On what was supposed to be a sunny trip to San Diego we ended up in the midst of the el nino weather wrath. Flash flooding kept us from driving far and afforded the opportunity to watch a guy boogie board across a parking lot while being dragged by a pickup truck! Along with the strange weather came some unexpected training. I hit a gym on Monday that had a hefty mat fee and I figured if I was paying I should visit some other gyms. The gym I was planning to attend was undergoing a remodel; and as luck would have it, there was an MMA gym right next door called The Arena MMA. Not only was my timing perfect to attend the nogi class, it was taught by the legendary Baret Yoshida!
Showing up without contacting a gym in advance is never ideal but I really appreciated how nice the front desk staff was when I arrived. They welcomed me, showed me around the huge gym, and invited me to stay for nogi and gi classes. I offered to pay a mat fee but they declined and instead welcomed me to participate and encouraged me when I later told them I was planning on writing about the experience. Baret was extremely friendly and welcoming. He stood at the side of the mat before class playing kendama to find his zen which was simultaneously cool and amusing.
The gym is massive with ample mat space, a cage, a ton of heavy bags and Muay Thai rings. It comes equipped with changing space, restrooms, and nice showers. I’ve been to several MMA gyms that have an aggressive vibe and was pleasantly surprised with how friendly and welcoming everyone was. It perfectly embodies the laid back, open vibe that people love about the West Coast.
What to Expect:
The nogi class is an hour and gi was an hour and a half. The class is informal and Baret went straight into technique at a controlled pace so we could warm up. With most of the practitioners doing multiple disciplines and workouts throughout the day, it allows them not to over train. It’s also a fairly compressed timeline for class so it allows for maximum efficiency. After a series of 3 or so techniques flowing together and ample dialogue around variations and details, technique was followed by position specific training and then 4 rounds of sparring. Gi class had a slightly different format. He warmed up the group with jogging and drills that included inverting against the wall and partner drills of inverting and recovering guard. He also left time for additional rounds of sparring.
The nogi class was on 50/50 attacks. I really appreciated his details and focus on maximum efficiency. He covered a nasty straight ankle lock and some heal hook options. One of the hardest things to teach is transitions and he did a really good job of walking through various reactions and situations that could come up including a slick reverse armbar when your opponent reaches for your head. A unique feature of Baret’s coaching style is that he had everyone do the technique in unison on his count. It allowed him to give one on one attention as well as helped people to observe others if they got stuck during the move. The gi class was more fundamental oriented covering a high closed guard collar choke that transitioned to an armbar and an omoplata if the first two attacks failed.
After my first roll with my technique partner Baret asked me to roll. I outweigh him by close to 100lbs and I really appreciated his willingness to share the mats with me. I pulled guard and he worked to pass and forced me to turtle. I found myself in a crucifix and immediately worked to escape. As I transitioned over he switched to the seat belt grip and kept my arm trapped with his legs. Although he claims to not be strong, he has one of the best clinches/seatbelts I’ve felt. His leg dexterity is outstanding as well. I was forced to muscle the escape a little and ended up facing him and playing guard again. I reversed the position and worked some passing. With the weight difference I was able to be pretty playful and we transitioned smoothly through a lot of positions. Without using power, though, I couldn’t keep up or keep him from being glued to me. There’s a reason he’s a legend and it was awesome to share the mats with him.
In the midst of crazy weather and finding the gym I wanted to visit being closed I thought I was going to have a less than stellar day. Like in jiu jitsu, if you give up when things aren’t going your way you’re certain to not achieve results but if you weather the storm great experiences lie ahead of you. I can’t thank Baret enough for the technique and hospitality and I look forward to visiting them again in the future.