During the course of my latest venture (to San Fransisco, then to Orange County, California), was a desire to train at one particular facility, under a particular set of instructors I’d been a fan of over recent years – and I felt it was time.
I can say my 8 day training experience at AOJ (“Art of Jiu Jitsu”) delivered on point: confident, experienced instructors and competitors who knew what they were doing.
Classes are inspiring, structured, technical, and boast a high degree of challenge. In addition, the Mendes Brothers are always engineering new moves gaining somewhat of a name for being one of the contributors to ‘modern’ Jiu Jitsu, up there with the best of them. I knew this was something to be seen.
As for the facility, the gym carried that luminescent glow we’ve all come to know, marked by pristine white walls/mats – a decor further accentuated by the Mendes Bro’s, multiple-time major championship winning aura. I was in for a learning experience, and a royal butt-kicking.
I dove into deep waters, taking part in the advanced class, as well as the competition class. On the first day, I saw some of the most competitive gi grappling the academy had to offer and can say there’s more then enough challenge here to test your will.
If you are a beginner (white or blue belt), rest assured that AOJ has fundamental and beginner class’s in abundance let alone a top notch program for kids/teens. Click here for the up-to-date Class Schedule.
THE FIRST FEW DAYS:
I’d have my hands full from day one. Guillerme partnered me up with his young adults (blue and purple belt). As time went on, I’d get to experience higher level competitors, and I can say they are effective champions for good reason. They all seemed to have slick spider guards and knew the intricacies involved in De La Riva / Inverted De La Riva position(s) – including the Berimbolo… Kiss of the Dragon… and how to counter these positions. They also had strong top game with pressure passing from in close (knee-slide etc.), or from a distance (leg drag, long-step, x-pass), with a great understanding on weight distribution and movement that became difficult to contend with.
I did my bit and showed up regardless of any outcome – I promised myself I was there to train and experience as much high level competition/instruction as I could, and despite aches and pains, would continue training twice a day, taking the weekend off.
I had a sense that Guillerme and Rafa were gauging where I was at – in terms of skill-level – partnering me up with a degree of ‘opponents‘ who could take me to my limits, and then furthered that with those who could take me near-beyond breaking point. I realized this was a good thing: it was an opportunity to identify my weaknesses; good instructors such as Rafa and Guillerme know what this is all about – and I can say competition and advanced classes are no joke. Expect to work as hard as you have ever worked before, and there will always be thoroughbred Mendes Bro’s practitioners (Mason, Gustavo, Rick, Evan… etc. just to name a few) who will ensure you’re out of your comfort zone.
If you really feel the need to experience true mastery, Rafa and Guillerme are more then willing to show you the ropes – and I was lucky enough to get a roll or two in with Guillerme during sparring time. You can read an article I wrote about my experience rolling with Guillerme during his visit to Canada sometime a year ago. This time around, same story: Guillerme kept it playful, allowing me to work my game, to eventually take my back using a lightning fast step-over as I attempted to pop back off my back, with a single.
As great instructors would, Rafa and Guillerme were attentive to the students, providing tips during technique, and gauging energy level’s and ability during sparring.
CLASS STRUCTURE AT AOJ – COMPETITION SESSIONS:
In competition class, we would begin with a 5 minute run for warm-up, followed up with positional drills, by which you are to apply a technique of your choice to deal with the situation – as adapted from that weeks lessons. Examples include the following: (1) We were instructed to hit a take down of choice from standing (2) Another example would be to hit any take down followed up by a submission of your choice (3) Another example [from a different position] would be to pass your partners spider guard and go for a submission, or (4) use the spider guard (on bottom) and hit a sweep followed up by submission. You get the idea.
After two to three positional drills, we’d lineup and be assigned groups (4 per group), by which 2-3 minute rounds would ensue (1 v 1) – position or submission. We would then cycle through each other for 4 rounds.
After (what I believed to be) 12 exhausting rounds, the class of 25 – 40 students would once again line-up, and be assigned one opponent, by which the entire class would observe a 2 minute match unfold. Not all competition classes ended this way: on some occasions, class would finish off with 1 or 2 rounds of 5 minute sparring – you pick your opponent.
Sounds exhausting eh? :)
CLASS STRUCTURE AT AOJ – ADVANCED SESSIONS:
As for the advanced class, more focus was placed on drills/repetition. Rafa or Guillerme would begin class with a discussion on the technique(s) being focused on for the week, and would follow this with demonstration and detailed instruction on the techniques for the day, emphasizing what to avoid while executing each step. The focus for the week I was there was spider guard from bottom, and passing the spider guard on top.
After 3 to 4 (2 minute) rounds of drilling technique with differing partners each time, Rafa/Guillerme would take questions. They would spend up to 20 minutes answering 3 to 4 concerns and announce that it’s sparring time shortly after. We would work first point sparring (if there were too many students present), or simply pick a partner and go 5 minute rounds for a period of 3 to 4 rounds.
Rafa and Guillerme always set time aside to answer concerns/questions and their answers were re-assuring – as if we were getting invaluable information on how to really deal with situations. I had some concerns of my own when getting tied up in the leg lasso, and when to execute the ‘windshield wiper’ to finalize a pass; Rafa would provide some awesome tips on how to deal with these situations.
BACK TO CANADA:
I learned a lot (identified a number of weaknesses), and had an awesome time being in the presence of the Mendes Brothers and their advanced competitors. I also made another realization: and that is developing a true appreciation for the Mendes Bro’s Online Training Program. I now find this to be indispensable and have re-activated my account. The techniques we learned in class are available here and are updated near-daily; not to mention, you’re getting some of the best instruction out there, with an emphasis on the fundamentals and advanced-level techniques.
I believe any practitioner looking to advance their game would do well to sign up for an online account – any at that… and there are many out there. I believe it’s best to register for one that stays true to the fundamentals, applies to your style of game, and is in alignment with how you intuitively feel about where it could take you 1, 2, 3, 5 years down the road.