Greetings From London…Again!
I’m back in London! This time around I stayed with a BJJ Globetrotter rather than a hostel, although I did stay at a hostel the first few nights, but more on that later. It was an uneventful train down to London, I checked into the hostel then I was off to my first gym to visit, and to film the interview for this article with an idol of mine. But before we get into that let’s cover the sights I saw and friends I made.
Seeing More of The Sights
This time around I made a list of places in London I wanted to make sure I saw, before it was easy hitting the big landmarks like Buckingham Palace and the London Tower and Big Ben. But there are many other places worth seeing, I could probably spend another month in London and still not see everything, certainly not train at all the gyms. Anyways, it was a nice day out and I decided to set out and see a few sights and trek around the city. Camden Market, which I had heard so much about, was first on the list. I could see gentrification had made the place a trendy tourist spot but there was still a lot of the old flavour to it and still a lot of fun to walk around.
Next up was Abbey Road, the iconic crossing in front of the Abbey Road Studios made famous by the Beatles and their album cover crossing the road. It’s a really busy intersection full of Beatles fans constantly almost getting hit by cars while trying to reenact the album cover. There’s also the wall in front the studio which is absolutely covered in fans signing it. Of course I put my own “Panda was here”
I also Stopped by Baker Street to have a look at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, It’s actually at his address, 221B Baker Street, and although I didn’t go up to the apartment itself I did wander around the ground floor souvenir shop which was full of things Sherlock Holmes, like replica pipes and hats and puzzles and books and more. There’s a ‘Bobby’ keeping order at the door to Sherlock Holmes’ apartment that everyone takes a photo with and statue of Sherlock Holmes just down the street from his home. I wonder how many people who go there a day thinking he actually existed?
Meeting Up With Old Friends, And Making New Ones!
During my time in London I was able to meet up with old friends from back when I lived in Toronto, Tanya and James. I met them back when I was working at the bars and doing my clothing design thing, they actually modeled for me. Apparently it’s through modeling for me that they met and eventually got together. James and Tanya now live in London and it was Tanya’s birthday the weekend I was visiting, it was perfect timing for us to meet up, especially since it was 6 years since I had seen them last. It was awesome to meet up with old friends, reminisce about the old days in Toronto and show me around some great markets. Great seeing you guys, until next time Tanya and James!
While hanging out and shopping in the markets someone recognized me from the night before’s visit to a BJJ club. I was wearing one of my Jiu-Jitsu shirts, as usual, and first I heard “Hey! You do Jiu-Jitsu?” then as I turned to look at them “I know you! You were at Meerkatsu’s!” I was a bit taken back, I was not expecting anyone to recognize me in a busy market that is in no way related to Jiu-Jitsu. I’m not really expecting anyone to recognize me when I show up to BJJ gyms, I’m only a blue belt nobody after all. The night before I had indeed visited Meerkatsu and we took a photo together that he instantly posted, which is how she recognized me. So we talked a bit, as it happens Nina trains at a gym I was already planning to visit, Urban Kings, where my host also trains. We exchanged social media accounts (I guess that’s the new ‘let’s exchange numbers’ now a days) and agreed it would cool to meet up later in the week. One day Nina showed me around town to some places I wouldn’t have found or thought of going to like the Piccadilly Circus and Soho District and also to the morbidly, interestingly weird Hunterian Museum. It was also cool to talk her about Jiu-Jitsu and bring me out to the gym when I my host got held up at work. Thanks again Nina for showing me around, was so great to meet you and we’ll definitely keep in touch!
I stayed the first few nights at a hostel, one I did not enjoy but there’s no sense complaining about it and dwelling on bad hosts. I had stayed there because my BJJ host Jorge had his brother in town at the same time. I met up with Jorge at his place to drop off my bags just as his brother was getting ready to leave, it was a lot of fun meeting both of them and talking about traveling. Between Jorge and his brother they have traveled a good deal of Europe and had some great tips for traveling around. Jorge lives in a really nice apartment down town (I call it down town, I really don’t know where down town is in London since each district has so much going on), so I got to walk around to a lot of places rather than always take the metro, which can be pretty expensive if you travel a lot. Jorge and I hung out and he brought me out to some places to eat, it’s always fun to go eat with someone from the area, they know where’s good to eat and show you places you otherwise would have probably missed. We all get our favourite places to eat, and I love being brought out to them when visiting people. Jorge and I had some great conversations about Jiu-Jitsu, or martial arts in general, and how it helps with everyday life. As mentioned earlier Jorge got held up at work when I visited his gym, but he still needed the outlet so went to go lift weights or hit up the kickboxing class. He would go to the morning class for kickboxing or go workout before work if he was going to miss the evening. I admire his discipline to get that training in, as a lot of people don’t have that initiative, myself included. Training is very much a part of Jorge’s life, as it is mine too, and we agreed that having the outlet to release stress, clear the mind, get that physical exertion and let go of the negativity and recharge on the positive vibes of the gym is something everyone should have. I bet there would be a lot less stress in the world if everyone trained. Thanks so much for taking care of me Jorge, I loved our conversations, but next time we’ll have to train together!
The first gym I visited this stay was during the evening of getting into London. I found the hostel, dropped off my bags and left for Borehamwood BJJ, which is in Borehamwood which is a small town in the northern outskirts of London. This is not a gym on my list and I never knew it existed until a week or so before coming back to London. I was sitting at the table talking with Giles in Glasgow during my stay with him and I saw something that reminded me of Meerkatsu, an ad or a post by him or someone wearing his gear, I forget which. “Hey, I wonder where he is I bet I’m passing by his place soon” I said and looked him up, as it happens Meerkatsu is situated in London. I sent a message on Facebook telling him about my journey and asking if he’d be up to meet and do an interview, completely on a whim. He got back to me with in 10 minutes, agreeing to do the interview, inviting me out to his club and asking me more about my journey being fascinated about it, I was floored! I’m a big fan of Meerkatsu, I love his artwork, it hits me on so many levels (don’t worry I won’t fanboy about it here) so I was really excited for this. I made it out to the small community center and found Meerkatsu’s, Prof. Seymour Yang’s, gym. Prof. Seymour sets up in a small space that is shared with a dance group, so each class he puts out the rolls of tatami and tapes them up. I showed up as he was setting up and there were a few students stretching. He quickly came over to welcome me to his club, I thought it was funny he was so happy to have me visit when I was so happy to able to meet the guy behind Meerkatsu.
It was a fun class, a lot of the students were younger and eager to learn and happy to have a visitor from Canada in class. After going through some fun techniques it was time to roll and I had a turn with most the students. Some had experience in other styles like Wrestling or Judo but they were still working on their Jiu-Jitsu game, so I was able to capitalize on their holes and help them out with some pointers afterwards. I also got to roll with Prof. Seymour, both in gi and no gi and we rolled for a while after class. I’m bigger and heavier but he’s a black belt, we both rolled light respecting each other, and it was a lot of fun testing my game on his and trying to find a hole in his. Seymour Yang is the nicest guy, he made me feel so welcome at his club and was genuinely interested in talking to me and we had a fun time doing the interview together. Thank you Sir, I look forward to us meeting again!
The next place I went to was Urban Kings Gym which is were Jorge trains and also where I new friend Nina trains. The initial plan was to meet up with Nina before class and meet Jorge at the gym, but Jorge got held up at work so I was a good thing I made plans to meet up with Nina so I had someone to bring me to the gym and introduce me to everyone. The gym is down a side street in a court of stores and restaurants, it was much better being brought to it than me trying to find it on my own. It had the usual free weights and machines that gyms have, with a section for kickboxing and in the back room was the BJJ mats. There were a lot of guys on the mats, all of them that I met were very friendly too. The class itself dealt with a series of moves that weren’t great to for me, it all started from a De La Riva lasso, which I had a lot of problems getting into, and then sweeping or moving from there. I’m sure if i worked at it enough I could find a way for it to work for my body shape, the coach gave me some great tips to help me out but it was tough going. As the class went on I was starting to not feel too good by the end so I sat out of rolling. I sat on the side of mats and watched everyone roll and chatted with some of the students. It sucked not being to roll with the guys, but I didn’t want to risk throwing up on the mats, or worse. Despite everything it was a good time training with Urban Kings, thanks for everything guys!
Roger Gracie HQ
One gym I had to go to was the Roger Gracie Academy HQ. I had held it off until now, opting to check out the other gyms before heading to the big one everyone talks about. I sent an e-mail hoping to meeting Roger and maybe even do a video for the blog, but I got no response. I just chalked it him being busy. I set out to the gym hoping that Roger would still be at the gym so I could at least get a photo with him. I found the gym easy enough and showed up early to sign a waiver and get ready for class, but I was out of luck for the photo, Roger was not in that evening.
The class was pretty full and I met some cool people, the few I had been talking to online weren’t around but there was Joe, who I had just met on Facebook through a mutual friends of Chris Crossan having just visited Stockton. We had a cool chat about the club and my journey so far and experiences with Catch Wrestling before class. During class I was teamed up with a big tall purple belt, I forget his name but he took to me and we trained the whole evening with him giving me pointers for my game. The instructor, Prof. Negromonte, spent the time going over positional questions, troubleshooting people’s problems with their game. There wasn’t any rolling that night but a lot of the class was live training so it was a good workout and a lot of time spent working on my game. As the class went on I recognized a familiar face in the back, a black belt sitting and watching and helping the white belts. It was A.J. Agazarm. I was shocked he was there, him being a Gracie Barra guy I would have figured he was be at a GB club unless he was there training with Roger Gracie, maybe he did I as did and just showed up hoping Roger would be there. Part of the warm up included going for a take down from a slap, a kind of self defence move, and given that A.J. had just been involved in an incident where he was slapped by his opponent there were a lot of glances his way and some snickers. My training partner and I quietly made the joke of A.J. being there was why we were going over this technique. Although he gets a bad reputation A.J. was actually really nice the short time I talked to him after class and during class he did spend a lot of time helping out the lower belts.
Despite Roger Gracie himself not being around it was a great visit to the much talked about club, hopefully next time I get better luck and am able to meet him, or maybe even do an interview, one can only hope!
I was really excited to do this interview. I have been a fan of Meerkatsu since I first saw his rashguards online. I’ve bought some as well a shirt and gi designed by him since then. Like I said earlier I sent the message on a whim and was surprised to get such a happy and warm reply so quickly. Seymour Yang and I talked for quite bit to figure out when would be good to do the interview too, showing me how much he actually cares about meeting people. We had a great conversation, both in the interview and at the gym after class as we put away the mats. I’m sure Seymour and I could go on for another half hour or more talking about Jiu-Jitsu. It was an honour to talk to Seymour about how Meerkatsu came around, his Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts background and how he balances out his family, the company and running his BJJ club. I hope you find it just as interesting as I did, sorry for the reverb audio.
To watch the video head over to the Panda’s Odyssey YouTube Channel to check out it, and past interviews too. While there please show some love and like, share, comment and subscribe to the channel, thanks!
After such a fun stop in London my time in the UK was over. I made so many friends, saw so much and realized how much more there is to see. Thanks for all the great experiences guys! Now it’s time to head off to see the rest of Europe, starting with Paris France!
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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