Juijitsu in Boston(ish)

This week I find myself in quaint Burlington, Mass (on hour north of Boston). While last week I was sipping Coronas on a tropical beach in Panama, thankfully isolated from the world, this week I am forcibly isolated in the woods without a rental car. Three weeks ago, when I was in the Boston area, I made my way to Florian’s Martial Arts Center in Brookline for the second time. This time the lack of personal transport forced me to adjust the scope of my search for somewhere to train.

Google maps showed Fenix Fight Club in nearby Woburn (4 miles away).  Ten minutes and twenty dollars later (Cabs in the ‘burbs are freaking expensive!), I found myself in front of a shuttered fitness club on a lonely industrial road. As the cab drove away, I could almost hear the slasher flick overture building. Luckily, I stuck it out and found the gym tucked in the back of the complex.


The front area of the gym looked like someone’s living room, with nice wood flooring, a large sofa, television and I think I spotted an Xbox. Looked like a fun place to hang out while waiting for your class to start. I met the owner, Ronaldo Campos, who was nice. Though, the walls were covered with photos of him being ‘not so nice’ in various MMA matches and BJJ tournaments. Ronaldo earned big BJJ Karma points for not charging a mat fee.


We started off with some Spider Guard (pronounced “Spidah Gawd” by Bostonians), which coincidentally has also been a recent focus at my home gym, Ronin Athletics. Its become a popular guard and we’d been mainly drilling counters and defense. Unfortunately, I’ve had trouble incorporating it as part of my regular game probably for the reason that everyone is all too ready with a counter. Its hard to build a skill with everyone shutting you down at the low point on the learning curve. Conversely, I’ve realized that my Spider Guard defense is not as good as I thought, as I’ve visited other gyms and rolled with guys who do use it as their regular game. So, while I had a somewhat humbling experience as I practiced some basic Spider sweeps with a white belt who seemed to be picking it up more quickly, I welcomed the opportunity to build up the weak areas of my game.

During open mat, I rolled with some blues and a purple with mixed results. I also got to roll with Ronaldo. The highlight of my evening was that I almost took his back when I started the round my favorite De La Riva attack against the combat base. Granted, this was in the first few seconds and I had the advantage of surprise. He recovered very, very quickly and I must have tapped out five or six times in the next three minutes of the round, but I appreciated that he didn’t completely shut me down and let me work some defense and counters. I try to check my ego when some white belt gets one over on me, so I appreciate when higher belts do the same for me. Its good BJJ Karma. Plus, I had just gotten beat up by a big, stong blue belt, so seeing even the hint of a black belt’s back made me feel much better. (I try to leave ego out of it, but it doesn’t always work.)

When we were bowing out, Ronaldo thanked the group and “our friend from New York”. That was nice. I’ve enjoyed a good run of warm receptions at the last few gyms I’ve visited. It also made me smile because it reminded me of this scene from Donnie Brasco. Apparently, I’m now a made guy.

MMA versus Marathon: Two shades of crazy

Marathon outfit If you practice JiuJitsu for a while, one of the most common questions you’re likely to get is “Why?” — second only to “Is that like Karate?”  Since I don’t have any visible tatoos, I’m over 35, and don’t wear Ed Hardy regularly, this question is usually accompanied by a look and tone that implies that up until that point they thought I was normal, but now am something akin to a strange dog that may or may not be rabid.

Recently, I was asked this during a conversation with a group of collegues after one of them had just finished telling us how they were training for a marathon. Now, they didn’t ask him ‘why’ with furrowed brows and winces. In my opinion, willingly running 26 miles is an equally ‘abnormal’ activity that appeals to only a small subset of the general population. So, why does telling people about training for a marathon elicit, “Wow” and “That’s great.” but training for a JuiJitsu competiton gets, “Really?” and “Is that like Karate?”.

I’ve read a few books and articles that philosophize on ‘Why fighters fight?” . I read Sam Sheridan’s, A Fighter’s Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Fighting a while ago. (See my ‘review’). I like his term Gameness – the willingness to push oneself and test the limits of your ability. In a fight, your opponent is trying to reduce that willingness while maintaining his own. It’s a nice theory but not specific to fighting in my opinion — I would imagine that in a marathon your Gameness is similarly eroded by your ‘opponents’; time and distance.

In her column, Bitchslap: A Column About Women and Fighting, Susan Schorn puts a feminine and a much more humorous slant on her response to this question during a visit to the emergency room. I guess I’m lucky that when I tell people I fight that they’re only suspcious about my sanity rather than my sanity and which team I’m playing for.

In the same internet publication, Rory Douglas’ column, Notes From an Amateur Specator at Amatuer Mixed Martial Arts, starts with an article that pokes fun at the inabilty of fighters to articulate their reason for fighting. Now perhaps its unfair expect people to articulate their rationale for doing an activity that they enjoy, when that rationale is best expressed by their performance. They are articulate during that expression in a way that doesn’t necessarily translate into other forms of expression. You wouldn’t ask a writer to express his love for writing in an interpretive dance. Maybe that’s why a lot of interviews with athletes, singers, actors, and even writers can end up sounding like a beauty queen postulating on maps and such. It’s probably why you’re scratching your head as you read this.

Given how frequently I get this question, I should probably have a ready elevator pitch. Instead, I gave the group my rationale on why I like fighting in the context of why it’s preferable alternative to a marathon.

Requires Long Hours of Grueling Training:

Fight: Yes
Marathon: Yes

Potential for bodily harm

Fight: High
Marathon: High (The Runner’s World website has a whole section devoted to injuries)

Odds of Victory :

Fight: 1 in 2
Marathon: (Kenyan nationals) 1 in 20, (All Others) 1 in 44,000+

There you have it. I like to win. I’m not Kenyan. So if I’m putting in the long hours and risking injury, MMA offers an overall greater potential return on my investment.

Jiujitsu in Panama

While I write this, I’m waiting for a flight to Boston (might try Fenix Fight Club, since I’ll be stuck in Burlington, Mass without a rental car) and planning a trip to Argentina in a few weeks (just starting my research there). So, before I’m off on these next adventures, I wanted to get down my wonderful experience in Panama for anyone else who may want to follow in my footsteps.

In my last post, I talked about my plans to train Jiujitsu while in Panama for a wedding. The first thing I did was check out Christian Graugart’s BJJGlobetrotter blog for posts on his time in Panama. He mentions three gyms — Fightshape, Gracie Barra Panama, and Spartan — but doesn’t provide much detail on the actual locations.

Some Googling turned up Facebook pages and addresses for all three, but this wasn’t the end of the search. Apparently, Panama hasn’t gotten around to numbering buildings. This fact, combined with the rapid rate of new construction and changes to street names, makes Google maps next to useless in locating places. I’ve put together the map below to give you a more exact location on Fightshape and Gracie Barra Panama. (Update 7/30/11 – added approximate marker for Spartan) Generally, addresses are given in context of some local landmark like a store or shopping mall. (Panamanians love their shopping malls.) Panama’s not the most pedestrian-friendly city, either. Fortunately, taxis are plentiful and cheap — $3 to $5 for most trips. (If it’s more you’re getting the Gringo Tax.) I used Radio Taxi, 221-1932.


Fightshape Fightshape

Web: http://www.fight-shape.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FIGHTSHAPE.PTY?sk=info
Location: Calle 65A Este – between San Francisco and Via Porras, 01100 Panama City, Panama
Email: info@fight-shape.com
Phone: +507-397.2575
Mobile: +507-6054.1218

Fightshape2 On our first day, my wife went for a run in the Parque Omar and afterwards we went looking for Fightshape. The gym is right on the corner of Avenida Porras and Calle 65 which is four blocks from the Southwest corner of the park. It’s easy to spot since it has a bright yellow sign. Everything looks brand new and its a really stylish mid-sized space. There were mounted fans to combat the tropical heat which is essential given that it was already above 90F degrees when I showed up at noon. In addition to BJJ, the schedule has Muay Thai and Fightshape, their eponymous conditioning class. Classes were $12. I can’t really speak to anything other than the facilities because I ended up spending most of my time at…

IMG00066-20110716-1617 Gracie Barra Panama

Web: http://www.graciebarra.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=41867220560&v=info
Email: graciebarrapanama@gmail.com
Phone: (507)396-7600 Mobile (507) 6675-0885 U.S. Direct Line (305) 428-2220
Location: Punta Pacifica (In the Super 99 shopping plaza), Panamá, Panama

Once I found Fightshape I had planned to just cab it back there for the evening classes. All I knew about the Gracie Barra Panama was that it was near a Dunkin Donuts and a Super 99, but not being a local that didn’t give me a lot of information to go on. In an amazing example of BJJ karma, I mentioned this to the groom. He takes me to the balcony of the apartment I was renting and points at the back of a building across the street and tells me that it is the Super 99 (which is a popular supermarket). This was great because I could just walk there — even though this involved walking near a shanty town, over an ditch, up a steep embankment and across a highway overpass. Did I mention that Panama isn’t pedestrian-friendly?

IMG00050-20110714-1803 Hands down, this is the best experience I’ve had visiting a gym thus far. I ended up going each of the three days I was in Panama City. Hector Vasquez, the owner, was very warm and welcoming from the onset and I found everyone else there to be the same. Each of the instructors spoke English fluently and were really great about making sure I was following everything. While my Spanish is decent, I found that very thoughtful of them. There was a true family atmosphere. The children’s class was just before the adult’s. I got a real kick watching one of the instructors ‘roll’ with an adorably precocious four year old girl who laughed hysterically each time she got swept. (see the picture below) I suspect she was somebody’s daughter, because she was a fairly permanent fixture on the mat. So while she’s cute now, she’ll probably be a certified assassin by the time I get back there. All the guys closer to my weight class were also very cool. When I was saying my goodbyes, I was told that this was now “my house” and I was welcome back any time. You can’t beat that.

Gracie Barra has a really nice two-level space complete with A/C. Adult BJJ classes are every weeknight at 6:15, 7:15, and 8:15 except Fridays. Saturday classes start at 10am and open mat is at noon. (see full schedule) Mat fee was $10 per day. There’s a nice gym upstairs called Power Club Punta Pacifica that offers day passes if you want to lift.

  IMG00061-20110716-1215 IMG00060-20110716-1214 Gracie Barra Panama


Spartan Jiujitsu

Web: http://www.facebook.com/pages/SPARTAN-JIU-JITSU/153248172540?sk=info
Location: Ave Juan Pablo II, PLAZA PORTISOL SEGUNDA PLANTA. Near the Freeway., Panamá, Panama
Email: spartan_bjj@hotmail.com
Phone: 607-06249-396-1334

The closest I came to finding Spartan was seeing a bumper sticker on a Jeep in Casco Viejo. If anyone can provide a Google map link to a more exact location, please add it to the comments.

Update 7/30/11 – As per Miquel’s comments, Spartan is near Edificio Siglo XXI and Plaza Edison. This helped me add an approximate location marker for Spartan on the Google Map above.Thanks, Miguel.


DIY – Make your own Ipad 2 smart cover

Spk-a0421_glam004 I just got a brand new Ipad 2 from my job. While it’s not something that I would have gone out and bought on my own, I have to admit I really like it and its become a very useful to scan incoming emails, IM’s, and Chatter posts while I’m more focused on coding on my Macbook. Having a second ‘screen’ has really helped reduce the interuptions those messages can cause.

Given how scratched up my Macbook Pro has become, I was determined to keep this new toy in pristine condition. So, the first order of business was a cover. I liked Apple’s smart covers but they cost quite a bit ($36 – $63) for something that only protects the front screen.

I wanted a portfolio style cover that was a thin as possible. (Why add bulk to something that’s biggest selling point is how slim it is?) I checked out a few options and finally selected Speck’s FitFolio for Ipad 2 at J&R ($40). It hit all my requirements and had a nice red leather texture that didn’t feel cheap. The only downside was that it didn’t have the smart cover feature; where the ipad turns on/off when the cover is opened/closed.

Now in researching these covers I learned that the smart covers just have a small magnet embedded in them to accomplish this functionality. So the diy’er in me though, “how hard could that be to add to my case?” Apparently, its so easy that it’s taking me longer to write this post.

IMG00041-20110711-2339 Thin magnet and my white ipad 2.

I grabbed a small fridge magnet; the thin kind that you can bend in your hand and could easily cut with a scissor. The thinner the better. The sensor on the Ipad’s bezel that turns the device on/off when a magnet covers it is about 2 inches down from the right hand corner (with the camera being the top). The easiest way to find it is to place the magnet on the bezel and move it around until you find the sweet spot.

Placing the magnet on the sweet spot turns off the Ipad.

Now that you’ve found the effective area, move the magnet only slightly until its flush with the lip of the case. (You may want to cut the magnet to fit, but keep it as wide as the bezel. Place glue (or tape if you don’t care about asthetics) on top of the magnet and close the lid. Let it dry. Once that’s done, open/close the cover and you should see a working smart cover.

Have Gi, Will Travel

About a month ago, we hosted the famed BJJGlobetrotter, Christian Graugart, at Ronin Athletics for the New York portion of his 6 month trek around the world. At this point in time, Christian's been on the road for 113+ days, training jiu-jitsu through 20-odd countries. As someone who loves to travel, Christian's travelogue fills me with a mix of envy and wanderlust.

Luckily, I do get to travel frequently for work and pleasure. So, my passport is satisfyingly well-worn. Only recently, though, have I started packing the Gi along with my suits and shorts. As any business traveler will tell you, work travel is not as glamorous as it sounds. As a rule of thumb, when someone says they are going to Boston, Chicago, or New York for work they are actually going to some corporate park 40 minutes outside of the city limits to spend 9+ hours in a conference rooms that looks the same as the one in your office. Case in point, I just got back from Abingdon, UK (40 minutes from Oxford) and my prior trip was to Burlington, Mass (40 minutes from Boston). What has made slaving for the man a little more tolerable is knowing that the man is subsidizing my Jiujitsu education.

My induction into the Brotherhood of the Traveling Ripstop Pants, started last summer with a last minute trip to Rio (see the post). My wife and I found ourselves with a month and half free from work travel and a surplus of vacation days and airline miles. She saw it was Rio's low season and suggested that I train while she did her own sightseeing. (Did I mention she's also very attractive?) Ever since then, I've made sure to research local gyms and pack the Gi before any trip.

I've practiced some other martial arts prior to Jiujitsu and I don't think I would have felt as comfortable just showing up at another dojo and asking to train with them for a few days. However at the various Jiujitsu schools I've dropped in on, I've felt nothing but welcomed. In my opinion, its in a school's best interest to introduce an unknown variable every now and again. Given how frequently I train with the guys (and gal) in my home gym, I know each of their games fairly well. I know who I can always beat, who can always beat me, who's a sucker for triangles and who's not. Plus, we're all attending the same classes so, we're to some degree all working with a similar set of techniques (YouTube aside). But when a stranger shows up, its all new. Maybe they're all spider guard or pressure passing. You find yourself defending against the unexpected and maybe using moves that you've long ago abandoned because they became predictable.

This weekend I'll be in the Boston area and next week I'll be in Panama. So as I make my plans and pack my Gi yet again I thought to send some postive digital karma to those gyms that have extended a warm welcome to this jiujitsu journeyman in the past.

Brazillian Top Team – Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (see the detailed post here)
What can I say about training in Rio, the mecca of BJJ, that has not already been said? Save your airline miles, cash, and vacation days and just go. You will not regret it. Contact Fabiano and let him know I said hi.

Seattle Gracie Barra – Seattle, WA – http://www.bjjseattle.com
I had to travel to Seattle for work for a week and contacted Rodrigo Lopes to see if I could train with his guys while I was there. Not only did he say yes, he didn't charge me any mat fee for all of the days I went. Way cool. Great talent on the mat including a big Hawaiian white belt who tossed me all around and I later found out was a judo black belt. I went back for another week about a month later, and they had moved into a large new home just a 15 min taxi ride from downtown. These guys are great and I will certainly recommend checking them out if you're in the area.

Robson Moura – Tampa, FL – http://hobsonmoura.com
Again for work, I found myself in exciting Tampa. Recommendations from a few friends were to check out Hobson's place, but I actually had some trouble locating it on Google. I think he may have been changing locations at the time. What added to the confusion was that the place he teaches at is called Martial Arts Advantage South (http://www.martialartsadvantage.com/contact-us) which is a dojo with other styles taught. He only has the address on his own website so, don't get lost looking for his name on a sign as I did. Mat fee was $25 per day. Ouch.

Florian Martial Arts Center – Brookline, MA – http://www.florianmartialartscenter.com
More work travel, but being near Boston offered a huge selection of BJJ and MMA gyms to choose from. Kenny Florian's place was my choice for a number of reasons not least of which was that it was close and there was a snowstorm going on. I had heard that Ken's brother, Keith, generally teaches but, as luck would have it, it was Keith's birthday when I showed up. So he got the night off and I got a lesson from a UFC champ. BJJ Karma Win! Mat fee was $25 is now $30. Awww. BJJ Karma Fail.

Oxford Martial Arts Academy (OMAA) – Oxford, United Kingdom – http://www.omaa.org.uk
This brand new school wasn't open yet during my last two trips to the UK earlier this year, but I am glad I got to go on this last trip. This place is a fighter's dream. It's huge. As in has a separate area with half a dozen heavy bags, a full boxing ring, full cage, and a full gym on just the first floor huge. The second floor is all matted and is large enough to host a good sized tournament. For those of you in the 'burbs, this may not seem unusual but, those of us in large cities are amazed at gyms larger than a bread box. That goes double if they have windows. I only got to go twice and for bjj only — right after I got off my 6 hour flight (bad idea) and right before my return flight (equally bad idea) — but, they have classes for Muay Thai, MMA, Boxing, Wrestling, and more. It's like a University where you can get your PHD in Kicking A**. Best of all, no mat fee.

I'll return to Florian's this weekend. As for next week in Panama, it'll be a toss up between several schools Christian listed on his site; Spartan, Gracie Barra, and Fightshape. More to follow.

198926_10150142535727440_532377439_6674193_4106084_n Postscript – On this last trip to Oxford, I got asked a lot about the lightweight Gi I was wearing. It was a recent purchase and I feel its a must-have travel Gi. It's the 100% Ripstop Gi from Kauai Kimonos. I had seen it before online when I was looking for a good travel Gi, but I was unsure about a ripstop jacket and had concerns about sizing since it can't be shrunk. (Went with the Shoyoroll Yank, instead.) I finally got to see one up close when Felipe Costa visited our gym a few weeks ago. He's sponsored by Kauai and was wearing the black ripstop model. He also had a bunch for sale. So, I picked one up and it has fast become my favorite. The jacket so lightweight that it took up no more room in my suitcase than a dress shirt. Seriously, my belt took up more room. Usually I travel with only one carry-on so, this was a big win.

It dries super fast. On this last trip, I was going to train and then straight to the airport. After training, I laid the Gi out on the passenger seat and drove with the window open. In the hour it took me to get to Heathrow, the Gi was dry and I could put it in my suitcase without getting my suits all wet. Bigger win.

Performance-wise, the thinner material seems to make getting a grip on the collar easier but, I've been told getting sleeve grips is harder, so I think that balances out. The material is a stretch-resistant cotton-nylon blend that's very comfortable and breathes well. I tend to sweat a lot but, I don't find it to be 'like an Everlast plastic suit' as one reviewer put it. Nor, have I found myself 'chilled in it as it wicked away the sweat so fast'. It's somewhere in the middle of those two. I've only had it a few weeks so, I can't speak to wear-and-tear yet, but ripstop is what they make parachutes and hot air ballons from so, I'm fairly confident it'll stand up over time. If you need a light, low-maintenance Gi that you can pack and go, I recommend the Kauai Kimono.


Jiu Jitsu Training in Brazil

Looking over some of my previous posts, I realized I never posted a follow up to Researching Jui Jitsu training in Rio (August 2010). Oops. Here’s a much belated recap.

I mentioned my plans at my gym, Ronin Athletics, and as luck would have it one of my instructors had a connection with Murilo Bustamante, one of the founders of Brazilian Top Team . After some email exchanges I set up a private lesson schedule with one of their pro fighters, Fabiano Capoani. (Sherdog stats and pics) Essentially, I trained every morning and then went sightseeing with my wife in the afternoons. Fabiano is a great guy and really helped me drill some fundamentals in preparation for the 2010 No-Gi Pan Ams. (Third Place)

BTT is located in Lagoa (southern end) which was only a short taxi from where I was staying in Ipanema. Address is;

Avenida Borges de Medeiros, 829
Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brasil
telefones: (55)(21) 3576-0654 Flavio
7826-7595 / 32*16105 Prof. Alvaro


However the address isn’t really helpful because the driver won’t know the exact number. The address is actually for the AABB-Associação Atlética Banco do Brasil‎, a big sports complex/country club complete with tennis courts, swimming pools, gymnasium, showers, and a small outdoor bar (they have Gatorade). The gym is all the way in the back past the pool and tennis courts up on the second floor. I had the name with the address written on a piece of paper and would just show it to the driver so I didn’t have to fumble with the language each time. Another helpful tip is that Aveneda Borges is a big multilane highway with a wide grass divider in the middle. Depending on which direction you come from you might end up on the wrong side of the road and there’s no shoulder for the taxi to stop. There’s a gas station in the divider directly across from the entrance to the AABB so, you can have them stop there. I also used that as an additional landmark when giving directions. Here’s a Google street view so you can see for yourself.

On my first morning, just as Fabiano and I were finishing, a bunch of guys came in for the next class. I asked if I could stick around and train and they were fine with it. I didn’t realize that it was a session for their pro MMA fighters. Also since its no-Gi, no one knows I’m just a white belt (I didn’t get my blue until a few months later). So, at one point I’m about to start rolling with a guy who I find out later is Milton “Miltinho” Vieira, credited with inventing the Anaconda Choke. While we were waiting on the round clock, he asked me a few questions in English about where I was from and how I liked training in Rio. He was really nice. Buzzer sounds, we slap hands and are about to engage, when he pauses and asks what belt I have. I say, ‘White’. He thinks for a moment, shrugs his shoulders and says, ‘OK.’, and then proceeds to run his game all over me. It was like being attacked by ninja ghosts. He had a very open standing game and would engage, disengage, attack, spin until I had no idea where he was coming from at any given moment. At one point, I managed (or he allowed me to) get him in X-guard. I’m stretching him out waiting for him to fall forward or backward to complete the sweep. Nothing. I look for his hands and they’re not on the mat. I start pushing up to get him off balance and then I realize his feet aren’t on the mat. And for a split second I recall thinking, “Is this dude floating in mid-air?”, right before he somehow reappeared on my back.

There was this really big guy in the class that I completely avoided. When I got back to New York, a caught a promo for the UFC’s Fight Night the next day and thought, “Wait. That’s the guy.” It was Rousimar Palhares prepping for his fight with Marquardt. I’m glad I trusted my gut/instincts for self-preservation.

In all, it was a great experience. I can’t recommend it enough. Pics to follow.