I’ve been following the Mendes Brothers pretty closely the last couple years; more specifically once they launched their online training site. Being a lighter weight grappler (Feather) their style has been very appealing to my current game. One of my training partners also has been using their training site the same amount of time and had mentioned interest in visiting their gym to train some time ago. Fast forward to March 2014 and I was lucky enough to receive a planned and paid for trip to visit Costa Mesa and the Art of Jiu-Jitsu from my wife. On top of this she was thoughtful enough to coordinate the trip with my training partner Martin.
Just a few weeks later we flew out to Costa Mesa. The gym had recommended we stay at the Ramada Inn in Costa Mesa which is less than a mile from the gym and reasonably priced. You’re not staying at a high priced resort but it’s not a dump either. It is more than adequate for those looking for something comfortable yet affordable. The hotel has a heated pool and Jacuzzi which came in very handy during our stay. There is a small bar and restaurant in the hotel which is nice for catching breakfast (no free meals). You can eat there for about $12 for breakfast. Before I go any further let me emphasize that the cost of living in California is higher than where we are from (Texas). Unless you are living on fast food expect to spend $12-20 on most meals out. That being said the hotel room does have a small fridge and there is a Sprouts grocery store nearby on the way to the gym. If you want to save some money you could easily pick up some deli meats and make sandwiches to avoid eating out all the time.
We opted to rent a car and I feel this is a must unless you have some other plans for transportation. We didn’t notice cabs so unless you plan to rent a bicycle or something you are going to probably want a car. Fortunately with the gym being close by you shouldn’t have to do a ton of driving unless you plan on sight-seeing a lot. While we were there for four days we drove less than 40 miles and definitely got out to see the town.
Something you need to know about visiting the Art of Jiu-Jitsu is that you will more than likely have to attend the competition or advance classes unless you are a white belt. I think the only other exceptions are for students visiting from affiliated academies.
We arrived on Monday and used the first part of the day to get our car, hotel room, and a little shopping to pick up water, along with whatever we needed to be comfortable during our stay. We made it to the evening advance class for our first training session. Most people I know that have seen the gym from pictures and videos have described the look as “Jiu-Jitsu Heaven.” I can honestly say that the pictures don’t do it justice. It’s really well designed and laid out making it functional and aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. The gym has two separate mat spaces which allows for two classes to be run simultaneously. They are separated by the front desk and locker areas giving enough space to not make noise from either side a distraction.
The students and staff at the gym was very friendly upon our arrival. I imagine they are accustomed to visitors on a regular basis. Class started very promptly and little time was wasted jumping straight into De La Riva drills as a warm-up. We did 4-5 two minute rounds of pulling DLR guard and hitting a sweep of our choice. After a complete round with a training partner we would find a new one until completing all the rounds. For the technique portion we focused on removing the DLR hook (from a standing position) and using a knee slice to pass the guard on the non-DLR hook side. From here the training partner (guard player on bottom) would catch half guard with a knee shield into the hip. We then worked a couple submissions from here: baseball bat choke and brabo choke option. The other option was a leg drag pass. The remaining portion of class consisted of 4 four minute rounds of grappling.
My initial impressions were about what I expected. The blue belts were like purple belts and the purple belts were like brown belts. It was a really good class and we were pretty exhausted from the travel and time change. It was much later for us with the two hour time difference by the time class was over.
Tuesday we woke up, ate breakfast, and found a laundry mat between our hotel and the gym. We opted to use the laundry mat rather than the gym’s gi washing facilities. For $10 the gym will launder your gi which is a really convenient option. The only problem is that they will run it through the dryer which is a problem for me as my gi’s can’t afford to shrink anymore since they are mostly competition fit and normally air dried. It cost $3.75 to use their front loaded washer or $1.75 for a top loader. They have dryers as well that are $0.25 for three minutes and you can add as much time as needed. This was a cheaper and overall better option for us. We had plenty of time to do it during the day.
During our visit we ate at a few different places specific to the area. We found a great taco dive called Sancho’s Tacos. This was by far my favorite meal during the stay. My buddy Martin had read all about Banzai Bowls and was dying to try it. We had it twice during our stay and it was excellent and better than I expected. We also tried Green Leaf which is a sandwich/soup/salad restaurant close to the gym and it was good. Healthy food options and reasonably priced.
Tuesday we attended the afternoon competition class. Let me preface this by saying we expected it to be very tough. This gym is loaded with guys that do nothing but compete and train for a living. How they get by on a daily basis I have no idea but I can tell you that class is not for the weak of heart. We showed up and were by far the oldest guys there; 37 and 45 respectively. The format for that day was warm-up drills of take-downs for two minutes alternating, then a couple two minute rounds of pulling DLR guard and hitting a sweep of choice. The bulk of the class consisted of 10 six minute rounds of rolling taking a 1 minute break in between rounds and one water break after five rounds. After this we did 4 three minute rounds of situational DLR attempting to sweep or submit. This was by far the most difficult class I’ve done since I started training Jiu-Jitsu. Unless you are accustomed to training like that and in phenomenal shape it’s going to be pretty rough. We had initially hoped to hit the nogi class later that evening but there was no way that was going to happen after the tough competition class. We both took the remainder of the day off and relaxed.
Fortunately for us the beach is nearby and there are a lot of things to get into. The temperatures were in the 60’s during the early part of the day and warmed up to the mid 70’s. The water temperature seemed too cold for us so we spent some time walking up and down the Newport Beach area which is only 10 minutes from our hotel.
Wednesday we skipped the competition class so we’d be able to do the evening advanced class. This gave us time to visit Huntington Beach which seemed a lot busier than Newport the previous two days and offered a lot more in the way of shopping. I wasn’t about to go home empty handed. There are a lot of nice shops fully stocked with RVCA, Volcom, and Hurley gear.
That evening we had a great training session. The warm-up consisted of two minute rounds of DLR sweeps and two minute rounds of DLR sweeps taking the back. Rafa showed some examples of what he was looking for then turned us loose. He emphasized being creative and using different methods for sweeping and taking the back. The bulk of class was spent doing situational sparring for three minute rounds: closed guard, half guard, side mount, and full mount. After each round was completed we would switch to a new partner. The end of class was spent doing 4 two minute rounds of attacking the back. Two sets without hooks and two sets with one hook. The focus was escaping the position or submitting from that particular position instead of transitioning to mount, side mount, or knee on belly.
This was a great Jiu-Jitsu vacation. I would have loved to do more classes but would have to be in much better shape to keep up. I’m not sure that the competition classes are something I’d be in that kind of shape to do and manage to get in for an evening class. I’m glad we did that class but in the future if we visit I’d probably stick to the evening classes. My impressions after rolling with the students of this gym is that they are not only really good but they have a huge influence from the Mendes style game. Very good DLR game and excellent knee slice through the half and RDLR guard. I really appreciated the structure of the gym. It was clear from the beginning that they have a strict curriculum that focuses on using the DLR guard to sweep and take the back…or defeat the DLR guard. The warm-up drills were run as if everyone knew them already because in the advanced class everyone does. The fundamental classes we saw focused heavily on the DLR guard and would be an intermediate to advanced class in most gyms. The other thing I liked was they didn’t waste any time during training. Class started promptly and there wasn’t an excessive amount of time spent explaining the techniques. There was plenty of time dedicated towards drilling and rolling.
After talking to some of the students we came to find out that a good bunch of them have moved out to southern California just to train at with the Mendes Brothers. Some commute up to 1.5 hours each way to train here. There is no doubt that Rafa and Gui have had a huge impact on the skill of the students here but it’s also apparent that these students are constantly making each other better with their ridiculous work ethic. I hope to visit this gym in the future and highly recommend it for anyone ranging from the serious, hobbyist Jiu-Jitsu student to the high level competitor.