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I’ve always been a big fan of Marcelo Garcia, or at least since he burst into the public eye with his incredibly impressive debut performance at ADCC 2003, where he took out legend after legend on his road to the gold. It wasn’t however, until 2010 that i really started paying attention to his style.
It was about that time I started to notice that the game that i was playing at the time, was seemingly very similar to Marcelo‘s. I had somewhat randomly transitioned to a very x-guard oriented game, and had recently seen Matt Arroyo‘s video on what he called „The magic guillotine“ (basically Marcelo Garcias famed version of the guillotine), which almost overnight became my #1 submission. This coupled with the fact that i had a small revelation about the butterfly guard at the same time (read: I finally caught more than white belts in it), resulted in me deciding that basing my game off whatever Marcelo Garcia was doing, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Now, it‘s perhaps relevant to know that until my friend Christian Graugart received his well deserved black belt recently, i‘d never trained with a black belt for more than 6 months (Chris Brennan for the first 6 months of BJJ, and later a 6 month stint with the late Jeremy Williams). That‘s less than 15% of my total BJJ life more or less studying on my own, figuring out where i wanted to take my game. This is why, when i came across MGInAction.com, i was really thrilled to have such a vast resource at the ready. The logic seemed obvious to me, since my game already resembled his, whenever i‘d be having trouble with a situation or position, I could use the excellent layout of the website to find exact answers from arguably the worlds best competitor.
This went on for about 3 years, at my home gym, CSA.dk, until i finally decided that it was time to go to New York City, visit Marcelo Garcias Academy, and of course see the famed city. It was only a brief visit, but long story short, i fell in love with the city and the gym alike, and almost immediately started planning coming back again (i‘d only been able to train two days this trip).
Fast forward to October 17th this year, and i‘m on a plane on my way back to New York City, for an extended 10 day trip, hoping to make a full week of training twice a day (and, I must confess, have some fun as well, i did after all have two weekends in arguably the greatest city on earth). What resulted was great training every single day i was able to make it down there, in an incredibly friendly atmosphere, that i really can‘t praise enough.
I’ve traveled to a fair bit of gyms around the world, and they seem to usually fit into two categories, über competitive gyms (usually high focus on competitions), and the local friendly gym, with more casual practitioners. Now both these gyms can be great to visit, but the mentality of the two is often quite different. The competitive gyms tend to have a very hard mentality, and can be a bit cold to strangers, they often foster an „us VS them“ mentality (which i guess is often a natural bi-product of strong competitive teams), that of course means great team spirit and togetherness, but can be a rough gym to visit casually. The casual local gym however tends to be more laid back and welcoming to strangers, but may not offer the same quality or intensity of training as the competitive gym does.
So right off the bat, let there be no doubt, Marcelo‘s gym is a competitive gym. I‘d venture to say that their brown belt team is one of the best in the world now (especially now that the Miayo brothers and Keenan have gotten their black). There‘s no doubt that showing up with a brown belt there people, wanted to test me; and I had really intense rolls there every day, with incredibly skilled grapplers, and i‘m not ashamed to say that i got my ass handed to me pretty decidedly (and not just by the brown belts). But here‘s the thing, the gym doesn’t have the cold feel of so many competitive gyms. It‘s one of the friendliest ones I’ve visited. The gym gets at least 5-10 visitors a day from what i could tell, and yet Marcelo and a few of the other guys there remembered me and greeted me when i came in (and my last visit was pretty standard). Every day, lots of people walked around and shook everyone’s hands, Marcelo being at the forefront of this, making sure everyone felt welcome. People took the time to chit chat with me before and after class, and were gracious about spending some time showing a move or two if i had some questions in regards to specific techniques taught (or something they hit me with in sparring). In short, it felt pretty close to being the perfect gym. You have world class instructors, high level sparring at all belt levels, a very friendly atmosphere (i thought New Yorkers were suppose to be asshole??), all wrapped up in a city where you’d be hard pressed to be bored.
I feel this is definitely a matter of „leading by example“; first thing Marcelo did when coming in, was coming over to all the students (visitors included) with a big smile on his face and shaking everyone’s hand and saying hi. On top of that, he just seems to have a really healthy attitude to training, and a commitment to creating a positive environment. One moment that stuck with me from training there my first time around, was an incident when I was rolling, where I heard some commotion behind me. From what i gathered, someone had gotten a bit heated in the rolling, was grunting a lot, and eventually got really upset once he got tapped. Nothing serious, just upset and if memory serves me slammed the mat in frustration. Marcelo was on the situation fast however, chastising the student for aggressive behavior, and thereby setting the tone for the rest of the students, that while people trained hard here, it was not a place for aggression and anger. A small gesture, but something that definitely sets the tone and vibe in a gym over time, and it really shows in my opinion.
Unfortunately Marcelo wasn’t teaching all his classes this time around, but seeing as how he literally just became a father for the first time, that is of course entirely natural. Paul Schreiner taught the classes in his absence, and he‘s as good an instructor as any I’ve had. One of the days he did a full class of short one legged x-guard drills that really showed me a lot of details my game had been completely missing. He also opened my eyes to how underdeveloped my butterfly game is, by lifting me from seemingly impossible situations (and here i was thinking i had figured the butterfly out, back to the drawing board). As far as i understand, Marcelo teaches every 12:30-13:30 class, and every 19:00-20:30 class, and even with the recent birth of his children, he still managed to teach half the classes i attended (coming from socialist Scandinavia where dads disappear from the work market for a few months after the birth child, that‘s pretty impressive to me).
Unfortunately the trip was cut a bit short by a fire in the basement of the gym, which cut off the electricity, forcing them to cancel classes, and meaning i missed my last two sessions (as far as i know the gym wasn’t damaged at all, they just needed to get the electricity going, and it was back on schedule the next day). Oh well, 3 day weekend it is (it’s Halloween after all)
In summary, I leave Marcelo’s gym with a mixture of being annoyed at letting myself develop lazy habits, and feeling invigorated/motivated to continue on my BJJ journey. I had naively thought i had reached a level of understanding of Marcelo’s game, and was starting to try out new things, only to be harshly smacked down to earth, and reminded that there’s plenty to learn still. Not many sports in the world will leave you feeling this happy after getting your ass kicked.