As mentioned back here, we’d decided to spend the last four days of our US trip in Costa Mesa, home to the Mendes Brothers and their Art of Jiu Jitsu Academy.
As an added bonus, packing up home early gave us a chance to trial run the stringent 23kg airline baggage allowance, and conjure all kinds of stowaway tricks to get our belongings back to the UK.
The morning of the 17th December, we set off to the hire car facility, a shuttle bus away from San Diego airport.
Whilst waiting for said bus, a kindly passerby offered to take a cute couple shot, which turned less cute when she suggested we took off our sunglasses. Still, you live and learn.
Our faces were even less photogenic when we came to pay for the ‘budget’ hire car.
Ordered as part of an online deal, it had been advertised as $99 for the four-day period, with a $55 insurance waiver charge. By the time the credit card was on the table, and as a result of much headshaking and an “it’s a legal requirement, ma’am” sales pitch, that bill had nearly quadrupled, to a massive $400 (plus $200 holding fee).
Folks, for future reference, Advantage cars are best avoided.
One fright down, it was time to start driving.
Now, I passed my test way back in the nineties, and so far have a spankingly clean licence. I have to admit however that this is largely because, being a Londoner, I rarely drive and don’t own a car.
In addition, I have never driven an automatic, or in the “it doesn’t even count as a road unless it’s got eight lanes” States before.
An immediate four-way intersection, staged traffic lights and a neck-breakingly steep hill start is not the smoothest way to learn.
Two minutes after leaving the centre, horns are beeping, I am crying, and Andy is patting me gently on the back whilst making obscene gestures at other drivers out of the passenger window.
Simple but crucial problem – if a car in 'drive' should roll forward, but because of the incline is rolling back, which order do you take your foot off the pedals? As it happens the answer (thanks to Andy’s automatic driving lessons) was not unlike a manual hill start, but figuring that out under pressure was like learning to cut bomb cables whilst someone makes the 'Countdown' clock noise in your face.
Still, we were soon on the road, listening to Christmas carols in blistering sunshine and congratulating ourselves for getting the bond on our apartment back (I’m not going to detail exactly what happened, but the repairs involved extreme glue, a nail and a Sharpie).
A couple of hours later we pulled into Motel 6, apparently one of the best places in the States to bed on down and set up a meth lab.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the tag line the chain go for, settling instead on “free wifi”.
Just after checking in, we realised this would be better phrased “free of wifi”, or “free wifi cheese signal on your mac but actually not enough power to hook you up to the internet” (yeah, I guess it’d be tough on the signage).
Starbucks saw a lot of custom from us in those few days.
As many of you have pointed out, this blog is largely led by photos of me and Andy eating, so here are the week’s delicacies, courtesy of one Motel 6 microwave and some plastic cutlery.
Breakfast = banana and honey sandwiches (composed on a makeshift notebook plate).
Dinner = baked (well microzapped) sweet potato with tuna and sweetcorn.
Luxurious times indeed.
Anyway, food aside, we were off course there to train at the Art of Jiu Jitsu academy, a school with more swank than a Hoxton gallery.
Seriously, this place is beautiful.
White walls, white mats, white towels, white gis (compulsory white gis, if you’re thinking of visiting), with a smattering of paintings (done by, as if it wasn’t cool enough, a skateboard in motion) and acres and acres of medals.
Somehow, whilst training, all that white made me zen out and think clearer (I have a touch of the ADHD about me).
Standing outside the door on the first day, it is the most intimidating place in the world.
We needn’t have worried.
We did three competition classes over three days, and each time I was wowed by the clarity of instruction, the friendliness of the teachers and students, and the sheer circus-like moves of the Mendes brothers themselves. One particular roly-poly pass from an opponents de le Riva guard actually made me laugh at its simple brilliance (it goes without saying that perfecting it to that ‘simple’ level was anything but).
Professor Galvao and the Atos San Diego crew had prepared us well for the tough pace in the lunchtime sessions, which are designed as a testing ground for actual competition strategy, and coupled with a Q&A afterwards.
It was an amazing opportunity, even if I did steer clear of the Ruotolo Twins, who looked distinctly like they could kick my ass.
To celebrate our survival (albeit a very sweaty, sore survival) we took a little last day trip to Ruby’s Diner next door.
Recovery drinks be damned - Andy's apple pie and icecream clocked up an impressive 1,000 calories on its own...
...whilst my peanut butter Hershey's shake was a ladylike 850.
We even managed to squeeze in a trip to ‘The Hobbit 3D’ before we flew home.
So twelve weeks in, we’ve sampled two astounding schools (to be honest, I think it’ll be hard to go back to “normal” training).
We’ve lived (for anything from four days to two months) in three different cities, in four different abodes.
I've changed hair colour multiple times, gained one random tattoo, and we've eaten...well, you know about our eating habits.
Strangely it seems both super short and like a lifetime.
We’re planning to spend the next three months in South East Asia, jumping between the famous Muay Thai training camps of Phuket, the bustle of Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh, and the deserted beaches of Cambodia and Vietnam.
But between then and now, there’s Christmas…