Smoked Fish and Single Legs in Reykjavik

As I type this, I am sitting on a plane on my way to Greenland for a BJJ Globetrotter camp. Since there are no direct flights from the U.S., Hillary and I flew into Reykjavik, Iceland yesterday and had a little over 24 hours to kill during a layover. We had been talking about traveling to Reykjavik for a while now, so when Christian Graugart messaged me about coming to Greenland to train I was super excited. I had just renewed my passport and was itching to get new stamps on it, and I saw an excuse to stop off in Iceland along the way. 

We arrived at our hotel around 8 am and ate some amazing hotel breakfast. I love Scandinavian countries and their obsession with smoked fish. We opted to do the usually touristy stuff and started walking around the city to see the sights, but the mat was calling us. We got in touch with a friend that trains at Mjolnir (Gunnar Nelson’s home base), and committed to hitting the 5pm no-gi class. 

Mjolnir is one of the biggest gyms I’ve visited. It has 3 different rooms for classes, big locker rooms, and a beautiful lobby with couches and a TV with boxing, MMA, and grappling on at all times. We paid our mat fee, got changed, and went upstairs to see where class would be held: a huge matted room with a cage in the far back. After a quick warm up, Thrainn instructed us on single leg defense, and eventually we moved into sparring. 

Sparring was interesting because we did specific training from the single leg position. One person would start the round in on the single leg. If you got the takedown, you would restart from a neutral position and work again for the takedown. If you escaped the single leg, you would keep wrestling until the takedown, then reset on neutral and work for takedown again. Once you did your two “rounds,” whoever started the round with his leg on the single would rotate out and line up. I wrestled in high school, and have been training BJJ for a long time, and this was the first time I had ever done specific sparring from this position. 

I really liked it, and added it to mental bag of tricks for teaching takedowns. I see a lot of BJJ programs putting a lot of emphasis on single leg entries, but not enough on the actual control and finish, which are in my opinion the most important part.

I remember my friend Andrew, who is a very accomplished wrestler and BJJ black belt, hammering this in my head as I kept asking him to help me improve my shot. He told me that my problem wasn’t my shot. I was getting to the leg OK, but my position and finishes were terrible. It took me a long time to fix this things, and drills like the one we did at Mjolnir help you get hours on the parts of the battle that can be hard to isolate in a live roll, forcing you to really figure out your positioning for control and for troubleshooting counters. On the other end of that same drill, getting reps defending singles once your leg is up is a very important skill to have as well, and one that really frustrates your opponents.

After doing takedowns for about 20 minutes we did some regular sparring, I got two awesome rolls in, took some pictures, and headed back to our hotel.

If you ever get a chance to visit Reykjavik please do. It is one of the coolest cities I have ever visited, and you are guaranteed to get some good training at Mjolnir. Everyone was super welcoming, and the school is a short walk from the city center, so it is super convenient for tourists.

The bigger takeaway, though, is how much easier it has become to find really good training. Iceland by most measurements is not a large country, and while they are ramping up their emphasis on tourism, it is not nearly as busy as other hotspots around the world. But jiu-jitsu is there, and it’s good jiu-jitsu. Thanks to grapplers like Gunnar Nelson and the team of instructors he has surrounded himself with, a new hotbed of jiu-jitsu is growing in what might have once been considered an unlikely place.

And we’re seeing this sort of growth all over the world. It used to be that you had to go to Rio or to L.A. to get truly exceptional training. It’s not like that anymore, so if you are planning a jiu-jitsu road trip, expand your horizons and visit one of these new jiu-jitsu hotbeds. You’ll experience something unique and special every time.

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