When the Centre Cannot Hold: Switching Jiujitsu Gyms

It was inevitable. Despite pretending that all would be well and that I could just ride out change at my gym, I knew it was time for me to move on and find a new crew. Opportunities take people places, others feel slighted by random, perceived slights, and then human drama begins to play out like Shakespearean plays performed by second rate actors. Exit stage right [chased by bear].

I will certainly miss my opportunity to teach beginners class; it was a rare chance for a purple belt to share some of my knowledge with white belts in a class format. I doubt that I will be given such a chance again, so I truly made the most of my six lessons. In the end though, I was always quite aware that people only want to learn from black belts with tonnes of competition experience at the highest levels. It is all good. What was especially thrilling was that I chose to give stripes the four of the students who had been working really hard before and after the Covid restrictions, had missed out last promotions in September and who were also moving on in the time ahead. Our professor, Igor Mocaiber, approved of my choices, and I was able to give each of them just a touch more motivation as they continued their journey.

What I find is a little more challenging is becoming a ronin at purple belt. Walking into new rooms after kidney surgeries, Covid layoffs and self-doubt is not an easy task. When I left Toronto No Gi, I was a white belt with 2 years experience. Sure, I walked into a very tough room at Budo Canada, but no one had any expectations for the gringos. Over four years and 10 competitions, I had a pretty solid understanding of who I was and what I could do on the mats.

I have spent the past year developing a Squid Guard with the lapels, a few open guard sequences, a mount that ends up in a few different submissions and a few other things. But my game has become a little more relaxed, as I was rolling almost exclusively with white belts so that I could actually get in hundreds of reps on what I was working on. How would I feel going into new rooms, as a human target with a purple belt? I would soon have the answer…pretty awful!

In my local area, I am pretty lucky to have two great gyms: Action Reaction MMA and RevMMA. The first is largely competition-based with a wide variety of students and it would allow me to remain a part of the Cicero Costha family. A few challenges for me will be that the team is pretty large and keeping my kidneys safe might prove a rough proposition with eager, young competitors hoping to tap a purple belt.

Given that Action Reaction is closed for two weeks as they move locations to a larger facility, I figured that I would start with RevMMA . Rev is a multi-combat sport gym whose jiujitsu program is led by black belt Joel Gerson and now affiliated with the Gracie Academy out of Torrence, California. I had taken a full day workshop with Rener Gracie and Brian Ortega a few years back, so I knew what I was getting into. The focus would have some elements of self-defence and an emphasis on very solid foundations. Safe, playful training with a lot of steady pressure.

I decided to jump right in with a Gracie Combatives class at 7pm, followed by an Advanced class with rolling afterwards. Gracie Combatives is a foundational sequence of 32 Techniques that is repeated on schedule for new white belts until they successfully attend a set number of classes and can demonstrate an understanding of these basics. Attendance is tracked on white cards that students take to classes. If I am totally honest, then I have to admit that I was stressed out and nervous because few things are worse than showing up to a class where everyone else knows what is going on as white belts and I have no idea as a purple belt. The language and vocabulary are strange, and while I have a boatload of knowledge, I have zero Gracie Combatives knowledge. Oh boy, it was going to be a rough night.

Fortunately, Joel connected me with a passionate adherent of the system, Daniel, and as we worked through the day’s two main techniques and four minutes of the punch-block series. While it may seem unbelievable, I learned A LOT about BASE and increasing mount control/pressure. I also felt pretty stupid. Like really bad at jiujitsu. So then it becomes a question of whether I can defeat the voice of my ego to rebuild the paradigm of my jiujitsu experience. Can I accept that I will feel like I have started BJJ over from square one? Good question.

For the second part of the evening, I dragged my ego into the Advanced class. We worked on a pretty awesome half guard smash pass that felt very much like a Mendes brothers’ technique based on multiple leg weaves and staples. Again, I felt like I walked away with a technique that would greatly improve what is my A game.

Rolls were hard, but excellent. With my first partner, a purple belt, I controlled the first half of the roll and then played defense in the second half. I was a distracted by my own cross collar grip and lost control of my leg freedom. Next round was with Joel Gerson, and that was never going to go easily for me. While I did what I could, two armbars and a defeated Squid Guard later, I was just happy to still be able to walk. Finally, I had a round with my white belt partner, Daniel. His defense in mount was pretty solid…except for that last second wristlock. I was gentle.

In the past 48 hours, I have had to question a great many things about my jiujitsu; what I want, who am I, who do I want to be, am I ever going to find a place to consider home again? Hard to say, really. As my daughter woke up quite sick with a fever in the middle of the night, and having been put into a bad mood from one of my parent- teacher interviews, I feel pretty distant from the moment without jiujitsu to take my attention back to Centre. Another week and I hope to have chosen between Exit A and B.

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