Tuesday, December 6, 2016

You Can't Submit What You Can't See

Training @ Padilla Bjj

on asking for forgivenness, not permission: 
Epic photos pirated from Lynn Tran's facebook! 

I drove hours out into the middle of nowhere….

Ok, that’s a lie. I drove maybe about 40 minutes, but after passing the 2nd open field, 4th farm, and at least 3 shiny, red tractors, it was safe to say that I was definitely in the middle of nowhere.

I grew up in the area, but long stretches of single lane roads divide the towns that populated the peripheries of Philadelphia creating a sense of isolation that is a stark contrast from shooting up and down I 95 highway in the D.C. area that I now call home.

I drove back and forth on a solitary road looking for a sign that would substantiate my GPS’s claim that I had finally reached my desired destination. I found none, so I parked in a large empty lot in front of a church or an antique shop or something of that rural nature so that I could figure out where the hell I was.

When I looked up, address on the sign in front of me revealed I was indeed in the correct location. Less then a minute later a figure with a shaved head, swollen ears, and massive legs appeared out of nowhere. He was making his way towards the large warehouse with a duffle bag in hand.

I fell into step behind him as he headed around the corner of the building to a small door that had a Padilla BJJ sign plastered in the lower corner. For an American, this might have been considered to be subpar marketing, but for someone coming from Brazil, it’s not uncommon to have trouble locating, identifying, and entering some of the biggest BJJ gyms. Real jiu jitieros, after all, care about jiu jitsu and don’t waste mental effort on menial things like signs.

The gym is located inside of a warehouse that shares its space with an assortment of different businesses. In order to get to the mats, you had to walk by a huge stack of boxes and some haphazardly placed office materials that looked suspiciously like the headquarters for some kind of Ponzi scheme.

I followed the sound of break falls, skirting the edge of the tower of Ponzi merchandise, and made my way to the matted out half of the warehouse. The coach Mike Padilla was drilling shoots and sprawls with a little kid while guys on the sidelines started stretching and getting ready for Sunday morning open mats.

Some people might have questioned the random boxes or the oddly placed desk at the top of the stairs, but the only thing that registered in my mind was:

“Damn, that’s a whoooole lot of mats.”

And it was. Freshly laid wrestling mats covered a good portion of the warehouse providing more than enough space for people to train.

The gym may have been lacking showers or glass vitrines for selling merchandise, but there was more than enough mat space for everyone (and there was music). There is nothing worse than cramped rolling sessions where people are lined up on the wall waiting for a chance to roll.

I sat down amongst the guys that were lined up on the side of the mats stretching out their thick necks and massive legs (I have a serious small man complex when it comes to open mats so everyone over 150lbs is a giant to me). Jiu-jitsu has long been empowering the undersized nerd, coach mike himself is a small dude, but these guys.... were not.

As they sat discussing John Danaher, the vicious beast that lives in the basement of Renzo Gracie NYC (Padilla is an offspring of Renzo Gracie PA), I wondered if I was in for some gentle flow rolls, or it was going to be one of those days to practice my framing, shrimping, and breathing while have my ribs pushed into my lungs.

For some reason, open mats always seem to be NoGi. Oh, how I hate NoGi!

Mike ended what appeared to be a private with a highly skilled kid that barely came up to his waist and then we started to roll. The only thing I actually remember about training that day was the sensation of trying to catch a ghost.

That feeling of lunging forward in a desperate attempt to capture it, but instead, your arms hug thin air and you face dive to the floor.

That’s was rolling with Mike was like. I’ve rolled with a lot of people from around the world in Rio, New York, DC, and PA, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone that was so elusive. Hands down must be the fasted person I’ve ever encountered on the mats.

He would move and I would try to counter, but by the time I could even wrap my mind around what I was supposed to do, let alone get my body to obey, he was gone.

I know it's done right when jiu jitsu gets awkward and confusing!
Cause seriously how do you go about getting out of that?

Occasionally, he’d reappear, snatch up a limb or a joint, give a little tweak or bump his hips in the subtlest of ways. You'd barely notice it happening because it was so quick, but it was his little way of telling you, “I could have submitted you, but let's just keep flowing”.

Eventually, he’d stop, lie still, and let me score a few pity points. There is nothing more terrifying than when a black belt lays still and lets you slither your way from side control to mount without defending. You’re either walking into a trap, where you will probably get viciously submitted without realizing your folly until its too late. Or a test, where you have to defend your honor and prove your knowledge, but generally will end up getting nervous and mentally thwarting yourself because, really, what black belt is just going to let you armbar them from mount?

At the end of the round, he confirmed, that after 3 years in Brazil, my jiu-jitsu had most definitely improved.

Which I guess brings me back around to the beginning of the stories, and in essence, the very origin of this blog.

This January it will have been 4 years since I found out about Renzo Gracie Pa and discovered jiu-jitsu (not to be confused with NoGi submission grappling which in Brazil doesn’t count as BJJ). For 6 months, I traveled to PA once a month and trained in a gi, until I ultimately decided to move to Brazil. Before relocating, I spent a whole month in the dreary suburbs of Philly trying to absorb everything I could learn about the arte sauve before moving to the mecca. Most people thought I was bat shit crazy, but like every pretentious white belt, I thought I knew exactly what I was doing, so why not move to Rio?

I took my first private class ever with Mike. He asked me what I wanted to do. I had no clue. So we worked guard passes from open guard.

6 months to a year into my trip, there was a click, a light bulb began to shine, and I finally realized what Mike had been trying to show me that afternoon so long ago, when I had no concept of what the hell I was doing. I was ecstatic that I was finally understood and highly entertained by the fact that it took me that long to fumble through basic positions, techniques, and philosophies just to understand the beautiful intricacies of a knee slice!

In true creonte fashion, I’ve trained at  a lot of academies and studied with multiple black belts. Some people may consider this to be traitorous behavior but I’ve definitely been able to learn and develop a style based on the different thing I’ve picked up from different people.

Dennis Asche has some of the best speed drills. (Connection Rio Academy)

Terere is a long-stepping legend and all around beast. (FT Jiu Jitsu)

Rich Latta is like a college professor that has given me a lot of detailed insight on my game. (Renzo Gracie PA)

Perninha is the man to go to for all things to do with the lapel. (Gordo BJJ)

Beta academy has some of the best leg locks I’ve seen and a highly technical team of training partners. (Beta DC under Nak)

I learned to escape mount to half guard from a purple belt from Boston while staying at Connection Rio. This in combination with my friendship with Moz sparked my subsequent relationship with (a failed/fucked up version of) deep half which has become the foundation of my game. 

And Mike Padilla (Renzo Gracie PA/ Padilla BJJ) is hands down the fastest mofo I’ve ever hit the mats with! He’s a small person with a dynamic game and seems to be well rounded in both gi and nogi. 

When I grow up. I want to be like Mike.

Everyone wants to be like Mike
~Bad Boys

Find out more about Padilla BJJ on their 
Facebook or by going to their website


  1. Thanks for the credits, Nico. You're forgiven! :)

    Check out my IG: @misslynntran if you want to see/pirate more photography from PBJJ. I enjoyed this read.

  2. Thanks! They are amazing pics your a great photographer!