(Apologies for the pictures being chopped, I’m figuring out how to get better pictures within my posts)
Since this is my first blog, I guess that I should introduce myself and tell you a little about my jiujitsu journey so far. My name is Dirk, but I tend to go by the name BJJ Drifter (on social media anyways), as it seems to fit my current situation. I live in the US and have trained some sort of martial arts since I was seven years old. I started with Kung Fu as that was the only discipline that was available in my small Kentucky town. When I was 19 I began training Muay Thai, although I had a lot of fun doing it, I was not able to fully devote the time needed. I was first introduced to BJJ through the Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP), which is the hand-to-hand system used by the US Army. MACP consists of four levels of training that is a mix of BJJ, wrestling, kickboxing, boxing, and weapons fighting. The first two levels are meant to be an introduction to these fighting styles and serves to instill a warrior spirit in the Soldiers. The last two levels are instructor courses and take much more time to complete.
In 2006, I attended the level one course and was introduced to BJJ. I had never seen anything like it; I was intrigued by the idea of such a martial art. From there I continued to train, although sporadically due to work constraints, family, amongst other things. In 2012 I became an Instructor for the MACP; during this time I can say that I truly fell in love with BJJ.
In 2016 I retired from the military and found myself searching for an identity, as many veterans due when they get out. I had no direction, and my family became the only thing that was a constant. I moved back home to Kentucky while my wife and I attempted to figure things out. While there, my wife came up with the idea for me to train at a local gym just to let off some steam. While there, the fire was rekindled and I returned to training as often as possible.
So now there were two constants in my life, my family, and BJJ; but I was living with my parents as my family was having difficulty finding a house that we liked. To make a long story short we decided to purchase a camper and travel the US seeing the sights and enjoying the beauty. While training one day I mentioned our plans to a friend and he said that I should train at different gyms wherever I stop. That’s pretty much where the idea for BJJ Drifter came about.
Since then, my family and I have been traveling around the country stopping in different cities, seeing the sites, and training BJJ. It has been an absolute blast! I can honestly say every member of my family is enjoying it. I try to train at least 2-3 times a week, and usually at different gyms unless I am visiting someone in the area, such as I did in Tampa but Ill get to that in a bit. Sometimes I wish I could train more but I want to have time to do things with my kids and rest my body some.
We made the trip to Tampa, FL for two reasons: it was warm and close to the beach; a chance to train with an old friend, Rob Kahn. Rob is the owner of Gracie Tampa and is one of Royce Gracie’s first American black belts. I first met Rob in 2013 while I was a combatives Instructor in Georgia. I recall this short grey haired guy come in, very nice and humble; then we got on the mat and I was amazed by his teaching style. After that little seminar I said that at some point I really wanted to make a visit to his gym and train with his guys, well in March that happened.
The Gracie Tampa North facility is an awesome gym with a large mat area that has a cage wall lining one side of the mat. Towards the rear of the room there is four heavy bags and an uppercut bag. To the far left of the room is a doorway that leads to another mat room, about half the size of the first, where kids classes and Judo classes are mainly conducted. The right side of the main mat room has a decent amount of weights with the obligatory bench press, Olympic bars, and a trap bar, along with some offices. When you walk in the door you will usually be greeted by Leo, Rob’s adopted pit bull; Rob rescued him from a kill shelter and he is probably one of the nicest dogs I have ever met. Most of the BJJ training conducted at Gracie Tampa North is nogi, which I am a big fan of. While I train in the gi, I definitely prefer my shorts and rash guard. I attended the advanced BJJ class and it had about 15-20 people ranging in skill level and age. Some of the guys I talked to had been training for a year or two, while others had been training with Rob for over 10-15 years. I found everyone to be quite welcoming and humble, as I’ve found most gyms to be in my travels.
Rob led the instruction on most nights that I was there. One of the things that I really appreciated about Rob’s curriculum was that every class fed off of the one previous, meaning that if he taught a Darce choke series from the sprawl on Monday, when I went back on Wednesday it would be a Darce choke series from half guard, and so on. I was able to train with Rob and his students six times in the two weeks I was there, and enjoyed every second of it
Outside of training, the Tampa, FL area has about anything you could ask for. I took my family to the beach a couple days as well as the Florida Aquarium. One the of things that my kids really enjoyed was going to the Manatee Viewing Center where they got to learn about the manatee and the conservation efforts that have been put into place to try and help these gentle animals. They even got to see a couple, as well as touch stingrays, which they really enjoyed. We even made the hour long journey to surprise my kids with a trip to Legoland Florida, which they thoroughly enjoyed. One of the things that I loved while we visited the area was the food! Kona Grill was, without a doubt, one of my favorite restaurants we ate at while there.
All in all, I’d say if you’re looking for a place to visit and train, or perhaps move to, Tamps is a great spot. Stay tuned for my next blog as I always seem to be on the move to the next city, and the next jiujitsu gym.