Despite several trips to Arizona to visit family, I had never made it to Megaton BJJ. On my most recent trip I made it a priority to visit. Wellington Dias, affectionately called Megaton for his powerful judo throws, is a legend in the sport having competed in every single IBJJF World Championship since its inception and was one of Royler Gracie’s most important training partners for years. If you didn’t know him for the fact that he is a mature fighter still hanging with professionals half his age in the most elite competitions, then you have certainly seen his daughter Mackenzie Dern who is one of the most popular women in BJJ and continuing to set records in the sport. Both were training hard the day I visited the gym.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived, and something I haven’t seen anywhere in all my travels, was parking spaces designated by rank. Not only does it give the gym a cool look, but it gives a nod to respecting belt levels with black belts getting the best parking spaces and it going down by rank reflecting the amount of time you spent in the sport. There is definitely a major undercurrent of respect at the gym but the parking lot is the only thing that feels formal. It was open training and it didn’t really get started until around 10-15 minutes after the official start time on the website. Several of his students had already introduced themselves to me and when Megaton arrived he warmly greeted me and welcomed me to train with the team.
The mat space is massive and there are more trophies than I would know what to do with! At the entryway there are bleachers for spectators. A small office lined the back wall adjacent to the changing areas. There was a shower there as well, which was helpful since we were getting on the road right after training. You can tell the gym has history and is established but can also appreciate that everything is kept in very nice condition.
What to Expect:
I attended 2 separate classes. One was competition training and one was nogi open mat. It was not overly structured and everyone paired up with similar sized people after doing personalized warm ups and was free to train. People were willing to let others do their own private warm up or to drill or go light to warm up. Sometimes when I visit schools it can be difficult to get people to train with me but here everyone was respectful and willing to roll with anyone. I found the students to have an aggressive and precise jiu jitsu game.
Early into the training session a long standing black belt, a beast of a man named Carlos, asked me to roll. I of course said yes and got to put my closed guard to the test against a very strong and big opponent. We went back and forth both crushing each other until time ran out. I watched as Megaton dismantled the students he rolled with. His technique was crisp and he moved constantly. If there was even a millisecond of opportunity, he pounced on it and made his opponents pay for it.
After my roll with Carlos, Megaton called me over and I thought he wanted to roll. He proceded to talk to me a little and ask me about the blog. When I told him I thought he was calling me to roll he laughed at me. He said, “No F’ing way man! I will never roll with you. You did better with Carlos than anyone I’ve seen pass through here and you’re huge. You’re always welcome here brother but I will never…ever… roll with you.” We both laughed and I think that might have been the best compliment I’ve gotten in a long time.
Training Tips from Megaton and Mackenzie:
As I mentioned, Mackenzie was also on the mat. She went up against a brown belt male who was bigger and stronger than her but used her flexibility and grit to make it through the matches. Like her father, she has a style that never stops moving, is aggressive, and is precise. Watching both of them roll, I picked up a few key tips.
- You don’t have to structure everything: Some people love structure and map every detail of training out and it can be very effective. If you’re not an extensively detail oriented person, however, you can still be very successful. Trainig started on Brazilian time and had a very laid back vibe. Mackenzie arrived late to training and still got in a great workout. Mackenzie left the gym to her next training session so obviously some structure for your day is required, but if you’re not tied to having to arrive by a certain minute you can alleviate some stress. Maybe that’s why they both smile so much.
- Attack with purpose: There’s a time and place for drilling and light rolls but if you want to compete there is no substitute to going hard. In every roll, Megaton attacked with purpose. After years of training he has not allowed himself to get lazy or lackadaisical when applying technique whether it was advanced or a simple waiter sweep. In essence, if you attempt with 100% effort your technique has a good chance to succeed but if you only give 50% effort you are likely to fail.
- Champions are made in bad positions: While rolling with her bigger and stronger opponent, Mackenzie did not play a conservative game. She attacked as she always does. At one point her guard was passed and she was under siege. You could see the discomfort on her face and the determination in her eyes. She never stopped moving and she didn’t give up, ultimately reversing the position and taking her opponenets back to finish the fight. The two key differences between her mentality and the average practitioner’s is that she stuck to her game regardless of opponent and found a way to keep fighting when others would have given up.
I really enjoyed visiting the gym and loved the old school laid back vibe of Megaton. It was a treat to see Mackenzie train and to get to ask both of them questions about their BJJ journey. The gym is great with excellent practitioners who are open and fun to train with. What I found most inspirational was Megaton’s philosophy. I asked how his training has changed as he’s gotten older. He said he hasn’t changed a thing. Nearing 50 he still trains regularly and hard. Obviously he avoids partners who outweigh him by 100lbs like me but I appreciated that his answer to age was to keep his intensity high and to not let himself fall out of shape. Each day is a new normal that we have to embrace.