Greetings from San Diego USA! (9-21 Oct 2017)
I’m detouring from detailing my adventures traveling and training around the world to bring you a special article about my time on a training camp in San Diego with a bunch of crazy Australians. I last left off leaving Russia for Ukraine, and I will get to that shortly, but this camp I went on was a special time and I need to cover before it becomes too late, which is already is.
Open Guard and the Free Rollers
Let’s begin with explaining who set up the camp and how I got involved. Open Guard is a website with the focus on bringing together the BJJ scene in Australia, with a number of writers posting articles on the events taking place there. They feature different competitors and gyms and review BJJ gear from time to time and have some good articles about all sorts of BJJ related topics. Part of Open Guard is the Free Rollers community, the people and gyms who just like to roll with whoever, whenever, without any club drama. The idea is similar to the BJJ Globetrotters community, but centered on the Australian BJJ scene. Open Guard and Free Rollers have been around for a few years now and I’ve had the pleasure of watching them grow from reading the first few articles and seeing the pictures from the very first Free Rollers Outdoor Open Mat. Being a part of the first Free Rollers camp was an honour and a lot of fun, but how did I manage to get involved with them?
I first met Luke over 3 years ago when I first started posting to the BJJ Globetrotters Facebook group about my eventual plans to travel and train around the world for a year. Luke was one of the first guys to reply to me and invite me out to his place and we’ve been good friends ever since. You may recognize the name if you keep up with the Jiu-Jitsu Times articles as Luke is a usual contributor, including this awesome interview on my milestones we did. Luke and I have a lot in common, Serving in the Navy, being obsessed with BJJ and a healthy sense of inappropriate humour, we have often made jokes about being long lost brothers. He’s also part of the driving force behind Open Guard and was the one who put together the Free Rollers camp. Luke bounced some ideas off me about the camp and would keep me updated on it. I was always planning on making it to Australia to meet Luke and travel around and see the mystical Land Down Under that I’ve only ever learned about from shows like Crocodile Dundee and The Crocodile Hunter (Or Luke’s favourite: Precilla Queen of the Desert). Meeting the guys and hanging out together in San Diego just seemed like a great idea, both as an awesome setting for us to meet before heading back to Australia and an awesome way for me to visit San Diego on this journey. Although adding the Free Rollers camp to the Odyssey timeline meant adding a lot of traveling, and extra expenses, it was also an adventure I didn’t want to miss.
Free Rollers San Diego Camp
Now that I’ve filled you in on the back stories to everyone let’s get to the actual camp! Everyone but me was from the same club back in Perth Australia so I was the outsider at first. Having Jiu-Jitsu traveling and an odd sense of humour (and me enjoying their ability to call everyone ‘Kent’) we all quickly warmed up and become one close group training twice a day, exploring San Diego and generally getting up to no good. From the start I could see guys had a lot of steam to blow off and were really excited about the trip, there may have been a tiny bit more partying than I first expected, but that’s the difference between saving to go on a training vacation and backpacking around the world for a year. All my steam was gone, I am just going with the flow and trying to balance training with exploring so I don’t do too much at once and end up burnt out or injured. These guys could go hard, both on and off the mats, and just rest once they got back to Australia. I had my hands full these 10 days we hung out and trained and partied together. While the nights usually ended with the guys having a few cold ones and getting a little wild (there was a night of midnight ‘No-Gi’ wrestling in their underwear that took place in the front room. Where I sleep. While trying to sleep) we all put in quite a bit of training throughout this camp. As the saying goes, work hard, play hard, or in Australia they say “We’re not here to fuck spiders!” that actually became the camp motto, I’m still waiting for the shirt.
Luke, as the spearhead of Free Rollers, had everything set up for this trip. He found an affordable Airbnb near the gyms, set up all the day and evening’s activities, like going to a college football game or to the USS Midway, and got us a group deal to train the whole time at the University of Jiu-Jitsu with none other than Xande Ribeiro (Saulo was back seeing family in Brazil). I has happy to have a destination that literally all I had to worry about was just getting the ticket there, I didn’t have to worry about sending e-mails or contacting the gyms on Facebook, or finding a place to stay, I just showed up and followed along with the guys. The day we all showed up to San Diego I got in a bit later than they did. They all arrived in LA and drove down while I took the long way with many connections and after a delay managed to visit Kurt Osiander’s gym for my 100th club visit before arriving in San Diego. Once I got into town and we were all settled in we stopped by Uni-JJ to say hi and set up our week long training passes. That’s when we met Gustavo Dias, a Brazilian tank of a black belt and one of the instructors for the day classes at the gym, as well as one of the nicest guys I’ve met. Throughout our stay Gustavo gave us so many tips on places to eat at and sights to see. Basically he gave us the necessary tools for the perfect camp: Jiu-Jitsu, beach and food.
We went out for supper that night at a near by ‘Buffalo Wild Wings’, we would become regulars there during this trip as most our suppers were held there while breakfast was had at the all-day breakfast place just a block away. We were creatures of habit but when you know what you like, why bother spending time looking for new places everyday when we’re on a tight schedule. Quite often we would make plans for the next day’s classes and activities while eating baskets of chicken wings and watching the sports highlights on the TV’s. There was always an over zealous “I’m hitting all the class tomorrow!” usually by Luke, that never panned out, and a comment about checking out other clubs since there are so many high caliber gyms to choose from in San Diego. Although we mostly trained at University of Jiu-Jitsu we did venture out to other clubs during our stay and one day the boys managed to hit up the Atos BJJ HQ for a weekend open mat without me.
During the day in between classes, or when we took some rest and only attended the evening class, we would pile into the SUV and drive around, hitting up a beach or pier to walk along and enjoy the sights.
One day a few of us made it down the Mall of Americas (or ‘Las Americas‘) at the US/Mexico boarder where we spent a bit more money than we all planned, especially at the Under Armor outlet which had pretty much everything at 50% off. I also ended up getting a custom Panda’s Odyssey ball cap while everyone else bought new Vans with the ‘buy one, get 50% off a second pair’ sale (Note to self: Next time buy new Vans!)
Of course we also spent an afternoon touring the USS Midway, and old Aircraft carrier that is now a museum and has all sorts of cool military paraphernalia at their souvenir shop, as well as both the flight deck and hanger bay full of old fighter jets you can climb in and take pics of in and flight sims you can try and fly.
The football game was an adventure I think anyone visiting USA should go on. The sports culture around American football is unique, with the tailgate parties and BBQ’s throughout the parking lot. The game itself, with all the cheer leading squads all around the field and the marching create a whole show to watch rather than just a sporting match. It’s quite surreal watching everything going on.
University of Jiu-Jitsu
Our first class at University of Jiu-Jitsu was the morning class at 7am, I believe that was the only morning class I made it out to. I don’t remember which class he taught but that day we met Victor Barreto, another tank of a Brazilian, like Gustavo, with the added feature of towering over everyone. If you’ve watched the ‘BJJ Library Challenge‘ Victor was the winner of that challenge so it was pretty cool to watch that series then actually see him teaching our class. The whole week went on like this, showing up to class and meeting someone we’ve seen before online, or would be seeing a lot more of, like Casey Hellenberg who just competed in the EBI 14 ‘The Absolutes’. For the morning class there were only maybe 3 other people showed up for it and I could see the guys were all pretty nervous about their first time training in Uni-JJ. I guess maybe since I have traveled all this past year and walked onto so many mats it wasn’t as big a deal for me, I was more excited then nervous. Or maybe since the morning class was smaller they were all worried about being in the spotlight under Gustavo and Victor as the new guys, which in that case I was also a bit worried. Our fears were smashed away once we were done the warm up and drilling techniques, all that mattered was training the details. That’s one thing that is consistent through all of the Ribeiro instructors, the attention to detail and the emphasis on control. As in intimidating as Gustavo and Victor were they were great at teaching those points and seeing any adjustments we needed to make throughout our class with them.
The Wednesday night ‘Library’ class is where they film the class to use for instructionals on the BJJ Library, it was taught by Xande Ribeiro who was just coming back from his impressive run at the ADCC Worlds. This class was packed, the evening classes are always busy, with the count somewhere in the 30’s or 40’s, but Wednesday was especially busy and with the camera man there it there was an electric energy in the gym. Xande showed us basic moves all night, nothing special to the unknowing viewer, just basic armbar set ups from the closed guard. The very same moves and details he used to tap out world class competitors at the ADCC’s. Not so basic after all. The details he gave us were stellar, with a big emphasis on control and contact throughout all movement, once you had that arm it was your the entire time. Making the basic technique we all learn in our first days of starting BJJ into a world class, black belt level, competition winning technique. It was amazing being in Xande’s class, it’s like his presence just adds more energy to everyone training. Even during the week in classes he wasn’t teaching, if Xande was in the gym everyone stepped it up a notch. Xande himself was a great guy to talk to, welcoming us into the gym at the start of class and telling everyone to look after us. He was intimidating be around at first though, with his stance of constantly rolled back shoulders and open arms, like he’s ready to shoot for a double leg take down at any second. It made you hesitate walking up and saying hello, but he was always friendly and chill with everyone. Training there all week was absolute blast. While there’s tons of gyms to choose from in San Diego you really must drop by for at least one class.
10th Planet San Diego
One night I got a few of the guys to come along with me to another gym to get a completely different style of rolling in and see grappling from an all new perspective. We piled into the SUV and drove across the city, which in itself is an adventure if you’ve never driven in San Diego before, and ended up at 10th Planet San Diego. Richie ‘Boogeyman’ Martinez runs the classes there and man does he spread the love at that gym, such a warm welcoming place! From mis-reading the schedule we got there just as class was ending and had an hour to wait before the next class started. We sat and watched people train, like Liz Carmouche (the very first female fighter to walk into the UFC cage and Ronda Rousey’s first opponent) hit the pads. As people starting showing up for the next class they would come introduce themselves to us one by one, everyone was really friendly and we felt very welcomed, making this introduction to 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu a lot easier for the guys. Once class started and we got into drilling techniques Richie walked us down a rabbit hole of Rubber Guard set ups and chained it into the ‘Gogo-Clinch’ a move from rubber guard that incorporates the leg over the shoulder and under chin of the Gogoplata with the C-clamped scissoring arms of a No-Gi baseball bat choke to make the most hellish choke I’ve seen and experienced. At first we were all watching and thinking ‘Smoke another one bro, there’s no way I’m getting the rubber guard let alone finishing this technique’ but by the end of the class, with Boogey’s awesome guidance we were all able to drill this technique with only minor difficulties.
The rolling at the end of class was by the far the best part, I had my experience rolling with 10th Planet guys already and knew of the black magic to expect, but the other guys were going in practically blind. After the first roll I remember walking up to them and seeing their eyes the widest they had been this whole trip, just about popping out of their heads “Man, that was amazing! I didn’t know what was going on, I got wrapped all up and twisted and tapped but he didn’t muscle me!” 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu is indeed a different way of moving and manipulating the body, and being at the home of one of the foremost innovators to 10th Planet you can rested assured we were shown some really different shit during those rolls. After class we were all sitting in the SUV in the parking lot trying to figure out how to get back to the house and where to grab food when Richie pulls next to us “Hey guys, you want somewhere good to eat?” he asked, and then proceeded to tell us where to find the coolest Mexican food place in San Diego. “I’d love to come with you guys but I got to cut weight for EBI next week” he adds like it’s just another day at the job. We made our way to the restaurant and we were not let down. They whole place is done up as a tacky flamingo bar inspired Lucha Libre shrine with signed photos of great Lucha wrestlers all over the walls and masks encased in the seats. They even had a ring at the back that was set up with a table for private parties. It was a perfect place to end off our awesome night. We’ll have to go back with everyone next time, and hopefully Boogey can join us this time!
Another gym we ended up dropping by for a class was Victory MMA. It wasn’t in the plans at first as it seemed a lot of the head instructors were away, and the guys just wanted to train at Uni JJ, but then we dropped by a cryotherapy place that was just across the street from the gym. As it happens the guys running it, Keeling and Bryan, were both black belts from Victory. We would drop by Chill’N Out quite often, at least one person would be going for cryo each day, and during our time hanging out there they would always mention how they would love to have us over for a class. Finally, after feeling guilty of these guys treating us so well and us not dropping by, we decided to go train with them on the weekend. We were not disappointed. They were just as fun to train with as they were to hang out with while we froze our balls off in their cryo chamber. Bryan ran the class that day and started with working functional movements as as warm up. One person sitting in open guard as you worked your footwork around his legs, triangle footwork drills, zig-zags in and out, hopping over, all sorts of movement. Let me say that Bryan is a spider monkey and makes the movement look way too easy, I was out of breath just watching him demonstrate.
I was teamed with a giant of a white belt and neither of us were in the mood to try and simulate Bryan’s Jack Russel-like movement but we did get along drilling quite well. Keeling and Bryan made sure to split us Free Rollers up so that we were training with guys from the gym so we got meet the club. Even in rolling we weren’t allowed to roll with each other, which was good since we didn’t travel half way around the world just to roll with the same teammates and by this point I had rolled with them all anyways. It was a lot of fun, which Bryan always made a point of telling us is his main goal for each class, training and rolling with the crew there in a relaxed setting. Everyone was pretty laid back and welcoming of visitors and I’m sure the guys each had a few questions asked about their travels and visiting San Diego during class like I did. I’m glad we finally made it over to see the Victory guys before the end of out trip.
By the end of the 10 days we were tired, bodies beaten and heads full of all sorts of new techniques, and ready to head (back) to Australia. I’ve got to say thank you to Luke for setting this camp up and of course thanks to all the clubs and people who welcomed us during this adventure. It was one of those experiences legends are made of, and I’m pretty sure by the end of the trip we were all legends for one thing or another, weather we want the world to know what that is is another story all together. When it was time to leave we split up on our ways back to Perth Australia. I had a flight out of San Diego and 30+ hours of connections and flights while the guys headed to LA for one last night, where they decided to finally track down Zack’s man-crush he had been Instagram stalking all week, ADCC champ Gordan Ryan. I’m sorry I missed that event and can’t elaborate on it but I heard it ended hilariously. Anyways, I highly recommend joining Luke and guys on the next Free Rollers Camp, which I hear is already being planned and has a lot of interest, both from Australia and the US so keep watch on Open Guard for updates. I know I’ll be watching and hoping to meet with them again, in the meantime my next article will pick up where I last left off on the Odyssey: Kiev Ukraine!
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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