Visiting a lot of gyms in Southern California I’ve repeatedly been asked if I’ve visited the Gracie Academy in Beverly Hills. Interested in seeing what the hype was about I planned a trip and was blown away. I actually made 3 trips to the gym. The first I really enjoyed and was invited back to train with Ryron Gracie. On my 2nd trip Ryron was sick so Chris Saunders, one of the Dirty Dozen(Thanks to BJJ Eastern Europe for writing up that article), taught the class which was a treat. I was encouraged to come back again and I didn’t want to miss the chance to roll with grandmaster Helio’s grandson. A couple weeks later I made it back and got a few rounds in with Ryron which made an already awesome experience truly special.
Hands down this is the most posh gym I have ever been in. Magazines along the wall? Check. Logo etched glass? Check. Custom paintings(the first canvas actually) of Grand master Helio,? Check. Merch? You bet. A beautiful training area with awesome chairs for spectators? Yep. Need to do a private lesson? There are two small rooms that can be closed off for distraction free instruction. A nice leather couch and flat screen TV while you’re hanging out? Yeah. Bathrooms that rival a spa experience? They have that too. Other amenities include towel service, and gi lending AND laundry service. Simply put, this is a flagship establishment and would rival some of the homes in Beverly Hills.
This place exudes professionalism. I called ahead and spoke with a pleasant and informative staff member. When I arrived he remembered speaking to me and gave me a tour of the facility, provided me with a gi, and a locker space. I joined the class and was greeted warmly. They make you feel like a celebrity and everyone treats each other with respect. I received the exact same treatment on the two follow up visits which made me feel very confident that this was the gym’s culture and not just someone having a good day.
The instruction at this gym is amazing. Chris Light covers most classes, and Chris Saunders fills in the gaps. Ryron has a weekly class as well. Hard to beat that type of all-star lineup. The instruction is remarkably consistent and they all have the same charisma and teaching approach that you would see in one of Ryron’s or Rener’s famous breakdown videos. Chris Light was detail oriented, had good command of the room, and kept a very open dialogue with the students. I appreciated his coming over and working with me personally, which he did with almost everyone in the class, to feel the technique and ensure it was being applied correctly. It was a nice balance of personal touch as well as sharp instruction. Chris Saunders did the same with the added bonus of weaving in cool stories about Rickson Gracie executing some of the moves he was showing. Ryron’s instruction was similar but even more efficient. He provided the minimum amount of input necessary to get you moving in the right direction. He is especially watchful of the most critical components of the technique and gives one on one attention to everyone in the class. I really liked that he was open to variations but always let the truth be whatever was maximally efficient. He also has a way of asking questions to the students that help them come up with the answers themselves. In effect, he teaches them how to fish instead of just feeding them.
Chris Light’s style
We flow rolled at about 75% intensity. He had a nice butterfly hook and hand in collar game. He was constantly looking for guillotines and had some very nice setups to catch them. Unlike what you might see from a gym focused on IBJJF style rolling, he wasn’t concerned at all about getting his guard passed. He had excellent defense and did a great job of trapping arms in a way that kept him safe from attack while working to escape. It was a really enjoyable roll and I picked up a couple nice defense concepts I intend to practice.
Getting to train with Ryron was an absolute treat. I expected he might “keep it playful” and allow me to get superior positions so I was very careful not to become overconfident when we rolled. I made it past his guard and even to mount but his defense was so good that he was able to recover guard and I never felt very comfortable even in those dominant positions. As the match progressed the intensity picked up which I took as a compliment and found very enjoyable. Before long it was my turn to defend; and while not nearly as refined as Ryron’s defense, I was able to find my way out of a choke, armbar, omoplata, and back attack. I was saved by the bell when he was mounted on me.
What to Expect
The class feels more like a school than a gym. The technique is shown multiple times with attention to detail and then the clock is set and there’s plenty of drill time. It felt efficient without being rushed. Chris L showed Guillotine defense. He started with a simple shoulder placement to help block the grip that I hadn’t seen before and found very efficient. He continued with 2 options for defense if the choke comes on strong. Chris S showed the scissor sweep. He focused on dominating the arm with superior gripping and how to adjust when your opponent posts to defend. He showed a bonus move which was a reversal as the opponent came to side control. Ryron showed a variation of my favorite sweep which most people refer to as the flower sweep and transitioned into an armbar and then into a secondary sweep. He had a great detail on loading the opponent to make the sweep more efficient. Each class had position specific sparring at about 50% resistance and built up in intensity as the training went on. Ryron made a great point about how sometimes when you slow down you start to really see what is happening which can positively impact your jiu jitsu and help your awareness of what your opponent is doing to you.
I really enjoyed the positive vibe of the gym and the level of respect displayed by everyone there. All the practitioners were serious about learning and diligent in their training and drilling. This gym will probably not produce the next IBJJF world champion because that’s not the market they focus on.(For a video of Ryron and his brother Rener discussing the difference between sport and Gracie Jiu Jitsu click Here) What it will do is preserve the Gracie spirit and provide the self defense and real world applicable techniques that are quickly becoming non-existent in gyms focused exclusively on sport Jiu Jitsu. It’s refreshing to be reminded that this is a martial art and it is fitting that Grandmaster Helio Gracie’s grandson should carry on that tradition. Overall, I would highly recommend this gym. I would especially encourage those who have been to sport only schools to consider taking some classes here to understand the full potential of the art. You’ll get a good sweat going, sharpen your technique, train in a way that prepares you for an actual altercation, and enjoy the luxury of a premium facility.
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