Wednesday, May 17th, 2017
I’m laying in bed in my small, Westchester, NY apartment. My body aches. My muscles hurt down to my bones. My fingers struggle typing this. “Why?”, you ask? Well, today kicked off the first of many stops on my BJJ Globetrotters journey. I decided to kick off with a long-awaited goal of mine: train with a World Champion. Lucky for me, JT Torres recently opened doors at his new East Coast BJJ haven, Essential BJJ. This gym has been on my list since he announced his return to New York almost a year ago and, seeing the posts of a close friend who currently trains at the school on social media, I knew I had to get in and train.
This past Tuesday, I emailed the contact listed on the Essential BJJ website asking to take their competition class (www.essentialbjj.com). Essential has classes every day except Sundays. I could tell from the photos my friend Ronny had posted that these guys were the real deal. I was, admittedly, slightly nervous. That said, I was INSANELY excited when I received a phone call from Jolanda, Torres’s girlfriend, who runs the sales at Essential. She said, and I’m not making this up:
“We typically don’t let people take the competition class as their first class; we don’t wanna scare you off!”
On the Essential website, the Competition Classes are listed as “Invitation Only”. After some reassurance from myself, and having a buddy vouch for my past training and competition experience, I was all signed up for the class!
I woke up this morning, packed my gi (with my fresh patch job done by yours truly!), grabbed my belt and a snack for the drive down, and hopped in the truck for my 30 minute drive to Hartsdale.
My first impression of Essential had to do with the location. Literally a stones throw from the Hatrsdale MetroNorth station, the gym is sandwiched in the main area of the town; delis, restaurants, and the like surround the gym on all ends. There’s 90-minute metered parking right in front of the gym, but free three-hour street parking just over the overpass above the train station.
The Path to Glory!
The gym itself is marked by a sign on the side of a building, and is located on the second floor. I walked up the stairs and was greeted with the cleanest gym I’ve ever stepped foot in. Jolanda greeted me, I filled out the waiver, and walked into the locker room where I was met by JT and the guys. JT proved to be the nicest guy, and was incredibly welcoming to his academy.
The Training Grounds
Class started with a warm up that consisted of jogging, butt kicks, high knees, etc., followed by ten 2-minute rounds of drilling with a partner. We could drill whatever we wanted as long as you were moving the whole time. I joined up with a fellow blue belt who informed me that it was his second class after taking four years away from training. He drilled mostly closed guard attacks, and I focussed on my butterfly-SLX-X-Guard entries.
The bulk of the class consisted of six 10-minute rounds of live rolling, and this is where I truly learned what it meant to be the nail. Coming from a gym where I was one of the senior members, I’m used to being a hammer more than a nail. Many of my training partners were white belts, although rolling with blue belts and purples were not out of the ordinary. That said, I’m still used to being closer to the top of the food chain. Here at Essential, I was given a lovely dose of being a nail. The Competition Class consisted of a few former Marcelo Garcia purple belts, an MG brown belt, and JT himself. Myself, my partner, and one white belt were also along for the ride.
If you look closely, you can see the strain in my face as I tried to stay standing.
For lack of a better term, I got my stuff handed to me. My first round with my drilling partner went well, but that was the peak. I immediately got a roll in with JT for my second roll. Here’s where I truly got a taste of JT Torres, and here’s the best way to put it: JT Torres is one of the nicest guys in the world… until you slap hands and bump fists. I’ve never been able to see someone’s whole demeanor shift in a moment like I did. I could tell early on that this would be a ride; I was rolling with a warrior. In the same way a sharks eyes roll back before attacking, JT’s face shifts to laser-focus. And that whole “Spider-Man” grip strength thing? Put it this way: his grips are forged in steel. I fancy myself having above average grips, but mine were no more than a baby’s grasp compared to his. I had a blast. plain and simple.
The next 50 minutes were entirely too similar. My game was completely shut down. Interestingly enough, and we joked about this after class, most of the students were on the larger end. I took the crushing pressure of my 250 pound training partners happily. Although these giants were indeed giant, they moved like vipers. The white belt in class blew out some cauliflower towards the end, and we all stopped and jeered, shouting congrats and joking about how the next big movie is “Tales of a Killer White Belt”. My last two rounds consisted of a repeat round with JT (which went entirely like the first) and Nick, one of the purple belts. The final bell rang, and I was content. Completely exhausted, but content and high on endorphins. Little did I know what was next up…
Class wasn’t over. Nope. Turns out, competition class ended with one 6-minute round drilling my kryptonite: double leg takedowns. Now, my goal for this year was to work my doubles. I’ve always sucked at wrestling, and I’m just down starting to address it. I can drill a double just fine, but hitting them live is like sorcery to me. Those six minutes were harder than any round I’d had that day. Six minutes of straight movement and entries. Lucky enough, my partner, Nick, dragged me along. He encouraged me and told me to persevere. I struggled, but made it through.
Class ended with a cooldown of walking around the mats and stretching. Through the heavy breathing and fighting back the panic, I heard JT’s voice. He was giving a motivational speech. He spoke about the importance of competition training for both physical strength and, more importantly, mental strength.
“Mental strength is the difference between a silver and a gold”
We came together and circled up at the end of class and put our hands in. JT thanked us for training, and continued his motivation. Finally, with a “1-2-3-HARD WORK”, class ended. I asked JT for a mop to clean the mats, but no matter how hard I tried, he wouldn’t let me.
“Enjoy your time here, you’re a guest!” he said.
Overall, my experiences at Essential were incredible. Enough to keep me coming back. Enough, perhaps, to get me to sign up following my return from my road trip as my homebase. BIG thanks to JT for being so hospitable and letting me train with you guys, and a huge thanks to his team for beating me up. Looking forward to coming back!
Me and SpiderMan; Looking forward to coming back!
To finish off, this post wouldn’t be complete without a photo of the Essential BJJ Mascot: JT’s dog Oliver. He chills in his out little room right behind the front desk. Oss!
Oliver: the OG rep of Dog-Jitsu