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The massive tattooed wrists tighten around the New Times correspondent's neck, constricting both his windpipe and the flow of blood to his brain as effectively as giant human pliers. The reporter begins to second-guess his decision to make journalism his career, and, more specifically, the folly of sitting in on a class with Marcus Silveira, the Brazilian jujitsu master whose vice-grip pincers are currently strangling him. "I try to help people," Silveira had assured the writer when they first met. "When you reach some level in the martial arts, it's not about being the tough guy or the strong guy. It's about being the intelligent guy. It's stupid to use what you know to hurt people."
As temporary loss of consciousness or permanent loss of voice seem like real possibilities, the writer can hope only that Silveira is true to his word, and that he has no ax to grind with the fourth estate. The New Times staffer had stepped onto the mat in downtown Miami's Bayfront Health Club (where Silveira imparts his brutal brand of brawling wisdom) with no suicidal notions of seriously tussling with the six-foot-one, 250-pound, 30-year-old Silveira. He merely had hoped to make a respectable showing and not appear overly wimplike. But pride goes out the window when the scribe senses the cartilage in his Adam's apple popping. It is extremely difficult to capitulate verbally when one feels as though his larynx is being squeezed out through his ears. Fortunately Silveira has explained to his newest student the safety valve known as "tapping out" A patting your adversary with your free hand to indicate surrender, the jujitsu competitor's equivalent of saying "uncle."
The writer lucks out. Silveira holds no grudge against newsfolk, and releases the hold quickly when he feels the desperate tap on his shoulder. The martial artist's green eyes twinkle as he says, "You see, it's not necessary to throw a punch or make a pretty kick. You just have to know the techniques. It doesn't matter how big [an attacker] is or how strong. If you have the knowledge, you can defend yourself."
Silveira is willing to back up this conviction with hard currency. "I don't want to go on TV or radio and make a big challenge to call attention to myself, like I have no respect," explains the Rio de Janeiro native in a no-nonsense voice flavored with a heavy Brazilian accent. "That is a stupid position. But I believe Brazilian jujitsu is the best fighting style. I am willing to go into a ring with anybody to prove it. If you really believe you can put Brazilian jujitsu down, it's time to show yourself. Put some money together A a minimum of $30,000 because it's not fair for you to be spending so much of your time training for nothing A and I'll put up the same amount and we'll call my lawyers and put a fight together. No holds barred. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyone."
To date no one has taken up Silveira on his two-year-old challenge. "People call me all the time and leave messages on my telephone putting Brazilian jujitsu down, saying how they can beat it. But they never leave a number. They just talk and talk," he shrugs. "I was reading in a magazine about this shoot fighter who weighs 280 pounds. It called him the toughest man in Florida. He was talking about putting up $100,000. I called my lawyers and said, 'Let's put it together.' And right away he run from me like a chicken. But he's still out there talking about how his style can beat anyone. I believe if you don't know what you're talking about, the best position you can have is stay quiet."
Sgt. Carlos Hernandez, public information officer for the Hialeah police department and a black belt and instructor of Jeet Kune Do (the fighting style popularized by actor Bruce Lee), doubts that a rush of contenders will reach for the gauntlet Silveira has thrown down.
"I've seen footage of him fighting in tournaments in Brazil," Hernandez reveals. "Let me tell you, he is bad. Not only does he have size and strength, but he has amazing quickness and mental attributes. Very few of the martial artists I have met would I be worried about being in a real street fight with. But Marcus's style of Brazilian jujitsu is predicated on winning a fight, not who can break boards with their bare hands, or who can kick prettier. It's about beating the other guy, and they have plenty of tools to do it. That's Marcus's life. He eats it, he sleeps it, he lives it. He's a world-class fighter, probably the best in Florida, bar none."
Hernandez is so convinced of Silveira's prowess that he offered the Brazilian a bit part in Mortal Contact, a low-budget action movie shot in and around South Florida in August and September of last year. Hernandez produced the film. "You get to see Marcus in action in two fights," Hernandez enthuses. "But he plays a bad guy."
According to the cop/budding movie producer, in the past three years, Brazilian jujitsu has enjoyed an enormous worldwide surge in popularity thanks in no small measure to the dominance of its practitioners in a burgeoning no-holds-barred competition known as the Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC). "The Brazilians have been doing these all-out fights for nearly 70 years," notes Hernandez. "But prior to the Ultimate Fighting Challenges, only a few martial artists in this country had ever heard of Brazilian jujitsu."