I’ve wanted to train at Marcelo Garcia’s academy in New York City for a couple years now. Of the two people who’ve submitted me at NAGA competitions, one was a brown belt from Marcelo’s. The submission was so clean that it made me want to visit even more. Last week, I finally checked off this dream trip and I trained for a full five days, taking every class I could physically handle.
There are a lot of classes each day. I skipped the early morning classes and started each day on the mat at 11:30, leaving at 1:30, then returning at 5 and staying until 8:30. I don’t know what possessed me to try to take so many classes each day. It’s a miracle I didn’t injure myself or become a tap machine. Each class is split up into a technique portion, then the last part is live sparring. You start with your training partner in the same setup that class was based on, but you aren’t restricted to the technique you just learned. After a couple timed rounds, the instructor announces “regular training”, which is just timed rounds where you switch partners for each round and both partners start on their knees.
The pace that each student pushes is no joke. From white belt to black belt, everybody is rolling hard and you can feel how everybody is used to an advanced level of play. Every student was aggressive and focused on getting good position and attacking for the submission. In fact, the biggest problem I had with everyone was that they were better at getting competition points than I was. If I were to compete against their purple belts, the result would be either them winning on points or one of us would get a submission. I don’t think I could beat them on points.
Despite their ability to rack up points on me, I didn’t present an easy submission target. As the week wore on, and I wore out, I was submitted more. In the first three days I was submitted five times, but I must have been submitted at least a dozen times in the last two days. Fortunately, every single one was controlled and I was never in danger of any kind of injury. It was odd not having anybody attack my legs, but I think that’s due to IBJJF rules. Since I wasn’t being attacked on the legs I didn’t attack the legs, which was again odd since I’m used to training effectively no holds barred.
As far as submitting my opponents, I racked up a lot of simple submissions. Armbars from mount, americanas, kimuras, omoplatas, various chokes, and a handful of triangles. There was even my wristlock counter against an omoplata escape. As much as I enjoy more advanced submissions, everybody was too good to allow interesting setups. Yet everybody is susceptible to simple submissions done right. Only a few submissions I got depended on speed or surprise. For the most part, each submission was based on getting a dominant position, maintaining it, and progressively working for a submission. That’s just good jiu-jitsu. Anything less won’t work on that crew.
But training at Marcelo’s is so much more than racking up submissions and tapping. Despite Marcelo being unable to teach due to ACL surgery, the other instructors were top notch. Bernardo and Paul were both stellar instructors, and rolling with them was like being a white belt again. I could defend for a little while, but invariably they made my guard look like it was transparent, and they made me tighten the noose around my own neck by capitalizing on every mistake. They were also extremely helpful with any questions I had, and were happy to critique some of the techniques I like to teach.
Every class was filled with detail, and for the first time in my jiu-jitsu training I had to take notes. Considering that I took as many classes in a week that it’d normally take me three months to take during regular training at home, it’s easy to see why anybody would need to take notes. I went to almost two dozen classes, and watched four or five more. Many of the classes were on mount and half guard related positions, and I learned a lot of small details and many techniques that I wasn’t familiar with.
Despite Marcelo’s surgery and obvious knee discomfort, he was regularly in the academy, sitting in the corner, talking with anyone nearby. It’s easy to see that the atmosphere of the academy flows from the top down. I chatted with him a few times about various jiu-jitsu things, and it was clear how much he enjoys just being around jiu-jitsu. When I’ve been injured, it was torture to visit the academy and not be on the mat. For him, there was nothing he’d rather be doing, and he said it certainly wasn’t torture at all to be there. It was better than watching TV, he said with a smile.
Marcelo would watch people rolling, and he always looked like he was thinking and analyzing what he saw. Occasionally I’d be rolling near him and out of the corner of my eye I’d catch him watching the roll. Hopefully I wasn’t doing anything stupid, but as long as I wasn’t putting anybody in danger of injury, I doubt he’d hold it against me. He is one of the best in the world, so no doubt everyone makes mistakes in his eyes. But he walks around like he’s just another student on the mat; only friendlier. He had a smile and greeting for everybody he hobbled past on his way in and out.
As for New York City, I could do without it. The area is nice during the day, but walking back to the train at night exposed me to the professional crazies that come out at night. Everywhere there were tons of people, yet it was only a few of the bums that were obnoxious. I don’t like any city, but the area around Marcelo’s academy is good by city standards, and I’ve been in a lot worse cities. Laundry was a constant battle. Four gis, three rash guards, and one pair of shorts kept me going, but without my wife taking care of some of it while I was training I would have had to rely on a lot more drop off/pick up laundry service than I did.
This was, by a quantum leap, the most grueling week of jiu-jitsu I’ve put myself through. I lost count of how many liters of water I put down every day, and I was still dehydrated. Breakfast was shoveling fruit and protein down my throat until I couldn’t eat another bite, lunch after the first set of classes was usually protein bars because anything heavier gave me sluggishness and stomach queasiness issues towards the end of evening classes, and dinner was often a nebulous concept. My sleep patterns were all messed up, and more than once I dozed on a park bench between classes. I loved every minute of it.
Making a trip to the Marcelo Garcia Academy is something I’d recommend to anyone, but train just twice a day, or go for less days, or train non-stop and take breaks as your body demands like I did. Sit in on as many classes as you have time for, and make sure you spend some time chatting with the top guys there. They are friendly, engaging, and always ready to answer any jiu-jitsu question you have. The average level of talent on the mat at any one time is remarkable, and there’s never a lack of people there who can test you to your limits. I’ll go back again sometime, and it will be neat to see how many people in their purple belt army will have earned their brown belts. They have so many beasts on the mat that there should be bars on the windows.