September was a hectic month for me, with courses and workshops in Stockholm and Gothemburg (Sweden), Munich (Germany), Bucharest (Romania) and Beirut (Lebanon). Having visited most of those places before, my curiosity was what to expect in Gothemburg and Beirut, places I have never been before, and what would be the development of BJJ in Munich after 6 years of my last time there. Being on the road for months in a row is not an easy thing, but the opportunity to meet and work with like minded people in different parts of the World entices me.
My first stop was in Stockholm, where my friend Sergio Leites has a school in Soddermalm. Team Leites has a solid group with some guys training together for seven to ten years. As a result there is a good mix of experienced old grapplers, beginners, girls and kids. Some people compete and some others take is easy, but the group is very united and the technical level is unquestionable. After a 5 days workshop there, I headed to Gothemburg to meet my old time friend Marcelo Yogui, who is a pioneer in Scandinavia, being one of the first black belts from Brasil to teach the gentle art in Europe. With groups in Denmark and Norway as well as in different parts of Sweden, Marcelo chose Gothemburg to settle, building there his HQ.
Yogui is a tough guy, with very strong old school positions that work very well, and his philosophy is simple and well known: Stick with your friends and be loyal to your family. Was great to see his group of students. His Polish students Kacper and Krystian made me feel at home, with a Sunday family dinner after my seminar. I was also lucky to head down to Malmo during the week, where I finally met in person Leonardo Neves (Checkmat/Team Neves) and his friend Yuri Simoes. Leo has been doing a great job in the Balkans, where we also have strong teams, and we talked about future projects and collaboration between our networks there and avoiding schedule clashes.
Next was Munich, where I visited two of the best teams in Germany: Akxe (Diogo Primo) and Pound for Pound (Antonio Sergio Zimmerman). Those two have achieved an impressive thing. Despite coming from separate teams and being in the same city, with gyms not far from each other, what could be a bitter rivalry became a healthy collaboration where they travel together competing in the same tournaments, organize events in their city and outside for other coaches and for themselves, and now they are bringing the Munich International Open, the first IBJJF competition in Germany ever. My time in Munich was short but I was very happy to see good guys finding a way to share resources and do a bigger job by uniting their efforts. I hope to visit them again and looking forward to have them visiting our group in Poland.
Next was Bucharest. In the land of Dracula, the Rio Grappling Club has done an impressive job in the last year for a small group, and found a way to collaborate with one of the strongest and well organized martial arts group in the country, the Romanian Kempo Federation. Amatto Zaharia, the president of the federation, is a serious man with impressive work ethics and commands a federation that remains one of the most efficient and well organisedI have ever seen. Their group is big yet very united, and they serve well their country by raising the level of the students and bringing knowledge to improve them on a constant basis. I wish some of our BJJ federations had people like them working for the benefit of the sport. But we are lucky as we found a great partner to expand and improve the level of Grappling in Romania. Future projects include regular visits to Bucharest and collaboration to expand our network in different parts of the country, and a possible participation in a training Camp at the black sea. Big congratulations to Rio Grappling coaches Vlad Catalin and Florin Ionescu that made this all in short time and overcoming many obstacles.
Beirut. Leaving Europe to venture in a country that borders with Syria, currently in a civil war, is not for the weak. And reports from Beirut on the news picture a different place than what I found after my arrival. A beautiful yet chaotic place, with crazy traffic, many road blocks and check points make you realize things can go wrong there. But under this I saw a place where most people coming from different backgrounds and religions find a common ground and live peacefully, rebuilding a country that once was considered the Switzerland of the Middle East. Food is great and the city is very interesting, and feels a lot safer than the media makes us believe.
BJJ there is very small yet, with only one group doing it seriously, and there are groups from Japanese Jiu-Jitsu that think they know what our sport is, so they try to interfere and poison the air, creating unnecessary problems. As if it is not hard enough to start a sport in a country that does not know what it is, our friends have to deal with BS from the martial arts federation which president is a guy that claims to be second degree from Rickson Gracie besides his other belts in few other systems. I have not checked yet, but reckon that this guy never even trained with Rickson in his life!
Anyway, our friends in Beirut are coping well with that and their group has been training together for 3 years and they are doing well, and soon a kids section will be added. I made my best of my small time there to guide them and motivate the group, but technically they already have what it takes to bring their level up, what they need is more mat time and more students, and I hope that those things will come naturally and BJJ takes off in Lebanon. Ghalia Smith and Daniel Hilal, the coaches responsible, have my admiration as it is not easy to commit to the sport specially when the sport is virtually unknown in their place. I hope them al the best and looking forward to visit them again in a near future.