Featured Traveller: Monika Leżańska – BJJ Globetrotters

Monika Leżańska - BJJ Globetrotters

Age: 33

Belt: Blue

Profession: Cloud support engineer for a data governance solution at a big IT company. Used to be an English teacher once upon a time (yes, I sang baby shark with a bunch of 7 year olds). Also had a one-night gig as a waitress at a strip club during my student days.

How many years in BJJ: First contact in 2018, training regularly since Sept 2021.

Other martial arts: Joined karate classes during the 90s karate boom in Poland, but my parents signed me out after a couple of classes for fear I was going to beat up boys at school (spoiler alert, I still did). My dad taught me some boxing principles (he is a boxing instructor by education), which I eagerly tested on the boys. In high school I took up capoeira for one year. I earned the first corda (white-yellow), but never learned my Capoeira name (the coach gives you a name after the batizado, first graduation).

Where do you live: Right now Puerto de Sagunto, Valencia, Spain, is the place I call home. But Spain in general.

Where are you from: An absolutely grim shithole in central Poland, Grojec. It was my life’s mission to get away from the place. If it weren’t for my parents who still live there, I’d probably never go back. Other than this, Poland is a pretty cool place to be from, and many people genuinely believe in the legendary Polish power.

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: Although I was a highly independent and capable child, my mom had spoon fed me until the age of 9. I knew perfectly well how to operate cutlery, but why bother if someone could do it for me? I had a low appetite anyway. The only thing that would do the trick and make me eat by myself was to threaten to tell my school “fiance”.

As a kid, I was madly in love with Ricky Martin (him being gay wasn’t common knowledge back then, thank god). I fulfilled my childhood dream by going to his concert in Barcelona a few years ago, and he was as dashing as ever.

I would do fashion shows for my parents using towels and scarves. Once I even employed my grandma and great grandma, who were seamstresses, to sew clothes based on my designs. There were items for me, my mom, and even some sort of a thong for my dad 🤣

I drove alone from Poland to Spain and back, which gave me serious driving trauma.

Monika Leżańska – BJJ Globetrotters


Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
I’ve always been inspired to travel, so traveling and training was a natural step, especially since before Jiu Jitsu I did Crossfit for a while, where visiting other gyms is also a common thing. I have zero motivation to work out by myself, and I am not disciplined at all when I travel, so it feels good to throw in some Jiu Jitsu training here and there for my physical and mental well-being.

Gyms feel like home, regardless of the country. When I enter a gym, I am back in my comfort zone and I know what to do and how to behave. Everything is familiar and the people are not strangers – they are my training partners. It balances out the constant novelty of traveling.

Tell us about your most recent travel and your upcoming travel – where have you been and where are you going?
I’ve been on a traveling streak for the past 10 years (unleashing the beast started with ditching my ex, doing my first solo hitchhiking trip from Warsaw to Gdańsk in Poland, and going on the Erasmus exchange to Lisbon), and even more now that I work remotely and can afford more traveling. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on a plane back from Poland after the Zen Camp to Valencia. The camp was an opportunity for me to rediscover Poland and look at it through the eyes of a tourist for the first time – and it’s so beautiful in spring. I went sailing in the Lake District (Mazury) in the north of the country, and overall I felt reconnected with my roots. Before Pärnu (Beach Camp) in July, I’m planning to visit Finland for the first time (long live matsurfing). In the meantime I’ll do some short trips with my camper van. Spain is a paradise on earth for caravaning and hiking, and my region – Comunidad Valenciana – is especially abundant in calas (small sheltered beaches) and pozas (natural pools).

Monika Leżańska – BJJ Globetrotters

What are the things you enjoy about travelling?
Because I get bored and become restless quickly, I enjoy the novelty, the thrill of an unfamiliar place, the feeling that anything can happen. The renewed sense of awe towards ordinary things – just walking down the street in a new place, watching people have a coffee etc. The change of routine, clearing my mind of daily worries. Also, I find the experience of traveling from one place to another almost meditative. I never get bored at the airport, on a plane, or in the car. I am not in my usual place (with my usual thoughts), not yet at the destination – it’s some sort of in-between space-time where there is nothing to do and I’m alone with random thoughts…

I am a huge advocate for couchsurfing, which I use both as a host and surfer. Over 50 people must have surfed my couch in Lisbon. There were 2-week streaks where I just washed bedsheets over and over, because every 2-3 days I had new visitors.
Thanks to couchsurfing I met people I would probably never meet in normal life and I got to peek into their daily lives, hear their stories, learn their recipes, and compare our habits and languages. I saw places I would never see otherwise. I visited bars and restaurants and natural spots hidden from tourists. In Thailand, I got to do a road-trip with two Thai girls. We camped at a natural park with a bunch of other locals, where I was the only foreigner.

With some of the couchsurfers I’ve built friendships that lasted for years, some of them until today. I even got my first teaching job through couchsurfing.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that make it worth traveling and training?
Globetrotters camps! To the camps I owe so many amazing people with whom I became friends. Like Jakub Siberski (aka. The Last Man Standing) – we visit each other and have so many adventures together (yet we remember so few)! I got to see my idol Craig Jones at a seminar in Thailand <3.

I enjoy the sense of belonging to a Jiu Jitsu community. The people are genuinely happy to receive visitors at their gyms; I have always felt very welcome. It’s a great way of measuring my level not just against people from my club, but a wider population of athletes with a variety of different styles. I learned a lot of useful things and tricks from other practitioners and coaches. Visiting other gyms also helped me mentally before competitions by removing the fear of facing strangers. I step onto the mats with more confidence and one less layer of anxiety.

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
I had so many adventures, big, small, weird, strange, and heartwarming, that it’s hard to pick a few.

I got close to getting married in Marrakesh so that we could stay in one room with a male Moroccan friend. According to Moroccan law, a man and a woman cannot share a room unless married (it applies to Moroccan citizens only). I even went to the washroom to wash my feet: my thought process was that one shouldn’t get married with dirty feet 🤣🤣🤣

Almost got arrested for wearing shorts in Rome. Okay, not me but my ex, and getting arrested was probably out of the question. My ex had a habit of pulling up the legs of his shorts (a habit shared by many Crossfit people, someone please explain). On that hot August day he was wearing a long tank top, which combined must have made him look like he was not wearing any shorts at all. Clearly it must have been a violation of some Roman street rule (no male shall bare his legs in public or something), because we got approached by the polizia, who first inspected his lower body and instructed him to pull down the legs of his shorts so that they cover his thighs. The polizia-men were totally fine, however, with my tiny shorts barely covering my butt. Viva l’Italia!

In some small Spanish village we struck up a chat with a local, and when he found out that I was Polish he started reciting Witold Gombrowicz (a modernist Polish writer) from memory and explained that he learned the language by himself because he really enjoyed his writing. Mind blown.

Among the people I hosted on couchsurfing, there was one psychologist specializing in dreams. I am usually a very rational, down-to-earth person, but I do acknowledge there are things beyond our comprehension. We talked a lot about sleep-related phenomena, like lucid dreaming. During her visit, I experienced it for the first time, without trying or exercising. It was a thrilling experience. We also had a very interesting dream-therapy session, which made an unpleasant recurrent dream I used to have go away.

Monika Leżańska – BJJ Globetrotters

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
If there was an award for budget traveling, Polish people would get it without a doubt. The desire to travel and explore is so deep, it’s really impressive how far we can stretch our tiny PLN budgets. I managed to travel a lot as a student by means of couchsurfing, staying in the biggest dorms in the cheapest hostels (some places I’d rather forget), sleeping in my car, wild camping sometimes (illegal in most of Europe), traveling to where I had friends; no taxis, only public transport, getting food and drinks from supermarkets rather than eating out, doing stuff that is free, planning things ahead and doing research to avoid tourist traps, choosing options for locals rather than for tourists (eg. a hotel-provided taxi in Marrakech is 4 times more expensive than one hailed in the streets). Traveling with hand-luggage and being smart about packing.

Even though now I don’t need to be so disciplined and I seek more comfort when traveling, the above habits are still my default and I can choose to break them to treat myself, or when I am tired etc. The accommodation is a secondary thing to me, I don’t travel to spend time in a room. So as long as I have a bed and a shower (will pay extra for no cockroaches), I am good. I definitely spend more on experiences now, like trips, classes, sports activities, cultural or historical attractions, but overall the student mentality allows me to travel a lot and not ruin myself in a blink.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
I think Globetrotters are a bunch well versed in the art of traveling, so I’m not sure what else I could share. I can highly recommend couchsurfing (or matsurfing); people are often shy or worried about staying at a stranger’s place, but in my experience the pros outweigh the cons. Same for hostels. I also love traveling alone – I very rarely travel with other people, and as much fun as it is to travel with company, I find those solitary trips more enriching and I usually do more things and I am motivated to be more active and outgoing. Also, get a van :D I absolutely love my #vanlife trips, the freedom to sleep wherever I want and just roam around.

Thank you to Monika Leżańska – BJJ Globetrotters for making this interview