Summer has arrived, and that means I am probably on the road for a few days. I found myself in Denver, Colorado for four nights and decided to take a big risk: visit a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym that I knew very little about. I have been practicing for seven months, twice weekly, and remain a white belt with no stripes, so visiting a gym where training might be something completely different was both enticing and frightening. What if I was far below the level of others in the Fundamental Class? What if the practitioners were MMA brawlers ready to break foreigners? What if I simply looked like a total newbie and embarrassed myself?
In the end, I decided that I had already gone through all of these emotions when I started training last November. I would take the chance. With an email to Alchemy Combat Club, which seemed to be the closest facility to my bed and breakfast. Plus, I have many alchemical tattoos, so it was destiny. Fortunately, Sensei Jason Cox welcomed my request to drop in. He said to just drop by and it would be good. Unfortunately, my schedule left me with only one time over the four nights when a class was on my level. Still, I was so excited. I could do that. I would do that.
I was in Denver for the ISTE 2016 tech educator conference, and while I learned a ton of concepts and new practices, my brain was fried. I needed the class to reset my emotional center; jiu-jitsu is such a powerful tool for coming back to my best Self.
The walk from the Colorado Convention Centre was a little sketchy, but I have walked through Indian slums and Cairo markets. Denver has many homeless and poor people, but they are people, and I just kept my head about me. Thirty minutes later I was at the gym and was warmly greeted by the judoka who share the gym. There was a private space to change and shower, and I felt welcome. The floor of the dojo was superb. Nice mats and built for judo, I was extremely impressed with the feel of the space. Sketchy roads often lead to magical places.
As a pair of students and Jason rolled into the gym, I was greeted with positivity and a few questions to make sure I was not going to be a mistake for the gym: how long have you trained, where are you from and what brings you to Denver? I must have passed as the crew guided me down to the floor and the warm-up drills began.
Altitude is not what I expected. I had been in Denver for three nights, but I never really did more than walk a few miles a day. As the warm-up began, I felt amazing. Two minutes later and I felt like my balance was off. Ten minutes in and I was gasping and unable to execute a simple cartwheel. Fortunately, Jason noticed right away, offered me a bottle of water and made me feel okay for the struggle I was going through. For a white belt, this was a godsend. I felt like I was in safe hands and relaxed, but also decided to give my very best until I had nothing left in the tank. Alchemy Combat Club is a safe place to train.
Instruction was exceptional. Jason took the time to question what I might be familiar with, and since the class was no-gi for the summer period I did have an understanding of the closed guard work we were about to do for the next two hours. What I liked best about Alchemy’s students were that they were so humble and encouraging to an absolute stranger from Canada. It was clear that they took their training seriously and maybe saw my visit as a chance to try their technique and skills on a visitor. I never felt like I was on a separate page from them and I did everything I could to be a good partner. They were all superb partners of roughly the same level. Maybe they were stronger, maybe I was, but it felt like we were working together. No ego and a lot of positive feedback on both ends.
What I loved about Sensei Cox’s approach to drills was the way we rotated partners once the move taught or an escape happened. I was able to try out a great deal of technique that I might not get to in an average rolling scenario. My hip bump sweep was not super strong after the groin injury I suffered a month ago, but I felt like I made progress, and I was able to connect the guillotine work we had studied the week before at Toronto No Gi from the same position. I learned and I also exposed my partners to a move outside their go to game because they usually train in a Gi. We all benefitted.
Class ended with a chance to roll from standing with four minutes on the clock. I was literally gasping for air. I was exhausted, but that is exactly a perfect time to practice my survival techniques, which was my goal for the session. While my takedown is pretty weak, and my parter seemed to have a background in wrestling, was able to get to the ground via a guillotine approach to closed guard. With nothing left as my opponent escaped, I opted to “survive” versus trying moves that would end in armbars; armbars are my normal trap I get caught in. I survived. A big personal victory, and a good learning opportunity for my opponent who clearly had strong skills, but wanted the armbar. He could have taken me easily if he had changed tactics by looking for a chance to take my back as I was pretty weak from the class. I respected his skill. It was a nice match-up with a green belt who will go far for the club in the future.
I cannot recommend Alchemy enough. I had a brilliant first jiu-jitsu lifestyle experience, and I learned with men who were exemplars of what I always hoped to find when I began this journey. I may he struggle to complete the walk back to my bed and breakfast room, but I had an experience to remember for the rest of my life. I would also be remiss if I did not mention Professor Charles Gaffield-Rosario who came in midway to class. While he did not lead the class, experiencing his jiu-jitsu on the mats, and seeing him roll with Sensei Cox, was inspirational. When in Denver, take a chance and make the time for Alchemy.
Next week…Maui Jiu-Jitsu Academy is nine minutes from the inn and a Carlson Gracie Academy has also graciously allowed me to visit, as is a Gracie Academy in my home province of PEI. First though…I need to get back to Toronto No Gi to re-center. My jiu-jitsu journey for the summer is only beginning.