare for my Black Belt grading as "Professor" (Certified Teacher). One of these days I left one of my older students to take care of our kids project. In the middle of my training I received a phone call from my student saying that my ex-teacher and his brother were there with sticks saying they were going to beat my student in front of the children and take over the project. I called the Muay Thai Federation and my mestre explaining the situation and to come to Rocinha to help resolve this. When we arrived the problem had already been resolved by the president of the Rua 2 Community Center where the project still exists today. After I still received threats from them until the day I decided to go up to them without fear about what could happen. 

After all this confusion passed it was time for our first time participating in a Muay Thai event. I took 10 students from my project that have never used boxing gloves before, they trained only with bare hands with students who did the same. And what a surprise out of my 10 students, 9 were champions and 7 were by knock out.

Looking forward, the project is growing day by day. Everyone wants to be champion and in the favelas whatever light at the end of the tunnel, whatever chance, for them to leave their situation to be able to have fame, money and glory, they embrace and do everything to not lose this opportunity!

In 2009 I realized my dream of becoming a black belt, my social project, my team and I began to get well known in Rio De Janeiro. Our team was feared in all the competitions we took part in. To endorse this growth in 2011, this project "Nockdown Brasil", with no money, no sponsorship, or help, was endorsed by the Carioca League of Muay Thai as the best team in Rio de Janeiro. 

Nockdown Brasil Fight Team, Coaches & Trainers (Diego Buchecha center)

 From this time forwards things have started to really improve. I have been called to give classes in various places, academies by the referral of Mestre Flavio Almendra, president of the Carioca League of Muay Thai, with whom I passed a lot of time learning how to give classes and accompanying him during his classes. And when he could not give classes, I would fill in. I started getting a lot of private students and I was finally able to live off of teaching Muay Thai. Many times I heard family member saying that I was using Muay Thai as an excuse not to work giving free classes to others children while starving at home and not even having money to pay the rent.

Everything had changed and I was recognized in the fighting world. In 2014 I had the opportunity to fight in Thailand. I went camping there and at the end of my trip, I had a professional fight . Where everything began, created the fighting style that I am so passionate about. I sold my moto bike that I had earned through savings from Muay Thai. I was there to realize this, one of the best dreams I have ever imagined, I trained, I fought, I won! 

I returned to Brasil with a great experience and classes were growing. Many famous and important people wanted to train with me and I started to gain a status as a legitimate trainer. This made all of those who tried to discourage me saying I everything I did was crazy, now they were congratulating me. 

Diego Buchecha & Anderson Silva 

Today, this project now has 5 teachers that were developed in this project, with diverse titles and team, several individual titles and team titles. Three with the core project being sustained by me and the guys that came out of here. Now giving Muay Thai classes and want others to participate. A lot of the youth are promising competitors in Muay Thai and MMA. Best of all we are arranging to take 3 athletes to Thailand to compete in the World Championships. They have fought enough to qualify and I have done my part fighting still to help pay for them to realize their dream to compete in Thailand. I am ready to reach to the top and going to Thailand for the second time to the place even in my most optimistic dreams, and this time as part as the coaching staff of Team Brazil Muay Thai. 

Never give up on your beliefs!