Somehow, I have always associated brown belts with nomadic tendencies. In each gym that I’ve trained at, the brown belts have been transient, arriving for a year or so and then vanishing. They always struck me as ronin, masterless samurai looking for new challenges and new opportunities.
Over the course of my own training, I’ve never stayed put for too long, earning my blue belt, purple belt, and brown belt in three different schools. However, it’s only since I was awarded my brown belt that I’ve fully embraced the nomadic Jiu Jitsu lifestyle. Over the past four months I’ve trained in 11 different gyms, some for as short as a single night and others for a month.
This is the first in a multi-part series where I’ll offer some tips for the traveling jiujitsero. It is my hope that anyone who lives constantly on the move, brown belt or otherwise, may find this humble assortment of advice helpful. This article will examine the importance of having a gym to call home and offer some advice on finding Jiu Jitsu wherever you may end up.
The Importance of Having a Gym to Call Home
Whenever I arrive in a new gym I am invariably asked where I train. The question is as reasonable as it is misguided. I train in whichever city I’m currently in, but as of late I haven’t stayed in a city for longer than a month at a time.
The gym I have trained at most consistently over the past year is Checkmat Colombia in Medellin. I spent 11 months training at Checkmat Colombia under the amazing tutelage of Alessandro Nagaishi. Yet when people ask me where I train I don’t start by telling them Checkmat Colombia – because it is a place I have trained rather than my home gym.
When I left the USA for Colombia I told my coaches in Atlanta that I wished to remain a member of their team. Back in Atlanta I was a member of Odyssey BJJ, and regard myself as one to this day. I was present on the first day of classes at Odyssey and helped launch their children’s BJJ program, so the school holds a special place in my heart.
More than just representing a sentimental connection to the past, I believe that having a gym to call home is a vital part of your Jiu Jitsu journey. Coach Lenny and Coach Greg have known me for years and when I come back to Atlanta they are able to give me an honest assessment of my progress in BJJ.
One of my personal goals is to one day get my black belt, and for that I need to have coaches who are able to recognize my growth and offer me advice on how to continue developing my game.
So, my advice for an intrepid would-be traveler is to form a strong relationship with a coach before embarking. If you’ve been with your gym for years, then you’ve probably already done so. If you’re new to the sport or to your gym, then you may need to have a conversation with your coach where you explain your situation and goals and see if they are amenable to supporting you long-term.
Along your travels you’ll be asked where your home gym is. I’m proud to say Odyssey BJJ is my home gym – the story is more complicated than that, but not every question needs a complicated answer.
Finding BJJ in Unusual Places: Search Engines and Social Media
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a global sport that has incredible reach. If you’re in any major city in the United States or Europe you’ll most likely be able to find several gyms with a casual Google search. However, once you get further afield you may find that the world’s biggest search engine knows less than it would like you to believe.
When Google draws a blank I turn to Facebook and Instagram. No matter how you may feel about social media, these tools are undeniably powerful in finding BJJ wherever you might be!
Gym owners take note: It’s free to add your business information to Google! Make a business profile and include a current phone number, address, and your schedule!
Facebook – The Unofficial Website Host of Every Small BJJ Gym
You’d think that in 2021 every company would have a web page. Web hosting is cheap as borscht and anyone who can use a keyboard can figure out WordPress. However, once you spend any significant time on the road, you’ll find that a significant number of gyms have no website or you’ll find the derelict remains of a website that hasn’t seen an update since 2012.
How do these gyms think they’ll be discovered then? I haven’t actually sat down and asked each coach this question, but I suspect they’re counting on Facebook doing the heavy lifting for them!
Just search “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” and the city that you’re interested in training in to see what training options exist. You may need to tweak the terms for the local language, I find that “Jiu Jitsu Brasilero” yields more results in Mexico, although some gyms list themselves using the English spelling!
Keep in mind that you’ll need to confirm any results you get before you can get excited about an upcoming training session! I’ve reached out to many gyms that have never replied or who have replied that they are permanently closed. Likewise, doubt all posted schedules until otherwise verified!
Ok – but what if your search turns up blank? We don’t have to give up on Facebook yet – Zuckerberg’s juggernaut has one more ace up its sleeve: BJJ Globetrotters’ Group page.
If you haven’t already joined the BJJ Globetrotters Facebook group and have any intention of training while traveling, well, I can wait here while you go request access.
Alright, now that you’ve joined, you have access to one of the largest online communities of jiujitseros. Using the search function (handily disguised as a magnifying glass icon) input your desired training location, et voilà! As before, you’ll need to verify any results before getting too excited.
If your search fails to yield any results, make a post asking where to train and you’ll almost certainly get a reply within 24 hours. I’ve only had BJJ Globetrotters fail to locate a gym on a few occasions, so unless you’re looking well off the beaten path you should be set!
Note to gym owners: Make a page for your school and put your phone number on it if you’re never going to check the page. It’s free!
Google has failed and Facebook only knows about an Aikido school that closed 6 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up!
While Facebook is the de facto webpage for gyms that don’t have web pages, Instagram doesn’t even require the gym owner to have ever realized that they might benefit from an online presence. Instead we’re going to rely on the natural vanity of everyone who has ever taken a sweaty post-BJJ picture for the ‘gram.
The search feature on Instagram is very basic and unforgiving. If you search for “BJJ Guaymas” you will be bluntly informed that no results have been found. Similarly you’ll fail to find results for #jiujitsuguaymas, #guaymasbjj, and #guaymasjiujitsu.
However, persistence is key: #bjjguaymas reveals a tag that has been used. The single result is a video of someone from Guaymas, Mexico competing in Arizona.
This is the time to abandon all pretenses of being shy. Reach out to this person (Ranier’s a great guy for what it’s worth!) and say something along the lines of “Hey, I’m going to be in Guaymas and I was hoping to train some BJJ. Do you know of a gym in the area?
If I know Ranier as well as I think I do, shortly after you’ll get a message back from him where he’ll give you the schedule and address for the gym he trains at. Is this gym on Facebook? No. Is it on Google? No. If you ask on Reddit you’ll be met with crickets. Did I know anyone in Guaymas before I arrived back in February? No.
But, a bit of Instagram sorcery and I managed to find a great gym full of wonderful people and then I got to roll with them on a beach at sunset.
Gym owners take note: Use hashtags! The search feature on Instagram is garbage, so don’t be afraid to throw in a few extras!
When All Else Fails: Ask People in Neighboring Cities
No matter how thoroughly you search online there will be times where it’s just super difficult to find a school. In these cases you’ll have to rely on your personal BJJ network. Message gyms you’ve trained in neighboring cities and explain the situation. The BJJ community is remarkably sympathetic to the plight of the traveler who can’t find a place to recreationally strangle people.
A vital part of this process is to make these connections when you arrive at new gyms! Even if you aren’t an avid social-media user your BJJ travel will benefit from exchanging Facebook and Instagram details with a few folks at each gym you drop into!
Being a BJJ nomad is extremely rewarding. For me, it means that my passion for travel doesn’t interfere with my desire to train BJJ. However, keep in mind that having a home gym will keep you grounded. Having a coach to return to will allow you to check up on your progress and offer big-picture advice for your long-term growth.
Don’t be discouraged if Google doesn’t know about BJJ gyms at your destination. Facebook will generally show you where you can find some friendly tatami or barring that the Globetrotters group is a treasure trove of travel information.
If these don’t yield results, stay positive and check Instagram. Try at least four or five hashtag variants and if you see even a glimmer of Jiu Jitsu reach out to that person! Finally, if this fails, backtrack to the closest gym you know of and ask them if they know where you can train. The BJJ community is tight knit and is ultimately your best resource for finding places to train!
Evan is nomadic brown belt, currently living in Mexico. He enjoys pressure passes and tacos.