Amsterdam is a fascinating city. The central part of town is laid out in a big semi-circle and it boasts one of the best networks of bike paths and trams I’ve ever encountered. Peppered with lush green parks and colourful buildings that overlook the canals, what I see is very different to what I’d imagined before I arrived.
The bus drops us way outside town after what we’ll call an ‘interesting’ overnight journey from London, so I make my way into town and find the hostel I’ll call home for the next couple of days. After dumping my bags, I lace up my running shoes and go to discover Amsterdam.
It’s beautiful. Colourful bikes in their hundreds whiz past, riding through the very green Vondelpark on their way into the city centre. Old and new exist right next to each other, classical architecture juxtaposed with modern. There’s art galleries everywhere, outdoor gymnasiums in the parks (praise the lord!) and the infamous red-light district. It’s a melting pot of so many different cultures that comes together in a way that’s uniquely European.
Using more ‘conservative’ logic might suggest that such ready access to so many of life’s vices would result in a somewhat unsafe or unrefined city, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dutch have really embraced the concept of ‘freedom’, and allow people to make decisions as rational adults as to what they do, or do not partake it. It’s refreshing and – to me – very visible in the way things work. It’s clean, the people are friendly and everything works harmoniously.
The city is rich in culture of all kinds. Blues and jazz bands play music in the many bars that dot the canals. You can spend hours walking through the streets, poking your head through the windows of the many small art galleries in the uptown area. If it’s more your style, you can drop into an electronic dance club downtown and party until the sunrise.
If classical European culture is more your style you can poke your head into one of the many museums, or just wander around checking out some of the most intricately adorned architecture the mind can conceive. The classical art galleries near where I’m staying are something to behold as well. Seeing Van Gogh’s works in person introduce you to an artistic prowess and depth of colour that just aren’t possible to grasp unless you’re right up close.
I’m really enjoying meeting people from all over the world as well. In the ‘smoking room’ at our hostel, you constantly find yourself in discussions ranging from philosophy and politics to something as trivial as what ‘grits’ are (for the Aussie readers: It’s like porridge, but not. Confusing, I know). I’ve learned a lot about different people’s native cultures and their thought processes that form their opinions on a range of issues. It’s really informative about why a lot of things in the world as they are and has changed my mind about certain things, because I’ve been able to better understand things from other perspectives.
In a time where it seems like people with different ideologies, beliefs and opinions are more interested in shouting each over each other than debating, it’s refreshing to see people opening their minds to other points of view – learning together.
This theme of different perspectives continued in my time on the mats in Amsterdam. I chose to roll at 10th Planet because I’ve always been interested in Eddie Bravo’s system, and I respect their open-mindedness and ability to create new techniques.
The first day I rocked up to the gym, I was lucky enough to catch Ben Saunders giving a seminar. He ran through some sweet techniques ranging from wrestling to a sweet submission chain from the guard that was easily transferred to MMA. I couldn’t be more thrilled because they were effective tweaks to some classic submissions with that 10th Planet twist[er].
I think it’s so important to train with strikes in mind. Sports jiujitsu is great, but drilling techniques that stop your opponent striking you effectively, and that use strikes, as openings for submissions are so important in staying true to jiujitsu’s roots as an effective form of self-defence. After the seminar we rolled for about an hour, finishing up at around 1130pm! It’s so refreshing to train at a leglock friendly gym yet again.
It was great to be exposed to the different techniques and approaches they use in the 10th planet system. A lot of things that we’re taught not to do in jiujitsu, they use and do so effectively. From technical points as small as the way to grip the wrist (hint: it involves the fingers and looks like how you’d use a baseball bat) to how they finish armbars, they have a lot of different tweaks to positions backed up by interesting justifications and of course – efficacy. On top of this, I learned some positions that I hadn’t had a lot of experience with, and that I’ll be able to use as an effective addition to my game.
On top of all the technical benefits, the crew at the gym were all legends. Very welcoming and friendly people. I’ve said it before, but it’s so cool to train with somebody you look up to like Ben Saunders and he’s a super humble, nice guy to boot.
Amsterdam’s been a great start to the first leg of mainland Europe, and from here it’s onto another hub of art and liberalism – Berlin. That is, after one missed bus and an expensive train ticket.