Where is the gym located?
San Marcos, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
(Locally we organize under the umbrella name “KEFI Collective” as a way to brand ourselves beyond just “the dudes who do Jiu-Jitsu.” Makes it easier to find us when you’re in the area.
But for all intents and purposes, “Lake Atitlan BJJ” works just as well.)
How many people train there?
We have about 4-6 core members who train regularly (and who actually live here long enough to train regularly). This number is constantly fluctuating since it’s a small town with lots of travelers coming through.
We live in a small town in rural Guatemala. So formalized martial arts is hard to find out here. But one thing we do have is lots of travelers. We’re constantly posting about our trainings with the intention of catching any traveling practitioners who have an itch to train.
It works great during the high season when lots of travelers are around (Nov to Apr). But come low season (May to Oct), it’s mostly back to our dedicated core members.
Is the gym growing – if so by how many new members each month or year?
We’re not a gym. It functions more like a structured open mat session.
We’re simply a group of martial arts how train together, and welcome anybody else how has skills/experience to share.
What are the highest and lowest belt grades training in Lake Atitlán BJJ Guatemala?
We’ve had the full range of belts training with us. Just recently we had a brown belt stay in town for a few months. He helped out a lot in teaching techniques.
When did the gym open?
Some facts about you:
Name: Alphi Quitevis
Belt: White belt (my skill level is probably closer to blue belt, but since we don’t have a formal gym/school, there aren’t belts being earned)
Profession: Business Development Manager
Years in BJJ: 3
Other martial arts: MMA (a little bit from everywhere: Muay Thai + boxing + wrestling + judo), escrima. I was in the US Marine Corps for 8 years and trained in various modalities of combat and defense, including multiple weapons.
Currently living in: San Marcos, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
Originally from: Chicago, USA
Please tell us the story of how your gym came into existence
In the first half of 2021, Jonathan Landa and his friend Milton (blue belt) threw out a post on the local Facebook community group, to paraphrase, “Anybody want to do Jiu-Jitsu?” All they had was a single set of puzzle-piece fitness mats. Two weeks later, I answered their post and joined the training. Another week later a giant blue belt Scotsman joins (who would later put us onto BJJ Globetrotters).
With other people coming in/out of the mix, we then start rolling twice a week, every week. Open mat style.
We did it for 6-7 months straight, just a handful of us. The blue belts helped spin Jonathan and I up to speed (I had some grappling experience from my time in the Marine Corps, to which we transitioned to more BJJ-specific training). We soaked up whatever experience travelers had to share. Blue belts, purple, brown, black. They’ve all come through. Couple of Globetrotters too.
With exception of periods wherein the core group breaks away due to travel (since many of us are foreigners on tourist visas in Guatemala) this “collective” style of training continues.
As mentioned earlier, Jonathan is a big part of why we still train. He’s the one that started organizing people under the KEFI Collective.
Tell us about the people that train in the gym – who are they?
Our core group is an international group of misfits. Jonathan is local Guatemalan; he’s the bulldog. Fitness trainer background, strong af. He’s the backbone of this whole operation. Has an iron half guard that damn-near impossible to pull out — like a bulldog.
We have an Italian guy, Edo. BackgroA/boxund in MMing, with professional cage experience. A big dude, Italian Stallion. Has a mean overhand left, but on the ground he’s quite fluid.
We have Timo, French guy. Tall and long, slender limbs. Years of Muay Thai experience who helps us when we train MMA/striking on Thursdays. He teaches us Muay Thai, we teach him ground game. Has a beautiful question mark kick.
There’s Medhi, another French guy. Years of BJJ experience, Animal Flow trainer. Another beast of a man. Loooong arms which he takes advantage of by specializing with the darce and anacondas.
Until recently, we had a brown belt — Tom — from the US, train with us regularly. He had to go back to the States, but he plans to return in the Spring to stay for long term. Older gentleman in his 50s with average height and build, but could put a hurtin’ on any of us young bucks with his big ol’ head. He gives Edo and Medhi a run for their money.
Why do they train in Lake Atitlán BJJ Guatemala?
I suppose it’s the same for most people on the Warrior path: learn skills/stay sharp, challenge ourselves, stay in shape, camaraderie, and most importantly, have fun.
What are some of the challenges of running a BJJ gym in general, and in your area specifically?
Getting enough people to train has always been the challenge since day one. It’s in part to the fact that we’re in rural Guatemala, and that a lot of people who train are only traveling through (whether only for a few days or a few weeks).
For our core group, since we are so few, we have to rely on our training partners to stay committed to training and show up in order to have a solid session.
We have a rule of thumb: if at least three people are available for a training session, we’ll open up the space and train.
A majority of the time it’s no problem, but we all have different lives. Some weeks we may have some guys out to due to travel, or work, or injury, etc.
It’s always possible to train 1 on 1, but having various people to roll with is a lot more fun.
Social media marketing helps to bring in new bodies.
Again, this isn’t so much an issue in the high season, when lots of travelers come through.
How do you see the future for BJJ in your area?
The more the merrier.
ONE IDEA: Jonathan owns a local hotel business. It would be interesting to have some kind of work exchange for traveling practitioners (higher belts) to come and stay for a few week/months to teach us things in exchange for, say free accommodation and a place to train while they’re traveling. We’d have to figure out those logistical details, but it’s an interesting idea to play with.
Aside from our group, there are other BJJ/martial arts practitioners around our area. So I only hope to continue spreading martial arts in all its forms in the area.
There are other grapplers on the other side of the lake. But since boat travel across the lake isn’t really convenient for regular training, they don’t come through as much. It would be nice to grow the group AND training facilities to the point where we can host each others’ groups, say once a month, to have friendly training sessions together.
Additionally, there’s an MMA fighter in the area (trained in Gracie Barra lineage; aiming for the UFC) who wants to eventually build a formal martial arts school and have other fighters come through. His organizational philosophy is quite different from ours, as you might imagine from his time with Gracie Barra, but as long as we have more and more practitioners in the area we see it as a benefit.
What’s the best thing about Lake Atitlán BJJ Guatemala?
We train hard, kickin’ each other’s asses, but we’re all pretty laid back because of the relatively informal nature of the training.
And we live in a jungle paradise.
What would you recommend Globetrotters to see in your area apart from the inside of your gym?
We live on an insanely beautiful lake surrounded by three volcanoes. A simple Google search of “Lake Atitlan” will turn up endless sights and activities to see.