Rolling With a King: A Private Lesson with Robin Gracie

Barcelona is one of my favourite cities in the world, and when the chance came to visit with my 7 month old infant and beautiful wife I only had one question: who can I train jiu-jitsu with? The answer came quickly, as Gracie Barcelona rose to the top of options I found online.

It had been nine days since my last class in Canada. My back and hips now felt like they had tightened to the point of atrophy. Frankly, I felt awful. Still, I arose dutifully at my alarm, showered and collected my gear. I was not going to miss the opportunity to take a one hour private with Master Helio Gracie’s youngest son, but more importantly a man who chose this city as the place to make his mark in jiu-jitsu. I was more than a little stressed, because one never knows for certain what kind of vibe a gym will have and at 44 years old I am not into a “doghouse mentality” for drop-ins. Master Gracie’s gym felt like a Zen sanctuary where wisdom was imparted to all who came with a positive attitude. It is also important to not that this was the cleanest gym I have ever visited.

Getting to the gym was a small challenge. I had always walked places in previous visits, so the Metro was new to me. However, with a baby at the hotel, time is always important. It was so simple to find the building and street. Get off L3 line at Lesseps and walk five minutes east. 29 Septima has a few options, but the gym has a banner inside the doorway. Construction work outside made it impossible for me to hear Robin speak through the monitor, but he eventually came out to make certain it was me.

Why a private lesson? I do not know. I just felt like he was a man I wanted to meet, personally. One of the beautiful things about this art is that an average person can spend time with true masters, the kings of the Brazilian art. I take the honour very seriously and see great value is spending an hour with a man like Robin, regardless of what I learned. Fortunately, what I learned felt like it was critical intelligence for my very next steps forward. I learned two side control escapes, one brilliant guard break into submission, a butterfly guard pass, a side control submission and a few other details. He taught me new concepts that will undoubtedly take me far along my path. I asked to take notes, and then we ended with about 15-20 minutes of rolling. 

The rolling was everything. I had watched the previous private lesson and what I noticed was that Robin’s jiu-jitsu was aesthetically beautiful to watch. It was clean, precise, without hesitation and slow: meticulous. I have seen many, many practioners in my 20 months, and his was the most Zen-like. 

Our rolls left me feeling like a giant was testing out my skills carefully, wisely, and offering positive options to see if I would take them and then there were an equal amount of traps for me to avoid. Clearly, I was not actually controlling a master at any moment, and perhaps that is what was most revelatory about his jiu-jitsu: he could smoothly apply pressure and movements to learn my own movements and resistance. There was no cut-throat thrashing necessary, and the two submissions that he caught were applied carefully, masterfully. I never felt embarrassed about being a white belt. I felt lost key I was playing chess with a grandmaster who could feel the pieces as I moved mine versus simply playing his own.  

In the end, I heard that I needed to spread my base out “more like a cat” at certain points because I was too easily swept when I crouched inward. I also hear that my defence was solid and that my resistance to pressure/escape from submission was good.  Twice, he spoke that I “felt more like a blue belt, so my next step must be close, but that was about my instructor’s expectations” which he could not speak to, which was a compliment that I needed to hear. Still, I absolutely respect my professor’s evaluation of my skills, especially since we train in no gi mostly and in a slight different system. He knows best, and I simply feel happy that “my jiu-jitsu” is recognized wherever I travel. There could be nothing worse than to travel abroad and realize that your own skills were below par with other schools. I never have that fear thanks to the killer partners and coaches I spend all of my Toronto time with. My journey is for the long haul and I just love training with such humble, brilliant practioners. At the same time…it felt REALLY nice to receive such a compliment from a man who knows his art form. I felt blessed. 

My final words of advice: if in Barcelona, then a private with Robin Gracie is an absolute must. Beyond my technique taking a leap forward, I felt like I had met a man worth meeting. I try not to use hyperbole, but this hour felt like a year. I paid 60 eu, and then a 10 eu tip because I like receiving such acknowledgements as a teacher. Best money spent in Barcelona. 

And yes…I look like a starstruck, adrenaline hyped idiot, but that should speak volumes about my experience. Final note: I loved, absolutely loved, how Robin printed his name in my white belt to ensure it was never confused with anyone else, especially his brothers! I only wish I had the time away from the baby to rollin the Open Mat afterwards, but rolling with new people who do not speak English is not a wise thing to do 24 hours before a flight back to Canada with a baby. At the end of the day…I will be back to Barcelona, and I will definitely spend much, much more time at Master Gracie’s gym. It was an honour and a pleasure.


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