The story of my trip around the world to train, teach and compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other grappling arts.


Video documentary from project in Moldova!

(crosspost from

Robert has just sent me a documentary, he made from the project we have supported in Moldova. It is a little long, but definitely worth the time. See, how the donated gis are being carried from Romania to Moldova by bus and hitchhiking, the first training in the village, a tournament trip to the capital Chisinau and finally the tournament held in the village. All made possible by YOU, who have been donating gis and money!

Here is a breakdown of how the $275 from the New York fundraiser seminar has been used so far:

“Travel to/from Chisinau: $126.72
Team Food: $16.19 (it should be noted that the Chisinau team bought food for everyone in Chisinau, and the Burlacu moms provided food for everyone in Burlacu so these costs aren’t included)
Trophy for Tri-Duals: $18.54
Medals + Lanyards for Tri-Duals: $11.13
Engraving for Medals and Trophy: $22.00

Total: $194.58″

Gi’s for the kids in Moldova and Dominican Republic

I got an email from Robert in Moldova, who received the gi’s from the judo gym in Denmark:

“Thanks to everyone who pitched in and made this work. My wife and I are headed to Moldova tomorrow with two or three bags full of gis but I will still have to make at least another trip in August to get them all out there (and as I understand there are a couple more gis floating around Chisinau somewhere). I plan to buy some shelves this trip as well as take the Burlacu team to Chisinau and back for a friendly competition with the Chisinau team with the donated $285 courtesy of the Ronin Athletics.

So thanks again to Georgette, Mikkel, Christian, Jason and all your people for helping out. I will be sure to take pictures of the donated material “in action”. For now we don’t need any more gis though. I have asked Tudor at Absoluto BJJ here in Bucharest to ask his guys to dig all their extra karate/judo/bjj/tae kwon do/kung fu etc. belts out of their closets to add to our huge pile of gis in our living room, but that’s about all we need. So like I said, NO MORE GIS!!! And you guys are awesome.”

Since the kids in Moldova have enough gi’s, I am now redirecting any donations I hear about to the gym in Dominican Republic. First gi’s have just been shipped there by Gregory in the US, thanks!

Thanks, Taastrup Judo Club!

A judo gym back in Denmark decided to do something to help out the kids I visited in Moldova and gathered two big boxes of gi’s to ship down there.

If you haven’t yet read the story of my visit to teach BJJ in a small village in the snowy Moldovan countryside, you can read it here. We have already had some gi’s shipped down there from a guy in the US and I did a fundraiser seminar in New York, that collected enough money to get some seminars and tournaments set up in the village.

If YOU want to help some fellow BJJ practitioners out, let me know. There are many people around the world, who loves this sport just as much as we do, but don’t have the financial possibilities to even buy a gi or a belt. Should you have anything lying around that you don’t use, please email me and I’ll let you know how you can help out. It is a very small effort, that can make a very big difference in someone else’s life.

We are all one!

Thanks to Jason, for donating gis to kids in Moldova.

As you may have read on my blog, some friendly people are trying to help the kids in Moldova get some BJJ started there. I did a fundraiser seminar in New York the other day and raised some money for them, but they also need some gi’s and stuff.

Jason Vasquez emailed me and said he had two Keiko Raca gis he didn’t use anymore, that he wanted to donate to the kids. He just shipped them this weekend and I am sure they will be used well!

If you have not yet read about my experiences in Moldova, you can do it here :)

If you wanna read about the project – and maybe want to donate a gi – you can do so on Georgette Oden’s blog.

$285 for the kids in Moldova!

Tonights fundraising seminar in Ronin Athletics got us a total of $285 for the kids in Moldova. They will really benefit from this money, bringing them someone to teach, new shelves for their equipment and a tournament in the summer :)

Thanks to everyone who chipped in!!

I am doing a fundraiser seminar thursday in NYC!

If you have been following my blog, you might have read about my experience with the kids in the village of Burlacu, the official middle of nowhere in Moldova.

Read the blogpost about my experiences in Moldova here

They only have a few old gi’s and a non-heated sports hall with some old mats. They do have a passion for grappling though, and we are going to help them continue to do this sport. Some helpful people from Romania are going to go there to teach and set up a small tournament for them. They will also build a shelter for their equipment.

For that, we need a little bit of money, less than $150, but more will also help of course.

I am doing a fundraiser seminar in Ronin Athletics on thursday at 8:00 pm. It will be with the gi, but no-gi can participate too. Price is $5 or whatever you want to donate for the kids. All the money will go directly to the project in Moldova.

If you are in New York and want to support the kids, please show up on thursday. Everyone is welcome and all help is appreciated!!

Robert McMasters – not your average tour guide

Sitting in Turkey, I am thinking back on the last week, that I have spent with Robert. I don’t think I have yet processed completely, how good and important an experience this part of the trip have been. Both for my travels and for myself. Robert went out of his way to help me, a complete stranger, to discover an area, almost no one gets to experience.

Having visited these places, I wonder how the rest of the trip can top what I have experienced and felt here. It has definitely changed my view on how I will travel from now on. I need to stay focused on getting out and see the real world. Not just the big cities, which are often nothing but variations of the western world I come from and already know. It will be difficult to find ways to see these places, but I’ll do my best. I need to find more Roberts out there :)

He took a week out of his calendar to show me around three countries and five cities and expected nothing back. Before that, he – like his wife Amanda – took years out of his calendar to work with kids in a village far away from the world you and I live in. It is really inspiring when someone spends so much of their ressources on helping others. It makes me think, that I should focus more on doing the same. What have you done today to help someone else?

If you feel like taking the same trip as me, I have promised Robert to say that he is willing to show anyone around if they come. The blog post about the kids in the village is slowly moving down the page to the point where it will eventually be forgotten. The kids are not going anywhere though, and would love another visit. Just contact me and I’ll get you in touch with him.

If there were more people like Robert and Amanda, the world would definitely be a better place.

Chisinau Quickie

Me and Robert had been riding the bus from Burlacu to Chisinau from early morning to around noon. We were meeting up with some traditional Jiu Jitsu guys. I really didn’t know what was arranged for me there, so I was a little surprised, that I had two seminars scheduled the first day. One only an hour after I arrived, and one in the evening. The late seminar was in a big, old wrestling hall. They had invited 100 people and even printed tshirts for the event. Kind of took me by surprise, but since I am on a quest for adventure, I don’t mind surprises, so I took the challenge :)

The seminar in the old, soviet wrestling hall was really cool. I didn’t teach any technique, but did some different drills and games instead. I have never before seen so many people play Jiu Jitsu Virus, it was chaos lol There was lots of cool kids there too, it was really awesome to train with them. All the training had to be translated to Russian, so took some time to explain every drill, but worked out ok.

I did about an hour or so of sparring with the guys. I miss all the sparring I usually do with my friends at home, so it was nice to get some work done :)

Thanks to the guys in Chisinau for taking care of me and Robert!

The abandoned sports hall in Burlacu

It seemed like the Soviet union had big plans for the small village of Burlacu. A wine factory and a house of culture had been build. The post office was the size of a palace, but only one small room the size of a living room was being used now. Several places around the village, building projects had been started, but when the Soviet fell, the work stopped. They still stand there, half done.

The most fascinating to me though, was the old, abandoned sports hall. In the the 80s, it was a thriving place with sports events and training going on all the time. One of the locals told me, there had been wrestling competitions and many tough boxing matches. He had played soccer there himself as a kid. When the union fell, the funding ended, and the building was left to fall apart. People of the village took whatever they could use from it. Today, only the ruins are left, of what must have been a magnificent place.

There are no locks on the doors and no glass in the windows. Walking into the entrance hall, it struck me, how beautiful it must have been back then. The walls are white and blue. Most of the paint have fallen off now. First are the locker rooms. So many athletes must have waited in these small rooms, before going into the hall to perform. There are four rooms, two for the home team and two for the away team.

Walking from the locker rooms, a small corridor is going into the hall itself. When I first walked this way, I could imagine how it must have been for the wrestlers, boxers and gymnasts doing the same. Nervous. Anxious. Listening to the sound of the audience inside the hall ahead.

Entering the hall, the first thing one sees is the light coming through the enormous windows on the opposite wall. The light must have filled the room beautifully. Above is the the spectator balcony with people cheering for the athletes. On one wall is written “Raise high the flag of sport” and on the other, the Olympic rings and motto “Faster, higher, stronger”.

So many dreams of young athletes must have been dreamt in this building. Dreams of reaching the top, becoming the best they could. Making their families and country proud. Standing there, was a very special thing to me. Closing my eyes, I could see how it must have looked. It was not hard to imagine the tense atmosphere, before a big game or match.

Today, there is nothing. The silence is stunning. The wind is blowing gently through the big windows, carrying a few snowflakes with it. A tree is growing in one corner. The wooden floor has probably been used for firewood many years ago. There are no more breathtaking seconds of victory and defeat here. No more dreams.

The amazing around-the-world burger project: Chisinau, Republic of Moldova.

This was the closest I could get to a hamburger in Moldova. It really wasn’t a hamburger, but could’t find anything else.

This was a white belt one stripe. New in class, always asking to learn new submissions or “what should I do from here?” type of hamburger.

Teaching kids in worlds most remote BJJ gym. Extremely humbling experience.

Yesterday, I was teaching the kids of Burlacu, and it was an experience I will never forget. It was definitely the best, I have ever had in my career as a BJJ coach. Basically, this was the reason I traveled all the way to a small, cold, snowy village in the middle of nowhere, in a country that I knew nothing about. It was worth every hour of the bus rides, every frozen toe and every time I had to go to the toilet and there was no toilet, but only a hole in the ground :)

Robert, who I am traveling with on this part of the trip, worked as a peace corp volunteer in the village a few years back. He has a strong wrestling background from the USA and is a blue belt in BJJ. When he worked in the village for two years, he set up a BJJ “gym” in the school with the kids from there. They had no gi’s and no money, so a friend from his gym in the US collected a lot of old gi’s and had them sent to Moldova so they could train in them.

It had been a few years since he ran the project, and two of the kids, who are teenagers now, have taken over the training. They haven’t been doing much training, but it is clear, that the seed has been planted and the interest is there. The bigger kids, who have moved to other cities, train BJJ, Judo and Sambo where they can.

When we got to the school, the first group of boys were waiting for us. They were nervous to see a foreigner who was also apparently some Jiu jitsu guy who should train with them. We got in the school and walked to the gym hall.

That place is really an experience. As I wrote in the other post, there are holes in the floor, the lights are old streetlights and the soccer goals are just painted on the walls with crayon. Most noticeable though is, that there is no heating, My guess is, that there was probably around 5-10 degrees Celsius in there. I had to wear two tshirts under my gi, socks (occasionally shoes, when it got too cold), and my cap (thanks Nogi, you saved my ass there :)).

The kids found the old, torn gi’s from a back room and got dressed. None of them fit. The belts were mostly random pieces of cloth. One kid had a belt from a robe. The gi’s where way too big and some kids only had pants or jackets. They had lots of clothes on underneath to stay warm.

We started training and I did some of the drills I do with my own kids team at home. They absolutely loved it, there were smiles and laughs all over. Every time they laughed, a big, white fog appeared in front of them in the cold air. These were really poor kids, living in such a different world than ours. They didn’t have much. No iPods, no cell phones, no fancy clothes and no heating. They had some really old, torn gi’s, a few old, dirty mats, and some home made belts.

For a few hours yesterday, they seemed to forget this and just got lost in the training, like we all do every day we go to the gym at home. They were smiling and laughing so much, I loved every second of it, desperately trying to hold on to that feeling and wanting to give them more. Their physique was impressive, I could tell they had been doing hard physical work already. I wish I could work more with them. Just 6 months in my gym back home or something, they would be absolute monsters.

Later, I trained with the teens, who were kids when Robert trained them. They were huge now and really seemed to like doing some grappling again. It was getting dark and colder. Only two of the six lights in the gym was working so I had to show techniques in the corner with the light. My toes and fingers were completely numb when we finished sparring.

It was a very big honor to be able to give them a good experience and it was something that I will never forget. It really opened my eyes to, what power I posses to influence people in a positive manner with BJJ. I have been writing more about this, but will save it for the book.

The coldest, but best training session of my life.

Burlacu, Republic of Moldova. Est. pop. 2000.

Burlacu is the official Middle of Nowhere. Really small village where everybody knows each other. It is freezing cold here.

We are staying with Pascha and Tolea, who Robert used to live with when he worked here for the Peace Corp. The house is pretty spacious but cold as ice.

Last night we went to the bar (yes, there is only one). We had heard that the disco was going to be open, but since there were no girls in the bar that evening, the owners didn’t want to open it. My guess is that the temperature in the bar was around 0 degrees Celsius. The door was kept open, because as they said, if it was closed, how would people know the bar was open.

We tried to warm us with some ridiculously big vodka shots, but didn’t really help. Coldest night out in my life! Interesting nonetheless.

Visit to the school

We went by the school today to arrange the seminar later in the afternoon. There were a lot of eyes on me from the kids, I don’t think they get visits that often :)

We met the gym teacher. An old 52 year man, who was very proud of his work. He showed me all his diplomas and trophies in his office. The schools gym hall is where Jiu Jitsu training is. There is no heating, the lights are stolen streetlights, the floor has huge holes in it and the soccer goals are painted with crayon on the wall. Far from the facilities I had as a kid when I went to school. Robert told me that the gym teacher had a split personality. Super nice outside training, but the toughest trainer one could imagine when he was working. I took a portrait of him and tried to use a shadow to interpret his personality in the photo. Think it turned out pretty well. Afterwards, he showed me that he could do 25 swinging dips in the bars. Pretty impressive.

Bus ride to Cahul, Republic of Moldova. First traffic accident in the books.

We took the “Torpedo Tur” bus from Bucharest to Cahul in Republic of Moldova. It was a long ride but they were showing about 50 episodes of some Russian low budget action series with the sound turned all up, so no one were bored.

As I was talking to Robert, we suddenly slid off the road and crashed into a big pile of snow. Fortunately, we didn’t hit any of the big trees, only a small one that fell over. We were pretty much stuck, as the doors couldn’t open because of the snow. Eventually, a big truck came by and pulled us free. First traffic accident is in the books.

The bus ride was pretty interesting, going through some long forgotten cities. Eventually, we made it to Cahul, where Naeema welcomed us for the night. She is another Peace Corp volunteer, who had worked together with Robert. She was such a smiling and happy person, full of energy even though we arrived at 3:30 at night. We slept there and the next day, walked around the city a bit before we caught the bus to the Burlacu village.