New York City. There was a time when I had no idea about what jiujitsu was, when I didn’t know what MMA stood for and when I had no interest in choking people or attempting to break their limbs. That was the time when I had only one, burning passion: salsa dancing. To pursue that passion I moved to NYC about 8 years ago; there I studied with salsa and Afro Caribbean genius, Frankie Martinez. I lived in NYC intermittently, between 2009 and 2011, training with Frankie as much as I could. However, life had other plans for me… in 2011 I ended up moving to China permanently. A few years later, in Beijing, I met Marcus who introduced me to BJJ.
I soon realised BJJ had a lot in common with salsa dancing; you play in two, learn a movement pattern, which at first feels totally unnatural but it’s actually really logical and once you’ve drilled it over and over again it becomes instinctive. When you can improvise, the fun starts.
Last year, when Marcus and I decided to go on an all around the world BJJ trip, we knew we wanted to visit Renzo’s and Marcelo Garcia’s in NYC , but I also knew I wanted to go back to Frankie’s classes. It was a big deal for me, as I hadn’t properly trained BJJ in 3 months – due to my Yoga Course, and hadn’t danced in about 6 years.
It all ended up being great, both salsa and BJJ movements eventually started to get back to me and we had an amazing 10 days in NYC.
Our main challenges were definitely the little time and limited money we had – the city is much more expensive than what I remembered and at times we had to settle with a $1 pizza slice ($1 pizza shops are easy to find on google) or a cheap American filter coffee instead of a cappuccino.
Training was great though – we trained at Renzo’s pretty much every day when we were in New York. We were so lucky that we got to share the mat with many famous fighters as well (Gary Tonon, Oliver Taza, Gordon and Nicky Ryan, Jake Shields). I even had the pleasure to roll with Oliver and it was definitely a learning and fun experience.
Most of the classes we took were with John Danaher – His classes are super technical; he generally shows 3-4 techniques, demonstrates each technique only twice and then finishes with 6 rounds of positional sparring (mount, back, guard and 3 standing rounds). He uses only traditional names for positions and also expects you to warm up by yourself. We learned lots of takedowns and detailed technical aspects of certain positions like the armbar. I always made sure Marcus and I got some proper stretching after each class and John seemed impressed with our efforts so much that he called us “the yoga masters”.
Renzo was at the gym often; he taught one of the no-gi classes which unfortunately I missed cause of dance training but Marcus made it, and said it was really good – with Renzo showing some great footlocks counters to Single Leg X.
At Renzo’s the classes are split into belt levels, but it’s a bit confusing at first. ‘Blue B’ classes are for white belts only, ‘Purple B’ for white belt 3 stripes and up, and ‘Black B’ for purple and up. I did mostly ‘Purple B’, with Marcus doing a few ‘Black B’ classes (which he said the sparring in those classes was very high level!).
We also visited Marcelo’s once and took full advantage of the daily pass. We started with a flexibility and wellness session at 10.30 am – which I found super useful as I learned some cool stretching applicable to BJJ that I’ll definitely integrate into my routine. We continued one hour gi class and then a one hour no-gi class. I ended up sitting out a couple of rounds just because I was so hypnotised by the high level wrestling happening on the mat… I may have also been a bit tired ;) The gym was very open and bright, very casual too, surprisingly! We were really happy with Renzo’s though so we kept training there afterwards.
In between training sessions we managed to do some touristy stuff too. We particularly loved the High Line, one of NYC’s most unique parks, created on an elevated section of a disused New York railroad – some great views of the city from up there. We also took advantage of the “pay what you wish” opportunity to visit the Metropolitan Museum; don’t be shy and simply pay what you can at the door (we got two tickets for $8 – ignore the ‘recommended price’!).
It was an intense 10 days in NYC but I loved every bit of it and cannot wait to visit again for more world-class BJJ and salsa training. Next up, California, baby!