I’ve been visiting my girlfriend in London for the last six month on a regular basis but only made it to BJJ there two weeks ago. Usual plane schedules make me land late on saturday mornings and take off early on monday — the training session dead spot, sort of. So when I eventually had a friday night to monday night stay, I jumped on the occasion.

Fight Zone London

This is where Carlie trains on a sort of regular basis. Marco Canha is the head coach there and it’s a very competitive club, with lots of the students going in five times a week and competing at tournaments every week. We waited a good bit on the side of the mats for the MMA class to finish and Marco to arrive, but I didn’t exchange anything else than a few “hello’s” with other students.

The class eventually started with a similar warm-up to what we have at home. After that, Marco went over a couple of different techniques from half guard. The first two were passes from an almost-knee-cuted half guard. In the first variation, the bottom player was bridging into us in which case we had to do a back-step like motion. In the second variation, he pushed us away with his arm which we dodged, leading to north south. There were a few other related techniques, with transitions to arm bars, kimuras, chokes, etc. I don’t remember a lot of it and stupidly didn’t take notes.

After that, we paired up for positional sparring, starting in any of the positions we just saw. I went with the white belt I had trained with (sorry, can’t remember the name :() and he showed me what Carlie meant by “competitive gym”. I rolled pretty lightly (stomach still not used to morning classes) and he rolled like it was the mundials. After taking a bit of a beating I squared up against him again in regular sparring, with the same levels of intensity. Admittedly I would have wanted to go a bit stronger but felt low on sugar. At some point he caught my head between his legs and started squeezing as hard as he could. I resisted for a while as people usually get tired of it but after the fourth crack of my jaw, I taped out.

We bumped fists, i almost berimbolo-ed him but he made a late recovery to 50-50 and I proceeded to sit there until the end of the round. The next two rolls where alright; another aggressive white belt but this time without the strength to overpower me, and a brown belt that absolutely destroyed me from wherever he wanted, but in a nice, brown belt-ish way.

It was nice overall; Marco is a very interesting teacher that gives out lots of neat little details and the level of the students is impressive. Nobody was disrespectful or anything but I wouldn’t call it the most welcoming place I’ve seen either.

Eddie Kone Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

My friend Jonas who trains at my academy (and is about to start a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu road trip) also has a girlfriend living in London and randomly brought her along the night before I left for London. I chatted with Gloria a bit and she mentioned I should swing over at her academy… so I did just that three days later.

I considered Carlie’s place to be outside of the center, but that is nothing compared to where Eddie Kone’s academy seems to be. I halfway expected to cross the Scottish border at some point but no, my GPS faithfully guided me to a nice looking office building in a neighborhood otherwise filled with back-alley washing machine repair stores.

Gloria had warned me that what Eddie teaches is not BJJ per say, but “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu”, as in the self-defence oriented old school stuff. And sure enough the walls were littered with pictures of the Gracies (usually with Eddie in them) and part of the schedule was dedicated to training with punching gloves. Luckily not the session I attended.

While curious in a positive way, I had a little apprehension too. I have nothing against jiu-jitsu for self defense, but “preparing for the street” is not part of the reasons why I train. And in my (online) experience, I found most old school proponents to be awfully less open-minded about other ways to train. Once again, it’s so easy to form binary opinions online but face-to-face reality is often a lot more gray. And so of course they had absolutely no problem with me when I said I’m more of a sport BJJ background. To each his own was also their mindset.

Eddie taught a sequence of clinch (punch protection included) and takedown, either double or single legged. He had a lot of small but sensible details and put a havy emphasis on maintaining a good posture. Then we ended with several rounds of sparring, each of them lasting 10 minutes. While the overall level was weaker than at Fight Zone I still got my ass kicked a couple of times, especially by a near-blind purple belt who gave me mount and an almost-cross-colar choke before starting to defend.

They have a funny rule there: whenever you stand up, you are required to do a technical stand up. Fail to do that and you’re good for ten push-ups. I surprisingly didn’t break that rule, but they decided to do a round of fifty push ups as a family at the end… and I was invited to join. Well, I think I got to twenty or so before crashing down.

It definitely was a different experience than in most academies I’ve visited, but what blew me away most was how welcoming they were I never experienced bad welcomes, but those guys were just genuinely friendly people. That said, i also felt the atmosphere to be a little cultish towards both Eddie Kone and the Gracie’s, so while I enjoyed my visit I’d think twice about leaving a child there.