After training at Roots Athletics in Philly on Tuesday, I made a B-Line to my next destination: Washington D.C.. I hadn’t been to the capital since 2005, and was ready to do some sight seeing! I’d slept the night before in my Jeep at Maryland House, a rest stop off I-95S about an hour north of D.C.. After the two training sessions from the day prior, I decided to spend my Wednesday unicycling around the city, visiting monuments and museums along the way. I got some great photos, saw the monuments I cared about, and visited the National Zoo. If you’re ever in Washington D.C., go to the zoo. It was absolutely incredible and, considering it’s free entry, hard to pass up.
My preferred method to getting around cities.
At the end of my day in D.C., I started driving south to North Carolina, where I’d planned to train at Chapel Hill Gracie Jiu Jitsu the next morning. It had been years since training at a Royce Gracie affiliate, so I was unsure of what to expect, but I was soon to be pleasantly surprised. On my way out of Washington, I may or may not have nearly lost my gi pants. Pro tip: if you put something on top of your car, make sure you grab it before driving away… otherwise, it’ll fly off your car at 50 mph and necessitate you stopping in rush hour traffic on a bridge.
The only photo I got at Chapel Hill: I was too busy training to grab more!
After spending a rainy night in my car in a Walmart parking lot just 10 minutes from the gym, I arrived at a clean, southern strip mall. All I could see was a sign that said, “Gracie Jiu Jitsu”, and assumed that’s where I was going! I walked in the doors to quite a sight: to my left and straight ahead was a professional looking kickboxing gym setup. To my right? A mixture of green Gracie mats, roll-out mats, and other miscellaneous mats. I was excited. I was greeted by Tim Hufford, an ex-military, Royce Gracie purple belt who is one of the main instructors at Chapel Hill Gracie Jiu Jitsu. He apologized for the appearance of the mats; turns out they’d finished an expansion of the gym not three weeks earlier, and were still waiting on the new mats to arrive! He pointed me towards the locker room, and I went and got suited up!
Class at CHGJJ was pretty informal. No bowing in, no formal warm ups, just diving into jiu jitsu. There was something to be said about this “no frills” approach to the class. I spoke to Tim and Dwayne, their 350 lb., 6’7” blue belt, about this after class. Tim said, “This is advanced class. These guys aren’t here for politics, gym drama, etc. They’re here for jiu jitsu, and they’re here to train.” I loved it. I partnered up with another blue belt, Steve, and we drilled the armbar sequence we were working that day. The class consisted of eleven people; three white belts, three blue belts, three purple belts, and two brown belts. Tim showed us some armbar finishes; one when you break the grip towards the hip, and one when you break it towards the head. He went over a few different grip break options, as well as the importance of wrist locks in relation to attacking an arm bar.
“An armbar is just a wrist lock I didn’t finish.”, he said.
The one detail that stood out for me was with a particular grip break. It involved taking your hand that’s close to their hip, looping it under the arm you’re attacking, posting with the other hand, pressuring in, and sliding your hips under their shoulder blade to turn them away. It’s a detail I’d seen dozens of times in the past four years, but it finally clicked.
After class cleared out, I hung around with Tim and one of the blue belts, Dwayne. Dwayne is one of those guys you find at every gym: the BIG guy. At 6’7”, weighing 350 lbs, Dways was by FAR the biggest guy I’ve ever rolled with. I tried everything in my toolbox, but I couldn’t move him. We chatted about jiu jitsu, competition, my trip, and everything in between. They were incredibly kind fellas, and I’m glad I got to train with them!
After a quick shower, I hopped in the Jeep to drive to my next destination: Charlotte, North Carolina! Driving through the tailwinds of the Appalachians was beautiful, and a drive everyone should do given the chance! I was en route to train at an Atos affiliate in Charlotte; Fernando Loor Vera Jiu Jitsu.
A little panoramic action from ATOS Charlotte: Simple, but that’s all we needed.
Fernando’s gym is located inside a massive fitness facility on South Tyron Street in Charleston. Class was taught by Fernando Loor Vera himself, an IBJJF Certified Referee and Black Belt under Gilbert Burns.
When I first stepped on the mat for the 7:15pm NoGi class, I was excited to finally don my nogi attire for the first time on my trip. I’m typically more interested in gi jiu jitsu, but I do train NoGi on occasion to both keep my skills up without the gi and get in a good workout; the faster pace guarantees some fun, scrambly rounds.
I was greeted by one of FLV’s blue belts, a guy named Mike. He asked about my trip, my sponsorship with BJJGlobetrotters, my plans, etc. He was very genuine in his questions, and even hooked me up with a few packages of some finger tape that his company produces: TapTape! Apparently, TapTape is sold on Amazon and is the #1 rated tape they sell… for rock climbing, interestingly enough. It’s the best finger tape I’ve used: it’s not quite as sticky as MonkeyTape, but is even more durable. The tape comes in 15 yard rolls and are cut to 1/3 inch; the PERFECT size for taping your fingers. They don’t have a website up just yet, but I’ll be happy to send his contact information to anyone interested. Just comment below!
This very generous gift is amazing. AWESOME job, Mike. Your product is second to none.
Class started with something I’m not used to: a yoga warm-up. This was extraordinarily pleasant, and is something I’d take back to my home gyms. This was followed by some dynamic warmups with calisthenics. The humidity tore through my northern blood, and I was drenched by the time I finished warm ups.
For drilling, I paired up with one of their blue belts: Johnny. We drilled the knee cut pass followed by spinning to the back. Drilling was very structured: you do twenty, I do twenty. I really liked the structured nature of the class, and it definitely added to the experience!
Technique-wise, Fernando showed us some key details in using Reverse De la Riva to defend the knee cut pass. He went over Kiss of the Dragon details (which I desperately needed) and a calf crush/back take from RDLR. After about 50 minutes of drilling, it was time to roll! There were nine people in class including myself and Fernando, and I rolled with everyone. Something I noticed about the southern grapplers I’ve encountered is the perpetuity towards scrambles. I’m very position oriented: I get to a spot, maintain position, then move on to the next. I’ve noticed with the southern grapplers that there’s a big focus on scrambling; moving faster than your opponent can defend. It was a breath of fresh air, and I had a blast! I caught a roll with Fernando, and promptly got smashed. He gave me some tips after the roll about using my feet to post on their hips when using my open guard: I’d heard this before, but hearing it from him really drove the point home.
Class ended with a yoga cooldown and a pyramid set of calisthenics very similar to what I encountered at Roots in Philly. My chest burned, my hips cramped, and my body wanted to give out, but I kept going. Fernando said,
“This is when diamonds are created. Diamonds don’t happen when you’re comfortable: they happen under pressure!”
Class ended, and everyone swiftly left the mats. I was invited by Fernando to join the crew at a nearby biker bar, Mac’s Speed Shop, for their weekly Thursday post-training outing. I’d intended on getting on the road to Nashville, but gladly took them up on their offer. I’m incredibly glad I did: the food was amazing, the guys were awesome, and the conversation was non-stop. We talked about jiu jitsu, Mike’s tape business, my hobbies outside jiu jitsu (I showed them some card tricks: Fernando called me a witch. Fun times!), and had extensive conversations about how jiu jitsu is evolving.
Many thanks for letting me train, fellas. Looking forward to crossing paths again: Oss!
Although I’m barely a week into my trip, I’m already making memories that will last a lifetime. I left Mac’s feeling amazing about the journey ahead. I drove about an hour before crashing at a truck stop near Sieverville, South Carolina. The next day was planned to be filled with climbing in Chattanooga, but plans change. More on that in my next post! Until then: Happy Memorial Day everyone! Go train!