When I did wake up, I was running late. I had to run from the hostel to the train station with my 25-30 kilogram pack attached to me. I was still half asleep, so it was a good wakeup. When I arrived at the ticket counter at the station, I had no idea what line was for what, so I took a gamble and jumped into one. My 50-50 gamble didn’t payoff. When I arrived to the ticket person, he told me to go into the other line for a ticket to Strasbourg. Looking at the other line, there were already 5 people in it. I walked over to the other line, knowing that time was running short. By the time I got the ticket I was informed I had two minutes to make it to the proper platform.
I was off running again, from the ticket office to the platform, which wasn’t too far. I had to run up a couple of flights of stairs and back down a few more to make it to platform 1. As I glanced over at the tracks from the top of the stairs I could see that the train was still there. Perfect. As I got onto the platform and approached the train it pulled away. Rather than being angry, I went back to the ticketing office to see what my options were.
The ticket person was pretty nice during the whole ordeal, and hooked me up with a different route. The route would take a little more time, but it would put me into Strasbourg with more than enough time to get to the training center that the Gracie Barra 67 team trained at. It was difficult to catch up on sleep during the train ride. I had four different train changes along the route and I was deeply afraid I would miss one due to my getting on the wrong train on my route to Leuven just days before.
When I arrived to Strasbourg I was completely spent. Going off just a few hours of rest wasn’t enough for my body. I needed rest and food, but not too much food as I was still a couple of kilograms heavy for my no-gi weight limit in in about a week away. I spent about an hour running around the train station trying to find free wifi. There seemed to be a ton of open access points, but they all required me to register or input a mobile number (which I didn’t have access to). I finally found a wifi access point that I could connect to without any requirements and messaged Yannick, my French connection.
Yannick had originally offered me transportation to and from training, but his car had just blown a tire out and he wasn’t going to be able to pick me up. My host from couchsurfing.com had also messaged me and told me that he had some other arrangements come up and that he wouldn’t be able to meet up with me until later in the evening, which was fine for me because the BJJ training wasn’t done until that time anyhow. In the meantime I downloaded the map route to my phone via the wifi connection and then set off for a much needed coffee from the McDonalds across the street.
I’ve been playing a fun game of “don’t act like an American” while in most of Europe. In Iceland, I assume due to my viking like beard, I would walk into places and have people have a conversation with me in Icelandic before I would inform them I didn’t speak Icelandic. They were good sports. In the Netherlands and Belgium if I needed something, rather than outright speaking English, I would ask people in Portuguese if they spoke Portuguese. I knew that it would be a very minimal chance that someone would speak Portuguese in either country, and they would always in turn ask if I spoke English. Of course I would inform them I did with a perfect American accent, but that never seemed to bother anyone. I still played dumb in France, even when ordering my coffee at the McDonalds, requesting in Portuguese a small coffee only to have the worker behind the counter look at me perplexed and offer to take my order in English. It wasn’t until the next day that I ran into a Frenchman who actually lived in Brasil for a time and spoke better Portuguese than me and my illusion was broken.
I decided to head to CREPS early, just in case I was to get lost in my sleep deprived state. And in case you’re wondering, I did in fact get lost. My GPS on my phone was acting up, so there were a few times I thought I was going the wrong way and would get off the tram and jump onto another one. At some point I ended up close to where I needed to be and decided to walk the rest of the way. According to my map there was a short cut from where I got off the tram at, and the club should only be about 600-700 meters from my current position. As I started walking that direction I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make it through the forrest or the tall wall standing in my way. I backtracked and ran into some people that I asked desperately for directions to CREPS. After discussing the proper way to go amongst themselves in French for a few minutes, they informed me that I would have to go around the long way.
Off I went again, walking and walking. Probably a few kilometers to cover. By this point the burning on my shoulders from the weight of my pack was giving way to an ever so slight numbness, which was a bit of a relief. I ended up making it to the complex, but slowly realized I didn’t know which of the many buildings it was located in. I again tried to find some open wifi network only to be denied access again and again. Finally it dawned on my that I had my inbox of messages on reddit.com open on my laptop with Yannick’s directions to the gym once I got to CREPS. It was a bit like a scavenger hunt: look for this building…that’s not it, follow it’s path over a brig, keep going through a grove, out the other side you will see a building, that’s the place. Thankfully, I found it.
As I walked in, class had already started. There was no-gi for an hour and then gi for an hour. I noticed a couple of guys standing with half their gi on and walked up and asked if they knew “Yawn-Ick”. They said they didn’t, I told them that he had invited me out to train for the evening. I pulled out my laptop and showed them the name, which I of course was mispronouncing, because they immediately said “Oh yeah, he’s over there!”. Yannick was training a distance from us and as I looked over his way he happened to be looking our way. He jogged over and introduced himself in person. I told him I was pretty tired and would most likely skip the nogi portion of things. However, I knew if I didn’t get out and train I would end up falling asleep on the bleachers. I reluctantly ran over to the mens room and changed out into my no-gi gear and headed back out to the mats.
Yannick was nice enough to stick by my side and interrupt the important bits to english for me. We worked on five different triangle setups. Ranging from the traditional pop the arm through and elevate the hips to some others which I can’t remember due to my tiredness at the time. I do recall doing a sparing session that the bottom person could only use triangles as a submission, no sweeps or other submissions. The top person was only allowed to attempt passes, no submissions. I ended up paired up with a young lady by the name of Marie, who seemed very intense about her training. She was also equality interested in my trip, asking me all kinds of questions. I thought it was pretty cool that someone would take such an interest in my little journey after only knowing me for a few moments. There were a few other training partners for the drill, but honestly a lot of it was a blur.
*note* I had to confirm the rest with Yannick because there was a block of time I don’t recall. I do remember telling him multiple times that I was going to fall asleep on the mats at anytime. I guess I went into autopilot at some point.
After no-gi was over, it was time to suit up for gi. All the guys were dropping their no-gi stuff out in the open, down to their underwear. At my academy we would get yelled at like a five year old for doing such things. I was too tired to care about my American modesty, so I followed along and dressed out right in the open. We lined up and started the class with a light warmup. My legs were burnt out from all the running around and walking I had did through the day with my decently heavy pack on me. Just lightly jogging around the mats was a huge task.
After the warmup, we ended up doing some functional drills. The first that we did was standing from the guard. It was essentially placing your hands on the partners ribs and jumping up into a standing position. This is a bit different from the couple of ways that I’ve seen standing in guard, but I went along with it. My partner was a rather large, and Eastern European sounding dude who didn’t talk a whole lot, other than to apologize for putting a ton of pressure on me during the drill. When it was my turn against I had to fight against my legs giving out on me, the exhaustion was really getting to me. I needed sleep badly. The next drill was simply sliding the bottom hook into an opponent who had turned away from you, be it in side control or from the turtle position. While I prefer to slide the overbook in first with the legs, this is the second time I’ve seen an academy in Europe shoot for the underside hook for taking the back. There was another drill that we performed, but neither Yannick nor I recall what it was. Before sparring, Salah (the head brown belt of the club) showed us a choke from knee on belly, where you grab the lapel from behind the opponents neck.
Yannick helped me remember the choke we went over with the following:
From sidecontrol, you grab the far side lapel, feed it under the arm to your free hand. Then you go knee on belly, and the free hand grabs the lapel, palm up, but passing on the same side you're on. After the second hand lets go of the lapel, reach over the head, grab the lapel again and bring the forearm in front on the opponents throat, and then you press down. We also variation where the opponent blocks the hand from getting the last grip, in which case the hand pushes the blocking arm away into an arm triangle. (Thanks Yannick!)
The sparring portion of the class came next. I was dreading this a bit. It’s not my goal to destroy anyone at any of these academies that I am visiting, but I do want to look like I am a proper blue belt and uphold Rodrigo’s name. The exhaustion was there, but I knew as long as I stuck to my basics, I would be fine. There were some alright matches on my end, and some pretty lackluster ones. The one match I recall in particular was with another blue belt. When he motioned for me to come over, he said “lets go light and easy”. Great, I thought. That’s exactly what I was in the mood for. The next thing I knew I was tapping to a pretty strong arm bar. I got up, a bit visibly angry, and said “well, so much for going light?”. My training partner said “sorry, when I see a submission I go for it”. I should have known better, as there is a stereotype that when you hear someone say “let’s go light” that it’s going to be the exact opposite. Talking to some of the guys later, the person in question always goes 110%, not out of ill intentions though. But rather that’s just his style of grappling. My anger had worn off before the match was over. I was too tired to care.
The Gracie Barra 67 Team
Salah, me, Yannick
The negative of Yannick’s car being out of commission meant that I was going to have to navigate to my hosts house blindly. I had no google map downloaded for the return trip from the club. Thankfully Yannick and Ahmed (one of the purple belts of the club, and a cool guy) spent most of the journey back with me, with Yannick walking me all the way back to make sure I didn’t get lost. We arrived at the hosts flat, said our goodbyes and planned on meeting up in the morning at the train station.
I walking slowly up the stairs to my hosts flat. I had contacted Troy through couchingsurfing.com in the hopes of having not having to pay a big amount for a hotel or hostel in Strasbourg. Troy stood out from the rest of the hosts in the area for a couple of reasons. First of all he had very high couch surfing ratings from other couch surfers, always a plus. Next, reading his information on the website made him sound like a pretty intelligent guy. I figured there would be some interesting conversations to be had while in his company, and I wasn’t let down.
There was a younger German couple staying in the flat also, which meant I would be sleeping on a bedroll on the floor. I told Troy that I was so tired I wouldn’t mind sleeping on the floor itself at this point. He seemed a little surprised about that and insisted that I place some couch cushions on top of the bedroll with a sheet on top to hold them in place. It turned out to be a brilliant idea.