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.
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.