Grappling with the world

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.

25 Responses

  1. James

    Thank you for sharing this story. What an inspiration. Is there anything we can do in the uk to help? I would be happy to try and get a bunch of old gi’s together from dudes at the gym, and send them over?

    James Creed
    Pedro Bessa acadmey Bristol

    March 2, 2011 at 00:54

  2. Bastian

    Great story – what an experience wow! I really like your pictures especially the one with kid in he’s gi with the green background – awesome! You should make some kind of an exhibition when you come back home again.

    Best regards

    March 2, 2011 at 01:18

  3. Nico

    That was very beatiful, specially coming from someone from a developed country, those kids will never forget this.

    March 2, 2011 at 02:34

  4. Amazing story! Love the pictures!

    March 2, 2011 at 04:41

  5. Wow, the photo no. 4 from the top is a piece of art. Really good.

    March 2, 2011 at 07:02

  6. Erik

    Nice Christian! :-)

    March 2, 2011 at 08:10

  7. Liam Ralph

    Amazing story! can’t wait to read your book!,,, se you in 3 weeks :)

    March 2, 2011 at 09:27

  8. Jakob

    Fantastisk blog – det er sgu en fornøjelse at følge med i :) All the best

    March 2, 2011 at 11:12

  9. Amanda

    This is the post I was waiting for. :) What a fantastic job you did capturing the essence of the experience through your words and photos. Who knew you could get that warm fuzzy feeling in a 5 degree gym? Nice work.

    March 2, 2011 at 17:29

  10. mikey d

    Great job Christian. These guys make no excuses to not train, they get in there and do it. Awesomeness and way to go being the great bjj ambassador you are.

    March 2, 2011 at 17:54

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing experience. It really puts into perspective what’s important in life and training. Great post!

    March 3, 2011 at 17:26

  13. Sevastiyan

    Hats off for your work. I stll hope that some day me and my boys will have the oportunity to train together here in Bulgaria with you to share this passion for the sport.
    Again thank you for these inspiring article!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 23:43

  14. thecheapshot

    Ok – so I had a lump in my throat from the pictures of the abandoned sports hall in your more recent post (I’m reading backwards) but now I’m actually tearing up. This is incredible! You’re doing an amazing and I’m so glad we’ve got this opportunity to watch you take your journey.

    Good luck and may the force be with you!

    March 4, 2011 at 01:14

  15. Unga

    Great story and I second that no. 4 photo is great! You should send it to some photo contest!

    March 5, 2011 at 19:09

  16. Bruno Carmelo

    Fantastic job Christian. For sure, people here in Brazil would love to see you around and share this experience with you. Feel free to visit my city (Salvador, Bahia whenever you want to do it. It is gonna be a pleasure.
    Best regards!

    March 7, 2011 at 20:38

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  21. BJJ truly breaks bounderies, spread the BJJ spirit!

    May 14, 2011 at 17:12

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