So, your summer holiday is coming up and you don’t know where to spend it? How about ripping a few weeks out of the calendar and train BJJ off the beaten path around Europe together with your two best friends, Mr. Gi and Mr. Toothbrush?
From the North myself, I would start in Norway. It is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world... and I’ve done my research. BJJ is catching on, especially in the capital of Oslo and the World Heritage city of Bergen. Unfortunately, it rains all the time and it is also one of the most expensive countries in the world (I once ate a $50 pizza there), so you want to get in for a quick roll, then immediately jump on a bus to Sweden, where you can actually afford to eat.
Sweden is the capital of jiu-jitsu in Scandinavia and you’ll find world-class training in any larger city, but beautiful Stockholm is a must to check off the list. From here, you can hop on a cheap, overnight ferry to Estonia, marking the beginning of your adventure in the former Soviet Union. There is a growing jiu-jitsu scene here with a strong base for grappling culture through sambo, judo and wrestling. Here you will run into some serious tough guys, that may very likely also end up being your good friends.
“Strong and quiet”, as one of my Estonian friends described his fellow countrymen - they will give you a run for your money on the mats. With a few home-grown black belts and a strong emphasis on wrestling, the grapplers of this country are no joke. They also throw a killer training camp every summer that is not to be missed.
Flights from Estonia to Moscow are often dirt cheap, and although getting a visa can be a bit tedious, the Russian stamp is one you want to have in your passport. The capital offers interesting history, crazy nightlife, even crazier traffic and lots of tough sparring where most of your opponents will look (and talk) like a James Bond villain.
Since you are already in the east, you might as well drop by some of the other hotbeds for jiu-jitsu in the area, such as Romania or Moldova. You may even be the first outsider to ever train BJJ in Transnistria, a tiny country that does not officially exist. Visiting feels like being sent back in time to the USSR during the cold war, complete with huge billboards praising military and cosmonaut heroes. A few guys have recently started rolling there and I am sure they would love a visit.
Heading back west, you should drop into Poland, in case you feel like you are not tapping out enough. There are no less than 45 black belts in the country, which I believe might be the record in Europe. From there, the entirety of Western Europe is easily accessible by bus, train or plane. If you feel like catching a few “usual” destinations at this point, I’ll recommend Paris, Barcelona, London or Amsterdam; must-visit cities, full of gyms to train in.
It’s a bit of a flight to the next pin on the map, the Canary Islands, but let’s be honest, you deserve a vacation after all this traveling, and it’s really the only European holiday destination that’s warm all year long. There are always cheap flights available, so this won’t put you over budget. There you’ll find some of the toughest rolling you’ll encounter on your trip, especially if you are a gringo, and that, my friend, you are. Another good reason to visit is the surfing; it’s known as the Hawaii of Europe and offers world class surfing for all levels. Time to test that spider guard against the variety of Atlantic Ocean sharks!
If you are coming over from the United States, you can usually get a decent price on a flight home with Iceland Air. But the real reason for picking this airline is the fact that you can make a stop over in Iceland on the way home. Being in Iceland can sometimes feel like being on another planet. In the summer, the sun never sets, which means you have daylight parties all night. The natural beauty of Iceland’s nature is surreal, and so is the jiu-jitsu. UFC fighter Gunnar Nelson is teaching out of Mjölnir (named after the hammer of Thor, undoubtedly the coolest God ever to have existed), which might be one of the most impressive gyms you’ll ever see in your life.
And before you know it, your summer vacation is over and you realize that you’ve spent all of it on dirty mats with sweaty guys.
A trip like this can be as cheap or expensive as you want. You could go all out bum style; hitchhiking, dirty hostels, busses and only communicating through postcards. The other extreme, flights and hotels only, is out of budget for most of us, but something in between will work for anyone with a bit of planning. Seeing the world can be much cheaper than you think, and the amazing BJJ community has got your back, so you have friends and local guides anywhere in the world you end up going.
Don’t forget to pack lots of clean underwear!
Words by Christian Graugart