Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be a pretty niche sport. But in India it’s really niche.
Delhi is the country’s capital with over 20 million people hurrying around its packed streets under smog covered skies.
Despite the mass of people I could only find one club, which by chance was a 15 minute walk from my hostel.
It’s located on a busy shopping street in New Delhi, near Panchsheel Park, a leafy suburb with opulent marble homes and private security.
On my first visit a map led me slightly short of the club.
I held my gi top up to a man dressed in white linen, expecting him to point me towards the entrance.
Instead he thought I was a tourist in need of currency and led me down a flight of stairs to withdraw cash.
The club is located up a winding flight of concrete stairs, above a boxing gym which echoes with the crack of pads.
Outside is a doormat which reads “Egos and Shoes Outside” – a reminder of the sport’s values as students cross the threshold onto soft blue mats.
India, and Delhi in particular, is a place of insane hustle and bustle. There are so many sounds, smells and bodies; it was a relief to finally be in a place of calm.
I felt at home.
The club is a large white room with blue mats and padded walls around the bottom half. It’s decorated with belts, photos of students and images of martial arts greats.
During my visit the sessions focused on side control escapes.
First technique, followed by drills, practice and a short shark tank game.
Generally I roll with larger people and rely on creating gaps to slip out from, often without applying a great amount of technique.
These sessions gave me some good methods of escape, but also challenged me as many students were smaller or practiced in dealing with smaller people and my usual routine no longer worked.
Throughout my time in India people have stared, hassled and photographed me, but here the class felt warm, safe and welcoming.
I was treated just like every other student; they respected and trained kindly with me. They were positive and supportive.
The following night we learnt two new side control escapes, they were very different to anything I had gone through before, focusing on controlling arms before a strong hold was established.
Fans are running constantly to combat the 35 degree days but it remains uncomfortably hot.
The students here have got to be some of the most dedicated humans I’ve encountered, despite the heat and thick humidity they train for nearly two hours.
I adored Delhi and it was my time with this club that really made it.