Following my time in Vegas not competing at the Masters Worlds, I headed to New York to stay with friends and sample some of the Jiu-Jitsu based delights that the Big Apple has to offer. The four-hour overnight flight afforded me little respite, with a few hours of uncomfortable sleep, I headed straight out into the chaos of the city morning and onto the mats at Vitor Shaolin’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The class happened to be a competition session, it will be a surprise to no one that this was a mistake; after busting out a few jumping jacks in the warm-up, I started to gas. Two minutes of positional sparring and my lungs were burning like I’d woken up after having blazed forty cigs the night before. I spent the remainder of the session open-mouthed, battling to suck in as much air as humanly possible to prevent my life force from expiring.
My friends, Fernando and Justine Reals, had very kindly offered to put me up during my time in the city. Fernando is one of Shaolin’s brown belts and he teaches at an affiliate school in the Bronx called Bronx Jiu-Jitsu. This lead me to the decision to train with Shaolin out of the plethora of other world-class academies in New York and split my time between both schools. My decision was also swayed by Terere’s stories of his competitive days where he maintained that Shaolin was his favourite and toughest opponent.
Having trained at Renzo Gracie’s Academy on my last visit to New York and only seeing the main man in one session where he taught one technique; I wasn’t sure such how much of Shaolin I would actually be seeing. However, to my surprise the dude was always on the mats, he lead practically every session, from the white belts all the way through to the advanced guys. Very similar to Terere, he oozed charisma, you can’t help but smile being in his presence, whether he is telling stories of his own glory days on the mats or giving his view on the current state of MMA. During each class it was imperative to impress him as he roamed the class like the Brazilian Harry Callahan telling cats to ‘make my day’.
During my visit I was also treated to the splendidly bizarre sight of watching this multiple time world champion and legend of the sport attempt to ride a hover-board through the corridors of a Manhattan office block. Safe to say Michael J Fox is still the only dude who can look fresh riding one of these bad-boys.
The academy felt very much like the vibe of New York in general, the classes lasted an hour, cats come in, do a quick warm-up, rep a few techniques, get their roll on, and get out and on to the next thing.
Halfway through my time in New York, I took a trip to Bean Town. The allure of seeing my favourite dudes in tights try to defeat one another in predetermined contests was too tempting to pass up. Arriving at an ungodly hour; after a few highly uncomfortable hours kipping on a Greyhound bus, I was thoroughly unprepared to wrestle other men in my PJs, but did so nonetheless. Having done a little research, I made my way just outside the city to visit Boston’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy. I was impressed to discover that the academy had been there for twenty years, in fact they had just celebrated their twentieth anniversary the previous weekend; two black belts and the two brown belts were all rocking fresh new belts as they were newly minted. The structure of the session involved a slow roll to get warmed up followed by four techniques from the butterfly guard. This lead into five-minute rounds of sparring. It was a noticeably older crowd for the day session, but the standard was high with my purple belt being the only colour that wasn’t brown or black! The rolling was a lot of fun but not overly competitive with dudes not attempting to assassinate one another. This visit was well worth depriving myself of sleep for, I meet some seriously good guys who welcomed me with open arms and shared their knowledge freely.
After an evening of watching Brock Lesnar suplex dudes on their swedes, eating Lucky Charms to the point of an intestinal explosion and trying to avoid any form of infectious disease at my contagiously AIDS-ridden hostel; I had another full day in Boston. I spent my day training with the guys at the Florian Martial Arts Center. The academy was ran by the brother of famed MMA Fighter Kenny Florian, Keith Florian, who looked freakishly like his brother; he is a long time and accomplished black belt in his own right. The evening session, a No-Gi class taught by Professor Florian, saw the beautiful tatame filled with an interesting mix of dudes, from MMA fighters, collegiate wrestlers, to recreational grapplers.
Professor Florian opened the session up with some Q&A trouble-shooting, before exploring a sweep, back-take, and submission from the butterfly guard. The sparring went from fighting for your life to some chilled out rounds. When the class concluded everyone was brought into a circle and a mantra was recited; I’d never experienced this in a Jiu-Jitsu class and thought it was an interesting idea worth exploring. The mantra ensured the session was ended in a positive way by everyone. This positive conclusion is especially important when you have one of those days where you have sucked beyond belief, and you would otherwise go home questioning why you even exist and invariably torture your loved ones about something completely unrelated as a direct consequence of your suckage. Professor Florian himself was also very cool, after we finished he insisted on carving out a space on the mats which were already busy with another class, so we could catch a roll in before I left. He thoughtfully broke down his rear naked choke set-up after savagely choking the life out of me on multiple occasions.
Arriving back in NYC from Boston after another couple of mobility-destroying hours of coach sleep, I was accosted and abused in the subway. A large and seemingly unstable lady took time out of her morning to scream in my face. She happily informed me that my Mum was a whore. As I was reeling from that revelation, she went on to detail the suffrage of Robert De Niro and the rest of the black peoples. Before I had a chance to wrap my sleep-deprived swede around this information, she had moved on to terrorise more unsuspecting victims with confusing views on ethnicity.
My time in New York concluded with a trip to Unity Jiu-Jitsu. Having checked my man’s video over at BJJ Hacks, I knew this spot was gonna be tough. I’m not afraid to admit that I had some nervous palm sweating going on as we made our way there on the subway with a quick detour to peep the Big Pun memorial in the South Bronx. Nothing could have prepared me for what was in store. I really should have took Pun’s advice about “packing the mac in the back of the ac” as I was about to take part in the toughest session of my life. When dropping in on another academy as long as you walk in there respectfully and armed with a smile, you are met with reciprocal smiles and are made to feel welcome. There was none of this at Unity, walking in there you could cut the atmosphere with a knife; dudes were ready to go to war. This isn’t to say it was hostile, dudes were cordial with handshakes and introductions, but there wasn’t any time for pleasantries.
Of course, arriving twenty minutes early, I got to witness first hand, The Miyao Brothers drilling berimbolos. During the introduction head coach, Murilo Santana announced his intentions for the session, which included a points deficit for each roll. Due to my general fear, I wasn’t able take in a single word he said, focusing instead on his wild and manly beard which managed to emasculate me and my pre-pubescent facial hair before training commenced.
The session began by drilling our own techniques – we did roughly eight rounds. This went into guard passing with our partner at eighty percent, but of course nobody really knows what eighty percent looks like so we just started to kill one another. We then went into groups of three for rounds with a points and advantages deficit, this involved the third man being the referee. We did three minutes from the top and three minutes from the bottom. One man came out and you repeated the same thing with the fresh man, twelve minutes of rolling to the death was when things started to get tough! Trying to ref the other dudes after this was rough going especially as Murilo was walking around and testing people on the scores. This 5×10 minute rounds, at about three rounds, I felt like the outset of death creeping in. During one of these rounds, I noticed a large water spillage, as I instructed my partner to move, I noticed it was actually a giant puddle of sweat! It was at this point that I became acutely aware of the sweat practically cascading from the walls and the roof.
The session finished with ‘sprint’ rounds; we were instructed to go one hundred percent for a minute, I was under the impression we had just been doing this for the last couple of hours. We did five rounds of this; by that point I was mindfully holding down the vomit. The most difficult part of the session actually came when we had finished training and lined up and shake hands, I was unable to make eye contact with anyone as I was genuinely struggling to stay on my feet and avoid passing out.
I was flying out of the city a few hours later and spent the rest of the day feeling horribly ill and unable to construct a cohesive sentence. I rode the subway to the airport, which unfortunately coincided with rush hour. I held onto a railing for dear life as cold sweat dripped from my head, arms and chest; landing on the ground, bags and arms of others fellow passengers. I will never forget the disgusted and fearful looks on their faces like I was coveting some infectious disease. You might not be able to gather this from these words but what an incredible and unforgettable experience.