End of an Era: Trying To Pick a Home as a Globetrotter and Failing

Dust Mop Jiu Jitsu: The Expat Files: Chapter Eight: Vermont  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu-Williston, Vermont

-On looking for a home as a globetrotter and not finding one

This is the Eighth and final chapter 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.

I’m a bit of a youtube junkie. I love me a good explained video or a short doc about somebody doing something incredible with their lives. If you’re looking for a good one, there’s one called Two Years on a Bike. This Dutch guy, Martijn Doolaard, goes on an amazing bicycle journey from Alaska to Patagonia. The cinematography is amazing, the storytelling beautiful and you really feel like you are right there with him. But what struck me was the last part where he is so burned out. In North America he was so excited to meet people, go camping alone and soak up the adventure. But as soon as he finishes, he abruptly packs up his things and rushes back to the Netherlands. 

I identify with that. At the beginning of 2019, I had just arrived in Burlington, Vermont after a year and a half of being abroad. Even after arriving in the states, my wife and I were still living out of suitcases at my parents houses. The adventure was amazing spanning three continents and 7 Jiu Jitsu gyms between them. At this point I had lost my steam. I just wanted a home to live in and a place to train regularly. 

There were certain things I wanted to keep from our lifestyle in Korea. Of course BJJ was one of them. I needed to find my newest place to call home after Ulsan Fight Gym. The other major lifestyle improvement I knew I wanted to continue was riding a bike. As soon as I arrived in Ulsan, I rented one for the year and rode it almost every day. It honestly feels like the perfect way to travel. I knew I would be disappointed in myself if I went back to driving as my default.

Rachel and I could really only afford one car. Burlington was already covered in snow when we arrived on January 1, 2019. Sometimes the streets got so snowy that we had to park our car in the main garage downtown. But in Korea, I rode my bike every day to work and jiu jitsu. It added a sense of adventure to even the shortest trips. So while Rachel had the car, I got a mountain bike with metal studs for the ice.

With the car and the apartment, I needed to find my place to train. So I set my sights on Vermont BJJ. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much from the experience there except the realization that it couldn’t be the place for me. 

If you go there and you’re reading this, I hope you understand that this article isn’t here for me to needlessly pick on your gym. It’s to explain to my readers how I ruled out a gym from being the one. It’s not a lens I had to use when visiting other gyms in my travels, but I wasn’t looking for an interesting experience, I was looking for a home. 

If you haven’t seen his channel before, Icy Mike, a combat sports vlogger, once made a brilliant video about how to pick a martial art gym. He puts people into two main categories. The first are people that are there to compete at the highest level. The second is…everyone else. 

For the first folks, you find the place that competes, and wins, at the highest level. That tackles everything else. But for everyone else, there’s only three criteria.

  • It’s close to your house.

I packed my gi, and rode my heavy mountain bike to Vermont BJJ. From our place it’s about a 30 minute ride. Doing this in the snow is always tricky. The shoulders on the road get pretty narrow and drivers aren’t always the friendliest folks in the Northeast. It’s pretty easy to get overheated and dehydrated. As it turned out, the gym was closed by the time I got there so I went home. A few days later, I managed to get the car and make it back. All I could think about was how hard it would be to bike for an hour with a BJJ lesson in between. 

With the car, it only took fifteen minutes to get there. Still I knew that I wouldn’t always have access to it and needed a place closer by. 

  • You can afford it

I honestly don’t remember much about the lesson. That’s actually a good thing. I do remember thinking that it felt familiar enough for me to be interested in becoming a member. The instructor was nice, the training partners pretty chill. A lot of them reminded me of the folks at Boston BJJ. An older crowd for sure but not as rowdy as the folks at Grind, which I had tried the week before. 

At the end of the lesson, I had a good conversation with the instructor. He handed me a price sheet. It was the first time I experienced sticker shock in BJJ. 180 dollars a month would guarantee me two lessons a week. Any more and I was looking at spending 200 bucks. This place was way out of my price range.

In my article on Grind I talked about the tough rolls and how I wasn’t ready for them. I’ve spent enough time in the BJJ world to know that their tuition is not outside the norm. Outsiders tend to balk at the price, but it’s important to remember that every BJJ lesson is taught by someone who is providing a service. That’s a little different than just paying a rock climbing membership where nobody is instructing you. But again, I wasn’t in a position to pay that kind of tuition back in 2019. Nowadays, in Northampton, I pay something close to it. Physically and financially, I’m now in a different place. 

  • You like the guys there

The guys there were solid. But getting to know folks usually comes with time. I do have patience with the fact that BJJ practitioners aren’t always the most forthcoming with new people. The folks at Fairborn were uncommonly friendly but they only had a few people there. In most gyms there’s often an attitude akin to “I’ll learn your name once you stick around for more than two months.” Once you learn how much work is involved in being in this sport, you realize not everybody makes it past that point . 

1 out of 3 wasn’t enough for me to sign the contract. I left that day feeling like Martijn Doolaard almost getting to the destination. I just wanted the search to be over so I could get on with my life. 

It’s hard to predict what gyms will meet all three criteria. If you read my next article, you’ll find out. 

The Dust Mop Takeaway:


This is a strange article compared to the rest of the ones I’ve written. Again, if you are a member of Vermont BJJ, please know I’m not just trying to crap on your gym. I recommend you go to my home page to understand what this project is and why I’m doing it. 

But the main memory I have from this gym experience is how to understand when a gym is not the right fit for you. 


End of an Era:

Most globetrotters who write stories and make videos have a home gym that they leave for a period of time to go explore the world. I had the opposite experience, I spent three months traveling and training at different academies without any place to claim as mine. Towards the end, I wasn’t looking for adventure anymore. I was looking for a home.  

I didn’t stop traveling and training once I found it. But I was no longer a ronin with nobody checking on my progress. All the fun and freedom of floating around to different schools reminded me of what I lacked and needed: mentors and coaches that are invested in me. Vermont Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the last gym I visited as an expat. 

The next chapter will begin a new series about what it meant for me to approach training more seriously in a focused way. I would continue to travel to other schools. My wanderings were over, but my true journey was about to begin.