I’ve trained martial arts in buildings that would collapse in an earthquake. Gyms converted from industrial sites and clubs located down alleyways so ominous I half expected to find Batman hunting for villains.
Academy Cyprus breaks the mold. The club has a number of sites in different cities around North of Cyprus; the portion of the island controlled by Turkey.
The one I visited was near Famagusta, a coastal city full of resorts, with ocean breezes and sweeping sea views.
The team are based at the Caesar Resort. The complex of shinning apartment blocks includes a gym overlooking the pool with the horizon of the ocean in the distance. At the back of the gym is a decent area of mats where they train.
The day I visited a line up of ten guys were working half guard drills, followed by rolling. The drill focused on securing a deep half guard then a sweep.
It’s a small group with a pioneering attitude.
They compete under the Globetrotters banner and really embody the hashtag #bjjlifestyle.
The club’s owner Selman Ozcan, began BJJ years ago by watching videos online. He would take notes with his wife then bring them along to a group of other white belts to try out.
He is now a purple belt and splits teaching duty with the club’s other coloured belts. There’s a real feeling of sharing and working as a collective.
Everyone is a friend. Selman went out of his way to ensure I found the right place, then dropped me back to my bus stop afterwards and insisted on messages when I arrived safely in Turkey.
Cyprus is divided with the Turkish territory in the north and Greek in the south. Those who lived on the island before its partition, plus some tourists, can cross at selected check points. Otherwise the green line remains a military patrolled buffer zone which runs through the centre like a zip.
While visiting the south side I rented the island’s cheapest rental car for about $60 Euro for four days which is the way to go if you’re planning a visit. The little red Chevrolet thing had three doors, a dozen dents and the world’s most temperamental gear box. He earned the name Kevin. We even drove up Mount Olympus. Poor Kevin was barely moving at one point and I was worried he might roll back down the hill.
This warm hospitality offered by Selman is a real Turkish thing and a kindness I felt in every public space.
People saw me looking like a confused owl behind my thick rimmed glasses and offered to let me jump lines, women shared toiletries in bathrooms, others let me doze when I fell asleep on their shoulders. Where ever I went I was greeted with smiles and pats on the arm; a country of micro pep talks.
I flew in and out of Istanbul. I did not get a response from any clubs I contacted so didn’t have a chance to train. Instead I will introduce Halis Bekrizade Efendi, probably the best Turkish delight store in all the world. It is a white marble store with pyramids of sweets stacked on every surface. My box of the handmade goodies cost about $3.50 NZD. It was staffed by an older man who didn’t speak a word of English, but feed me from a bottomless plate of samples and smiled like I was his favourite grandchild.