Circumstances conspired against me to train any Jiu-Jitsu in Peru. Straight from the plane in Lima my first port of call was Renzo Gracie Lima. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed for two hours in Bogota, Colombia. This killed my plans, dead.
Whilst waiting for a taxi I met a young dude who’d been on the same flight and going to the same hostel; sharing a cab, it came up that we also shared the same home town, Macclesfield, in what was a rather bizarre coincidence. Although any affection for the young gentlemen evaporated quickly. Whilst I was dozing off, he burst enthusiastically into the dorm room enquiring if he could use the bunk to sample old charley. Apparently the toilets and showers were already overcrowded with like-minded souls becoming acquainted with Peru’s infamous marching powder.
Things soured even further when I was violently pulled from my slumber after being hit from the bunk above with, what I discovered was a stinky-ass sock. To make matters worse, he was clearly engaging in a coke-addled act of penetration with, some hapless female. I resisted the immediate urge to pull him from the bed above and choke him into a sock-less slumber. I drifted back off, hoping he remained as flaccid as a marshmallow that had been left in the bath overnight.
I arrived in the city of Cusco for the culmination of a lifetime’s dream, visiting Machu Picchu.
On the Jiu-Jitsu front, I had sourced the one and only MMA academy in the city, but as luck would have it, they were in the process of moving locations and currently not open.
Upon reflection, I was actually saved some discomfort. Cusco sits at 3,400 metres above sea level; I literally had to suck in the air required to fill my lungs.
The struggle for oxygen resulted in a couple of instances of my body failing me. The first occurred after leaving the shower; I felt incredibly light-headed, my legs gave in and I fell over. The floor wasn’t wet, my body had just decided it needed to be off its feet. Fortunately, there was no one around to revel in my embarrassment.
I was not afforded the same privacy for the second occasion. Just twenty minutes later I left the hostel. As I walked downhill, the same light headed sensation struck me, my legs buckled and I came a cropper. I bounced up with all the gusto I could muster before any concerned onlookers could offer me assistance or their pity and moved quickly to find pizza. My lungs really struggled to acquire enough oxygen to feed my brain, I have a feeling that a session of Jiu-Jitsu would have ended on the wrong side of Snooze City.
The aim of the trip, visiting Machu Picchu, fell victim to my own inadequate planning. This did indeed suck. Whilst I’d booked the tickets for the (apparently) awe-inspiring Incan citadel, I had not booked train tickets to get there, which was seemingly essential. When I came to do this (the night before!) the only tickets that remained, necessitated me leaving the site before I set off to get there. I pondered it, and concluded that would be an issue.
My final two days in Peru after a return to Lima happened to be national holidays, so no Jiu-Jitsu!
The city of Cali, in Colombia proved to be somewhat more fruitful for getting my Jiu-Jitsu on. Whilst Jiu-Jitsu is still very much in its infancy there, I did find a number of clubs. I was initially looking to train during the day, but there were no spots offering day classes. But, in my quest, I had been in communication with a Cali based blue belt called Andreas, who trained at MMA academy, Striking Fitness. He kindly offered to open up the gym to train together.
The midday heat threatened to fry me into a patacon, thus I was more than happy at the suggestion of No-Gi. My new friend knew no English, I knew no Spanish, yet in-between rounds, we managed to discuss an array of subjects: Jiu-Jitsu, life in Colombia, his passion for dogs and women with long black hair. Andreas explained to me that the academy was run by a purple belt which was the highest rank in the city, you had to go all the way to Colombia’s capital, Bogota to find any brown and black belts.
After the session, he insisted on walking me home. He was convinced, that I would find myself at the mercy of the nefarious elements that are omnipresent in the city, who would look to exploit a lost and dopey looking gringo, he was probably right too!
Venturing out of the city, I took a visit to the town of San Cipriano, which was a small shanty-town, which attracts native Colombians and tourists alike for its crystal clear river than runs through the jungle. There was absolutely no Jiu-Jitsu, but like everywhere else I visited in Colombia, there was ample opportunity to get your salsa on.
Entrance to the town could not be made by road. The first step in reaching it was a Temple of Doom-esque footbridge, needless to say, I feared for my life, fortunately I was not met by a scary bald man screaming in Hindi. Looking down, there were no alligators awaiting my fall either, but there was certainly a great deal of pain from a lengthy drop through the plethora of missing planks.
The second stage in this mission to get into town necessitated the use of interesting contraptions, called Brujitas. They were essentially a motorbike powered vehicle affixed to a sheet of plywood with some seats on it, which ran along a train track. I was rather concerned as this bad-boy picked up speed with me sat one cheek hanging off the edge. From this point, I held on for dear life, with visions of being thrown off and having my head ran over like Bryan Harvey.
I spent the afternoon exploring the river on an inner tube, drifting leisurely on the water watching the picturesque jungle scenery roll by. There were no Indy style waterfall drops, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. I came upon some rapids, albeit small ones, and was spun around backwards. Without the ability of being able to see what was ahead, it came as an unpleasant surprise when I hit the branches of a tree, and was thrown from the tube and pulled under. In my usual melodramatic fashion, I felt death via drowning was imminent, I flapped around uncontrollably for a second or two, prior to realising that I could actually stand! The real tragedy of the situation, I’d been wearing my Cons around my neck, they were soaked; I had to squelch around rocking wet kicks for the rest of day.
The next Jiu-Jitsu based stop was, Gracie Barra Cali, taking part in their weekly open-mat. During a week devoid of training, I had eaten and drank with a reckless ill regard for the prospect of any serious athletic endeavor. Thus rolling 5×8 minute rounds was the ultimate test of inner fortitude. By the second round I was dying, by the third I was just working very diligently to suppress the vomit! The heat was incredibly oppressive, it had been eight months since I’d been to war in that kind of temperature. I spent the rest of the day walking around in a Jiu-Jitsu inflicted haze, happy yet a little confused.
The immaculate academy I discovered had only been in existence for less than a month. Opened as a joint venture by friends and all round awesome dudes, Rafael Diazgranados and Richie Panchalo, blue and purple belts respectively, they had joined the Gracie Barra banner after their small independent team had dissolved. I was thoroughly honored shaking hands at the climax of the session to be asked to come back and teach a class the following Wednesday.
I have to admit, I never thought that I would find myself teaching at a Barra school, much less in South America. Nevertheless, I was privileged to find myself doing so. There was a much larger crowd than my first visit, a real hodgepodge of students, with varying degrees of experience, some Gi clad, others going No-Gi, older guys and athletic young competitors. In an effort accommodate all, I taught a passing system that I’d stole off my dude, Darragh O Conaill.
I had to be translated; my aspiring Spanish had not quite reached the necessary level yet. I did a lot of smiling and shouting “Osssss” with extreme vigor, to get my point across successfully. Again, the rolling was tough, in particular a huge bear like blue belt whose base was so strong it felt akin to sweeping a tree. I had just spent the few days prior in the Colombian Andes at the beautiful coffee town of Salento, during my visit I’d practically lived off their next-level delicious peanut butter based produce. During the rolling, I found myself profusely sweating peanut oil, whilst attempting not to pass out in a herculean effort against the aforementioned blue belt.
Spending time with Rafael and Richie, one could not help but be intoxicated by their love and enthusiasm for Jiu-Jitsu. They had sought to create an atmosphere where they could express, what they felt was the true BJJ lifestyle, one that was not dependent on athleticism or competition but one which was grounded in inclusion, the idea that Jiu-Jitsu is for absolutely everyone. Looking around at the academy that night, I would say they had already achieved it.