Last Thursday, I found myself in Toronto, Ontario. After spending about thirty minutes googling “BJJ in Toronto,” and coming up with three or so academies which seemed like good candidates for visitation, I decided to stop by Toronto BJJ.1 That done, my group took me that way in the hopes I could get on the mats that very evening.2
Their academy is a little blue affair with yellow trim, some decorative spray painting, and is located on Bloor Street West, just short of Koreatown. The two polite gentlemen attending the front desk were genial in that Canadian way, answered all my relevant questions, and informed me that I could indeed attend the evening class. Aaand there was no mat fee. Awesome, because things are not cheap in Canada.
A few hours later, I swung by for the advanced class…with secret aspirations to get in on the class afterward, which the front desk guy described as ‘very hard training.’ Yes, yes, that’s okay, that’s what I want.
Yes, I am comfortable with that.
I am enlightened.”
Alright, what was the first thing that struck me? The first thing that struck me was that the building only seemed little. There were two entirely separate mat spaces, the larger of which must have been 4 by 40 yards, two offices, a changing area, and restroom, all connected by a series of stairwells and hallways.
The Toronto BJJ academy is actually huge, and they had the numbers to prove it. The beginner’s class must have had 40 students. I had to walk through an entirely separate woman’s class of about ten to get there. When the advanced class began, the majority of the white belts left and were replaced in equal numbers with blue belts, perhaps 10 purple belts, at least one brown belt, two black belts (I think). Additionally, a small area of the larger mat space was partitioned off to hold an introductory class. Wow.
Class was taught by Jorge Britto, a second-degree black belt.3 While I had seen some of the Ryan Hall video on the subject, this was my very first class on the 50/50 guard. Mr. Britto’s instruction was very technical, and he completely won me over with his explanation of the position which I will paraphrase for you, my audience. He said that he did not particularly care for the 50/50, but that it was now a part of the game and was now something to which we would all have to adjust. Escaping the position requires technical expertise, but that, at the end of the day, it is very difficult to escape if your opponent is fighting to keep you there. However, he continued, “These people [who fight to keep you in a 50/50 til the end of the match / til you starve to death / til the end of the universe] do not love jiu-jitsu. They love to win tournaments.”
Ahh, loved it. Really though, the escape had a lot of details to it. Like anything with a lot of details, there are probably a lot of places during execution of the technique that things could go awry. I suppose, though, that that could be said about every other technique. I don’t know. 50/50, this is the second time you’ve been put on my radar. Let me say, here and now, that I am half curious / half apprehensive about some future tournament where I get put in the 50/50 and someone tries to hold me until I starve to death. My audience, I will let you know it turns out.
After some positional sparring, I got paired to roll with some blue belts. Both fellows were tough, tougher than your average blue belt, and rolled hard. To tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed at how hard they were rolling, until one of them slapped a submission (armbar) on me and did not crank. With that gesture, it became apparent that yes we were sparring seriously but doing so under the aegis of honing our craft, and not in the spirit of ‘trying to beat the shit out of the new guy.’ Thanks to those two guys…and sorry to have forgotten your names.
Overall, I really really enjoyed my time at Toronto BJJ. The class was fantastic. The students were friendly and seem to genuinely love BJJ in an enthusiastic way. Their instructor definitely knows what he’s talking about. The facility is amazing, with tons of available hours for students in multiple disciplines. I highly recommend stopping by the academy and, as a side note, am not surprised in the slightest that they were recently named the #1 Martial Arts Academy in Toronto.4
2. It has been over a year since I had seen anyone from this group, and I had the impression early on that this week spent wandering around all points between New York City and Toronto was going to be an “I’m intaking half the day’s calories in alcohol” kind of week. So I wanted to get on the mats as soon as possible – while I was still in top form, pre-bender status.