Jiu-jitsu has taken off in the past decade, causing those who have watched generations ascend from white to black belt throughout the years to reflect on how far the sport has come. Indeed, it’s hard to believe several of the original ambassadors that brought the art to America in the ‘90s had to rent space from karate schools.
Modern gyms now enroll thousands of members, display sleek logos, and fill massive facilities with world-class athletes training at them. Our art has come a long way since Royce Gracie took the world by storm in 1993, resulting in a sport that serves as a rallying call for misfits the world over. It’s also made for some pretty interesting spots to train.
These spots may not be the “best” places to train in terms of competition– though some would certainly make that list– but they’re spots that will give you a different training experience you likely won’t find anywhere else.
ATOS, RGA, Alliance HQ, Checkmat HQ, etc., are undoubtedly great gyms, and you should check them out. But we don’t need another list like that. Instead, these are certain spots that will leave an impression on you– places that echo the spirit of jiu-jitsu as a global community.
To further disclaim the list, these aren’t the “most unique gyms.” I want to account for possible omissions or places. There are certainly places I don’t know that should be on this list. These are just five spots that you could go to that might impact your journey and make you want to plan a second trip back to that part of the world.
Mjolnir MMA (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Some gyms just have the charm of being a mat and nothing else. Minimalistic and to the point. That definitely can have appeal. The inverse, however, can also draw you in. Enter Mjolnir MMA. Simply put: it’s massive– one of the biggest gyms in the world. Home of UFC veteran Gunnar Nelson, the complex has multiple floors with mats, weight training areas, and full MMA cages.
Excess can be a good thing; this spot also has a full restaurant, spa, and hair salon attached to it. So you have places to decompress after rolling around.
Iceland is an unsung spot in jiu-jitsu, with 5 locations that I can think of across the country– all of which have good people and a decent array of savage practitioners. The good news? If you’re flying to Europe from America, chances are you might have a layover in Iceland. Why not take a detour in your vacation?
Atlantic Jiu-Jitsu (Akureyri, Iceland)
Some places exist solely as a haven for those seeking a quiet, peaceful existence. Akureyri, Iceland is one such place. Five hours to the north of Reyjkavik, it was opened recently by Thomas Palsson, who Gunnar Nelson just promoted to black belt.
You’ll run into some judo black belts at the school, so if you’re afraid of getting chucked on your head, guard pulling is your friend. Regardless, it’s a great spot to get some rounds in, all in a small town tucked in the mountains of northern Iceland.
La Colonia Jiu Jitsu (Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico)
There are some spots where you go to and just feel like you’ve found paradise on Earth. Puerto Escondido, a small town in Mexico, might be that spot. A seaside town on the country’s west coast, it also has a little jiu-jitsu gym.
You definitely won’t hear about this one on FloGrappling; it’s an open facility surrounded by plants and other botanical life, not too dissimilar from the martial arts dojos in comic books and movies– a place to train in an idyllic setting.
If you’re interested in training there, they hold a BJJ in Paradise camp a few times a year. Train. Chill by the ocean. Eat some good food, and have a good time.
Daisy Fresh American Jiu-Jitsu (Mount Vernon, Illinois)
Is there a spot that embodies the spirit of jiu-jitsu more than a gym with spartan accommodations filled with world-class competitors– some of whom threw away comfortable lives in favor of jiu-jitsu greatness? No.
Sure, there are plenty of spots you can train at with world-class competitors, but outside of the people at the gym, what about those gyms is memorable? You could argue that a gym’s main selling point is its students, but another draw can set it apart when there’s something else about the gym.
Daisy Fresh is one such example. Its quirks and idiosyncrasies inspired a documentary. It started as a passion project by founder Heath Pedigo and is now churning out world-beater after world-beater. If you’re looking just to visit the midwest or to radically change your life (which is sort of jiu-jitsu’s main selling point), this might not be a bad spot to check out. Just don’t expect comfort.
The Hive (Manahawkin, New Jersey)
Jiu-jitsu is an art. And you’ll be reminded of that if you ever step into The Hive in New Jersey. Owner and black belt Chris Noonan is a man of many talents; jiu-jitsu and art are among them. In addition to top-class instruction, you’ll also notice the clean graphic design aesthetics on the windows. These are all Chris’s designs, and his instruction is just about on the same level as his artistic ability.
The gym is also not far from Long Beach Island, one of the best seaside spots in the northeast. So there’s plenty to do after you bow out of the class. Just go prepared to get berimbolo’d during training!
Training Spots The World Over
Jiu-jitsu is so much more than the brand names that pushed it to where it is today. Sure, those people are vital to the sport, but it’s all of us that keep it great. One of the best aspects of jiu-jitsu is training at new spots, making new friends, and having memories that last a lifetime.
If you’re on the road, near any of these gyms, check them out. And be sure to enjoy all the things that their areas offer as well.
Jeff Nelson is a brown belt under Danilo Cherman of Team Nova Uniao. He started training jiu-jitsu in 2014, and he always complains about Star Wars on his personal Instagram account.