It’s a warm, muggy Friday night in Old San Juan. Beautiful, curvy women tug their primped boyfriends through the cobblestone streets. The air holds pulsing rhythms of hypnotic salsa and…Taylor Swift. Not quite tropical, not quite American but in a league of its own, this is Puerto Rico.
Retired Gringo men catcalls the ladies in fluent Spanish and dark skin hombres rock cornrows and afros. I find myself in the belly of the party animal, looking into a seemingly vacant building, riddled with broken tile, fading blue paint and bright lights that remind one of a slaughterhouse more than a Jiu Jitsu studio. I’m nervous, but Google Maps said this is the place. I swallow and climb the steps. Tonight is No Gi; I better get on with it.
The floor opens to a peaceful space of tatami mats, ropes for climbing, a single crimson aerial silk and a partial wall designated for rock climbing. Certificates and pictures of Judo winners plaster the walls. Professor Carlos, aka Cavernicola, waits for me by the door. It’s a full house. José, his second in command, has been my point of contact for months.
“I know you train up north in the mainland, but training in PR is going to be very different.”
“Oh, how so?”
“Well”, José laughs, “if the warm up doesn’t kill you, the heat will. We only have fans, no AC. Bring plenty of water!”
He wasn’t kidding. Cavernicola BJJ is a Gracie school associate. Despite its laid back demeanor, it ran a very regimented warm up. Bear walks. Running. Shrimping. Reverse shrimping. Burpees and military crawls. Multiple rounds in 90 degree weather. I didn’t complain. I promised myself that if I wasn’t going to compete for glory, I was going to get brutalized by whatever school I visit. Professor Carlos smiled and laughed.
“It’s cold today! You’re lucky!”
I was one of three women: one white belt and Lydia, the other blue belt. After warm ups, we began rolling, which I found odd. Aren’t we supposed to roll afterwards?
“See, the team gets antsy…they want to roll, so we get that out of the way first. Then we do drills after.”
Made sense. Rolls were 5 minutes, with one minute of grip fighting and a round of burpees. This went on for three rounds then drills. Despite the Professor’s broken English and my horrible Spanish, his teaching was detailed, top notch and patient. He made jokes about the mainland’s obsession with sandwiches and eating on the go.
Professor Carlos’ style is a mixture of Judo, using one size to move quickly and take down large opponents with unique chokes and bullet like pressure. His shoulder to jugular choke was surprisingly quick and brutal. His motto? Control two points and make your opponent land neatly into the third point. Make them give you the victory from their panic.
Jada ‘JC’ Brazil
Jada ‘JC’ Brazil is a voice actor, writer and cat lover in Seattle, Washington. JC is a blue belt under Professor Brian J. Johnson of Northwest Jiu Jitsu Academy. She also has over a decade experience as a project manager in the Video Game and Tech industry. Thankfully, she doesn’t do that anymore. When not wrasslin’ in sweaty pajamas, she is writing comics, reading comics, lifting weights, playing video games and talking into a microphone. Her website is Cake N Iron (www.cakeniron.com) and her Instagram is @ashymcgee.