The Grapple Travel Show

Hey Everyone!

I finally published the first (pilot) episode of The Grapple Travel Show featuring the small gym I currently train at.

If you enjoy it I’d love to hear from you, especially if you have any ideas on how I can change and improve it for future episodes.

I’m currently editing the first official episode, which is on a BJJ Globetrotter affiliated gym in London called Wave BJJ and I have a few more gyms filmed and in the edit stage, plus a number of gyms on my future itinerary.

You’ll see from the pilot intro that I’m converting a school bus into a home so I can travel to gyms across Europe and even further afield in future. This is a huge project but it’s slowly manifesting and it’s the dream of travelling and training across borders that keeps me going.

That’s all for now but I’ll be back here with more project updates when I’ve published episode one 😃

Happy training,



A picture of me with Kao BJJ in ethiopia

My Experience at Kao BJJ in Ethiopia

Hi there, I’m Heythem from

I spend my time blogging& traveling – visiting different BJJ Gyms around the world, especially in places where you wouldn’t expect to find BJJ.

I’ve been to BJJ Gyms in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and I’m currently training in Baghdad, Iraq.

One experience I hold dear is my time at Kao BJJ in Addis Ababa.

At the beginning of 2023, I went to Ethiopia for three months. Of course, I didn’t want to stop training Jiu-Jitsu. So, I tried to find a way to train BJJ in Ethiopia. I looked online to see whether I could find a BJJ gym. I only found one in the whole country: Kao BJJ in Addis Ababa.

I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first time going to a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym outside of Europe. So I took a cab and went there.

I’m so grateful I went – they have many dedicated and driven athletes and one of the nicest atmospheres I’ve ever witnessed.

A picture taken within Kao BJJ in Ethiopia. It's a group picture with me and the other BJJ practitioners
The Kao BJJ Gang!!

Training Schedule, Location & Pricing

They train 4x a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. You can check out their schedule on their Instagram site.

They offer both Gi and No-Gi training. But I didn’t have my Gi, so it’s okay to come without a Gi if you don’t have one.

They are located right behind Meskel Square, in Juventus Club. I got a bit lost getting there, but if you get lost, ask the locals about “Juventus Club.” They usually know. Once in Juventus Club, go through until the very end of the complex – there you find their Gym.

And if you take a cab (Feres or Ride are the cab companies in Ethiopia – similar to Uber), tell them to drive you to Meskel Square.

The pricing of this Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gym is not high if you are used to European or American prices. For exact prices, either contact them on Instagram or Facebook or text Yared (the head coach) directly at his number: +251 92 217 1985.

When I trained there, I discovered that a blue belt training under Kao opened up his own Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Gym in Hawassa, Ethiopia! So I also went and visited them too.

This Gym is much smaller but equally as nice. If you want his contact, contact me or ask the guys in Addis about him.

My Experience at Kao BJJ

I can not speak highly enough of that Gym. They take their training seriously. Their head coach was an American black belt named Colin. Unfortunately, he is no longer there, so the head coach is a purple belt named Yared.

Yared is highly skilled, and he knows how to teach. Even though he knew I would be there for a limited time, he took his time for me. He gave me attention and was super friendly. You can truly feel he’s passionate about what he’s doing.

The Gym is packed on weekdays. Although it is rather small, there’s enough space for everybody.

Their team consists of a great mix of white and blue belts. And from what I saw, the blue belts are legit. They could easily compete with the blue belts in Europe.

I felt welcome there at all times. They were very supportive and welcoming, and I loved training with them. I cannot wait to go back.

The Background of Kao BJJ

The head coach, Yared, has a Judo background and got involved in BJJ (Idk how, good question you should ask him…) He was a blue belt when he started Kao BJJ in Ethiopia.

Then Colin, the American black belt, took over most of the training. Under him, Yared got promoted to a purple belt.

They started small, but over the years, more people became interested. I also saw some non-Ethiopians training there.

Now, they have many great members—many new white belts, some established white belts, and many blue belts.

Now, they are recognized as one of the best BJJ Gyms in East Africa, with many great athletes training there.

The Future of BJJ in Ethiopia

Kao BJJ’s goal is to make Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu more accessible in Africa. They are at the forefront of promoting this beautiful martial art. They are the only ones training BJJ in Ethiopia and want to expand.

They are also cooperating with BJJ Gyms in neighboring African countries. They participate in East African competitions and are heavily involved in the BJJ community.

Their intention is beautiful, and I’m sure they’ll have great success. From what I saw, the future of BJJ in Ethiopia is bright.

Final Words

So, as you can see, I’m a fan. Ethiopia is not easy to navigate at the beginning. I was in a foreign country, which was a lot to process.

But once I went to Kao, things became easier. I met great people, got a lot of guidance and support, and had a great time there.

So, if you’re considering visiting a BJJ Gym in Ethiopia, please do. They are open to everybody and have a great atmosphere.

And if you have any questions, please reach out; I’m happy to help!!

Travelling and Training Martial Arts in the 90’s

Before BJJ

Back in the mid 90’s in my late teens/early 20’s I wasn’t aware Brazilian Jiu Jitsu existed. I was training other martial arts. I started with Taekwondo but soon lost interest in that when my best friend Rich introduced me to Wing Chun.

Later I would also mess around with a little JKD and Kali and much later Boxing and Muay Thai, before finally giving up all forms of striking in my late thirties for pure grappling only.

I don’t know why I’m high kicking this dummy, there’s no high kicks in Wing Chun 😆

I trained Wing Chun with Rich for around six years, at first with Sifu Anton Van Thomas in various parts of London and Surrey and then Rich and I left for Hong Kong to train with the late Grandmaster Ip Ching, the youngest son of Ip Man, who’s since been cemented in martial arts history with a string of part biographical, part fictional movies.

His older brother Yip Chun was more famous but was getting pretty old and frail by then and we were far more taken by the much younger, more sturdy and robust brother who taught at the Hong Kong Ving Tsun Athletic Association in Mong Kok where we travelled to classes by bus, ferry and then MTR, twice a week from our beachside apartment on Lantau Island.

We also arranged weekly private lessons at his home, a modest apartment where he and his wife lived, which also housed his father’s wooden dummy, the same dummy Bruce Lee had learnt on many years before, which felt like a ridiculous honour for two young foreigners obsessed with martial arts.

Terrible quality photos but it’s all we have, this was pre smart phones and it’s only due to Rich having a camera that we have anything at all.

Training in Hong Kong

There was only just enough room in that apartment to complete all three hand forms, Mook Yan Jong (wooden dummy), Baht Cham Do (butterfly knives) and Lok Dim Boon Kwan (6 and a half point pole), though I’m sure we almost put holes in their wall on a few occasions.

Grandmaster Ip Ching did not speak any English so a student of his was kind enough to join almost every session to translate for us. There were a couple of occasions where he wasn’t there and we muddled through but there was definitely one very memorable time for me, where both the translator and Rich were not able to come and I found myself alone with the Grandmaster for our private session. The training was fine but a two hour class is a long session and we’d always stop for a break half way through where his wife would bring us tea and we would sit for a few minutes before resuming training. I had spent a year previous to our first trip trying to learn Cantonese but now I’m trying to learn French I know that an hour’s class once a week was next to worthless. In that awkward break I got my notebook out and tried to say a few basic things. Suffice to say he politely shook his head and hand, very clearly saying “I don’t know what you’re trying to say and I never will, please stop”. I did stop and never tried again 🤣

We spent six months in Hong Kong and a year or so later we returned again for another three and a half months. Both trips we were able to stay at my Godmother’s little holiday apartment on the beach, which was as memorable a part of the whole experience as the training.

It was pretty dirty and basic with cockroaches, geckos and other wildlife often shacking up with us but we absolutely loved it. We ate instant noodles at the beachside cafes and played a lot of frisbee on the beach, the cleanest beach in Hong Kong at the time. We waited tables and bar tended, taught English and played a lot of pool at a bar near the ferry, sometimes winning enough prize money to pay for our food and drinks. Rich practised his magic tricks on the giggling local girls, we played chess late into the night, listened to music, watched movies, played table tennis at a local club and practiced our forms on our rooftop terrace.

Aside from our three trips into the city to train every week, we ventured further afield here and there too. We visited the Bruce Lee Cafe of course, a few other Wing Chun clubs including one at a University and we bought our own original Wing Chun Poles and Knives from a famous shop specialising in martial arts weapons.

We visited my Godmother every now and then, who lived with her young son in an apartment up in the hills and she sometimes invited us out on her friend’s boat or for a meal at the fancy Hong Kong Yacht Club. Through her we landed a job painting and decorating a beautiful house while the tenants were away and to this day I’m pretty sure we did a good job, even though we were so young and inexperienced.

At the end of our second trip Grandmaster Ip Ching gave us photocopies of his father’s recipe for Dit Da Jow, a famous blend of dried plants which are left for years to soak in rice wine and the resulting tincture used to treat bruising. It smells… unique… but it’s actually quite effective. Our friendly and helpful translator took us off to the Chinese medicine shops to buy the ingredients, which were vacuum packed for us and we managed to get home in one piece. That pack of dried bark and spices sat in my cupboard for years but eventually I did actually make a big flagon of it and it even made it out to Myanmar with me when I moved there years later.

After that second trip Grandmaster Ip Ching said he didn’t have anything left to teach us and we had to just keep practising what we’d learnt. He presented us with our Instructor Certificates and off we went to a local mall to have business cards made with shiny metallic embossed lettering with both English and Chinese characters.

I never really intended to teach but Rich returned for a forth trip a few years later and taught Wing Chun in London for many years. He always excelled at anything physical and was and still is an outstanding teacher. He’s a qualified swimming and tennis coach and now a BJJ black belt coach too and puts a lot of thought into his teaching.

On that second trip I had already started a business plan for a martial arts social club, which eventually did come to fruition a couple of years later, albeit in a slightly different form. Rather than try to describe Ginglik, the club in Shepherds Bush London which I owned and ran for 11 years with my boyfriend and business partner Colin, I have a video on my channel which will give you a good idea.

Play Fighting to BJJ

Before I discovered BJJ I had returned to Wing Chun after an eight year hiatus while running Ginglik, this time with Rich as my coach instead of training partner.

A bunch of Wing Chun buddies were round at my flat in London one evening and we started play fighting as we often did, which is always tricky when you only train a striking art. You can’t generally punch and kick your friends, though I’ve suffered plenty of dead arms and legs and dished a few out too. Not for the first time I found myself pinned to the floor and in that moment I knew the time had come to learn some grappling.

Having someone bigger and stronger sit on me and then pin my hands to the ground, was frustrating and scary and it made me appreciate how lucky I was to have only ever experienced it with my brother or other martial arts friends, whom I trusted. I never wanted to be in that position with someone I didn’t trust or who intended to harm me.

One of the guys told me a very reputable gym had just moved premises from Hammersmith, which wasn’t too far away, to a street just a short walk away. This gym was Carlson Gracie London and I soon rocked up one evening for a free trial class.

I was partnered with a brown belt guy who was around my size. He was so nice, patient and helpful and maybe if I’d had a very different experience that first class I would not have wanted to return. I wish I knew who he was so I could thank him now. Partly due to him I immediately fell in love with Jiu Jitsu and definitely wanted to keep training.

Carlson’s policy at the time was to encourage only serious students, so there was no drop in fee (even now this is discouraged with a very high drop in fee) and membership was priced such that only training several times a week made it reasonable. I was only able to train once a week at that time but I noticed that you didn’t have to be a member to take private lessons and that if you shared the private lesson with a friend you halved the cost.

I convinced several of my Wing Chun buddies to join me for private classes. Rich was one of them and our great friend Ash was another, now a brown belt. The others didn’t take to it quite the same! It’s not for everyone 😆

After about six months of these weekly classes, give or take a few, I left to go travelling for six months, intending to head straight back to resume training somehow, though with the club in London closed I wasn’t sure how I would earn a living or even afford to live in London. Turns out I never had to.

Thanks for reading,

Next Time…

My first BJJ experience abroad, alone in Pattaya, Thailand on a Muay Thai camp with a visiting Aussie black belt teaching BJJ and some crazy Russians trying to break me, a week before I move to live in Myanmar and discover there’s no mats to train on, anywhere 😅


What It’s Like to Use the Globetrotter Network for the First Time: Q23 Bangkok

Dust Mop Jiu Jitsu: The Expat Files: Chapter Two: Q23-Bangkok, Thailand

On the pleasures of living out of a bag, trusting your commitment to BJJ and overcoming the fear to drop-in to another academy.

This is Chapter 2 of what I’m calling the Expat Files. If you want to know more about what this project is, you can read more about it in the first article here.

There’s a specific joy that comes with living out of a bag that’s small enough to be your carry-on. You feel like you’ve stripped down to your most basic essentials. Sadly, my bag that lasted me 10 years and 8 countries fell apart on the last day I left Korea. At the Daegu airport, I quickly found an outdoor store, and repacked my stuff. To save space, we only packed quick-dries, easy layers and, since I was still doing grad school, my laptop. For BJJ, I had decided against bringing my travel gi. All the no-gi clothing lends itself easily to hiking. I said a wistful goodbye to my favorite adventure bag and we were on our way!

After one year teaching abroad, Rachel and I were ready to slowly make our way back to the states. Our first stop was Bangkok, Thailand. We made no specific plans since we knew we would be physically and emotionally exhausted. Leaving our job as kindergarten teachers meant saying goodbye to a hundred small children screaming they loved us. Sitting at the airport, I remember reflecting on how many aspects of daily life would no longer be accessible to us. No more bathhouses, festivals about anything and everything or barbecue with unlimited side dishes (it’s just not the same anymore). My gut had grown accustomed to eating kimchi multiple times a day. Would I even have access to that in the states?

At that point I was in the habit of going to Jiu Jitsu three times a week. Would that be another thing that disappeared from my life like random street protests and little kids treating me like a jungle gym?  Not wanting to lose my momentum, I looked up places on the BJJ Globetrotters facebook group. The recommendations brought me to Adam Shahir Kayoom’s gym, Q23. While I was excited to go, I was definitely unsure about what it would be like to visit someone else’s gym. It took me almost 15 years from hearing about BJJ to finally go to a class and now I was just going to waltz into someone else’s club like it was no big deal. Despite my hesitations, something inside compelled me to go through with it.

Bangkok was so different from where we had taught. It’s a mixture between modern developed Asia with skyscrapers and public transport, but with the rustic vibe that comes with motorcycle taxis and floating markets. Getting inside from the noisy street felt like entering an airlock. The gym was on the fifth floor of a pretty ritzy looking hotel. High ceilings, floral patterns, saunas and people wearing tennis whites. It seemed like a country club until I found a door with the logo on it. Q23 operated in a small room and it reminded me of what I had at Ulsan Fight Gym. To date, it’s the fanciest setting I’ve seen for a BJJ gym but the room itself reminded me of what I had in Ulsan.

Adam was a nice guy as he registered me for the class and gave me the rental gi. I remember being fascinated by their routine. Like most gyms, they had some warm up movement drills. But they did partner shrimping and reverse shrimping through people’s legs which actually gave me more context for that specific movement. To this day, I enjoy showing that to new white belts who seem like they’re struggling to get movement right.

“Okay, let’s do some live rolling (Jits speak for sparring).” As soon as Adam said that,  everyone went to the wall to grab tennis balls. From there, they rolled while holding them in their hands. I watched from the sidelines since I was asked not to spar. If you don’t know Jiu-Jitsu, grips are extremely important. The gis we wear feel like bathrobes because you are allowed to grab the fabric. Holding tennis balls means focusing more on using your legs. Four years later, I have yet to try that. It’s always cool to see a gym do something unique. 

Unlike Ulsan Fight Gym, most people at Q23 were expats so Adam taught in English. It felt so strange to be in BJJ class and be able to understand everything.  Not just for the  lesson, but also the small talk. For context, all the international friends we made in Korea had the same experience:

  • We tuned out the conversations around us since we couldn’t understand them. 
  • We stopped whispering since we assumed most people couldn’t understand us. (It’s a dangerous assumption. Rachel and I got into some pretty embarrassing situations. We definitely had some Korean folks chime in on some very intimate conversations around our sex life…). 

The result is that when you return to the states, people think you speak way too loudly and you find the conversations around you incredibly distracting. The class at Q23 had both problems. I am positive they spoke at a normal volume, but to me it felt like I could hear every word in every sentence in every side conversation.  

Despite not getting to do everything, I had a great time. I was also proud of myself for getting to the class. My biggest worry with leaving Korea was that I wouldn’t keep training. Now I knew BJJ would be at least one thing that I wasn’t leaving behind. 

After the class, a few of us were chilling with Adam. We all laughed as he told us his daughter was getting into trouble in school for putting boys into submission holds. “They keep messing with her! I also keep on telling her that it’s going to make boys feel uncomfortable if you make it look that easy. I’m probably just encouraging her.” 

Except for Ho Chun and a few others, I had never really chatted with someone in a Jiu Jitsu gym. I also never worried about personality clashes since those only occur when you have the ability to communicate. Nobody I was friends with did BJJ and I didn’t know if I could make friends with someone who did. As a visitor, I didn’t know if people would be okay with me being at their gym or perceive it as a dojo storm. But everyone at Q23 was nice, and welcoming. I could see myself hanging out with them. 

I remember this British dude being my training partner. He offered  me a ride back to my hotel. He had been living in Bangkok for ten years, was married to a Thai woman and first came to teach English before moving on to doing some business distribution thing. Before doing BJJ, he trained some Muay Thai but found everyone too aggressive. He felt like Jiu Jistu was more welcoming. I had just met this guy, was in his car, drinking a coffee that he had just bought me. I had to agree that the folks who do BJJ are my kind of people.

Getting a ride, shooting the shit with the instructor and swapping BJJ stories would come in many more gyms. At each one, I imagined what it would like to stay and make it my permanent academy. What if I became a mainstay instead of a blip on the radar? What if I were there for birthdays, tournament wins and holidays? It’s not that hard to imagine that as a possibility. Later in the states, my strategy for finding friends would be joining a Jiu Jitsu gym. It has definitely paid off, but that’s for a later chapter. 


The Dust Mop takeaway: 

There’s a unique kind of insecurity that comes with starting Jiu Jitsu. People get instantly hooked. You might know you want to train forever, but you can’t ensure that you will be there one year later. Life and work might get in the way. But at some point, you do something that gives you evidence that you’ll be in this for the long haul. For me, I knew that getting my ass to a lesson in the first week post Korea was proof that I would continue on. Going to Q23 was proof. It was not a passing fad. I had gone out of my way, on a vacation, to train jiu jitsu. From then on, I was able to trust my own commitment.

This was also the first time I dropped into another community’s gym. Before starting BJJ in Korea, I had been scared to walk into a studio. After Korea, I was intimidated to step into somebody else’s. But since visiting Q23, I no longer have that fear. Instead, I had the feeling that these were all people I would want to know better if I had more time. I knew dropping into gyms was going to be a staple of my jiu jitsu journey as long as I train.

My goal is to visit 100 gyms! If you ever want me to visit yours and write about what it’s like to learn from you, feel free to reach out at [email protected]

If you want to read my articles as soon as they’re published, you can follow me here.

BJJ in Paradise – Academia De La Costa Las Terrenas

When I arrived in Las Terrenas I learned pretty quickly that you cannot rely on Google maps.
I say pretty quickly in a very relative sense, since 2 hours plus of wandering up and down the two roads , questioning which side-alley might’ve been missed, in a strong Caribbean  sun, it didn’t feel quick at all.
But after getting directions from a local we understood that Academia De La Costa Las Terrenas was on the 2nd floor of a small building at the top of the town.
We walked up the steps and through the door to the entrance of Academia De La Costa Las Terrenas, and were greeted with a huge smile from Delvin, or Pipiolo as I came to know him. He has a thermometer in his right hand and a belt in his left. Everyone had to get their temperature taken before entering class.
The gym itself was just a fairly well-sized room covered with puzzle mats, with punch bags at the end of the room and energetic kids all over the place. Kids class was just finishing up.
I saw what I thought was the reception desk that also had a kitchenette behind it. Then looking further I noticed a full bedroom in the room behind.
I later found out that this was Pipiolos home, it was part of his salary from the gym. A proud native Dominican and martial artist, he had been offered to head up the Las Terrenas location, surfing and chilling in the day and teaching in the evenings. By his admission he was living the true martial artist’s dream, surfing and relaxing by day, teaching kickboxing and grappling by night. He became a close friend during our time in Las Terrenas, our first of what is quickly becoming a huge BJJ familia… and nobody forgets their first!
Our class started with an introduction in both Spanish and English (which I appreciated) followed by a pretty full-on warm up. If I were to have any critique of this gym at all, the long warm ups would be it, maybe just because I’m big and lazy – I got pretty sweaty just putting on my gi. Over time they did grow on me a class staple, there were some fundamental movements being drilled in and most importantly, the rest of the class loved it.
When it came to the technique portion I was really impressed, clear, detailed instructions were given (again in both Spanish and English) but it never felt overkill. As the weeks went by, it was clear that Pipiolo was taking us through a whole system, the techniques were strategically introduced to create a complete flow of options… I appreciate that this is jiu jitsu, but in my short time in this sport I’ve seen that this is not always the way it’s taught.
This is helped by the small schedule and group of people in attendance, because there are only a few weekly classes you see the same people at every class, and they all get to follow the same direction.
Pipiolo gave no hiding place for anyone in attendance either, frequently questioning people on their technique and asking them to show it in front of the group.
I LOVED this. Sure, it made people uncomfortable, but that’s the point. If you can’t handle the pressure of a few of your friends watching you demonstrate a technique, how are you then expected to perform in competition? Or God-forbid, “the streets”?
From a personal perspective, one thing I found fascinating were the subtle differences in some of the technical basics. Academia De La Costa was my first experience being a Globetrotter, and it showed me what a exciting path I have ahead – the prospect of discovering all these “accents” of jiu jitsu from around the world, all influenced by the local background and culture… I would get to immerse myself in all of them. And here was just the BEST place to start.
At Academia De La Costa Las Terrenas you have a real mix of people, there are some ex-pats from all around the world of different ages, as well as a whole host of locals, mostly white belts with a few blues and then a couple without any bjj gear at all. I came to learn that many of the locals’ membership is “sponsored” by those who pay. Outstanding. One of the barriers to BJJ in the western world is how expensive the sport can be, not in the Dominican Republic. And they were better for it.
And even though we weren’t training anything close 6+ times a week, everybody was noticeably getting better, myself included. Originally I had felt short-changed that my first stop on my bjj globetrotting journey would only have me train 3x a week or so, but I can honestly say that it wasn’t a negative.
The town of Las Terrenas was absolute paradise and I feel lucky to have been. It is very inexpensive, with access to multiple draw-dropping beaches, great surfing and cool mix of Latin American, Caribbean and European culture.
10 weeks here went by remarkably fast, I remember telling Pipiolo that there was only 2 weeks left and he became visibly saddened and shocked. Time is indeed relative. In such a short time in De La Costa Las Terrenas, life long friends had been made. Pipiolo in particular had been THE local guide, constantly extending invitations to hikes, adventures, local sights and essentially being an awesome friend.
After my first post, I was messaged by Mette (aka @butterfly.on.a.journey) and asked to confirm if she’d really like it, as I did, I would recommend this place to anyone that can go. I then saw her on the @lacostalasterrenas instagram page and was chuffed… So to finish, I just want to selfishly encourage anyone reading this to go – you’ll have an amazing time! Not only that, but I get some warmth in my belly knowing that I was partially responsible.
I’ve included a video showing Las Terrenas from our perspective, maybe there are some small changes now, so if you do go, please let me know @tj_jankowski on Instagram!

Why I Chose To Start Traveling Full Time In 2020

It feels somewhat awkward to open my personal, unique blog with a quote ripped directly from the Original BJJ Globetrotter book. But I just can’t put it any better than this:

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endless, changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” -Christopher McCandless

When I read that, it spoke profoundly to me.

I always knew that I wanted to travel. 


People are (rightly) bagging on 2020 as being a terrible year. I get it, it’s a very strange time to be alive. But so is any, I mean statistically speaking the probability of you existing at all comes out to 1 in 102,685,000 (10 with 2,685,000 zeroes)


For me, 2019 was way worse. I went through a divorce, the gym I was working at flooded and eventually closed and I was left basically alone to question everything. At the time I didn’t have the answers – I thought getting a swanky apartment with really nice “features” would help. 

It didn’t. 

It just added extra holes into the bottom of the bucket that was my finances.


For all of it’s downsides, 2019 introduced me to the thing that would change my life. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know what that was, you’ve probably experienced the same thing.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

I could go on and on about why this sport/community is so amazing, but that’s for another post.

It may have taken the whole year, but slowly, surely, I started to (re)discover my answers. Answers that somehow had been forgotten with time. 


I always knew that I wanted to travel. And the very day that I saw the BJJ Globetrotters community, it was like I had finally been given the keys. Not only was this actually very possible, but it had been done, and was being done.


2019 may have been a crap year at the face of it, but it was the wake up call I needed.

2020 everything would change – I just didn’t know how much.


My online work had grown enough that I could support myself from anywhere in the world, so that was the goal. I assessed the things that were really holding me back – my leases (apartment and car), my stuff and my dog, Xena – and started to problem solve.


By the time the Pandemic started, I knew it wasn’t going to stop me. I hunkered down for a few months and stayed safe, but I began to realise there would always be something.

So I continued to prepare over the months, I started selling/giving away most of my stuff, none of that stuff was going to make me as happy as this adventure would be. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start preaching minimalism, but getting rid of the stuff that I didn’t need was pretty essential, and yes it was liberating.

Finally I arranged to trade my car in, and found a magnificent couple who I knew would be the perfect dog parents for Xena (judging by her instagram @xenawunderbite I was right). I was about to write how heartbreaking it was to give her away, but that would be a lie. Yes, my pooch was my best friend, but I just felt so much happiness, both for her and for me. We were both about to start completely new adventures.


Initially I had planned for a US West-Coast Mat-Surfing-Road-Trip-Extravaganza as soon as my lease was up. Clearly with Covid not going away, I couldn’t do that.


I lost no faith at all. My plans were being changed, but not cancelled. A new search found that The Dominican Republic was the place that ticked my boxes:

  • Allowed visitors from the US
  • Had Covid under relative control
  • Looked beautiful


A simple post on the BJJ Globetrotters Facebook Group asking for help did the rest. A guy by the name of Joe Canada, who I’d never met before, who had no obligation to do anything for me, gave me the complete breakdown. 

And thanks to that breakdown, I’m sitting here in Las Terrenas, having just finished my third and final BJJ session of the week. Living what I believe to be the BJJ Globetrotters life. Or at least, my version of it.

With this blog, I hope to give you my insights to my travels, as well as provide some sort of helpful guide. I can tell you already that Las Terrenas is the most beautiful place you’ve never heard of.

And I’ll give more details later.


For now….Welcome. If you have any questions or just want to follow me along on my trip @tj_traveling is where you’ll find me

p.s. There’s no way words will be able to do Las Terrenas justice. Check out my first (hopefully of many) travel video of the place.

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Brazil part one: A short nature detour before heading back to the mats

After a few months on the road, we finally reached the motherland of BJJ. Even though we loved our time in beautiful Cuzco, Peru, after several weeks struggling in the high altitude and thin, chilly air we were dying to reach Brazil and breathe deep the warm, oxygen-rich ocean breeze and bask in the sun by the beach.

Our entry point was Foz do Iguazu, the incredibly immense waterfalls that exist at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. I had gotten really sick the night before flying out of Peru, so unfortunately my first welcome into the country was a bit less pleasant than I had dreamed. Even more so because Alessia had accidentally booked accommodation on the Argentinian side of the border, not the Brazilian side like we had planned, and we had only noticed the day before arriving (you had one job!). We decided to make the most of it and see the falls from Argentinian side – which turned out to be lucky for us as they offer much more impressive views where you can get right into the mouth of the falls. Words cannot describe how epic they are.

We crossed into Brazil the next day (it was a relatively pain free process to cross the border from Argentina to Brazil by taxi/uber) and I instantly felt like everyone I saw walking down the street had a BJJ t-shirt or massive cauliflower ears. Or it was just my imagination but whatever. We didn’t really have any plans other than making our way to Rio to spend a month in one place and training intensively, but at our hotel in Foz do Iguazu we met a guy promoting tours to the Pantanal region. The Pantanal is an immense tropical wetland renowned for its wildlife – we’d heard that if you want to see animals, you don’t go to the Amazon, you go to the Pantanal. With Alessia and I both being weird animal lovers, we signed on immediately and the next day took a 24 hour bus ride which was surprisingly comfy but still disgustingly long and tiring.

We stayed for 4 nights at Pousada Santa Clara, a privately owned lodge in the Pantanal where we did daily trips by foot, car and boat into the wilderness to see the local wildlife like Caymans, Capybara, piranha, all sorts of birds and our favorite – the local bush pigs who were everywhere (not very exotic, I know). While we didn’t see as much as we would have liked, those were a few very peaceful days for us to just relax in nature and have some delicious local food. Being in the middle of nowhere, we weren’t able to train so instead we focused on yoga practice (well mostly Alessia, while I watched from a nearby hammock surrounded by various animals like I was their god).

After the Pantanal, we couldn’t leave the region without seeing Bonito – an aquatic wonderland where we went swimming with huge fish, jumping off waterfalls in Estancia Mimosa and snorkeling along the Rio da Prata in the bluest, crystal clear water we had ever seen. Again we had showed up without booking anything and it happened to be a Brazilian holiday, but we got lucky and were able to do everything we wanted to do. It turned out there was a BJJ gym right around the corner from our hostel but being the holidays it was closed. 7 days without Jiu Jitsu, we were starting to feel a bit uneasy.

When we were back in grey London planning our trip to South America, we had imagined spending countless days at the beach working on our tan after training. Now, several months into our trip in South America, we could count the number of days spent at the beach on two hands. So by now we were unsurprisingly very keen to get some time for sun, sand and surf – so our next stop was Ilhabela where we could hopefully also get some training in.

Ilhabela is a small island off the coast of São Paulo, famous for its pristine beaches and natural beauty. It’s a popular getaway for well-off Paulistas and so was a little out of our price range, but we decided to splurge a little. We rented an Airbnb on the north western coast of the island in a small town called Viana. As we hadn’t trained for a week and a half we were dying to get back onto the mats, and luckily for us there were a few gyms on the island. We ended up training several days at a school run by a super friendly black belt named Jefferson Viana. We learnt some cool new tricks (both gi and no-gi) and had some great rounds with his friendly team. Their gym is inside a hotel resort with a killer pool and a view of the sea nearby – Jumping off one of the piers near the school for a refreshing dip after training, we finally felt like we were in Brazil. We also spent our time exploring the various beaches and waterfalls on the island (although coming from Bonito and Iguazu Falls, it was a little harder to impress us after that!).

After a lovely week in Ilhabela, we took yet another bus to São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil. We were staying at the house of Marcelo, a friend and teammate from back in London who travels back and forth between Brazil and the U.K. He wasn’t in the country when we were there unfortunately, but he kindly allowed us to stay at his house which he shared with his instructor in São Paulo, Marcio Catenacci, a NS Brotherhood black belt under Murilo Santana. Marcio was an awesome guy who was always full of energy and enthusiasm, constantly working whether providing functional fighting personal training classes to some of São Paulo’s rich and famous, or teaching at his gym in Bodytech.

Bodytech was one of the most incredible facilities we had ever seen – it was like a city itself with a full sized Olympic swimming pool, tennis courts and a luxurious spa area with sauna, hot pools and a jacuzzi. Not to mention the mat area was large and pristine. Marcio’s team were all super friendly and welcoming, and his classes were full of interesting drills and great sparring. Many of the classes were focused around sweeping options from Single-Leg-X which fit into both our games nicely.

We also spent a lot of time training at the NS Brotherhood headquarters in Aclimacao. On our first day there, we ran into Leandro Lo as he was on his way out. Alessia may have gone into shock and turned into a teenage groupie for a few moments, she may have even drooled a little (she’s a bit of a fan). Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to share the mat with Lo as he was headed to Finland for ADCC (sorry Alessia!). Instead we had several classes with Alemao (Wellington Luis) who was an incredible teacher and showed us several nice moves and concepts – from pulling guard, to elevator sweeps, lapel techniques and some very useful tricks to get the second hook in from the back.

Sparring at NS Brotherhood was always very high-level and competitive, but still friendly and everyone was welcoming. Alemao would expect you to warm up by yourself before class and would jump right into the techniques. He would usually show 2/3 techniques per class and would give you plenty of time to drill the techniques (about 8 minutes straight per person) which we found super helpful as it lets you really feel out the technique thoroughly. He would also personally pair people up for rounds (something which seems common here in Brazil but we weren’t so used to), which meant we got to roll with a great variety of people in each class, from white belts to black belts, but all roughly the same weight.

Alessia also found a great yoga studio nearby; so every morning she would wake up super early to go to class, then we would head to training at either Bodytech or NS Brotherhood headquarters in Aclimacao, and then again at night time. It was pretty exhausting, and in between we would nap or try explore some of the city, but São Paulo is HUGE. You need to take cabs or public transport everywhere if you don’t have a car. It has amazing options for food but a lot of them were a bit out of our budget, so we took advantage of having a kitchen to cook as much as possible and save a bit of money.

The best part about Marcelo’s place was the fully matted living room – I couldn’t imagine living without one of these now. Every day Alessia and I would just spend some time drilling, trying out new techniques or sparring, and sometimes Marcio would come and show us some cool moves and give some advice.

Marcelo came back from London on our last day in São Paulo, so we were able to hang out a bit and get one last session in on the mats at Bodytech. We were really grateful for the place to stay and for His and Marcio’s help in getting used to São Paulo, as well as all the great training we were exposed to.

We left São Paulo wishing we had spent more time there, as there were so many other incredibly gyms we would have liked to try out as well: Demian Maia’s, Alliance, Cicero Costha etc. But we had booked a month’s accommodation in Rio to train already and were committed to that. We’d love to come back and spend a couple more weeks in São Paulo before we get kicked out of Brazil though (visas etc), so stay tuned.

Next stop, one month living and training in Rio!

Marcus and Alessia



Cusco and the struggles of high altitude training

The altitude in Medellin was difficult to handle but as we got to Cusco we realised that was going to be a real struggle.

We had booked the Inca Trail a couple months back and wanted to make sure to arrive in Cusco a few days before the tour started to get some training in. We had heard that Tony de Souza, ex-UFC fighter and the guy who invented the Peruvian neck tie and the "De Souza control" (which led to the Truck position) was teaching at a local gym, Bunker Cusco, and were eager to train with him.

However we had totally underestimated the altitude component! Cusco is a fascinating city: the contrast between the Incan ruins, the Spanish architecture and the modern world creates a magical atmosphere. However, the old Incan capital also sits at over 3600 metres above sea level; as soon as we landed we started feeling dizzy and by night time I had turned into a useless zombie, unable to sleep, breathe and eat, let alone train BJJ (although Marcus didn't feel as effected). And stairs? Forget it. Luckily, on day 3 I started to feel a bit better so we decided to hit the gym.

We showed up at Bunker on a Tuesday morning and were welcomed by one of the gym's managers, Diego. Diego is a super friendly purple belt, originally from Cusco but he actually grew up in London and used to train with one of our team mates, Sonia, years back. Small world!

Diego told us that Tony only took the Monday evening and Tuesday morning classes, teaching his own style which he calls 'Cholitzu'. The word Cholitzu came about by fusing the words jiu jitsu and cholo, a term which generally refers to people with various amounts of Amerindian racial ancestry.

Tony's style was very different from what we were used to, but extremely interesting with a huge focus on flowing. That first day we worked on techniques to counter the knee slice, with variations we hadn't seen before.

Tony is such an interesting and humble character. From his UFC days he seems to have changed quite a bit, adopting a very alternative and simple lifestyle. He would often come to the gym with his adorable children and beautiful wife (who also train!) and run his classes in a question and answer style. Some days we worked on techniques from the back, with a very interesting focus of getting a cross body control (opposite arm and leg) rather than the traditional two hooks. Other days we worked on chokes from turtle 🐢 and half guard techniques, all no-gi. In sparring he is incredibly smooth, and has killer chokes (to be expected from the inventor of the Peruvian Necktie!). He teaches his classes in both (very good) English and Spanish. His brother Nico is a brown belt and teaches several of the other classes during the week. If you ever visit Cusco and get the chance to train with Tony, it is definitely time well spent and you will learn something new.

We also decided to stick around for Diego's class that night. He started with an easy warm up; well, easy for everyone else except Marcus and I as we were still acclimatizing to the lack of oxygen; after two rounds of jogging around the small mat we were very fatigued and during my second round of sparring I had to tap just because I was so out of breath I was about to pass out. I started to feel anxious about my ability to survive the Inca Trail which we were heading out on the very next day.

The next day we had a super early start; our Alpaca Expedition guide, Joel, picked us up at 4.30am. After a two hours drive we arrived at the start of the Trail where our porters, also known at the Green Machines, where already busy setting up camp for breakfast.

One word about the porters: these guys are super human! They each carry about 30kg up and down the trail for 4 days, somehow managing to get to camp before everyone else to set up the tents and to get the meals ready. What's more, they do all of this with a huge smile on their face and even they'll clap at you when you finally make it to camp, about 2 hours after they did (which was a bit embarrassing)!

By dinner time we realised why we paid so much for the tour with Alpaca Expeditions. Alpaca sets up a truly impeccable experience and the food is top level. The chef, Walter, managed to cook the most delicious 5 course meals with very limited equipment every day, and we always went to bed completely stuffed.

The hike was challenging but definitely worth it, with many hidden ruins along the way. On day 4 we reached Machu Picchu. The view of it from the Sun Gate was spectacular and we spent about 3 hours walking around the site, trying to imagine what life Incan must have been like during the Incan empire. We learned, for example, that Incas used young boys' urine to wash their hair (too bad Marcus is slowly but surely reaching his 30's)!

When we returned to Cusco from the Inca trail we decided to stick around for a couple more weeks. Yes, the lack of oxygen and the cold nights were annoying but Cusco's stone streets were just too charming, the food was amazing – the city has some of the best vegetarian food in South America – and finally we wanted to train as much as we could with Tony. One weekend the guys held an open mat at a popular hostel (Loki Hostel) which was a fun experience rolling in the sun in the courtyard of an old colonial building, followed by a seminar with a black belt from Lima, Pablo De Noriega Lazo.

During the days Marcus would take Spanish lessons at a local school called Mundo Antiguo, then we would explore the city and the surrounds: we visited the stunning vivid crystal blue/green of Lake Humantay high in the Salkantay mountains, visited a wildlife park for rescued animals as well as various museums. I was also able to continue my yoga practice in a local school called the Healing House.

Unfortunately for me, during my last week in Cusco I managed to hurt my pinky toe during a warm up before class – it dislocated and was sprained quite badly, so we had to spend the rest of that night in hospital just to make sure it wasn't broken! This made it a bit more difficult to train both BJJ and Yoga, but I still managed to continue.

We loved our few weeks in Cusco, it was a much welcome break from constantly being on the move and the people we met were incredibly welcoming. However by the end we were very excited to move on to our next stop,the motherland of Jiu Jitsu: Brazil 🇧🇷🇧🇷🇧🇷.

Alessia and Marcus

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