Training in Japan

I’m going to start off saying that my trip to Japan started as a joke to a friend. He’s lived in Tokyo for a few years along with his family and I just happened to message him out of the blue.

After messaging back and forth through email for a while I decided to be funny and say that I would come and visit not thinking much of it until my friend actually invited me to come. I would have a place to stay and train. I just needed to get myself there.

That’s how life is sometimes. There will be times when opportunity shows itself and it will be up to you on whether or not you to capitalize on it.

I’ve found that if you put yourself out there that often times your message will be heard by the right ears.

I dreamed of going to Japan every since I started training in martial arts. I’m not sure if it’s all the karate movies that I watched as a kid or anime that made me think that this would be an awesome place to visit. I just knew that I wanted to go.

My experience in Japan was really life changing. I was definitely out of my comfort zone the entire time I was there and this really pushed me to really focus on my training, on my business and building my brand.

Because of the language barrier there were a lot of times when I really couldn’t communicate with anyone let alone have a conversation for weeks at a time.

I think this can make a lot of long term visitors and the foreigners that reside in Japan lonely in a sense. Luckily, I used this time for self reflection and hard training.

Training

I traveled around a bit during my time training in Japan but I spent the majority of my time in Tokyo.

Getting around Tokyo is pretty easy seeing as Japan has one of the best transit systems in the world so it’s very convenient to get around. But I will talk more about that in my travel tips section.

Of course, I came to see my friend and his family but I also wanted to train and compete. Being a full time Jiu Jitsu athlete, that’s pretty much how I travel. So I planned most of my schedule around the different tournaments nearby.

Pro Tip: If you plan tournaments back to back make sure that you give yourself adequate recovery time.

I spent most of my time training at Axis Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and with the Nichidai Wrestling team with an occasional trip down to Yokohama to train with Hiro Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So I got around a lot.

Axis Jiu Jitsu

I was really happy to be introduced to Axis Jiu Jitsu through my friends David and Paul who both train there.

Axis Jiu Jitsu is headed by Taka-sensei and Joao-sensei and is the affiliate school of Rickson Gracie in Tokyo.

The classes are taught more in the traditional style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Combining a lot of self defense in addition to more competition based techniques and sparring.

I’ve been to many academy’s where the focus is completely on techniques for tournaments. Which is perfectly okay and has it place, but it felt really good to review and learn more self defense since I’ve spent so much time competing these last couple of years. It’s exactly how I remember classes being taught when I first started learning Jiu Jitsu.

As Jiu Jitsu continues progressing, I fear that many academies will lose or have already lost this aspect of our art form. Leaving just two extremes, the all competition academies and the all self defense academies, with no middle ground. Hopefully, schools like Axis will continue to carry on the tradition.

I really enjoyed my time training here and look forward to my next visit. This academy is super friendly to travelers. In fact, all of the classes are held in English and Japanese, and both Taka-sensei and Joao-sensei are fluent in Portuguese. I definitely recommend Axis if you’re ever in Tokyo.

Training at Axis BJJ in Tokyo with Sawada-san
Training at Axis BJJ in Tokyo with Sawada-san

Nichidai Wrestling

Training wrestling in Japan was the one thing that I didn’t have a reference for what to expect. I’ve been exposed to wrestling through Jiu Jitsu for years and had even taken a few lessons on the subject, but it’s different doing wrestling for wrestling’s sake versus doing wrestling for Jiu Jitsu. .

In the U.S. most scholastic and collegiate wrestling in based on folk style wrestling. But here in Japan and internationally, freestyle is king. I won’t go into the main differences between the two styles. I just want you know that the rules on scoring is what sets them apart.

In addition to never really focusing on a pure wrestling style, there was also a large language barrier. All of my wrestling training partners were in college where they have to learn English in middle and high school, but it’s very much like taking a foreign language in the U.S. where it’s more about passing the class than becoming fluent.

So my two major hurdles were learning wrestling and figuring out a way to navigate my way with my very basic level of Japanese.

Luckily there were a handful of students that knew a few words in English, otherwise I just had to figure out things on my own. I’m sure that’s what babies go through. You know that stage where they can’t move that well but they still try even though they fall down a lot, or when they are learning how to speak but all they manage to do is make up gibberish. I think babies have read my post on the white belt mindset. That would explain a lot.

Starting wrestling I had a lot of questions about how the sessions would be set up. This was a topic that was really interesting for me coming from a Jiu Jitsu background. Many of the schools that I’ve trained at and visited have similar ways in setting up their classes. Often there is a warm up involving movement specific drills or straight into learning technique. Then students are sent to practice the technique until it is time to spar or roll as we call it.

The training in wrestling is very different. Of course there are some similar movements and drills. But the whole setup of the training is different in a good way. Depending on the day there was an overall focus on either conditioning or technique. Regardless, all of the sessions were grueling but also a lot of fun.

All of the wrestlers were friendly and trained hard every session. Always managing to work their conditioning and their technique whenever they could. It wasn’t uncommon to see guys working the timing of their double legs or doing footwork drills between wrestling sparring.

Many of the coaches were gone for the Olympics so a lot of the sessions were lead by the senior students. So we didn’t work as much group technique but we did do a lot of flowrestling and situational training.

Outside of the hard training, it was fun hanging out with the wrestlers. They were so young, I was definitely the oldest guy training but they always showed me respect and tried their best to help me.

The funniest thing is that at the end of every session all of the students would line up with the coaches facing the students and they would always make me go with the coaches. Most of these kids have been wrestling all of their lives and I’m up there setting in front of them.

For me training wrestling was a very humbling experience. Jiu Jitsu can prepare you for a lot. Many schools even teach basic wrestling and judo techniques. But it’s different when you do the real thing. My most embarrassing moment occurred when I was working on a few techniques with my partner but I just wasn’t getting them down, even after a few attempts and having my partner explain the moves over again,  when he looks at me and says, “This is a really basic move”. I knew he was frustrated with me but I kept working at it and eventually go it down somewhat.

Even being a black belt and training in martial arts, I still have trouble with some newer techniques. Whatever your skill level, I hope you are able to see that in life and in martial arts you will always be humbled. It’s how you handle those setbacks and tough moments that determines your character.

Rokiki Kids Wrestling

I was really fortunate to wrestle with the Rokiki Kids wrestling club. What makes this club special outside of the awesome kids that train really hard every Tuesday and Thursday is the fact that they do this at the headquarters for the Tokyo 6 police squad. In fact, all of the coaches are police officers.

All of the kids train really hard and most of the drills and techniques that they do is exactly the same as the university wrestling programs. This is due to the fact that all of the wrestling in Japan is built on the same model. I really had a great time training with these kids. They really love wrestling and have so much fun.

Training Wrestling with the Tokyo Police Squad 6 Youth Wrestling Program
Training Wrestling with the Tokyo Police Squad 6 Youth Wrestling Program

Hiro BJJ

I only had the chance to train at Hiro BJJ in Yokohama a few times along with teaching a seminar there, but each time I visited the training was tough. All of the students were friendly and not shy about asking me to roll. It’s funny, every time I went to Hiro BJJ I ended up rolling with all of the students in the class so be prepared.

Shout out to my friend Miki who helped set me up my training at Hiro.

Training at Hiro BJJ in Yokohama with Hiro-sensei
Training at Hiro BJJ in Yokohama with Hiro-sensei

Competing

I knew that I would be competing in three major tournaments during my stay. The All Japan Open, the Copa Bull Terrier, and the Asian Championship.

If you are going to travel and compete it’s important that you plan your competitions out ahead of time. Many tournaments allow last minute entries but through my travels I have found that this is often not the case. Often, promoters will uphold any preset deadlines no matter what your rank and who you know, and some of these tournaments will require additional registration and identification. Much like the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) and how it’s brown and black belts athletes must register every year in order to compete in their tournaments. So you might need a Japanese Jiu Jitsu federation card.

Other than that, I will say that communicating at these tournaments can be a challenge. Of course knowing Japanese is big, but surprisingly being fluent or knowing a few words in Portuguese also comes in handy. I didn’t realize just how big the Brazilian population in Japan is, and it’s really stands out when you go to these tournaments and all you hear is Japanese and Portuguese. I basically had to combine both languages to be able to get around.

Alec at the 2016 Asian Championship in Tokyo
Alec at the 2016 Asian Championship in Tokyo

Fun

I visited a few tourist locations like Tokyo tower, the big Buddha and a few shrines. But I mostly spent my time inside of Tokyo.

Whenever I wanted to have fun and just let out some steam I would visit the American Club and the Sanno.

Alec next to the big buddah
Alec next to the big buddah

The American Club

Also referred to as “TAC” , TAC is a great meeting point for foreigners and Japanese alike. If you plan on networking in Japan I definitely suggest getting a membership here. While not cheap by any means, it’s amenities really set a high standard. There is a rooftop pool with a great view of Tokyo Tower, large basketball court, bowling alley, game rooms, cafeteria. Dining rooms, bar, etc.

The Sanno

This is the U.S. Navy hotel.  For current military officers.

The Sanno is a really cool place to blow off some steam. Go for a swim or just chill. They are always hosting different events. The last time that I went they were hosting a huge Hawaiian luau. If you stop by, make sure you try their cheese cake!

Tips

Coming to Japan I really didn’t have an idea of what to expect.

I think a lot of people are curious about Japan. It has a very unique culture that many have experienced through its influence in many spheres.

  1. The Tokyo transit system can be confusing at first. You have different trains, local train, express trains, semi-express trains and special trains. All you need is a Suica card, which is a prepaid card that you can use on most of the trains in Tokyo, buses, vending machines, and taxis. It’s super convenient and just so versatile. I really wish we had this in most of the major U.S. cities.
  1. The Japanese drive on the left side of the street in case you plan on driving. This also means that the direction people walk in reversed too. So stay to the left.
  1. Bikes are a great alternative to walking. But you might have to pay to park and although Japan is really safe, you will still need to have a bike lock just in case.
  1. Japan is still a cash based economy. So make sure you have a few thousand yen on you just in case. Many ATMs only take Japanese cards so you will have to find international ATMs or go visit a local 7-Eleven.
  • Beware: you will receive a lot of coins during normal transactions so you will need to find a good place to store them all.
  1. If you go to a supermarket you first pay for you items and then you have bag everything up afterwards at another separate counter.
  1. There are a few coin laundry places spread out around Tokyo. But be prepared to shell out 500-600 yen ($5-$6USD) per load of laundry. If you train as much as me that really adds up. So if you can, find someone with a washer and dryer.
  1. Earthquakes happen here a lot. You probably won’t notice them at first but the longer you stay there the more they will stand out. Just stay calm and wait for it to pass. It’s actually an exciting event that really shakes up your day.

Transportation

The transit system, specifically the train system can really add up so make sure to plan ahead. I probably spent $6-$8 USD back and forth to go training. So a lot of times I would only train once per day or try to arrange my schedule so that I could attend multiple classes in a trip.

If you can, try to stay within walking or biking distance of where you plan on training. That way you won’t have to worry about getting lost or spending a fortune traveling.

Bus

The buses in Japan are pretty awesome! They’re cheaper than the subways systems, there’s a lot of stops, and there’s free wifi. The only downside is that bus times are limited and change on the weekends.

Biking

Biking in Japan is a lot of fun and sometimes the fastest way to get around. The bikes run on the same side of the road as cars but the rules are pretty relaxed so you can get away with a lot.

Taxis

The taxis here all look like they were made in the 60’s or 70’s but they get the job done. They are everywhere. So if you’re really in need to arriving to your destination but have no clue on how to take the subway or bus system then it is a good alternative. The drivers don’t really speak English so that might be a hurdle but if you know any major landmarks or even the name of the station nearby your destination then you should be able to get to where you need to be. Japan is cash based economy so make sure you have enough yen to cover the cost of your trip or if you don’t have enough yen or don’t feel like carrying around any bills, you can also preload a Suica card that will also work in the taxis. Oh, and when you get out of the taxis you don’t have to close the door. It closes automatically.

Uber

I didn’t use uber during my trip. I do think it’s available, but the taxis system in Japan has been around for so long and there are just so many of them that I think it’s hard to justify waiting on an uber when you have so many different options when it comes to getting from one place to the next.

Food

The food in Japan is some of the best in the world and had made its way all over the world. Sushi, Ramen, Udon, Mochi, etc. you can’t go wrong.

I didn’t have a lot of money when I went to Japan so I didn’t really eat out a lot. So while the food is well priced and there are a lot places that you can get a good meal at, most restaurants will run you $$ which can easily start to add up.

Also if you have plans on competing while you’re in Japan, a lot of the restaurant foods have a massive amount of sodium so you will need to be careful with what you eat. Unless you don’t mind going up a weight class.

I mostly ate Itsumo Foods Tuna in Coco along with salad. It’s so good! I definitely recommend trying it when it comes to the U.S. and international markets later this year.

Itsumo Tuna in Coconut Oil. I basically lived off of this while in Tokyo, Japan for 3 months.
Itsumo Tuna in Coconut Oil. I basically lived off of this while in Tokyo, Japan for 3 months.

Itsumo Amazon link

Language

Japanese gets a bad rap for being a hard language to learn but I don’t think that’s the case. I was able to pick up a few really useful phrases and get by okay.

List of useful phrases:

  • Konnichiwa – Hello
  • Genki Desu Ka? – How are you?
  • Hisashiburi – Long time no see
  • Ohayo – Good morning
  • Konbanwa – Good Evening
  • Cheers – Kanpai
  • Itadakimasu – Have a nice meal
  • Wakaranai – I don’t know
  • Domo arigato – Thank you

Reading Japanese is a different animal, but when it comes to speaking it, it’s not that hard and most Japanese people will try to understand you. Although, it will be hard to get by with only English as many of the Japanese don’t speak it or are too shy even if they know a few words.

There are a few language exchange programs in Tokyo but I didn’t have the opportunity to check any out.

Opportunities

A really cool part of my traveling is being able to gauge the level of opportunities that exist for myself and for other Jiu Jitsu athletes in the locations that I visit.

I think that with right body type, style and Japanese language skills you can do really well for yourself in Japan, at least as far as doing seminars.

If you are a highly skilled featherweight or lower weight I think you can do really well, especially if you have already made a name for yourself at the major tournaments like pans and worlds.

Seminars

The seminars in Japan are just like those in the U.S. Although the pricing might be set a little bit lower by between 20%-30%. So if you normally charge $60 USD (6000 yen) then your Japanese pricing would be around $40 USD (4000 yen).

I will say to check before hand to see if you will have a translator and if the academy will cover the cost. I made the mistake of not asking, and while everything worked out it did cost me.

It sucks having to write about stuff like this but if you’re ever in my shoes I want you to know what’s up and what can happen. So it’s important that you have an idea of how much you would like to make for your seminar, and how many students the host academy can realistically bring in going into the planning stage and insuring that all parties are accountable.

If they are not able to meet your requirements and are not willing to work with you as best they can, then don’t be afraid to walk away. It’s better to know your worth than to compromise.

Academies in Japan

There are a few academies in Tokyo and the surrounding cities and most of these academies are usually run by bilingual Japanese or Brazilian/Japanese instructors so I believe it would be very hard and simply unwise to try an open an academy here if you’re not already apart of this club.

Doing business in Japan is different than in the U.S. or Europe. Many companies and entrepreneurs believe that they can just go to Japan and it will be business as usual, but that’s far from the case. Japan has its own culture and way of doing business. So if you do have plans of starting an academy or another business here I really suggest you spend a minimum of 3-6 months here and talk to other foreign entrepreneurs that have been in Japan a lot longer than you.

Sponsors

I really would like to thank my sponsors, Itsumo Foods and Shoyoroll, for making it possible for me to have this awesome experience.

Without them, I would not have been able to make it out to Tokyo and be able to thrive in the city as long and as well as I did.

I would like to personally thank David Leibowitz for being a great friend, mentor and inspiration for me.

David has always been one of those really outgoing type of guys that is really passionate about his family, business, friends, everything actually.

Being able to hang out with David along with his sons Noah and Ty, daughter Mia, and wife Mayumi really made my trip to Japan special and I will always remember this time together.

Alec and David
Alec and David

Jiu Jitsu really is more than a martial art. More than about fighting and competing. Those are all important parts of it but I think at its base it’s all about building relationships.

Building relationships with people that you might never come in contact with through your regular lives.

Building relationships with people that live on the other side of the world and speak a completely different language than yourself.

I’ve met so many great people through Jiu Jitsu. People that have changed my life for the better and inspire me to help others in whatever ways that I can.

Leaving Japan

I spent a lot of time in Japan. I was only there for three months but it felt so much longer.

I think that it’s really great to do a long trip like this because it allows you to immerse yourself in the culture. The downside is that Tokyo is an expensive city.

If you decide to go to Japan to train and you want to make the most out of your trip then I suggest you:

  • Learn a little bit of the language
  • Explore the city
  • Figuring out how to get around
  • Try as many different foods as you can
  • Avoid trains, buses, and taxis during rush hour
  • Visit 100 yen stores
  • Never go full native haha
  • Exchange your yen coins before leaving

I really think traveling has helped my Jiu Jitsu grow. It’s easy to stay where you are, working the same techniques with the same partners. I know I got to a point where I would do the same things over the course of weeks, months, and even years. If there’s something that I’ve learned during my travels it’s that in order to grow you have to continually push yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone. If you always lift the same weight and do the same amount of reps you won’t gain any strength. The same also applies to your Jiu Jitsu.

P.S. I’m working on growing my email list so please join on the sidebar of my website.

P.P.S. I’m looking to set up a few seminars before the holidays. So if you or your academy would be interested please contact me at alecbaulding@gmail.com

Training for worlds 2016

Now that the 2016 World Jiu Jitsu Championship is over. I finally have time to reflect on my training and other experiences while staying in California.

I’m going to start off by saying that I had a general idea of where I would stay and train. But if you travel a lot you realize that your plans don’t always work out. But that’s how life works.

So a word of advice from me is to always stay networking. Meet new people within your social network and outside of it too. Build lasting relationships.

Building relationships has helped me in so many ways. It’s a big reason behind how I’m able to travel and train all over the world.

I’ve been to California many times for competitions before. But like many, I never strayed far from training or if I did, I only really had a short window to do some exploring.

This time I decided to stay for a few months in preparation for the world championships. A real dream come true. Not only is California where actors and other performers go to make it but now Jiu Jitsu athletes as well.

I wanted to get a deeper view of California. To get a taste of the California lifestyle. Beyond all the beaches and Jiu Jitsu.

Training

Before coming to LA, I trained twice per day along with strength training two or three times a week. This training regime worked really well for a lower intensity level of training.

But training for the World Championships at the black belt level is no easy task.

As soon as I made it to LA, I began my training at Cobrinha Jiu Jitsu Academy/ Alliance Los Angeles. I knew coming in that the training would be really intense. Training with Cobrinha pushes you to your limit. Your mental limit and your physical limit. There were a few sessions where I would lost track of time. Only focusing on completing whatever technique was being shown.

To insure my health and to cope with the higher intensity. I decided to lower the number of my training sessions. This meant that I would attend less Jiu Jitsu classes and workouts. But I would maintain the same intensity.

Many people are stubborn in this regard. They think that they have to go balls to the wall everyday. This is true to a certain degree. You do need to train hard.

Especially for tournaments like the World Championships. But you have to be smart the last few weeks before a major competition. Training at a high level is more than just pushing yourself physically. Many end up overtraining. Burning themselves out or even worse. Injuring themselves over preparing.

I think they do this to quiet their nerves. They don’t have time to worry if they spend all of their time training. So that’s what a lot of competitors do. I’ve even heard of some competitors training hard right before their matches. Although I definitely don’t suggest you should do this.

To combat this I would take the weekends off to help prevent burnout. I also made a large effort to focus on my mental prep and my strength training to keep me healthy.

I’ve found that my mental prep has often had a more powerful effect on my performance than everything else. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how good your conditioning is if your mental game is off.

Mental Prep

There is always some level of mental prep going on into a major tournament but I decided to take it to the next level.

I started by keeping a training journal. Where I would write down my thoughts on my progress and keep track of all the techniques that I was working on.

Tracking your training is so important especially during the last weeks of preparation. Not only is it a good tool to insure that you stay focused. But it also gives you a glimpse into your motivation, physical condition, and confidence levels.

Even the best guys go through fluctuations in how they feel and how they perform. So it’s important that as athletes that we do everything in our power to be as close to 100% as possible.

To help prepare myself mentally. Everyday I would set daily goals.

These goals could involve everything from working on a technique that I had trouble getting in my last training session to other small adjustments like working on my timing or reminding myself to break a specific grip to help my performance.

I also focused a lot on keeping my mindset positive. It’s easy to let little setbacks turn into large one. Before taking my mental prep seriously I would think about every little detail and try to obtain control over everything that happened during my training sessions. But it had the opposite effect. It just negatively impacted my Jiu Jitsu. It made my movements sluggish and not sharp, and my confidence would get smaller after every perceived defeat. However, focusing on having and keeping a positive mindset will help you get through all the ups and down that’s comes with doing Jiu Jitsu and keep you moving forward.

Strength Training

During the month leading up to worlds I scaled back my weight training from 2-3 sessions per week to once a week for 4 consecutive weeks.

I kept my lifts simple. Focusing on the three big lifts. The squat, deadlift, and bench press.

Sample workout

Deadlifts 3X5
Box Jumps 4X3
Pull Ups 3X Max

There are a lot lifts that I normally incorporate into my strength training. But right before a major tournament. Right when I am training my hardest and fine tuning the last few details in my technique. That’s when I’m least focused on lifting heavy.

A lot of guys like to train hardcore two to three rolling session a day and lift heavy.

This might be possible if you’re nineteen or if you’re on performance enhancers.

But for anyone looking for longevity in this sport you are going to need to train smart.

For serious athletes this means periodization.

I know it’s hard for some competitors especially in Jiu Jitsu to understand. But training hard twice per day is not always the most effective training method.

Everyone’s body is different and can handle different levels of stress.

There will be times where you are in awesome shape and feel like you can take on the world.

And there will be times where you are in less good of shape and less motivated.

This is where periodization comes in. Simply, you want to be at your very best for the few really important tournaments.

Periodization

Periodization is a broad topic deserving its own post. But the short version is that it is a method of planning your athletic training for maximum performance during a competition season.

Essential you peak for your major tournaments.

This is really popular in many sports but hard to implement in a sport like Jiu Jitsu that can run the course of the entire year with many major tournaments.

I would love to see more coordination between the major tournaments. Allowing pro athletes a season to ramp up their skills to perform at their best and then maybe a dedicated offseason to allow for recovery.

Fun

I was pretty broke during my stay in California so most of the things I did for fun were for free or low cost. Which there is nothing wrong with.

I spent a lot of time at Starbucks and Whole Foods. Not buying anything mind you, but I would hang out at these places because they offered free wifi and the atmosphere is really good. Especially after a hard training session.

I also did a lot of skateboarding. I’m from a city where you can only really skate at skateparks so coming to california was a dream. Being able to skate from Venice beach to Santa Monica. Being able to skate everywhere. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

On weekends, I would spend a lot of time in Santa Monica near the boardwalk and the gymnastics area with the metal rings and ropes. This was a prime location for meeting people at the beach and for getting a good workout. You could literally hit every body part. And if you’re lucky you will get to meet Yoshi. A forty something year old Japanese guy, who is part ninja and gymnast. If you get the chance to see him kill it on the rings tell him that I said hello.

Outside of this I ate a lot of acai, brought my blog back to life after it died and started writing again, and just had a lot of fun meeting new people and training my heart out.

Los Angeles

I spent the majority of my time training in Los Angeles.

I would train train once per day at Cobrinha BJJ. While training one or two times a week at my friend Tim Peterson’s academy, Robot Fight and Fitness, in Santa Monica.

Most people know Cobrinha BJJ for the high level of instruction and the caliber of students that he puts out which is evident. Cobrinha is a great coach and motivator and has a wealth of knowledge that has been pivotal in success of many of the world’s top competitors and my own.

Robot Fight and Fitness is also a great academy. It definitely has its own different vibe. The atmosphere seems really laid back when you first walk in and they are playing some instrumental hip hop. But the truth is far from it. Under Tim’s guidance, his advanced students are set to drill many different situations and positions using their own techniques. I think that this is the future of Jiu Jitsu instruction. Where students will be left to themselves to develop their own unique games while the instructor will serve as more of a guide than a task master.

I really loved training at both of these academies because it helped me balance out my training. Not only did I roll with world class level black belts but I also got to work with older hobbyist and newer white belts.

Very yin and yang.

Jiu Jitsu is for everyone. Being able to train with a large variety of people from different walks of life is something that drew me to doing Jiu Jitsu in the first place.

If you plan on ever teaching or owning your own academy one day. It will help to have this same mentality.

Santa Barbara

This was my first time in Northern California. My main reason in traveling to Santa Barbara was to meet up with my old friend and Jiu Jitsu big brother Adam Benshea.

Adam is a living legend.

An American black belt under Ricardo Franjinha. Adam has been around Jiu Jitsu longer than most. In fact he was around before both Jeff Glover and Bill Cooper. Two of the most well know American grapplers and students under Franjia.

At Patagon I got to show a few of my favorite techniques from half guard and roll with many of the students.

Traveling and training has exposed me to so many different people and styles of Jiu Jitsu.

I also got to try paddle boarding for the first time and had a blast.

I can’t wait for my next visit!

San Jose

About four hours from Santa Barbara. San Jose is not only a hotbed for tech companies but also for Jiu Jitsu.

I came up here to visit my good friends Brian and Eileen and really had a great time.

I was only there for a few days but we went to the beach, trained a few times, watched a Jiu Jitsu tournament and managed to go see the pride parade in San Francisco.

It was so much fun!

While I was there, I spent most of my time training at the academy that Brian trains at, a Claudio Franca affiliate. Everyone was super welcoming. Another great place to visit!

Travel tips

In my last travel write up Training in Sweden I wrote about a few travel tips. Many of which I felt made the difference between a good trip and a great trip.

I think that it is important that I share these tips for anyone looking to travel and train Jiu Jitsu because it will save you a lot of time and headache. Time that you can use to train more, go sightseeing, and have fun. To have an overall better experience. So I plan on focusing more on my travel tips in my future posts.

Being in California for any stretch of time you will need to have a car or access to one. This is something that my US friends understand. But often my international friends, so used to great public transportation often fail to plan for. Simple trips like going to the grocery store or going to train on a daily basis are almost impossible without a car. LA does have a metro system including buses and a developing rail subway system but it’s far from convenient. And make sure you read all the parking signs carefully. There’s nothing worst than getting a $75 USD ticket because you were five minutes late on a street cleaning day.

My next travel tip has to deal with where you stay. California, Los Angeles in particular is an expensive place. If you’re planning to stay for anytime over a week and you don’t have a trust fund then you will need to find a place to stay that won’t break your bank account. Even the hostiles are expensive. Being between $30-$60 USD per night to share a room with strangers. If you’re really serious about training in California for any stretch of time I think the best option will be to stay with a friend or an acquaintance. Not only will you save money that you can use to further put to having more awesome experiences but you will also have your very own local to show you the best spots to eat sushi and grab a bowl of acai.

Conclusion

Staying in Los Angeles for almost three months was a life changing experience for me. Some days were really hard, especially when I was down on funds and would get a stupid parking ticket. But others were out of this world like the time I skateboarded down Hollywood Blvd. I met so many great people during my trip. All of the guys at Cobrinha’s were super friendly and I know I made some life long friends. I’m also really thankful for all the academies that opened their doors to me to let me train and teach privates out of. Without the support of the Jiu Jitsu community this trip would have been a total nightmare. If there’s one thing that I took away from my experience that I think will be able to help you and everyone that reads this is that you have to have faith in yourself.

No, I’m not saying be selfish and only think of yourself.

I’m saying that you have to know what you want and figure out a way to make it happen. I knew that I wanted to spend a decent amount of time in California, but I would be lying if I said that everything was planned out for me and worked out perfectly. But I was forced to believe in myself and make things happen and they did. I think you can apply this lesson in all parts of your life.

Believe in yourself and go for it! Whatever it may be.

Training in Sweden

I’ve been training in Gothenburg, Sweden for the last few weeks and I have to say that it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

I’ve traveled before to other countries but this was my first sponsored trip as a professional athlete.

Traveling and being able to train is one of the coolest things about bjj. You can literally go anywhere in the world and there will be an open mat and willing partners ready to roll.

When I first traveled and trained I really didn’t know what to expect. Would the training be hard or would they expect me to teach because I was a higher belt from a big team. I remember thinking that my Jiu Jitsu wouldn’t be as effective overseas for some weird reason.

Despite my thoughts, my Jiu Jitsu skills were intact and the people were super friendly just like my crew back home.

It’s really exciting!

Not only are you training with new training partners but you also open yourself up to new experiences.

New techniques

New teaching methods

New partners

While I was in Sweden, I spent most of my time teaching and training between two schools. One in Stenungsunds. The other in Gothenburg (Valhalla Jiu Jitsu).

Training and teaching twice a day. We would focus on one position for a week or two. Showing a few of our favorite moves from the main position. Then letting the students spar from those positions.

This was the best training ever.

Not only did it force me to take an in depth look at a lot of my favorite and least favorite positions.

But it made me more confident too!

The concept of positional sparring isn’t new, but the process of breaking down an entire match into smaller parts is one that I never considered before.

There’s a lot that happens during a match. A lot of transitions, re-positioning, etc.

But if you can work most of the common positions that you might run across in training. Imagine just how prepared you will be for the competition.

For example we worked De La Riva guard and single leg guard for two weeks.

Two weeks straight we only worked moves from those positions. Then we would spar from De La Riva.

 

Whenever someone got swept or passed we would restart and do it all over.

This training was great because there was completely no ego involved. It really forced me to focus entirely on the position and the techniques that I needed to progress. Once you add in all the repetitions and pairings. We probably did a hundred mini sparring sessions from just one position.

Maybe I will go more in-depth in a later post. But if you’re looking to get better and take your game to the next level, positional sparring will be a major key.

By the end of my trip I was lucky enough to get the chance to compete in Stockholm.

Competing in Sweden  

I participated in the Nordic Friends tournament ran by Smoothcomp and Naka Dojo.

Smoothcomp is a new tournament software that was unveiled during the tournament. Handling everything from athlete sign up to the scoring system.

From its name you can guess that it’s designed to make tournaments work smoother.

Both for the competitors and the staff.

As an athlete all I needed was a smart device with access to a Smoothcomp account (you set up an account when you register for the tournament) and you’re good to go.

Once logged in you have access to a lot of cool features that give you peace of mind.

Such as real time updates on when you’re on deck to compete. So no worries about running to the bathroom and getting disqualified because you didn’t hear your name called.

I’m sure you will hear more about this company in the near future.

Back to the tournament

I was happy that I was able to put into practice a lot of the moves that I drilled in training.

That’s always a great feeling!

The feeling of seeing your techniques work is like no other.

It’s really satisfying and pushes you to put more work in.

Much more than winning, the feeling of progressing is what keeps me on the mats. Competing is never really easy. In fact it gets tougher the longer you do it.

But if you focus on improving a little bit each day. During every training session and drilling session. You will see results.

One thing that I’ve noticed with the best guys in our sport is that they are always improving.

Always adding more depth to their knowledge.

That’s what mastery is.

It may take a lifetime but you can never give up. You just keep moving forward.

I would like to give a big thank you to my good friend, training partner, and coach Jon Thomas.

Jon is the head black belt instructor at Valhalla Jiu Jitsu in Gothenburg, Sweden and the main reason I was able to have such a good time.

Jon along with international brown belt competitor and friend, Leo Graf, are the main instructors at Valhalla Jiu Jitsu and really are setting the standard for Jiu Jitsu not only in Gothenburg but for the whole of Europe as well.

If you’re ever in Gothenburg now you know where to go train.

Shout out to all of the students that also made my trip so fun. I look forward to coming back soon to see how much everyone’s progressed.

As my friend Sam says

I have a gi and will travel.

If you or your school would like to host me for a seminar or longer training camp please contact me via email at alecbaulding@gmail.com

My schedule is slowly filling up but I should be available towards the fall of this year or Q4 for my business folks.

 

P.S. There aren’t many (or any) public laundromats unless you stay at a hotel. So if you’re expecting to train a lot make sure you make friends with someone with laundry access or make other arrangements before hand.