Invited by my student Krystian Kwiecien, who was training with me in London, I arrived in Katowice, Poland. It was my first time there, very curious about the country after training Poles in London for more than a year. In two weeks I learned my first words of the language, found myself a girlfriend, experienced the local food and customs, visited historic places and made successful seminars in most parts of the country, from Racibórz in the south to Kraków, Lódz, Warsaw and Szczecin, in the northwest.
My journey ended in Wroclaw, where students of mine had a gym. I immediately fell in love with that city, and chose it as my favourite place in that interesting country. At that time Poland was a newcomer to the European Union, the economic situation still reflected the 40 years of Soviet occupation that damaged the country so much, and BJJ was only starting to develop, but the potential was there, I could see it. There were no local black belts but groups were being formed everywhere.
Back to London, I resumed my activities as a coach there, but a link was established with Poland and Wroclaw, and it kept growing every year I returned for seminars. Leading the group in Wroclaw, were Mariusz Koziej, Maciej Dydejczyk and Kris Golaszewski, and after 2 years working together they joined the Rio Grappling Club. The first two trained with me in London and the latter was a successful kick boxer that moved into MMA. My other student Krystian also returned from the UK and moved back to Silesia, Southern Poland, opening himself a branch of the Rio Grappling Club in 2004 and started to work with other groups there.
Less than 4 years after my first visit, I decided to live in Wroclaw. I was travelling a lot for 3 years non stop and was hoping to settle in a central place. A natural choice after making friends and watching the development of BJJ in Poland, the old Breslau looked like a great place to open shop and teach Jiu-Jitsu. On my arrival, I took charge of the BJJ and Grappling classes and awarded Mariusz his black belt. The group was training in the same place they started back in 2001, a big basketball court filled with wrestling mats. Space was more than enough, but we struggled with bad heating, bad showers and bad location among its problems. Only the tough would stay in those conditions, but we kept growing in numbers and level.
I headed the gym for 3 years, until March of 2011, always helped by Mariusz and Kris Golaszewski. Poland was becoming a modern country, learning from its past and developing fast inside the European Union, and BJJ exploded, with Poles travelling abroad to learn and compete, and bringing the sport to a higher level back home. I decided to focus on the growth of the network in other countries, certain that my students would do a good job. I wanted to explore new places and help expand the sport elsewhere so I handled the gym back to my loyal friends that did so much to help me there, but always returning once or twice a year to the place that feels almost like home.
When people work diligently towards a purpose, the outcome is always good. It takes time, effort and patience, but is always worth it. After many years renting hours in a Wrestling gym, now the group in Wroclaw has a place to call our own. And it is clean, professional, open 12 hours a day, with nice facilities, office and it is all result of the effort put for so many years. Mariusz and Kris not only kept the gym running but brought it up in so many ways, making me proud of what they did so far, and hopeful for even bigger achievements that will set an example for our group worldwide. We now have more classes and students, our summer camp in the Karpacz mountains is growing each year, and this is just the start.
I arrived back in Wroclaw to see for myself the new facilities and teach for a week, and since it was 6 full years from when I gave Mariusz his black belt, it was time for his second degree. Poland is doing very well inside Europe, tourism and business are thriving and integration is a reality, with companies and people benefiting from it, with much to be done yet to overcome the soviet legacy, but the future looks bright. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is also doing very well, with many local and global teams expanding the art in all corners of the country and exporting talents. Poles are a force to be reckoned in ADCC, BJJ, Grappling and MMA comps around Europe, and our team is proudly part of this. Looking forward to the next 10 years!