I never really planned to be a BJJ Globetrotter. I have this tendency to dive into things head first, without always (okay pretty much never) considering all of the consequences. So when the idea to ride my bicycle from Canada to Argentina became a reality, I hadn’t properly considered what that meant for martial arts. As the departure date grew closer, I started to feel more and more unsure about the decision to go. Martial arts had become my whole life, my club was my family, my team was my social life, the tatami was my safe place. Was I making a stupid decision leaving all that behind to go on this crazy adventure?
I had become so comfortable with my martial arts lifestyle, and it is hard to leave things that are comfortable. But then I would imagine myself years down the road, and I knew that I would never forgive myself for not taking an opportunity to have an adventure like this. I believe that putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is the only way you learn and grow, and I never want to stop growing.
So, I sold all of my belongings, crashed with friends from the club for a few months while I had one last MMA fight, got my blue belt, and tied up loose ends in Halifax. Then I moved back into my parents basement in Calgary to get ready to leave. On August 18, 2016, I got on my heavily loaded bicycle, with my non-BJJ friend, and we struck out through the Rocky Mountains towards the West Coast.
I spent the first months of the trip struggling to get my body to adjust to the lifestyle. I had spent three years training for three to six minute rounds, fast recovery, and explosive power. This was not helpful when I all of a sudden needed to cycle for eight or more hours a day. My legs hurt all the time, for months. I stopped in a few clubs while I traveled from Calgary out to Vancouver and down the Pacific Coast of the US, but I found it difficult. I was struggling with the physical challenges of cycling, and the mental challenge of being away from the support system I had so carefully constructed back in Halifax. I was so nervous to train at new clubs. I had had my blue belt for only a few months and was worried that I would come across nothing but defensiveness, competitiveness, and ego. But with each club that I visited, I was met with nothing but excitement and open arms. Bit by bit I gained a little more confidence and each time I felt a little bit more like myself again.
It wasn’t until Mexico that I really found my BJJ travel legs. I began to realise that BJJ was the same everywhere you went. There is an incredible network of people across Mexico, and the around the whole world. My heart is so full from the incredible generosity I have experienced through BJJ. I am constantly finding people with the same mentality as I have, people who want to fight, not only for medals, but to build people up, to make safe spaces for those who may not fit societal expectations, places where people can push themselves to grow and change. The sacrifice, determination, and risk it takes to make BJJ your life requires a special kind of person. While I sort of knew that (my club is full of them back home), I am still in awe every time I meet someone who has made these sacrifices. It seems that the nature of BJJ nurtures people to be humble, honest, and passionate, making conversation and personal connection easy and natural. With each new club and new person, I am amazed at how much we immediately have in common, how I feel like I automatically fit into these tight knit communities, how connected I feel to people even after knowing them for a very short time.
So this trip changed. I decided to continue on alone so that I could make BJJ a priority while I travelled. And I couldn’t be happier that I made that decision. While this trip has its difficulties, I love the life and am happier than I have ever been before.
Top 10 Reasons Why Cycletouring for BJJ is Awesome
- You have sick endurance – while it took some time for my body to adjust to long endurance days, it did eventually adjust. So while my skills sometimes feel a little rusty when I train after being on the bike for a few weeks, my cardio is the best it has ever been. I have no problem doing multiple classes in a row, and rolling hard with as many people as are willing.
- You can connect with people in a whole different way – I get all kinds of reactions when I tell people that I am traveling by bicycle, and to be honest, it never gets old seeing the surprised and impressed looks on people’s faces. Most people that do BJJ have a real respect for living a lifestyle where you challenge yourself every day, where you are constantly pushing hard physically and mentally. I don’t have the energy to pretend that this trip is easy, so honest conversations happen easily and naturally. Each one of these interactions is so special. Every single person that I talk to about why I am doing this trip, what I am scared of, what I hope to get out of it, provides an opportunity to learn something new. So many people have their own stories about why they started Martial Arts, about where they get the strength to challenge themselves, and why they want to put themselves in difficult and sometimes painful situations. Hearing people’s stories is an incredible educational opportunity that I am so grateful to have.
- Your plans are really flexible – I have no flight booked, no bus ticket, no one expecting me home any time soon. So when I am somewhere that I really love, I can stay for a while. If I am somewhere uncomfortable or scary, I can just move on. This has allowed me to take some incredible opportunities. When I found out that there was a Victor Davila seminar in Guadalajara the week I was there, I could stay and participate. When I was offered the opportunity to participate in a two week fight camp run by Eduardo Botega to prepare for the first IBJJF Mexico Open, it was a no brainer to stay. Traveling on a bicycle teaches you to be adaptable and how to be comfortable with constantly changing plans, which was not easy for me. But the best experiences on this trip have been the things that I did not plan for.
- You get to know the culture of the places you visit intimately – the slow pace of bicycle travel has major advantages, you end up visiting a lot of small towns and places that not many people go to. In these places, people are always excited to have someone visiting, they are proud of their town and jump at the opportunity to show it off. I have met incredible kindness, generosity, and kindred spirits in many unexpected places. I have had the opportunity to learn from and interact with people that I would likely never otherwise meet. I have often had to check my Canadian privilege when families that clearly don’t have much welcome me into their home with no questions asked. I am constantly impressed with the heart and determination I find in small clubs that are started with little equipment, in places where most don’t know what BJJ is.
- Your triangles are boss because your legs are so strong – cycling is amazing for building leg muscles, I don’t know if you knew that. My leg gains throughout this trip have been significant and it is no secret that I love my triangle chokes. So I was pleasantly surprised when I realised the many advantages of my new leg strength in BJJ.
- You never have to wash your gi – while it sometimes sucks to not have a gi, the upside is that you never have to wash one. Washing my gi was my least favorite part of BJJ back home.
- You’re always hungry and can eat everything – this is perhaps my favorite part of traveling by bike. I don’t know the exact number, but I know I burn a lot of calories in a day of cycling. I also love food and love trying new foods in new places. The combination means I can eat all the tacos I want. There is nothing better than tacos and fresh cold fruit juices after some hard training. Nothing.
- You have double the network of travel friends and it is fun when they connect – both BJJ and cycletouring have wonderful global networks. While there doesn’t seem to be a lot of overlap, there is a lot of mutual respect; they are often impressed and think each other are a little bit crazy for doing what they do. It’s hilarious. But it is an incredible feeling when I get cycling friends to come try a BJJ class, or when I inspire a BJJ friend to embark on a cycling adventure.
- You have a bike to get around the city on – this is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to travel around a city. It allows for more independence than you would otherwise have, and can easily go sightseeing, or get to classes at various clubs on your own. There is also a really amazing feeling when you ride your bike around a city with a friend, especially at night.
- You’re already acclimatised to the altitude – I spent a lot of time training in Mexico City, which sits at an altitude of 2250 m. When I arrived, it happened to be the weekend of the Abu Dhabi trials, so there were lots of people who had traveled to the city for the tournament. They were struggling with their cardio due to feeling short of breath from the thin air. However, I had spent the last few weeks biking up mountains and training in Guadalajara, the thin air was not a problem for me.
Top 10 Reasons Why Cycletouring for BJJ can be Annoying
- It is pretty much impossible to carry a gi – a gi would weight more than my tent and would take up more space than all of my other clothing combined.
- You only have 1 or 2 sets of training clothes – this means I have to do laundry a lot when I train regularly. I have gotten really good at washing my nogi gear while I shower after training. Contact me for step by step instructions
- All of your clothes are always dirty when you arrive in a city – this means it is sometimes hard to train right away. I try and keep a set of nogi clothes untouched, but sometimes I wear my spats to bike in when it is cold. It rained for 4 weeks straight in Oregon….everything was wet, dirty, and smelled bad. I had to throw out my rashguard eventually. It sucks to have to do laundry when you arrive somewhere before you can train.
- YOU are always dirty when you arrive in a city – when you spend a whole day on the highway, you get dirt in places you never thought possible. Add to that extremely hot days, camping on beaches, and limited access to showers, and no one should have to roll with that without a serious deep clean.
- You are always physically and mentally exhausted when you arrive in a city – I find this the hardest part. When I am already nervous about going to a new place, it gets that much harder when I’m tired. I also want to be able to perform well in a new club, and when I have biked, oh say 500 km in 5 days with 1500m of elevation (like when I arrived in Guadalajara), let´s face it, I’m not at my best.
- You have limited access to technology and WiFi to get in contact with people – this can make planning and finding clubs to visit pretty difficult. I often don’t have a lot of time with WiFi to do the research. Good thing there are wonderful resources and forums like BJJ Globetrotters that makes this a little easier.
- You forget how to interact with other human beings – when you spend weeks barely interacting with anyone, or only having short conversations in broken Spanish, you sometimes forget your social skills. Not kidding. I’m already a slightly awkward person and it just gets worse when I spend so much time alone.
- You often stay in a place for less than a week – turns out, a bicycle is not the fastest way to travel. This means means that I can’t stay in places too long, otherwise I will never make it to Brazil. This lack of consistency in training really affects my game, and my confidence at times.
- It is difficult to train while on the road/your cycling friends won’t let you choke them – this contributes to the lack of consistency problem. It is hard to feel all that confident in my skills when I don’t get to use them or drill them very often. I do try to keep some sort of routine while traveling, mostly stretching, bodyweight exercises, and shadow boxing. It has made me more creative with my workouts (old tire tubes as resistance bands?), but I am always open to suggestions on new ways to train on my own with very limited equipment.
- You are traveling on an extreme budget – this is the often the case for anyone traveling for an extended period of time. Many of us save some money, quit our jobs, and have no income while traveling. It means that I can’t visit really fancy gyms that charge a lot for drop ins. For me, this isn’t a problem, I have had a wonderful time visiting smaller clubs.
While traveling by bicycle certainly has it’s difficulties, I wouldn’t do it any other way. I am constantly amazed at how generous people within the BJJ community are, and with their help, the difficulties become slight annoyances, nothing more. For me, the benefits and the unique experiences and opportunities created by this mode of travel are well worth the difficulties.
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