As many of you may know, I started my BJJ journey in California and progressed from white to brown belt before the head instructor had to leave the state to be with his family. Shortly after the school dissolved I moved to Minneapolis for a work assignment. I thoroughly researched the various jiu jitsu options in the area and hands down the most legitimate school was Alliance MN. I planned on training there for the 6 month stint of my assignment and it turned into my home due to the atmosphere, level of training, awesome people there, and the mentorship of Damian Hirtz. I recently traveled back to train with the team. Be warned. I’m totally biased about this gym, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.
I was excited to visit because the gym had recently relocated to a larger space in the same main set of buildings and I hadn’t seen the new digs. I messaged the team that I was coming and immediately the Facebook heckling began. The second I walked in the door people were coming up and giving me hugs and asking how I had been. I get to see many of my teammates at tournaments but it’s nice to immediately feel like part of a family when you walk in the door.
For visitors the experience is just as welcoming although with less hugs and heckling. The gym is incredibly professional and responds to emails, messages, and calls promptly. The culture of the team is to welcome visitors and everyone I’ve ever sent to the gym has immediately fallen in love with the vibe and been impressed by the level of jiu jitsu.
The new space is awesome! In addition to housing the best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the state, the gym is home to CrossFit Edina, the first CrossFit gym in the state. There’s a ton of space filled with all of the latest workout equipment. The mat space is longer than the previous gym. The best upgrades are the male and female showers and the lounge area with couches and reading tables. It’s clean, orderly, and a comfortable place to train and workout.
What to Expect:
The team is quick to joke and have fun but everyone trains hard. Classes start with a standard warm up jogging, running drills, and movement drills down the mat. Most classes cover a main technique which is worked on for the week and variations that build throughout the week to drive retention and proficiency. Saturdays are dedicated to position specific training or sparring where the concepts of the week are put in to play in small groups of like sized and skilled individuals. The gym has grown tremendously and 30 people on the mats is a small class. Expect a wide range of people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and genders all training hard and having a good time. And since it’s 11 time world champion team Alliance, you can expect some very tough rolls with gold medalists at every belt level on the mats daily.
Damian is one of the best mentors, businessmen, and coaches. He has a serious demeanor and teaches most of the classes. New students learn their fundamentals directly from him in the Phase 1 class. His level of caring is evident by how he takes care of his team and diligently helps everyone grow. His right hand man is Tim Blackstone, a very accomplished black belt under Damian, who is a driving personality on the mats providing color commentary, humor, and a swift kick in the ass for people who need it.
Damian actually did his early training with Dave Camarillo. When Camarillo switched his focus to mma, Damian chose to focus more on the pure art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He connected with one of the founding members of Alliance, Fabio Gurgel, and is the only American, and one of only two black belts who started outside of the team, to be recognized with an official Black Belt certificate signed by the General himself.
He has vast experience and knowledge and is able to break down even the most complex technique into executable movements and guiding principles. He teaches a full curriculum from the basics to advanced techniques and has lead the MN police departments defense training for years. His movements are efficient, street tested, and blended with art. He loves playing guard, especially butterfly or half butterfly, and has tremendous pressure passing. All in all he’s a well rounded fighter with even better coaching skills.
Training Tips from Damian:
As I mentioned, Damian is a tremendous mentor. Over the years he’s helped me to become a part of Alliance, make friendships with some of the best practitioners of jiu jitsu, and provided great advice to help me train. Here are a few pieces of advice he’s given that have helped me and could help you on your BJJ journey.
- Mobility is king: Damian was the first instructor to show me yoga stretches and be a yoga proponent. For the younger practitioners yoga may not seem manly enough but as you mature, maintaining proper body mechanics and movement are key to longevity in the sport. Through his influence I’ve incorporated yoga into my training routine and it has helped me maintain proper body mechanics and avoid injury.
- Technique over everything: Conditioning is critical but if you don’t have good technique it’s worthless. Damian tirelessly searches for the details in techniques and why they work. Understanding why and how they work gives you a spring board to apply technique in many different situations.
- Network: While it’s common to network in the work place, I struggled to make contacts within the jiu jitsu community when I was looking for sponsors or partners for projects. Damian walked me through the importance of building networks at tournaments. Take advantage of tournaments to meet people. I hate talking myself up but if you have goals of sponsorships you may need to. Due to his encouragement I made contacts that kicked off my whole traveling jiu jitsu experience and greatly contributed to my BJJ game.
- Always be a student: One of the things I appreciate about Damian is his humility. Instead of thinking he has seen it all, he studies each technique as if it’s the first time he’s seen it. He asks questions and wants to understand it and then tries it out for himself. When it comes to business, he is quick to ask several people for advice on a subject and weigh all of the input. That humility and curiosity is what keeps him relevant and is the key to long term success.
- Focus on the journey: Like most people I have been caught up in chasing a belt or achievement. At one of the most critical times in my BJJ journey Damian listened to me vent, reassured me, and got me to focus back on the journey. We don’t do BJJ for belts or stripes or gold medals. We do it to grow. Sometimes you need someone to listen to you and then tell you to “shut the F#$% up and train.”
This is a fantastic gym with truly amazing practitioners. I would highly recommend stopping in to train. You’ll be welcomed and get a workout you’ll remember. My first coach, Emilio Samartin, often says that the culture of the gym is a direct reflection of the head instructor. Damian has cultivated an environment that is fun, accepting of all, and gets results. What sets him apart is that he’s not in it to make a quick buck. I happened to catch his Cross Fit coaches meeting and his business philosophy is one we could all learn from. So many people focus on the dollars or the results. His focus for his coaches was on making people feel welcome and happy. When you start with that foundation, people will learn the skills you teach them. Once they have the skills, they will be successful. All of the that together leads to long term success.
Check out these additional pics from the day: