BJJ in Paradise – Academia De La Costa Las Terrenas

When I arrived in Las Terrenas I learned pretty quickly that you cannot rely on Google maps.
I say pretty quickly in a very relative sense, since 2 hours plus of wandering up and down the two roads , questioning which side-alley might’ve been missed, in a strong Caribbean  sun, it didn’t feel quick at all.
But after getting directions from a local we understood that Academia De La Costa Las Terrenas was on the 2nd floor of a small building at the top of the town.
We walked up the steps and through the door to the entrance of Academia De La Costa Las Terrenas, and were greeted with a huge smile from Delvin, or Pipiolo as I came to know him. He has a thermometer in his right hand and a belt in his left. Everyone had to get their temperature taken before entering class.
The gym itself was just a fairly well-sized room covered with puzzle mats, with punch bags at the end of the room and energetic kids all over the place. Kids class was just finishing up.
I saw what I thought was the reception desk that also had a kitchenette behind it. Then looking further I noticed a full bedroom in the room behind.
I later found out that this was Pipiolos home, it was part of his salary from the gym. A proud native Dominican and martial artist, he had been offered to head up the Las Terrenas location, surfing and chilling in the day and teaching in the evenings. By his admission he was living the true martial artist’s dream, surfing and relaxing by day, teaching kickboxing and grappling by night. He became a close friend during our time in Las Terrenas, our first of what is quickly becoming a huge BJJ familia… and nobody forgets their first!
Our class started with an introduction in both Spanish and English (which I appreciated) followed by a pretty full-on warm up. If I were to have any critique of this gym at all, the long warm ups would be it, maybe just because I’m big and lazy – I got pretty sweaty just putting on my gi. Over time they did grow on me a class staple, there were some fundamental movements being drilled in and most importantly, the rest of the class loved it.
When it came to the technique portion I was really impressed, clear, detailed instructions were given (again in both Spanish and English) but it never felt overkill. As the weeks went by, it was clear that Pipiolo was taking us through a whole system, the techniques were strategically introduced to create a complete flow of options… I appreciate that this is jiu jitsu, but in my short time in this sport I’ve seen that this is not always the way it’s taught.
This is helped by the small schedule and group of people in attendance, because there are only a few weekly classes you see the same people at every class, and they all get to follow the same direction.
Pipiolo gave no hiding place for anyone in attendance either, frequently questioning people on their technique and asking them to show it in front of the group.
I LOVED this. Sure, it made people uncomfortable, but that’s the point. If you can’t handle the pressure of a few of your friends watching you demonstrate a technique, how are you then expected to perform in competition? Or God-forbid, “the streets”?
From a personal perspective, one thing I found fascinating were the subtle differences in some of the technical basics. Academia De La Costa was my first experience being a Globetrotter, and it showed me what a exciting path I have ahead – the prospect of discovering all these “accents” of jiu jitsu from around the world, all influenced by the local background and culture… I would get to immerse myself in all of them. And here was just the BEST place to start.
At Academia De La Costa Las Terrenas you have a real mix of people, there are some ex-pats from all around the world of different ages, as well as a whole host of locals, mostly white belts with a few blues and then a couple without any bjj gear at all. I came to learn that many of the locals’ membership is “sponsored” by those who pay. Outstanding. One of the barriers to BJJ in the western world is how expensive the sport can be, not in the Dominican Republic. And they were better for it.
And even though we weren’t training anything close 6+ times a week, everybody was noticeably getting better, myself included. Originally I had felt short-changed that my first stop on my bjj globetrotting journey would only have me train 3x a week or so, but I can honestly say that it wasn’t a negative.
The town of Las Terrenas was absolute paradise and I feel lucky to have been. It is very inexpensive, with access to multiple draw-dropping beaches, great surfing and cool mix of Latin American, Caribbean and European culture.
10 weeks here went by remarkably fast, I remember telling Pipiolo that there was only 2 weeks left and he became visibly saddened and shocked. Time is indeed relative. In such a short time in De La Costa Las Terrenas, life long friends had been made. Pipiolo in particular had been THE local guide, constantly extending invitations to hikes, adventures, local sights and essentially being an awesome friend.
After my first post, I was messaged by Mette (aka @butterfly.on.a.journey) and asked to confirm if she’d really like it, as I did, I would recommend this place to anyone that can go. I then saw her on the @lacostalasterrenas instagram page and was chuffed… So to finish, I just want to selfishly encourage anyone reading this to go – you’ll have an amazing time! Not only that, but I get some warmth in my belly knowing that I was partially responsible.
I’ve included a video showing Las Terrenas from our perspective, maybe there are some small changes now, so if you do go, please let me know @tj_jankowski on Instagram!