One of the nice things about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is that you can travel practically anywhere in the world and find somewhere to train. Training in a new academy in a different city or even a different country from your own can be one of the most rewarding and revealing experiences you can have as every gym has its own culture, philosophy and technical emphasis. Here are six quick tips on how to get the most out of your trip and make sure that you are welcomed back.
Do your research
Google the city you’re travelling to in conjuction with BJJ, and ask your coach and team mates if they’ve had any experience training at the destinations you’re keen on. Chances are that some of them have traveled to wherever you are going before and can suggest some good places to train. A personal recommendation is always a better bet than simply going with Google’s first page.
Once you’ve decided on a place, learn everything you can from their website. Find out the class schedule, the location, whether the sessions you plan to attend are gi or no gi, and what the mat fees are likely to be. This last point is especially important if you are planning on going somewhere famous. Places like Renzo’s or Marcelo’s academies in New York and the Mendes brother’s Art of Jiu Jitsu academy in California have significantly different mat fees for tourists and locals.
Apart from it simply being polite, it’s always an excellent idea to call the academy to let them know that you are coming. This is a chance for you to find out anything you couldn’t glean from their website, and for them to get an indication of who you are and how long you’ve been training. Ask which classes it would be appropriate for someone of your experience to attend, and whether they have any particular requirements regarding safety equipment or training gear.
Pack a standard white gi, and if you will be training enough to require a second gi then I would recommend bringing a white ultra light travel gi. You read that correctly – only pack white gis. Preferably ones unadorned with patches, although I do realise that’s not always possible.
Many gyms require all students to wear white gis, and many of those same gyms are not very good at communicating this requirement, so making your gi white by default is cheap insurance. Also wearing a white gi instead of your unicorn patched purple tiger striped gi is a small measure of respect for your host, which is often an under appreciated gesture. It’s the difference between attending a business lunch in a simple suit and tie, and attending that same lunch wearing a popped collar polo, tight white jeans and oversized aviators.
We all know that guy. Don’t be that guy.
Apart from that, I would also suggest packing a micro fibre towel and a notebook. It’s also a good idea to have your own sports tape, but if you are flying you should buy that once you arrive at your destination city, as airport security will confiscate any before you board the plane.
Make sure you arrive 15 minutes or so early so that you have time to sign any waivers, get shown around, meet the instructor and get changed. Seems obvious but many, many people fail to take these things into account and rock up expecting to be able to just jump on the mats.
Before class talk to a friendly looking blue belt
For some reason every academy assumes that all the little ceremonies and gestures of respect that make up “the way things are done” are the exact same at every gym world wide, but I have yet to visit two that are alike. So find yourself a blue belt, someone that knows what’s going on but who hasn’t been doing it for so long that it’s just a part of the background noise, and ask the following questions:
- Do you bow before stepping on or off the mats?
- Do you line up before or after class?
- What do I call the instructor?
There’s bound to be a few more culture traps that will leave you wondering what the hell is going on, but the above should at least get you through the first 10 minutes.
Go to train
Remember the reason you are visiting this club in the first place; specifically, you are there to train. You are not there to teach – so hold back on offering your insights (unless asked specifically by the instructor of course). You are not there to show how good you are – so roll like you’re trying to improve and not like you’re in the final of the mundials. You are not there to deliver your one man comedy show – so do the drills and restrict chatting to the breaks and after class.