Category Archives: Travel

Defining the Polish Grappler

It is true there is no one-size-fits-all in jiu-jitsu. Individual preferences for guard, variations of passing, differences in strength, stamina, explosiveness, and mobility ensure that styles differ wildly from person to person. Nevertheless, there appears to be a certain commonality inherent in Polish grapplers, a shared ethos, bathed in a righteous belligerence that one must never say die.

This anecdote, I feel, goes some way to sum up this hypothesis. During a session at Warsaw’s Academia Gorila, I witnessed a blue belt refuse to tap to the kimura of a higher belt (I had my own experience with this particular blue belt; seemingly, gifted grip strength from the devil himself, he’d strangled me mercilessly last year. It was somewhat depressing to return and find him sporting the same colour belt). His shoulder made an array of stomach-churning cracking sounds before the higher belt responsibly let go of the hold.

The blue belt ruminating the following day on not being able to move his arm, gleaned there were two important lessons to be learned for everyone involved. Firstly, you need to concede before something pops. Secondly, don’t ever let go of a submission until your opponent taps!


Fighting for my Life in Warsaw

Typing these words is an arduous process. Right now, I feel like complete shit. I am being crippled by an unbelievable fatigue. I have zero motivation. My whole body is cramping intermittently. My thoughts are consumed with self-pity. I have once again fallen prey to the self-inflicted condition of over-training.

In my last piece I wrote:

“I think I have a developed a more sustainable relationship with jiu-jitsu, my body is not being continually ravaged and broken down, nor is my every waking thought invaded.”

It has taken less than a week for these words to become completely obsolete.

There is, of course, a reason for this: a return to Poland to train with my good friend and owner of Warsaw’s Academia Gorilla, Marcin Polczyk. I had only trained in the kimono a handful of times this year, but, for the next ten days, it would again become my second skin.


The stereotype of the brutish Polish grappler who relies solely on strength and seeks to divorce one’s limbs from their person is a pervasive one, at least in my part of the world. However, the truth of this can be called into question. Yes, every single round of sparring will involve your head on a chopping block, forcing you to fight for your life to dislodge it. But, no, this will not be based solely on brute strength – this notion is doing an incredible disservice to the high level of skill, efficiency and dedication I have witnessed on these mats. The studious application of technique coupled with the innate desire to fight for everything and never tap, ever, seems to be an endemic quality to the grapplers here.

Having to roll round after round with cats like this was going to result in nothing less than a beaten up and broken down version of me (which occurred very quickly, as it happens). It would be balls to the wall, and that was all there was to it.

By the second day of training, my descent had already begun, aches and pains called to me from my tiring body. I had been made acutely aware of the dreaded gi rust. I struggled to pry off the forceful and unrelenting hands that were constantly attaching themselves to my lapels, leaving me tethering on the brink of unconsciousness on multiple occasions.

My third session, the advanced class, was a euphemism for: everyone here is an assassin (yes, even the white belts).  After guard-retrieval drills, newly minted black-belt Marcin informed us –  sporting the sort of smile that indicates pure sadism – we would be rolling continuously for the remaining forty-five minutes of the class. The only possible respite would come if you were submitted, whereby, you would have precious seconds to suck up some oxygen while you awaited another submission to jump back in the trenches.

There was to be no break for me. I spent the entirety at war with fellow purple belt, (my new friend) Paweł Żochowski. While there were no submissions, I was, for the most part, fighting for my life. My seemingly indefatigable interlocker was able to slice and dice my guard, time after time, as my own power level began to deplete. I thought, I finally had it at about the forty-minute mark, when exhausted of all other options, I managed to catch the most bastardly submission of them all, the wrist lock. The fact his hand was pointed in an entirely obtuse angle did not inspire him to capitulate, no, he gutted it out until he was able to free himself. After that, I was done, clinging to half-guard, I impatiently waited for the clock to count down.


Returning to the academy the following morning – to take part in what was reassuringly called “Poranna grupa śmierci” (morning group of death). That day’s group included only the four of us. Pawel and Marcin, Brazilian brown belt, Carlos Sedlacek and myself. Rolling 6×6 minute rounds, the aptness of the name soon came to me, as I found myself in a moribund state. About half way through I began to struggle holding down the vomit, that seemed intent on violently ejecting itself from the pit of my stomach; the morning’s oats and peanut butter would not have coordinated overly well with the white of my kimono.

By the fifth-round my entire body had begun to cramp. Sat across from Pawel, our eyes met as we prepared for our second roll of the day together. Words were wholly unnecessary, as an unspoken consensus was reached – mutual respect was coupled with determined resignation that we would both push our exhausted bodies for another six minutes to get the tap that had so far eluded us. Of course, we fought for the entirety again without a clear victor, taking our total up to fifty-seven minutes without submission.

In the car leaving the academy, I experienced something new, bizarre and rather painful. I was attacked by stomach cramps (I hope it was cramp and not a hernia). Sitting bolt upright in a car seat and attempting frantically to push back the muscle that was protruding from my stomach was not an overly pleasurable experience. Anyone witnessing this absurd performance couldn’t have helped but consider me a fiend going through a particularly difficult withdrawal.

It feels awesome to be back in the kimono, but, it is abundantly clear that I have not developed the “sustainable relationship” with jiu-jitsu that I’d assumed. The seductive allure of the mats has once again left my body hating me. And, I am only three days in…





Coping without Jiu-Jitsu in Colombia and Ecuador

Seven weeks off the mats after my ribs did me the disservice of breaking, I was forced to find an alternative to jiu-jitsu, something that would counterbalance my insatiable desire to consume pizza without compounding the injury.

Unable to find a better option whilst traveling in South America, I ended up doing something I detest, I headed out onto the road, pounding the pavements in a painstakingly slow jog.

Running was hardly a fitting alternative to grappling; what I quickly realised during this most odious of exercises, is that running is actually the antithesis of jiu-jitsu. In the latter there is a motivating voice encouraging you to fight to the death, calmly reassuring you that you’re fine, just relax and don’t give up. The former elicits a voice that is constantly screaming “THIS FREAKING SUCKS, QUIT, DUDE YOU NEED TO QUIT RIGHT NOW!”.

Speaking with friends who run for pleasure, they assured me that you can attain the same flow state that is possible with jiu-jitsu. One friend advised me not to listen to music as it prevented access to a state of mindfulness.

I must be doing something wrong as I honestly don’t think I have ever ran without hatred in my heart for every single step and the constant feeling of wanting to quit.


I spent a lot of time in Colombia’s third largest city, Cali. Cali was a city renowned for the prevalence of drug related violence due to its strategic location for the cartels. I didn’t see any such nefarious activities, what I did see was a whole lot of hills, hills that I begrudgingly forced myself to run up. There was just no way to escape them and I hated them all.

Running and jiu-jitsu do appear to share at least one similarity, they both really suck for your body. This fact was amplified due to running in a beat up pair of Converse. Painfully aware of the moronic nature of doing this, it was the end of my five months away and I was already in the red, so there was absolutely no funds for a pair of running kicks. I was stuck running up and down these obnoxious hills with a frivolous disregard for my own knees and shins.


Traveling around Ecuador, I felt like I was being tortured as I was reminded of jiu-jitsu at every turn; from my arrival in Quito, I was driven passed the Alliance and Predator academies on the way to the hostel. I also spotted Alliance stickers on a car in the port city of Guayaquil. A guard at the airport noticed the blue and purple belts on my ankle and we shared a ‘Osssss’ to acknowledge our brotherhood.


Running on the picturesque beach at Puerto Lopez provided some respite for my aching knees. While still causing mental anguish, it did give me the opportunity to see two vultures picking apart the bloated carcass of some poor creature; dopey and harmless like the guys in Disney’s Robin Hood they certainly were not.

JCVD was doing his thing real big in the picturesque town of Puerto Lopez

It would be fair to say that I detest this form of exercise, although, in fairness there can be no alternative to jiu-jitsu, injuries feel like a one-sided break-up with you playing the role of the heartbroken lover. I just hope our seven-week break will be long enough to placate her and she will agree to take me back unconditionally.