After the heat and crowds of New York, San Diego was a literal breath of fresh air. It’s the 2nd largest city in California but it feels very spread out and livable, the downside is that you need to drive everywhere and traffic can get heavy during rush hour, just like anywhere else.
Because it was mid Summer and 4th of July was just around the corner, we didn’t have a lot of options for accommodation. We had been speaking to Dean Lister via email about potentially staying with him, as he used to run a fighters house with affordable accommodation, but he has since closed it down unfortunately, and was out of the country anyway. That was a shame as I’m a big fan – his K.A.T.C.H instructionals have had a big impact on my leg lock game.
Instead, we managed to find an Airbnb in Chula Vista just a short drive South of the city and close to the Mexican border, where we stayed with a French couple and their enormous, beautiful dog Mafalda.
First thing we did was head to the beach of course, but after that it was time to train. The first night we went to Victory MMA, we knew Dean Lister was out of town but wanted to take one of Jeff Glover’s advanced classes. It was $20 for a day pass which lets you take as many classes as you want. We were really impressed with the gym facilities, they were huge! 3 mat spaces, a boxing ring as well as the usual. As soon as we arrived we ran into Jeff Glover, but unfortunately it looked like he had literally just hurt himself as he was holding an ice pack to his leg and limping a bit, but still taught the class anyway. We went through some drills very much in his style – literally trying to confuse and distract your opponent with speed, explosiveness and feints from various positions. It was fun but very different. Afterwards we were split over two mats for sparring, and I had a few good rounds with some purple belts but unfortunately all the higher belts were sitting out as they had trained hard in the class before it seems.
The next morning we decided to go to Atos, where we ended up staying at for the rest of our time in San Diego, despite original plans to try out other gyms. It’s a bit further out than some of the other gyms so you definitely need to drive.
The price is whopping $60 for a day pass, $175 for a weekly, or $350 for a month. But don’t let the cost scare you away, as we can attest to the fact it is 100% worth it. You do have to wear a white gi with no club/affiliation patches (you can rent one for $10 which Alessia had to do), and a black rashguard. When you get there you can see why they have the uniform policy though – the gym is beautiful. The black and blue mat space is elevated and with lots of natural light, with a secondary mat around the corner. Rows of trophies line the wall, and you can feel the intensity in the air as everyone there is so committed to their training.
Professor Galvao takes the main morning and evening classes, and all the classes are filmed professionally for his website. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he is an incredible teacher, with the entire class was hanging off his every word because he puts so much detail into every technique. Even moves that we had seen before he managed to add his own personal touch and details to it in ways we hadn’t thought about before. Not only that, he came across as an incredibly friendly, approachable and humble guy – even mopping the mats himself after class.
Sparring was some of the most intense I’ve ever come across. Pick anyone in the gym and chances are they have won gold at Worlds or Pans etc. I managed to roll with Josh Hinger, Pablo Mantovani and many other incredible fighters. Special mention to Conner DeAngelis, a beastly heavyweight purple belt who put me to sleep during our roll – that’s the first time I’ve ever not tapped in time, the choke was that tight. I remember waking up and Andre joking that he’s heard it’s like having a nap in the middle of the round so I should be refreshed – and in fact I did a little bit ?
Even though the training is very intense there and almost everyone is a serious competitor or athlete, there is still a very friendly and supportive vibe in the gym, and they were all incredibly welcoming to us. The Friday night warm-up was a long game of dodge ball which was loads of fun. Alessia was also really happy since there was a strong ladies contingent on the mat – down to Angelica’s influence most likely, she runs a Ladies Only classes twice a week but unfortunately we didn’t have time to go.
We also met a Swedish couple Karl and Elina, who had been staying there for a month just to train. In fact it seemed like quite a lot of people had moved to San Diego purely to train at Atos, whether for a month or permanently. And we could understand why. The training at Atos was a whole other level, and both Alessia and I absolutely loved it and took a lot away from the experience. We seriously considered changing our plans and staying in San Diego to train another week, but sadly in the end it was too last minute and impractical. We’ve both made a deal though, that after this trip we want to move to San Diego for a few months just to train, I hope we can make it happen.
The rest of our time in San Diego was spent at the various beaches – our favorite was La Jolla Cove where the Sea Lions and Seals chill out on the rocks, play on the beach and swim next to you in the ocean (don’t get too close though).
Old town was awesome, the historic area was preserved and reconstructed to keep things like they would have been during the 1800s and is a great day out.
San Diego Zoo was the biggest I’d ever been to and with lots of space in the enclosures for the animals, which seemed to be well looked after.
We also spent 4th of July in historic Coronado, watching the parade and chilling at the beach, before heading to Old Town again for the rest of the day and fish tacos.
I have to take a moment here to dwell on the fish tacos. Amazing. All food in San Diego is pretty incredible – being so close to the border you can find Mexican food everywhere, with some places being so authentic the staff literally don’t speak English and they only serve beef head tacos (with Alessia being vegetarian, needless to say we didn’t end up eating there ?). But fish tacos. I don’t know how many fish we consumed in the end but it was somewhere between a school and a species. The place we would highly recommend is Pacific Beach Fish Shop, halfway between Atos and Pacific Beach ??? ?. Also, Aunt Emma’s Pancake House in Chula Vista for huge stacks of pancakes on the cheap. Unbelievable.
We were sad to leave San Diego, but excited to start our road trip up the West Coast to LA (via Disneyland), the Pacific Coast Highway and Yosemite National Park to San Francisco. Till next time!