This week I trained at Upstream BJJ in downtown Richmond. Upstream* is a relatively new school, founded by 50/50 black belt and Richmond native Seph Smith. (Photos of the space here.)
I got to meet Seph prior to my visit when he led a class at 50/50. He was very well liked by everyone and had a great sense of humor. We rolled twice and he had no trouble with me despite giving up 25 pounds. Afterward I mentioned that I was hoping to train at his gym next and he was all for it.
I took my first class there Monday night- beginners’ no gi, with about 8 other students including two good wrestlers, a scrappy mma fighter, two females, and three other guys who I guessed were blue belts. We bowed in and went through a warmup like the ones done at 50/50.
The music here was a welcome change of pace. Almost every gym I’ve been to that does play music sticks to the same genres- reggae, radio rock, and mainstream rap. I understand it’s a democratic choice, but it’s uncreative and never inspiring. It’s just filler.
Seph played Ghostface, Slick Rick, A Tribe Called Quest, Fugazi, Prince, Ten Years After, and all kinds of other stuff I couldn’t identify. It added another layer to the enjoyment of training.
The technique was excellent. Seph started by breaking down a simple mount escape into it’s essential parts. We drilled the mount escape for a while, then he showed how to sit up into butterfly guard. After some reps on that, we began to scoot out to a side. Finally, we did a tilt sweep. With the addition of the sweep, we’d made a cyclical series that had us escaping mount, sweeping, mounting, losing position, getting swept to mount, then escaping again. The last fifteen minutes of the hour were spent sparring- starting in the night’s practiced position, with one free roll at the end.
We lined up and bowed out at 7:30. The advanced class started about two minutes later and I was impressed to see that everyone stayed.
The advanced technique was the reverse de la Riva sweep. I wondered if it was just my good luck to get another week to learn it, or if it was from asking Seph questions about it last Friday. Maybe his curriculum coincided with 50/50’s.
We drilled the roll underneath, then worked on taking the back. After a thorough explanation and some drilling, the move began to feel pretty easy. We did more sparring at the end, where I got to go with Seph and the two wrestlers.
At the end of the class, everyone sat around and talked for minute. The group felt close, like they genuinely got along.
Tuesday night was gi. All of the same people showed up, plus two more guys. During the first hour, we worked on escaping the mount again. We did more sparring this time starting from the mount, then continuing when the position changed. One of the wrestlers was a brown belt and the other was a purple. They were both good in the gi and we had fun going hard without going crazy. A third purple was there too and he was solid.
During free rolling, I got two more rounds with Seph. He trashed me again, but I felt like my defense was a little better.
I had a round with the mma guy that was pretty intense. He was going 110% and although he wasn’t very technical, he was a handful. I got a mean choke from the back at the end of the round and felt like maybe I was a little malicious, but the guy was delighted afterward and gave me a hug.
I figured out that there were day classes on Tuesday night, so I showed up at 11:30 on Wednesday morning. It was just Seph and I and I ended up getting a free private lesson. He agreed to work on anything I wanted, so I drilled rdlr with him and got some more pointers. He showed me this cool shit and also answered every question I asked. We rolled four or five rounds and called it good. I felt like it was one of the best hours of trip and thanked him profusely. He thanked me for coming and gave me an Upstream shirt (first shirt!).
Wednesday night’s first hour was a wrestling class taught by the brown belt wrestler- Story, was his (last) name. He showed an inside low single and a counter to the sprawl that I’ve known of as the ‘Iranian’. Story also showed how to spin out of the attack when someone tries it on you.
Seph took over for the second class and showed two ways to transition from side control to the back. He also went through a few different ways to beat the opponent’s hand fighting and finish the choke.
Again, everyone stayed and trained for two hours, which impressed me.
More good sparring concluded the class.
My last day was Thursday. I stayed up late the previous night and slept through the day class, so I only made it to the night session.
Seph showed the back taking sequences from the previous night and had us drill them a lot. When we sparred, he had us start from that same spot and the bottom guy had to try to escape by rolling up to his knees so we could attempt the back take. He altered it later to where the opponent could do whatever they wanted, which made us work hard to keep them on their side.
The advanced began with hand fighting form our feet. Due to space, we limited the takedowns to foot sweeps. I tried to use some of the judo I’d learned recently and I felt like I was doing better with it. I went with Seph for minute and felt like I was actually moving like a judoka, but he tripped me cleanly a few times.
The technique was pulling guard. He had us get low and take a step forward with our lead leg, planting our rear hand on the mat. We grabbed a lapel with our lead hand and swung hard into guard.
This felt like the most realistic guard pull I’d learned. It was quick and powerful and went forward, and was designed to work even if the opponent was in a deep crouch.
After we drilled the basic pull, we pulled into rdlr and went for the sweep immediately.
I sparred with some other students and Seph one last time, then it was time to say goodbye to Upstream.
I enjoyed this stop a lot. Classes were small, but everyone there was a serious student and had good training habits. The instruction was top notch and very accessible with the small classes. The atmosphere was great and the tunes were awesome. I even liked the city of Richmond.
Upstream was one of my favorite stops. I might move here.
* that’s a rad logo in my opinion- totally unique for bjj.