Jiu-Jitsu in 20 Different Countries
A little over two years ago, Hillary and I closed the small gym we had opened, sold our mats, and decided to travel as much as possible. 2 years and 20 countries later, we have more than accomplished this goal. Thanks to BJJ, I have gotten to have amazing experiences around the world. I felt like I was on an episode of the travel shows I loved so much. I jumped in the freezing ocean in Greenland, I fed a kangaroo at the Steve Irwin zoo in Australia, I learned to snowboard on the Austrian Alps, I surfed for the first time in Costa Rica a few weeks later, I went off-roading at night in Guam, and I paddle-boarded around Roman ruins in Sardinia.
More exhilarating and more rewarding than any of those things, though, was getting to meet and train with a kaleidoscope of people. We shared this common thread of jiu-jitsu, but the range of styles and cultures and perspectives we encountered on the mat was just as much an adventure as anything we did as tourists off the mat.
Through our travels, I got to learn a lot about the BJJ community. Here are some of my observations:
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will open many doors. It never ceases to amaze me how embracing the BJJ community is. Whether it was being invited to grab drinks after training, home cooked meals after seminars, or airport pick-ups in the middle of the night. Having a friend in common, gotten a roll in at a camp, or taken one of my classes in the past was enough to be treated like longtime friends. I am truly grateful for all the people we have met along the way, you have made the last two years unbelievable.
BJJ can take root anywhere. No matter what remote area of the world we headed BJJ had managed to blossom, from a gym in the community center in Nuuk, Greenland to a small garage gym in the south of Chile, to gyms on small islands in the Caribbean, Mediterranean or Pacific. BJJ was there and thriving. No matter how small the population of the place, it seems that someone bit by the bug got some mats and started convincing friends to roll around on the ground with them.
Modern BJJ spreads like wildfire. With YouTube and all the grappling PPVs available these days, it seems like anywhere I went the modern game was present—berimbolo fans, crazy lapel guards, or fans of the modern leg lock game. Developments that took years to spread before now seemed to happen almost automatically now due to the overwhelming amount of not only footage but also online instructionals. A willingness to research and competent training partners will get you pretty far in adding material to your game.
There is always a foodie in the room. I am not alone in my love for food. I was always able to find a fellow foodie to show me the best nearby spots for an after-training meal. I got to eat amazing sushi in Tokyo, an amazing charcuterie board in Rome, Harkar in Iceland, roasted Christmas duck in Denmark, fresh caught prawns in Greenland, steak in Argentina, BBQ in Korea, scweinhaxle in Munich, or the most amazing al pastor tacos in Mexico. I am glad I got to burn some calories through BJJ otherwise I would be pushing 300 pounds right now. It also lead to adventures like the time we went to a TGI Friday's in Leeds England where the waiters had fake American accents, or the time—unbeknownst to us—went on the Overeem diet by eating horse burgers in Sardinia.
You can’t escape BJJ drama. No matter how small the community was there is always some kind of drama around grown man wearing pajamas. Whether schools in small towns split and become rivals, beef with the local judo programs, or school that prohibit their students from training somewhere else, jiu-jitsu seems to breed drama by default.
Female black belts are still unicorns. Plenty of times during our travels, we met girls excited to train with Hillary. Not only had they never trained with a female black belt, but they had never met one in person. It was really amazing to see my Hillary inspire other girls to stick with the sport.
Wrestling still hard to find outside of the US and few European countries. Whenever I teach, I always asked the students present what they would like to learn. I was surprised how often I was asked about takedowns, specifically wrestling takedowns like single legs and double legs. We often hear it from foreigners, but I never fully understood how fortunate I was to not only wrestle in High school but have training partners with amazing wrestling.
Eastern Europeans still love the Kesa Gatame. Perhaps an upbringing in sports like Judo, Sambo, and different styles of wrestling where you can win by pin is the reason for this, but compare this trend to the rest of the world and you’ll struggle to find a deeper concentration of grapplers who love Kesa. Training partners with good Kesa Gatame pressure will improve your guard retention and takedown defense. There are few things in grappling worse than being stuck under someone trying to remove your head from your shoulders.
Tatamis are a luxury. Most schools in the U.S. have beautiful tatami style mats, but most of the schools I visited make do with much less. We trained on everything from puzzle mats, to wrestling mats, to tarps over shredded tires, to gymnastics mats taped together. No matter the type of surface, training was always great, but we had to think about it twice before teaching takedowns.
Jiu-jitsu nomads are everywhere. My friend Christian wrote a book about his adventures as a BJJ Globetrotter that has inspired a giant community of travelers that love to train jiu-jitsu. I have made many friends that I have seen in different part of the globe for different camps, tournaments, or while visiting local academies. The BJJ community is richer for this roaming practitioners that visit areas where black belts are scarce.
For the first time in two years, I am home, and I don't have any flights book in the upcoming months. It has been quite the adventure. I remember being a kid and playing with my globe and telling my parents all the places I was going to visit when I grew up. I have been able to get through most of my bucket list, but after we recharge our batteries by spending the summer at home we will on the road again. If you would like to host Hillary and I for a seminar you can find some info here.