I was ready as ever to leave San Diego and continue my coastal excursions after my day at Xande’s, but then it hit me. I had completely forgot that the ATOS Headquarters was in San Diego as well. I mentioned in my early posts that I’d started training with an ATOS Legend back home: JT Torres. What type of teammate would I be if I failed to pop into HQ while in town?
I made a quick phone call to the gym to let them know I was coming, and they told me they discount my mat fee because I’m technically Team ATOS: score! I slept near the beach that night, and awoke early to make the 10:30 am competition class. I popped over to the gym, and was greeted by a scruffy, late 20’s guy, Mike. I keep running into Mike’s on this trip and find it rather entertaining.
I quickly got changed into one of my older gis, then got ready to train. As I exited the bathroom to go train, Mike stopped me and pointed out a massive hole in the back of my gi. I completely overlooked the fact that a traditional school like ATOS wouldn’t jive with my ratty gi. Note to everyone who trains: all that mumbo jumbo about not using bleach to get stains out of your gi? It’s not mumbo jumbo! Mike helped me out and got me a loaner. I definitely blended in more with the class, which was a welcome change.
I was simply shocked with how many people were training that day. I stepped on the mats five minutes before class started, and there were already 20 people on the mats. They just kept showing up; in the five minutes before class started, another twenty people showed up. I’m not sure I’d ever seen that many people training outside of a seminar. It was truly inspirational. There were people young, old, white belts to black belts. But there was a palpable tension in the air; you could feel the desire for improvement amidst the bustling mat talk before class.
Class itself was taught by an ATOS black belt, Pablo Mantovani. From what I could gather, Pablo had recently gotten his black belt and it was one of his first classes teaching at the academy! I had visited the school the weekend after worlds, and the energy in the school was vibrant. Atos had just won their fifth school world title, and that was a buzzing topic amongst the students.
Pablo had us warm up with some simple movements: jogging, forward rolls, shrimps, etc. Very typical warmup. After that, he ran through some closed guard drills. I paired up with one of the blue belts, Jeff. We went back and forth drilling, two reps me, two reps him. We repeated this with every sequence Pablo taught. I picked up some great guard recovery concepts, which has been a weak point for me lately. After a few sequences, it was time to roll. I rolled with a few of the blue belts, and was pleased to see that I actually held my own quite well. It was cool to see that my small town, Upstate New York jiu jitsu could compete with those from one of the best gyms in the world. I managed to sneak in a roll with some of their brown belts, and even Josh Hinger, one of their world-class black belts. It was a treat, despite getting throttled over and over by the upper belts. The level at which they toyed with this New York blue belt was comical at times, but I grinned like a madman through every bit of it.
Class came to a close, and I was ready to hit the road. I was pretty upset that I couldn’t hang around to see Andre Glavao, but I figured I’d live with it. I did get lucky, though; Andre walked in the doors of the academy in the last ten minutes of class. As I left the mats to go settle my mat fee, Andre asked if I was from JT’s school. I guess Mike had filled him in. We chatted briefly about my trip and my Globetrotters deal, and he happily obliged to a photo before I left.
It didn’t take long for me to leave San Diego after my day training with Andre’s crew. I snagged a quick shower at Planet Fitness, then hit the road on my way to Los Angeles. To be quite honest… I didn’t really have any plan on where I was to train. I was a little disheartened by my bank account and how that was going to be conducive to the mat fees typical to the area.
I got to LA in the late afternoon; right around 5 o’clock or so. As I sat in my car, furiously searching the internet for gyms to train at, I realized something profound. Los Angeles is funny; there’s so much jiu jitsu, it’s almost claustrophobic. You’ve got so many options it’s disheartening: how could I EVER experience it in all of it’s glory? I felt similar feelings my first week on the road. When faced with all of the freedom in the world, it’s not far off from claustrophobic. Or maybe it’s more agoraphobic. I looked up the classics: AOJ, Cobrinha’s, 10th Planet, etc. I even made a phone call to AOJ, then realized that I wouldn’t be able to afford the drop in fee. I reached out to Kron Gracie, and couldn’t find a class that fit my schedule. I was pretty disheartened. Then, all of a sudden, I just happened to drive past a school that had been on my radar: the Gracie Academy in Torrance, CA. I took it as a sign: I randomly drove past a gym I’d wanted to train at, in a city I’d never travelled to before. I guess jiu jitsu has it’s way of directing you where to go.
I walked into the school, and was greeted by the smiling face of the tall brunette working the front desk. She gave me the rundown of the class schedule, and I had shown up just in time for the 7pm gi class. Everything kept falling into place. I got changed, stepped into the massive training room, which was wall to wall with the green mats special to the Gracie Academy. Standing in the middle of the mat, running warmups, was the tall, long-limbed head instructor: Rener Gracie. I’ll admit, videos from the Gracie Academy were a big part of getting me interested in Jiu Jitsu. I’d always said when I first started BJJ that I would someday train with Rener and Ryron; it was a “bucket list” type of thing. Now, here I was.
Much like my experience at ATOS, the mats were PACKED with people. I’m talking 50-60 people training. I started to think that, maybe this was just normal for West coast gyms. I paired up with a blue belt, Lucas. He’d been training at the Gracie Academy for just over a month after taking a few months off from a knee injury. We drilled back and forth; Rener was teaching a series from Knee on Belly, and three different attacks from the position. He covered a “Shallow Darce” submission that absolutely blew me away. I could see the potential for using it against larger guys, which he stated was the ideal usage. One thing about Rener that intrigued me was the speed at which he taught. Sometimes, when you watch videos online of a particular instructor, you expect them to be different in person. With Rener, it was simply not true; all of the interest in his students’ abilities, the speed, the conceptual emphasis on his teachings, the sound effects (“BOOM”), everything that bleeds through in the Gracie University videos, also bled through in real life. I was overjoyed to be there.
When it came time to roll, I was like a kid in a candy shop. I had the a pick of the litter when it came to partners: young, old, black belts, white belts. I grabbed the nearest blue belt and got to rolling. I’d been curious about the comparison of their blue belts to a gym that’s more sport jiu jitsu oriented. If you were unaware, students at the Gracie Academy don’t start rolling until they’ve reached their blue belt; this is to emphasize the importance of self defense in their training. In fact, the blue belt criteria at the academy consists of becoming proficient in the self defense curriculum lain forth by Rener and Ryron. Overall, I was sincerely impressed, and pleasantly surprised, with the skill level of their blue belts. They had a solid grasp on the classic submissions (armbars, triangles, guillotines, etc.) and even used DLR, Spider guard, and other open guards.
As I rolled with one of the purple belts, using a lot of my X-guard, lasso, DLR, etc., I noticed Rener glancing over at us rolling. His head cocked to the side occasionally, almost like he was studying me. As soon as that round ended, he gestured over to me, and asked me for a roll. I was ecstatic; I was about to roll with a Gracie! He tucked his arm into is belt (I think he was nursing an injury) and we got to work. His long limbs posed a quick problem, and I was on the receiving end of a triangle almost immediately. I went to work, delicately trying to dance around his long legs in a game of “try not getting triangled”. I nearly passed once, but somehow got swept and ended up on the bad end of an armbar. I remember trying to escape by locking up a rear naked grip, then trying to pop my arm out to the floor. He wasn’t even holding onto my arm, using his his only free arm to post. No matter how hard I tried, the pinch of his legs kept me from moving. I was humbled. I was rolling with someone who had been training, quite literally, from the time he could walk, and it was abundantly clear.
Class finished up with a quick bow out, and I headed to shower and change. Some quick locker room talk prompted questions from others about my trip, which I gladly entertained. Before leaving the gym, I needed to explore the last mystery this school offered: the museum. Right as you walk into the school, the museum opens up just to the right of you. Inside was a trip down the history of jiu jitsu itself, as told by the Gracie family. Newspapers, pamphlets, awards, Helio memorabilia, and the likes donned the walls. A sculpture of Helio watched over the room, including the scaled models of the Gracie mansion in Brazil, as well as the early model of the Octagon that sat in the center of the room. I made a quick signature in the registry, and went on my way. Seeing the history in that room lit the fire again, and I was glad I’d happened upon the school.
As I sat in my car close to the beach, I readied myself for my next training session: Jiu Jitsu in the Park. But more on that later… Oss!