From Thailand I flew into London, my first stop. I arrived bright and early, and went to drop my stuff off at what will be my home for the next two years. It was 26 degrees, sunny and warm. Quite the contrary of what I’d heard about the London weather, but a welcome shock.
I put my travel gi in my backpack and jumped on the tube into the city. There was a heightened level of security after the Manchester atrocities, with a lot of armed police patrolling the streets. People didn’t seem to let it bother them, however – it was ‘business as usual’. It seems the clowns that are resorting to violence aren’t succeeding in making people change their way of life, or in dividing people.
I spent the best part of the day walking around, marveling at the various structures and landmarks that have been standing for centuries. The long history of this country and city would be something that continually struck me as I wandered around. I’ve come from a young country, so it’s pretty bewildering to see a place that has survived two world wars, is responsible for the Beatles and so much more. The lifestyle is great too. Green parks with people drinking beers in the sun, beautiful old pubs and art galleries with paintings that transport you to another time.
That afternoon I come across London Fight Factory’s open mat, which consists of roughly 2 hours of eight-minute rounds. Add a bit of jetlag on top of that and it’s a grueling session, but I feel better for having trained afterwards. The jetlag is something I’ll struggle with for the next couple of days. Sometimes your body just seems to stop, regardless of how hard mentally you try to push through it. Good way to work on defending while being turtled, I guess…
I spend the next week visiting as many of the gyms in London as I can. All the gyms here have a high level, just as I’d hoped for and the trainings are strenuous, but filled with good techniques, and nuggets of wisdom. Despite being once city, each gym seems to have a completely different style to the next which is refreshing. It’s like I’m visiting a different city or country each time I go to a new gym. Different people, different techniques and different stories.
On the bank holiday I visit Roger Gracie’s academy, and arrive to an open mat full of colour belts and Roger himself! It’s been said a thousand times before, but there’s not many sports that allow you to train alongside, let alone meet your idols at all. How likely are you to be able to shoot hoops with Kobe Bryant? I got to roll with a black belt called Joe who was like a human backpack. Very humbling and fun, I’m looking forward to visiting Roger’s academy again in the future.
The next morning I wake up at 5am (the one time jetlag’s actually come in handy) and head into Fightzone in Bethnal Green to visit my friend Tony. The morning class was great, we worked on some really cool passing and sequences, did some specific training and then rolled for ages. Such a good way to start the morning, and a really cool crew with a great vibe. Tony’s visited my home gym in Australia a couple of times, so it was great to roll with him at his home gym, for his last session before he moves across to the big apple! After this session I wander up the road to visit another friend, Mo, who’s in the U.K exhibiting his artworks. He and I do some gymnastics with his coach, before he walks me around the Shoreditch area. It’s one of the coolest areas I’d been to in London yet, with street art, beautiful parks and heaps more interesting stuff scattered through our path.
What strikes me about London is the variety of things there is to do. Maybe this is just by virtue of me being a tourist – so my eyes might be more open to things to do than if I lived there. Regardless, I love the endless subcultures that exist. That evening I head to a performance that explores lies and humanity, which was pretty different and interesting. You can fully immerse yourself in one culture, or sample all of them like a mezze plate at a restaurant. It’s refreshing and fun, and all of the people seem lovely.
I went to Wave BJJ the next evening for their Nogi class which was great fun, we worked some leg lock concepts – something I’ve been missing while I travel. It’s always hard to know if a gym is cool with heelhooks and knee reaping style submissions, so it’s super exciting for me to jump in on a class focusing one exactly that.
From here it’s on the bus and ferry across to the temptation’s paradise that is Amsterdam.