The Lessons I Learned On My 10-Day BJJ Road Trip
About this time last year, I was in the slump of all personal slumps. I needed to get away from the nine to five, from the monotony of routine. I needed to step away from everything … except jiu-jitsu.
I decided on a week-long road trip from New York to Florida. I would stop at every major jiu-jitsu destination along the way, training, trading secrets, and experiencing all the best jiu-jitsu the East Coast had to offer.
I planned rigorously. I polled social media for recommendations on best places to train. I designed hypothetical routes and cross-referenced them with academy schedules to maximize my time and get the most jiu-jitsu possible. I figured out where to stop for food, reserved AirBnBs, and calculated my time to ensure I would never miss a class or an open mat.
I settled on one route south along the coast and another route further inland on my return trip.
I ordered a value pack of antifungal wipes and cases of finger tape and piles of memory cards for my camera. I packed every gi and rash guard I owned into a plastic bin in my car beside a palate of water jugs.
I was excited for a week of hard training, and perhaps some self-discovery, as I departed on my birthday.
What I got instead were some hard-learned lessons.
Lesson 1: It’s About the Destinations, Not the Journey
Forget the old adage. Where you’re going is as important as how you get there. I planned my trip with jiu-jitsu, and only jiu-jitsu in mind. I allotted plenty of time for training and travel, but only a few brief stops to get out of the car and off the mat and experience the country.
Shortly after my first stop, I learned that this was a mistake. I trained in Maryland at my friend’s academy in Salisbury, and afterward jaunted over to Ocean City on a sunny Memorial Day.
I had an immediate longing to hit the beach, or to go exploring or to sit down at a cool bar. Instead I kept to my schedule, stopping for a coffee and a bowl of açai before getting back on the road toward North Carolina.
I was again overcome with FOMO after training in Wilmington, NC. I took a recommendation to visit Wrightsville Beach, a 4-mile long coastal island which was teeming with summer energy. I was eager to stop and enjoy the sun, but I had only enough time to drive up and down the main road and stop for lunch before my schedule called me back to the interstate.
When I stopped in Savannah, GA for dinner, a local bar owner noticed my jiu-jitsu t-shirt and told me he would put me up so I could train at his academy the next morning. Something about Savannah called to me. It felt like a world all its own, and I had an opportunity to see it from a native perspective. But my schedule wouldn’t allow it, so I declined the invitation and took a brief, wistful walk around the city before hightailing it to Jacksonville, FL.
I was dead-set on a jiu-jitsu filled vacation. I only had ten days, so there was no time to stop for experience or exploration or relaxation. In short, there was no time for vacation.
I hardly gave myself time to sleep.
Lesson 2: Rest is Crucial
When I arrived in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, I took a few hours to recover. I stopped for lunch and sat by the pool, relaxing before my evening training session. I was low on sleep, but I had made up the difference with coffee and energy drinks.
I didn’t feel well after training, so I skipped dinner and went to bed. I assured myself that I would sleep it off. I had no morning jiu-jitsu planned, so I could sleep in.
Did I ever.
I woke up at 6 a.m. to dozens of missed calls and texts. Delirious, I shot out of bed thinking there must have been an emergency. Scrolling through my messages, I realized there was no trouble at home. The concern was in Florida with me. I had slept for 30 hours straight.
That was just the beginning of my problems. I had also developed bronchitis and laryngitis.
Stubbornly, I made the next several scheduled stops, hoping that by the time I arrived in Virginia I would be healthy enough to train at Upstream BJJ, or Fifty/50 Martial Arts. But my symptoms were only getting worse. Defeated, I cut the Pennsylvania leg out of the trip and ventured home.
I can’t explicitly blame energy drinks and lack of sleep for my illness, but they must have been contributing factors. In general, rest is important. That goes double when you’re driving for six hours a day between training sessions.
Lesson 3: Be Frugal, Not Cheap
I cut corners every chance I could using AirBnB. In some instances it worked out. I had a comfortable night in Jacksonville, FL for just $35, and met a welcoming family with an equally welcoming Golden Retriever in Charleston, SC for $67.
But when it failed, it failed splendidly. I had a night scheduled in Greenville, NC during the southbound leg. I drove the entire evening and most of the night through Virginia and the woods of North Carolina. It was nearly 3 a.m. by the time I arrived.
I punched the code into the keypad and the light turned green, but the door did not open. I tried the combination a dozen times, but nothing happened. The lock was jammed. I called and texted my host, but this early in the morning I knew success was unlikely, so I settled instead on a nearby hotel for the night. My $45 night quickly tripled in price.
On my return trip, in the height of my illness, I stopped in Richmond, VA, where I had reserved a room for $46. I thought I walked into the wrong house. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with clutter, and the host was auditioning drummers for his band in the living room downstairs. He stopped me before I could reverse out the door and insisted on showing me the room, highlighting the smart TV and clawfoot bathtub. I was more focused on the dusty air and the filthy mattress.
I ran out for dinner and then directly to the nearest hotel.
You’re not bound to fail if you pinch pennies while reserving places to stay, but in my experience, it’s about 50-50.
Jiu-jitieros often talk about being humbled. Our art shows us our capacity, but it also teaches us to recognize our limits. My 10-day journey was much the same. I was convinced I could rough it, convinced I could train and drive all day, rest be damned. I was convinced that I needed jiu-jitsu and only jiu-jitsu, that the traditional travel experience could wait.
I was wrong on all three accounts.
I’ve started planning my trip for next summer. And now, I hope, I’ve earned a stripe or two in roadtripping. I’ll be experimenting with a new approach: more days of travel, less training and driving per day, more sleep and consideration for where I’m sleeping, more quality vacation time.
Last year was roadtrip porrada. Next time, I’m hoping for a flow roll.
Corey Stockton is a brown belt at East Coast United BJJ in White Plains, NY under Jojo Guarin. He competes more often than is healthy, and spends the rest of his free time writing about other, far superior competitors for FloGrappling.