Monthly Archives: September 2015

Ronin BJJ

Soulcraft didn’t have a bjj class on Friday night so I looked up a place called Ronin in downtown New Haven and went there. 

Ronin is inside a huge brick building that has been split into several units. I saw a Crossfit gym, an aikido place a dance school and two wight lifting places; it’s like a fitness mall.
Prof. Andrew Spinnato, a brand new black belt, led the class. It was small- just four of us- but it was a black, 2 brown and a purple.

We drilled this stack pass, then rolled.

The brown belt moved all over like I do and we had two good rounds with a ton of scrambles. Andrew and I rolled close to even, but he spent most of the match on top. The purple belt was really strong and played slow and tight, but I squeezed out to his back twice.

The four of us talked a little afterwards and they had only good things to say about Soulcraft. When I talked to Brad about training there the next day, he said the same things. He even showed me pictures of his team at Ronin’s grand opening.

It’s really cool that these two schools support each other. All gyms should be this way. Our sport is way too small to cut each other down. I wish the guys in Missoula could act like this, then we might have one decent team instead of three or four tiny struggling clubs.

I’m in NYC now. Tomorrow is my first day at MGA.


5 more gyms

Port City BJJ
Boston BJJ
Florian MMA
Tim Burrill BJJ
Soulcraft BJJ


Here’s where I’ve been lately. 5 solid gyms, black belts teaching every class, good competitive training.

At Port City, I trained in a racquetball court converted to a grappling room, pretty cool. Class was led by a sixty year old black belt who warmed us up with some judo, then ran allowed us to drill our preferred sweeps and passes before sparring.
The guys and girl at this gym were interested in my trip and gave me lots of info about bjj in the area. I also met a purple belt who runs a soap company that gave me a few bars and a sticker. Tortuga Soap – this guy makes the serious gourmet shit. Try it, grapplers.
My rolls here were just the right level- hard, but controlled. They also played live Roger Waters during class.

Boston. Boston makes Montreal feel like Phoenix. After the first day, I parked the van near the gym and took the bicycle everywhere.
Boston BJJ has been around for twenty years and has produced over thirty black belts. Most of the schools in New England have some relation to Roberto Maia’s team. The training was good and I rolled with 6 different black belts in three classes, including one called Big Steve who was like 6’6″ 275- built like a linebacker.
After my time there, I tried out Kenny Florian’s gym for a night. No gi class was led by Keith Florian. I liked that Keith demonstrated quickly so that we had extra time to drill. I picked up two good details on defending chokes from the back and had a good roll with a Jordanian brown belt called Sanna.(sp?)

I liked Boston and enjoyed some good food and cool history. But I was getting claustrophobic, so I headed down to Providence, RI late at night after Florian’s.

Providence is beautiful. It’s a smaller city with canals and rivers and big parks.
I had a good night of training at Tim Burrill’s gym. The space looked oddly familiar, and I figured out that I’d seen it in demo videos when I met a purple belt named Vinny who is the owner of Armor Kimonos.
Vinny has good straight ankle locks.
Tim was a very soft spoken teacher with a loose approach to drilling that I liked. He would show three or four different knee slice passes and let us drill the versions we liked.
Tim taught the first hour and the second hour was led by a black belt they call Tattoo Jimmy. Jimmy is the most animated teacher I’ve ever seen. It took him a long time to show a move, but he was funny and he energized the class.

I’ve trained my last two days at Soucraft BJJ in New Haven, CT.
Soulcraft  is run by Brad Wolfson, whom you might recognize from his involvement with BJJ Globetrotters. Brad is obviously down with my trip and he’s been a great host.
The atmosphere at his school is perfect. Clean facility, good attitudes and thoughtful instruction from a variety of coaches who seem to genuinely care about each student. Their music is good too- the Dead and Iron Maiden, along with quality rap and reggae.

I made a CLAMP for my camera tripod today. Hopefully this helps me get into the video game.
I feel like writing in depth about the practices is getting stale. You can only describe training in so many ways. What does the audience think? More vids?

The big ones are coming up- MGA, Unity and Renzo’s. When I first conceived of the trip, the goal I had in mind was to train with Marcelo and his team. Now I’m just a few days from that and I couldn’t be more excited.

Thanks for reading so far, and keep with me for these next few weeks, which could be the best yet.

The Academy & Team 1 Portland, ME

Portland is a lot like the town I live in- Missoula, MT. It’s mostly about craft beer and outdoor recreation. There’s some hippies and rednecks and professors and everybody gets along. 

I did a noon class at The Academy.

The gym is big and open and mostly white with lots of natural light- very nice.

Class was led by a pair of brown belts. They taught closed guard techniques- cross collar, then armbar, to triangle, to omoplata. They both talked and demonstrated and worked really well together. They also swore a ton, but it was creative and entertaining.

It was me, two blues and two whites. We drilled and then began to roll. The guys were mostly bigger than me (big people in N.E.) and we rolled hard. It was fun. 

Towards the end, a black belt and a little brown belt strolled onto the mat. The black belt was Rodrigo Ranieri. His buddy was a Brazilian guy called Rogeny. They’d just finished a day’s work lobstering. 

Rodrigo was friendly and we rolled after he warmed up. He felt like he was going easy, but he moved a lot and was a lot fun.

I did two rounds with Rogeny, who I was told is a serious competitor. I had like 40 pounds on him, but his grips were unbreakable and he played a smart, conservative half guard. We were pretty even but again, he was a lot smaller.  

I made small talk with everyone after practice and got some tips on where to eat some lobster. 

On a tip, I had a lobster roll at a place called Eventide. It was a total hipster joint but that lobster roll was damn good- and I don’t really care for lobster.

After that I stopped by a famous donut shop called Holy Donut. This place uses potatoes in their dough. I had a coffee flavor and a mojito flavor. In my opinion, this place kicks the shit out of Voodoo Donuts in Portland, OR. 

After a walk around the docks, I stopped by Team 1 BJJ downtown. The bay door was open and I walked up and introduced myself to Alexy Cruz. 

I watched the last few minutes of a kids class in which Alexy torched a bunch of children in a game of mat soccer. He was really good and put some nasty moves on those kids.

Adult class began at 6. I was with a huge brown belt (big people) two purples, two blues and one white belt. Alexy showed us a stack pass to side control and an entry to the back when they rolled all the way over into turtle. He was an easy going guy; his students called him by first name and he teased them constantly.

When we rolled, the brown belt and I talked more than we grappled, but it was fine with me. I got two rounds afterwards with the blues, who were ferocious. I used the stack pass I’d just learned once or twice and got a few chokes from the back.

It was another good practice and I agreed to make it to another one tomorrow.


Ok, that’s 26 gyms so far. I’m learning a lot about bjj of course, but I’m also learning about blogging and writing about the art. One thing I’ve been realizing is that writing can only convey so much about jiu jitsu. It’s ok, but it doesn’t really compare to video. I’ve shot some technique videos, but I want to do more. I want to do some interviews with instructors and students and film some live rounds and do facility tours.

I have no videography experience but I’m going to give it a try anyway. Tarantino never went to film school. The first thing I need to do is invest in the right equipment. And the second is plan in advance for these videos. I need to give the I instructors and myself time to prepare.

As I hook south, look for this blog to change- hopefully for the better.

Stage 2 coming up..

Team Link Hooksett


Finding this gym was kind of a hassle. Google Maps showed three Team Link locations in the Manchester area. I chose the one in the middle of town, but when I arrived I found it had been replaced by a comic book store. I drove across the Merrimack River to another dot on the map. This one was a strip mall with a Planet Fitness right there for the showering. But when I peered into the window, I saw that this place was closed too.
I considered skipping NH and going straight to Maine, but thought better of it and made the drive up to Hooksett.

Team Link Hooksett is located inside a gym called Tokyo Joe’s. It consists of a large from room with black Dollamur mats and a small back from with red and blue tatami. One wall had several mma belts and NAGA medals, and pictures of victorious fighters inside the cage. There was a good sized striking class going on in the front room.
I met brown belt Jay Fortier who led the night’s bjj class in the back room. There were 5 students total, one purple belt. I happened to be the smallest guy in the room too. We b.s.’d as we went through warmups and I answered some questions about my trip. These were friendly people who swore and joked and I felt comfortable with them quickly.

Jay was burly, and specialized in a powerful style. He taught us a crushing half guard pass, then another when facing towards the opponent’s legs. These moves started with a gi grip that was essentially a fist in the side of the neck designed to defeat the bottom man’s undertook. It was effective and I tried memorize it to add to my game.
Jay built off the second pass and taught this choke, which Stephan Kesting calls the breaststroke choke. He demonstrated on me a few times for my partner and it sucked; it felt like my collarbone might break.
After our drilling we sparred 3 five minute rounds. I went with the purple belt first. He was huge- maybe 6’4″ or 6’5″ and about 250lbs. I struggled to elevate him for any kind of sweep and opted for a back take instead. But any time I got around him, he used a fat man’s roll and scraped me right off. After a few repetitions of this, I tried to catch a crucifix when he rolled. It worked, but I tried to use my legs and feet to armbar him and lost control. He spun up to the top, and I spent the last minute curled up underneath him.
I rolled with Jay next. He had some bone chips floating around in his neck so we took it easy. He was the kind of grappler that moves slowly and deliberately, eating up all the free space and applying pressure everywhere. I had some success setting up x guard and sweeping him to his butt, but never passed guard.
Round three was with a totally new guy, so we did some cross collar chokes.

That concluded practice and we sat around and talked for a few minutes. I learned that the gym had two guys in Bellator and that Jay had been a bjj referee for over ten years.
Jay apologized for not waning to show his choke on camera, but I assured him that a lot of people chose not to when I asked.

I like learning from people with different styles and I got some of that from Jay. It was a good experience overall and I’m glad I stayed around to train in New Hampshire.

Vermont BJJ

More money hassle. I went to a bar in Burlington on Sunday night to watch football. I had two pints and never left my stool. After closing my tab and signing the credit slip, I got up to leave and checked my pockets to make sure I had all my stuff. No debit card. I asked the bartender if she gave it to me and she said, ‘Definitely’. I checked the floor and my pockets a few more times and the card was nowhere to be found. Easy, I thought, I could go get a replacement on Monday morning. I looked up a US Bank in Burlington- couldn’t find one. Weird. I looked in the surrounding area- none. Vermont? No. It turns out that there are no US Banks in the eastern part of the country. The closest one to me was in Columbus, Ohio.
After at the n hour of research and phone calls, it appeared the only way for me to get at my money was through the scumbags Western Union.
I battled them for an hour Sunday night and off and on all Monday. On Tuesday they relented and gave me my money.
I bought some gas and some coffee and headed over to the suburb of Williston to scope out Vermont BJJ.

I found the gym in a forested industrial park on the edge of town. I met the instructor, Jay, and got out onto the mat for the start of class. Julio ‘Foca’ Fernandez, the head instructor was in Germany, so Jay was running the show.
He put some grimy 90’s rap on at high volume and began the warmups. After we’d run a bunch of laps and done footwork drills, we did three rounds of hand fighting from the feet. The second guy I went with felt like he knew what he was doing so I made a mental note to watch out for him if we rolled later.
Jay’s technique for the night was the cow catcher from the feet. I enjoyed his super-enthusiasm and his New England accent. He also had a couple good one liners referencing the Pope and a bag of cats.
We drilled the cow catcher and then worked into a guillotine form mount. Jay showed good details on making tight guillotines and went around the room making sure everyone was getting it right.

After getting choked dozens of times, we took a break and then got ready to spar.

We were going no-gi, by the way.

I went first with my drilling partner. He was an mma fighter, most likely a flyweight. I started on my butt, but had trouble getting him to engage me. We did a lot of hand fighting after a while I just wanted him to take position. I had to let him take side control for him to engage, but I did this to him.
We started over and again I had trouble getting things going, so I dove in and let him spin around to my back. I escaped and locked up full guard right away so he was forced to grapple. I worked an arm drag and stayed close, taking his back and securing a choke. We spent the last minute with more hand fighting.
Round 2 was with the instructor, Jay. Again I started from my butt, and struggled to get him to engage. I laid on my back and he tried to compress and step around my butterfly guard. I caught him in half guard, and he disengaged.
The same thing happened again, but this time I over hooked his arm and kept him close. I had to work for it, but eventually got a tilt sweep. The round ended with me working again his open guard.
Round 3 was against the hand fighting guy. He willingly locked up and tried to work around to my side. I kept my head tight to his chest and ankle picked him. As I stood to pass, he went in for a foot lock. I went for my own counter foot lock, but only to distract him while I freed my leg. I tried to dive under his hips and get into a leg drag, but he backed away. I played more butterfly and he went heavy on a headlock. I tried for another tilt sweep and kept his bottom leg from going under me and giving him a guillotine. When he let go of my head and put his arm on the mat, I tried to catch a triangle. He postured and we ended the match in that position. This was the toughest guy I faced that night.

I got three more rounds with guys around  my size. They were aggressive but I got a couple of chokes on each of them from the back. I estimate they were blues or purples.
That wrapped up the session and I left to get a shower without remembering to take pictures or film a move.

Today I drove through some pretty country and stopped in Manchester, NH. I followed Google Maps to two closed Team Link locations, before locating an open one on the third try, I’ll be training there in about an hour.


You can’t train in Montreal and skip Tristar. I almost did, but decided I should stay for their Saturday afternoon class.
l looked the place up on Google Maps, but then had a little trouble getting into the right building as there was no signage. I saw a guy with a gym back and a David Loiseau shirt so I followed him through a door and up some steps.
The gym itself is huge. They have a big mat area, a smaller mat area with a fence wall, a cage, a boxing ring, a small hardwood room for karate, and an exercise area. They have pro shop too. And showers.

I paid for a day pass, and joined about 75 people in gi’s in the main mat area. Fires Zahabi was teaching. He showed a few variations of a spider guard pass and a pass against the lasso guard.
Zahabi is a renowned coach so I tried to study his teaching style.
He had a conceptual approach. For example, he showed one way to break the lasso, but then several ways to finish the pass based on how the opponent reacted. He physically demonstrated a lot, so he could cover each option a few times, which also let us see the initial grip break repeatedly.
When I drilled with one of his brown belts, each repetition he did turned out a little different.
It might be difficult for a new student, but it felt good to me, like I was learning a few moves simultaneously. It also seemed to help my timing.
Throughout our drilling, he would stop us to show a specific detail on a certain sequence, but mostly let us figure it out on our own with heavy repetition.

After 45 minutes of drilling, he stopped the class and did some promotions. There were a ton of people so it took a while. Here’s some video. (On Facebook, sorry.) You can see me fifth from the left.

I was about to be pissed that I paid to attend a promotion, but then my drilling partner asked me to roll and others paired off and began training.
The brown bet was tough. He got on to a kimura early, but I defended for long time and eventually broke the hold. I escaped from the bottom and scrambled to side control, where he replaced half guard and latched onto another kimura. I have a cool counter that I developed when they try this and I used it to get to his back. But he never let go of his kimura grip and used a nice roll to escape and come out on top. This time he finished the shoulder lock, but he was controlled and smooth and had ensured that I was truly stuck.

<This is how you should train, dammit. If you have to yank on your submissions to finish them it means your technique is off and you’re risking the health of your partner to get a meaningless tap in practice. Your partner isn’t going to feel safe rolling with you. He’s going to tap early instead of exploring all of his escape options and you’re limiting your ability to finish the move by not seeing those options.
Later when you roll with someone whose timing is equal to yours, your sloppy shit isn’t going to work and you’ll have no idea why. Not to mention everybody dislikes rolling with you and your instructor is probly going to wreck you for terrorizing his students.

My next round was with a small purple belt. He was really quick and I spent most of the round defending and escaping. As soon as I would get out of danger, he’d go to another position and immediately start working for another submission. I survived for about seven minutes without getting tapped, but he must have score 20 points.

I got a purple my size next. He was a lot like the other one, but just a little slower. I was able to get my guard back a few times and even pass, but he definitely won.

I went back and did another round with the little purple, and somehow caught him in a D’Arce. I felt like Marv when he handcuffs himself to Kevin in Sin City‘I gotcha you little bastard, let’s see you hop around now.’

Round four was with a blue belt who was really tall and pretty strong. His guard was hard to handle, but I came to the top after conceding a sweep and tried for some submissions. I screwed up somewhere and he put me in an awful triangle. We rolled again and I took his back, but couldn’t get a sub. We talked a little afterward and I got some tips from him about training at Unity in NYC.

The rounds were long and been there for over two hours so I hit the shower and headed out of Montreal with some daylight left.

I did get to see Rory. He’s humongous and his face is permanently altered from that title fight.
What a fight though.

I had a nice scenic drive down into Burlington, VT. It began to rain and hasn’t stopped at the time of publishing.
I lost my debit card (or the bartender did. they did.) so I’m killing 48 hours until I get myself some money. Apparently the closest US Bank is back in Ohio, so I had to send myself a Western Union, which was a dumb hassle on the phone and internet.
Whatever. I have a little food and a rain jacket so I’m going to hike around today and hopefully train tomorrow.

10th Planet Montreal


Parking was brutal. I was smart to try to get there early because it gave me enough time to find a spot and only be one minute late. Luckily class started at five after.
I’ve always wanted to visit a 10P and Montreal had good reviews online.

Class was taught by a big wrestler who had a few cool warmup drills. We practiced technical stand ups against a pressing opponent, and we did guard recoveries starting from all fours. I really liked these drills- they weren’t too strenuous, but they were dynamic and practical. “better than sit-ups” is what the instructor said.

The technique for the night was a transition from kesa gatame to S-mount.
First, we gathered the opponent’s near elbow up into our lap for a tight kesa gatame position, then we pressed that arm flat against their body by gripping the wrist. Then raised our hips and swung our near leg over both arms and ended up in S-mount.
It confused me. First, I figured the opponent would pull his elbow back down to the mat when we lifted our hips. I also didn’t see how we could clear the far arm with our swinging leg.
It seemed to me like this transition had some flaws. But it’s possible I didn’t fully understand it or there was something missed.
I found this video, which is similar. Notice though that the guy in the video pins the far arm, not the near one.
Just because I doubt a move doesn’t mean it’s not worth learning. I did my best to pick it up and I plan to try it when I get a chance.

For the sparring, we had five guys on their backs trying to escape side control. If the succeeded they got to go again, if they were mounted or rubber, they went out. It was good. I got short sessions with several solid grapplers.
Then we did a few full rounds. I started with stalky guy who was controlled and smooth. We had a pretty good round going, but at one point a guy wanted to jump no and roll with me because he had to leave soon.
He was about 20 pounds larger, but had a purple rash guard, so I guessed he was a purple. We were pretty intense and he caught an early guillotine that I failed to respect that made me tap. I was miffed, so stepped my level up and tried not to give him anything. He was after the guillotines, and I had to fight out of more than one. I swept and passed repeatedly but kept losing my advantage due to his powerful elbow push escapes. I failed to finish from the back two or three times, and missed two of my own guillotines. I sensed him tiring a little, but after one of his escapes, his time was up and he had to get going.
I rolled a little more with an older guy about my size. We went pretty hard too, but I sunk a head and arm choke and did well in the positional battle.

I decided to call it a night and headed out. I was soaked in sweat and needed a shower badly. I did the deed at a nearby Starbucks- hopefully it was a good enough wash.

Canada has been expensive but worth the cost. I got some great training here and really enjoyed Toronto and Montreal. If I could get Canadian citizenship, I might live in Toronto. That’s on hell of a city.
Tonight I’m headed down into Vermont. I aim to make it to the Burlington area to train with Julio Fernandez.

Thanks for everything Canada, I had a great time here!