Little Larry is pushing 300 lbs and can bench press small cars and squat small buildings. I’m actually not joking, he lifts, bro. He definitely lifts. When I moved back to California, I was excited to meet up with him at Phenom BJJ where he teaches a few times a week. It’s an awesome gym and it was fun to trash talk one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.
I first ran into Larry in 2010 at Worlds. The year prior, I won worlds at purple belt and was defending my title and seeking an open weight title(something I never accomplished at any event at purple belt…ironic, I know.) I beat my first opponent and went against Larry. The match consisted of me trying to triangle him despite the fact that he doesn’t have a neck and him trying to smash pass and crush me. He never passed my guard, I never subbed him, I learned the hard way that tournaments reward top position over bottom, I lost as he went on to take 3rd, and he started calling me “go-go-gadget-legs”. After the match I asked him if he was doing the open and in a voice that is far too nice for his stature he said, “Nah man, I’m tired. I just did this to see how far I could go.” I promptly called him an asshole and said he stole my spot in the open weight. He laughed that comment off and somehow stayed friends with me as we trained together frequently when I used to drive 2hrs each way to join Benny Dariush(Check out my article on him HERE) and Romulo Barral(Also have a review of his school HERE) for training sessions once a week before Romulo even opened his first official gym. In fairness I owe him an apology because as I am now 6 years older and infinitely wiser, I’ve had to sit out of the open weight because my body isn’t what it used to be. Plus, he won, so I really shouldn’t have been bitching.
The parking lot fills up fast because this place is growing! You need to be early for class if you want to be close to the front door. Ample street parking is available if you are on time or late. The first thing I noticed was how friendly everyone was. I had messaged Larry saying I’d stop by, but even before the staff knew I was a friend of Larry and Christian, the head instructor, people treated me like a royal guest. I signed my waiver and was given a grand tour. Of course when I saw Larry he was quick with a hug and kind word. You can definitely sense the family vibe right off the bat here and the positive energy is contagious!
This is a great space! There are 2 large mat areas and several changing areas as well as bathrooms. The secondary matt has a section of heavy bags and crossfit equipment. There is another area with traditional bench press and weights. The gym is clean and well organized without feeling overproduced or excessively expensive. The graffiti style paintings of Helio Gracie and Mitsuo Maeda give set off the upscale urban vibe of the gym and give an instant cool factor to any pictures you take at the gym. There’s a bonus picture of Romulo Barral paying homage to the fact that Christian and Larry both got their black belts from him.
What to Expect:
Larry doesn’t waste a lot of time with traditional warm-ups. The team is conditioned to warm up via fundamental skill building and drills. He had the team go through various guard passing drills and guard replacement drills. He gave a quick demonstration of each sequence for anyone new to the class. Typically he would show technique; but because I was in town, he flattered me by asking me to share some of my favorite techniques with the team. I showed a few closed guard attacks and how to transition to top position from the closed guard. The drilling was all timed and timed rounds of position specific training follow technique. When it came time to spar, he split the class in half and had each side face off and fight. The groups shifted down after each round. It was a great balance between drills, technique, and sparring.
Larry is one of the nicest dudes I know. Despite giving off the gentle giant vibe, he commanded the room and provided instruction in a manner that immediately got students’ attention. Only a fool would mistake his kindness for weakness and he wasn’t afraid to be direct to ensure the class staysed on task. He walked through technique several times and did an awesome job of encouraging questions and watching each student practice. Despite the ever growing class, he was somehow able to provide one on one instruction to everyone.
Back in the day Romulo joked with me that he didn’t think Larry liked rolling with me. Larry confirmed that he hated rolling with me because of my energy and go-go-gadget-legs. Despite that, he was quick to pair up with me so we could train. As you might expect from Larry’s size, he is a strong top game player. While he often plays guard with lower belts, he has never pulled guard with me. He has a crushing top game and passes from his knees making it very difficult to sweep. As I mentioned before, he doesn’t have a neck so chokes and triangles go out the window. He also is so damned strong that armbars aren’t a great option.
I kept my feet on his hips to keep his weight off me and used my shins to block his arms.(This is my go-to strategy with heavy and strong opponents and an important way to keep them off you) I looked to off balance him as a distraction until I was able to isolate an arm and work for an omoplata.(A recommendation from my good friend Benny when facing bigger opponents who like to pass low) I think he was being nice to me because he rolled to avoid the lock and gave me top position. Once on top I passed his guard and tried in vain to find his neck while he momentarily relinquished his nice guy demeanor to tell me how much of a jerk I was. It was a very entertaining roll ending with both of us laughing.
This is a gem of a gym and is growing at an unbelievable rate. The good news is that they have plenty of space and infrastructure to support the rapid growth. There are some inspirational individuals at the gym, the most memorable of which is Jorge, aka OSSS, who dropped a massive amount of weight and had a complete lifestyle overhaul thanks to BJJ. He’s also a very tough and big brown belt! There are plenty of competitors but also a ton of families, kids, and female practitioners. This place has something for everyone and no matter when you stop by you are guaranteed tough training and a truly positive atmosphere.