It’s humid. I did zero research in to what season Thailand was in before I arrived, turns out It’s the one where it rains. The air’s thick and i’m sweaty, riding a newly rented scooter around a one way system that circles the fort walls of Chiang Mai’s old town. I’m looking down every alley trying to find a gym i’ve never seen before.
Luckily, this has become the norm. Grab a location, make contact with a gym, head over and train. Finding a jiu jitsu gym in a new location is like finding an oasis in a desert… IF what you’re thirsty for is like minded people you instantly bond with.
There’s a contrast between being in a completely new country, city, continent (take your pick) and then dropping in to a gym. When you land, everything is new. You have to grapple with a new language, new customs (do I tip or no?), often new transport (Tuk Tuk time), new food and pretty much everything that makes travelling both amazing and a huge challenge. However, dropping in to a brazilian jiu jitsu gym anywhere in the world is like going home, and the only thing you have to grapple with, is somebody trying to grab a limb or choke you. Different gyms all do things a bit differently but there’s always the same threads running through all of them: Great people, no ego and friendly faces who want to train and improve themselves in jiu jitsu.
Walking in to Chiang Mai BJJ was the same again, a very cool 3 storey building tucked just off one of the main roads outside the fort walls of Chiang Mai’s old town. So tucked away in fact that I could hear the birds chirping while we rolled. The gym is made up of a mix of a core squad who have moved to Thailand and then people who were just passing through. Guest instructors were there often as the main instructor was currently away.
Just incase I was getting too comfortable rolling my way thru the world, we lost power in one of the sessions and we had to adapt. We rolled in the light of everyone’s phone torches. I’m glad that everyone else was passionate enough about their training that they weren’t about to let a little thing like a blackout stop them from practicing techniques.
“Sometimes the only difference between a great training session, and leaving feeling like you’re progressing backwards (anyone who’s trained for anything longer than a few weeks knows this feeling) comes down to where you minds at”
The rolls were great and a nice break from the humidity of Bali. Don’t get me wrong, Chiang Mai is still humid, but just not quite as much as beachside mats of Bali.
In the rolls, i’ve been working on my guard defence and implementing my game a lot of quicker during rolls. I’m finding as you’re often only rolling with someone once, and that time might be the only time you get to roll with them, you have to focus on you, your own game and on implementing it quickly. If you get caught out by someone, you might be on the defensive for the rest of the round.
Practicing defence is good, but so is progressing your own game.
I actually discussed this topic with one of the instructors at Chiang Mai BJJ while a few of the other guys rolled. Sometimes the only difference between a great training session, and leaving feeling like you’re progressing backwards (anyone who’s trained for anything longer than a few weeks knows this feeling) comes down to where you minds at.
Where your focus as soon as you step on the mat to roll can change an entire training session. In theory, you have everything you need already tuned in to your muscle memory, but if you sit back and wait, you’re being reactive. If you wait, then you’re always on the back foot and it’s only a matter of time until you’ll be in a bad position. If there’s a big skill gap this may take longer, but it will happen eventually.
Skill beats strength, but sometimes your mindset beats both.
To walk on to the mats and be ‘on’ every time is difficult. Especially as training sessions come in-between stints of travel. Maybe you spent all of yesterday walking through temples or riding mountain roads and you’re a little tired. Perhaps you’re a little tired from an evening in the clubs (not me, never)
BUT it can also be the biggest game changer for your rolls, and over time your development in Jiu Jitsu.
Another thing you could talk about is that how you approach these training sessions and your rolls can be transferred to the rest of your life, but that’s a conversation for another time….
One of the great things about being here in Canggu, Bali for an extended period is i’m able to consistently make it to a few classes that only run once, or a few times a week at Bali MMA.
There’s currently more Gi classes on the timetable than there is No Gi so i’ve been trying to get to most of them.
Between the morning surfs and the evening… beer pong (not every night) I’m focusing my training around what I prefer to roll, which is no go (Sorry Helio). I’m hopping in to the Gi only to keep my grips sharp and when I feel like sweating even more than usual.
“Just because i’m doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doesn’t mean we can’t do stand up work. I don’t like the idea of resigning myself to just ‘Not Having Wrestling'”
One class I always look to make it to though is the Tuesday Wrestling class. Hailing from the UK where we have no wrestling in schools growing up, a lot of people find jiu jitsu as their first grappling sport. I’m sure i’m not alone as a Brit in feeling when coming to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (or even Judo or in looking to take up MMA), starting from square one on the grappling front.
This is a hole i’ve often looked to fill, I don’t like the idea of resigning myself to just ‘Not Having Wrestling’. In my home gym, we focus on takedowns a lot. Putting the time in to drill and start from standing. Plus my game has always been quite top heavy, often only working sweeps from the bottom in order to get back on top. If I can start on top by hitting a good takedown then half my work is done.
Having the chance to learn from some strong New York born wrestlers once a week is an opportunity too good to pass up. This is one of the hardest classes, if not THE hardest, available as most of Bali MMA’s fight team attends. The focus is on drills from standing to take the opponent to the ground, followed by some wrestling focused sparring.
Hitting rep after rep on a takedown is a lot more draining than working reps on something on the ground. I’m wiped out when it comes to the rolls, but it’s important to always go all out on a wrestling shot. In the standup game the difference between hitting a takedown and having it stuffed is usually in two things: 1. How well you set it up (or if you did at all) and then in 2. How much you commit to it.
Pushing through while tired and looking to take people down is some incredible training and something that you should definitely take advantage of if you come from a gym where you don’t work your stand up as much as you could…
Current skill focus:
Switching side / base switching pass.
Arm triangle from Mount.
Rear naked choke.
Currently working well:
Shin on shin elevation.
The No Gi and Gi classes of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Bali MMA have a very different feel. Not only because of the humidity (which is equally killer in both but even more so when wearing the pyjamas) but in the groups who show up.
Maybe it just reflects the fact that people have their preference. We’ve always trained both at my gym at home and it was the same people (more or less) for both types of class.
The mat room in Bali MMA is a great size, there’s a mix of regulars and people who are passing through. Bali is a big holiday destination for people from all over the world so this gym has a really different feel to the ones i’m used to. I’m used to seeing new members every month or so, and i’m sure the gym I was just at in Port Elizabeth has a similar rate of new members. You can feel the difference in this gym, no two classes are the same, you never know who you’re going to end up rolling with.
“It’s always an interesting vibe when you’re doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with someone new, you have to mix being aggressive and implementing your game with being cautious because you’ve no idea what their strengths are.”
One of my earlier Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Bali was a Gi class focused on some sneaky moves with the lapels. I’ve always hated getting choked out by my own Gi, it feels like a betrayal (Hey man! who’s wearing who here?). The format of the class is a bit different every time. A mix of technique, some positional training – usually around the techniques we just learnt, and then some rolling at the end. We frequently work some technique, and then work positional training for that technique. It helps you feel what you’ve just learnt in a live environment. In a previous session we worked through a sequence of x-guard sweeps, and then went in to some live training starting from full x-guard. You don’t get lazy with the technique when someone’s working hard to escape. This is great for highlighting how it actually works and then trouble shooting areas where you struggle. If we went straight to rolling you may never get a chance to practice what you’ve just learned (maybe you get stuck in someones side control and can’t get out).
I skipped a few rolls in my first few sessions to avoid ‘British Boy can’t handle the heat dies doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’ being the headline in Bali the next day. I am not proud of this. Rolls are enjoyable though, the amount of turnaround at the gym means there’s usually someone new to roll with at every class. It’s always an interesting vibe when you’re rolling with someone new, you have to mix being aggressive and implementing your game with being cautious because you’ve no idea what their strengths are. What if you jump right in to one of their strongest counters? It’s kind of like when two dogs meet, neither is sure how hard to play at first.
I think the combination of the heat and the ever changing fresh partners means the pace is a lot more chill than i’m used to. There’s definitely strong guys here but the way you have to roll has an impact on how it’s implemented. Hopefully as i’m here for a couple of months I’ll find a few training partners where we can get a feel for each other’s games and then start pushing the pace a bit, this and getting used to the heat should see my conditioning improve.
I’ve learnt a few moves from guys i’ve rolled with, a strong amateur MMA fight from Sweden showed me a sneaker triangle setup, and an Italian brown belt hit a pass on me a few too many times than I would of liked so I had to ask him how to do it. It’s a sweet pass and i’m looking for it all the time now.
I’m in Bali for a while as i’m using at as a ‘home base’ before travelling to other spots. Canggu has everything, you can surf, you can roll, there’s a Crossfit Box next door incase you those don’t make you tired enough. Throw in good food and coffee everywhere you look and you’ve got a place I don’t mind calling home for a bit.
I instantly knew that I should of been doing something for my cardio since my last session in the UK. I found PESFA, also called the Chris Bright MMA Academy, in a (pretty empty) mall of shops in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. After some hellos and introductions I found myself getting tired during the warm up. Less of a gasping for air and more of a heavy muscles kind of tired. Soaking up sun in-between stints on the laptop had done zero for my endurance and the heat in the room was draining. Within minutes I was sweating hard (sorry training partners). Time to put my ego to one side, I don’t think this is going to be one of my better training session.
Luckily it didn’t matter that I was out of fighting shape, as everybody at PESFA was more than welcoming and friendly. If everywhere I visit on this roaming world tour is anything like here, then i’m going to be meeting a tonne of friendly faces.
My first session there was in the Gi. We worked some guard opening sequences as some of the guys had competed at the weekend and wanted to focus on moves to help with the next competition. It’s interesting the subtle differences in styles that a group develops. The guard pass from closed guard focused on lifting the guy off the ground and opening from there. It’s rare, if ever, we work this at my gym. We focus on popping up and, breaking the guard while the other guy is on the ground. Change is good though as this opener works. We drill this and a few variations for the first half of the class.
The rolls were really great even though I found myself getting tired all too quick. Everyone had amazing defence, or maybe I was just especially weak (or maybe both?). I think a big focus for me on this trip, as well as my entire Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game moving forward, will be on setting up submissions. I think I need to start thinking about the move, after the move and not just trying to force something. More flow. Arte Suave.
In my second session we worked positional training for competitions. Focusing on not giving up a point. (For non Brazilian Jiu Jitsu readers, your opponent gets a point in competition when you concede a bad position. The amount of points is determined by how bad of a position you find yourself in. It allows competition matches to have a finish after a time limit rather than ending only when someone submits someone.) The game is really different from pure rolling as the urgency and aggression for a pass or to not give up a bad position changes the pace of the match. I also quickly found out how well certain sweeps work when you try them on a strong Judo black belt (spoilers: they don’t).
I think a big focus for me on this trip, as well as my entire Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game moving forward, will be on setting up submissions. I think I need to start thinking about the move, after the move and not just trying to force something. More flow. Arte Suave.
The subtle difference in ‘go to’ moves played out here. There are times when passing when I feel i’m (usually) safe. Places where I feel like i’m in a good position. However this is where some of the ‘go to’ moves of the guys I was rolling with kicked in. All of a sudden a safe position becomes trouble and in that moment I instantly realise the benefits of rolling with new training partners often. Unfortunately, I realise it as i’m falling to my back and conceding the point.
Luckily the same was true for me, as I presented a few different styles of passing. I was able to move well when the guy I was rolling with wasn’t familiar with what I was doing. However those moments were all too brief.
The gym owner and black belt here Chris used to train with my instructor in the UK which is how I got the details for this gym. It’s a small world. I’m glad he recommended this place, it was a really popular gym with an amazing atmosphere. Everyone welcomed me like i’d been there for months already and I had a few good wars during some positional training with a few of the guys. I was completely wiped after the Thursday session, but I got a quick pic with Chris to send back to my instructor and then went in search of cold water to both drink and dunk myself in.
Things to work on: Cardio in-between new destinations and in-between session to adapt to heat. Setting up submissions.
Things learned: A sweet way to get in to deep half. When someones passing with a knee cut. Clamp their trailing leg and swim under their lead leg. (People caught me with this a lot, it turns that place where your almost passed in to a place where you might get swept).
I just put my last training session in the UK (definitely for the foreseeable future and possibly for a lot longer) behind me. Gi, working full guard. Not my favourite place to play but sometimes you’ve got to pay attention to your weak points so they don’t become glaring holes.
This last session signals the end of a five plus year stint training Jiu Jitsu along the South Coast of the UK. From first being introduced to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Thailand (of all places) on a previous trip, I started training in my new home of Bournemouth a few years after. Since then it’s become a cornerstone of my training, and my life in a way that I didn’t see coming. A lot of other hobbies and interests fell by the wayside in order to get more time the mats.
The last session also signals the start of something new. A trip, starting in South Africa and with no fixed end point.
Starting something new, breaking a routine and just generally throwing out your old way of life can be really difficult. Often not for the reasons you expect. I dreamed about a life filled with sun, surf and jiu jitsu in exotic places while behind my desk in the middle of the UK’s winter. Especially on those grey days where it seems to rain for a constant week. Now during my last training session during one of those grey days, I find myself focusing on everything i’m going to miss. You make a lot of great friends training Jiu Jitsu, maybe it’s the common interest factor. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s impossible not to get to know someone when you’re both trying to choke each other a couple of times a week.
Either way between the comfort of a routine, and all the good bits about the training, the people, the work, the summers (I can live without the winters) of the life I have here are at the front of my mind and the road ahead looks scary, unknown and uncomfortable. I remind myself though, but this is exactly why you must go.
It’s easy to show up and do something you don’t care about, there’s no resistance, no fear. Doing something you love? That’s tough. When far off, it feels like you all you want to do, when it’s hours away, you’ll talk yourself out of it and question everything. That always seems to be trick of the mind for anything worth doing, and nothing is more worth doing than completely stepping out of your old routine, your comforts, your friends, your training partners in search of some adventure.
So i’ve packed the essentials. A laptop so I can continue to design and build websites from the road. Throw a Gi on top of the bag and i’m ready. Just twenty or so hours of travel away from a new continent, new weather and new days.