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…





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