Jiu-jitsu is unlike any activity or sport I’ve ever done. This past weekend I got to experience a new layer that has caused my love for the sport and community to grow. While visiting my friends in St. Louis, I popped into a BJJ gym and attended a class.
I’m not always great when it comes to going to strange places and being around people I’ve never met before, so I was more than a little nervous. The gym shares a lot of the look and feel of Neutral Ground’s headquarters on the East Side of Milwaukee, which offered some comfort. My mind always defaults to “I’ve found the only martial arts gym in the world that isn’t like the Cobra Kai,” but I was blown away by how friendly and welcoming everyone was. The owner even offered me a gi in the event I didn’t have one.
When it was time to warm-up, my brain defaulted to getting ready to tumble and shrimp. While shrimping was part of the routine, I would almost use the word “drilling” to describe what we went through. Repetitions of armbars, triangle chokes, and a hip escape were what was assigned.
I have a vague sense of the rolling style for many people at Neutral Ground. All of that went out the window. Each roll was brand new which offered a challenging puzzle. Trying to discern how my new partner liked to open, what was their overall philosophy and what kinds of submissions and/or sweeps did they try to set up. I even had one partner ask “Is it OK if I put my knee on your belly?” In my head I thought, “I’ve rolled with Rich and his patented ‘knee on soul’, I can handle anything.”
Between warm-ups, instruction and rolls, the class lasted 90 minutes. The owner of the gym came over and thanked me for joining and offered me a beer. Like Neutral Ground, everyone stayed and hung out afterward. They even invited me back for weekend classes and to come to the gym to watch the fights on Saturday evening. I couldn’t help but think “there aren’t many gyms/communities this welcoming.” It deepened my love of jiu-jitsu that much more. So next time you’re traveling, check out a local gym and make some new friends!