Or: Kicking, Punching, and Rolling in The Hills District of Sydney
Or: Tryouts at the MMA Gyms of Castle Hill, NSW
Back in July of last year when I was backpacking in Baguio, I wrote about staying healthy on the road and I consider this a bit of a sequel to that.
Now that I’m in Sydney for a few months enjoying the summer and holiday season with family, I’ve been looking for ways to keep up with my training and fitness.
Before my departure from Manila at the end of November, I was doing two to three hours of training, typically four nights a week. I didn’t want to lose that entirely when switching to holiday feeding and beach lounging mode, so I looked up a couple of MMA gyms on Google Maps, found their websites and Facebook pages, and got in touch for some free trial classes.
I’m often asked how long I’ve been doing MMA.
In truth, there are two stories of where it began. One is in high school when I put on boxing gloves for the first time and gave a large soccer player an accidental bloody nose with a left hook he apparently didn’t see coming. You can see how love for the sport was spontaneously born.
The other is many years later, at the turn of my quarter century, when I finally decided to put the gloves back on.
In the week following my 25th birthday, I started classes at Elorde Boxing Gym, moved on to Muay Thai after six months, and throughout the year 2017 began experimenting with MMA at various gyms in Manila and notably at Team Lakay in Baguio.
I ended my time in Manila with three months of circuit training and Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes at Fitness Unlimited, a gym that quickly became my second home.
The year came to a close in Sydney, where, as we were getting to earlier, I took a peek at the MMA scene by visiting various Castle Hill gyms for some free trial sessions.
Free Trial #1: A Day at Pollet’s Martial Arts Center
An instant favorite, (certainly as far as my daughter was concerned) Pollet’s Martial Arts is a franchise with a number of dojos across Sydney and Australia.
You can come here to learn karate, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, and MMA, or to improve self-defense and fitness.
While Gracie gyms (coming up) teach the Brazilian style of jiu-jitsu (BJJ), Pollet’s is home to a Master Instructor with an 8th-degree black belt in Kempo jiu-jitsu. This more traditional Japanese style tends to put ground-based BJJ back on its feet as it incorporates judo throws and wrestling takedowns in addition to grappling.
Grant Miller, the owner of the Castle Hill franchise, is a friendly and accommodating trainer from whom I learned a great deal in only one lesson.
Since I was the only student to show up in the middle of the day, we had a one-on-one session of MMA grappling, sparring, and Muay Thai drills.
At the end of the class, we reviewed grappling techniques and Grant helped me up my submission game with a handy variety of rear-naked chokes–one of my go-to’s.
Grant also gave me a lot of information about the dojo’s various martial arts styles and was helpful in giving tips and instructions for improving areas of personal weakness.
Let’s take a look at the gym.
There is a large training area on the ground floor with mats, a boxing ring, and a cage, weight training corner, and another matted area upstairs as well. The dojo also sells fight wear and essential gear.
Pollet’s is wonderfully respectful and at the same time child-friendly environment. There is a small collection of toys for kids to play with and the owner himself has a friendly daughter just a year older than my own.
Children are of course expected to keep food and shoes off the mats at all times.
I’ve been eager to return to Pollet’s, not only because my girl keeps begging me to, but because of how much I learned in less than two hours time. I’d love to train here more because I’ve seen how much I have yet to grasp and I can see myself picking up a lot of it here.
Free Trial #2: A Week at Bulldog Muay Thai
Right off the bat, I appreciated the generosity of the 7-day free trial period here at Bulldog in Castle Hill.
This gym is run by the McKinnon brothers, a great bunch of people, fighters, and trainers.
Because of my schedule, the only class I was able to show up for on my first day was the sparring, which on Wednesday’s at 11 AM, Stuart said, was for fighters.
He wasn’t lying, Among those in gloves and shin guards was none other than Tyson Pedro, one of Australia’s very own in the UFC.
Stu, head of the gym, recommended watching from the bleachers but welcomed me to use the facilities for personal training. Tyson–friendly guy–invited me for a spar but unfortunately got a knee to his already-injured elbow and had to call it a day before I had the chance to take him up on his offer.
We had a nice chat nonetheless and he told me about his next fight in Perth, for which he’d soon be traveling to the US to train.
Tyson, ranking 12 out of 35 in the light-heavyweight division, is currently training for the upcoming fight on home soil against Saparbek Safarov on February 11.
The classes I was able to participate in, however, were physically challenging and a lot of fun.
First, there was a regular Muay Thai training session lead by Stuart’s younger brother Steve at 12:15 PM that same Wednesday. In addition to an excellent warmup and a set of combination drills practiced with training partners, I enjoyed the ab exercises at the end of the class.
Steve, who was taking over for his brother that day, told me I was welcome to come back the next day for the Fighter’s class but did mention that Stuart calls the shots when it comes to the lessons.
When I returned Thursday evening, since I couldn’t make it on time for the 6 PM Muay Thai class, I had hopes of joining the Fighters class at 7. However, Stu explained that his students had to work their way up to this level through regular attendance of regular classes–in some cases for many years. He didn’t consider it fair to let me jump in and again welcomed me to use the facilities for my own drills.
Following the class, Stu invited me to join the Stretch & Roll session, which was stellar.
After I busy beach weekend, I returned to the gym on Monday for Muay Thai and sparring. I immensely enjoyed sparring with a partner and later with the trainer–something I hadn’t had the opportunity to do since I was up in the mountains of Baguio with Team Lakay. And this time I even got to wear shin guards.
It’s difficult to compare my training at Bulldog Muay Thai with Pollet’s as it was a completely different experience. Where I learned a great variety of MMA techniques at Pollet’s, I had the pure pleasure of intense fighting and physical exercise at Bulldog.
I can say, however, that Bulldog was equally child-friendly. It’s basically a playground and my daughter loved it here too.
They sell Muay Thai gear at the counter and you can visit their website to check out the trainers, fighters, classes, and timetable. Go ahead and send them a message on Facebook if you’re interested in training; they are very responsive.
Free Trial #3: A Day at Gracie BJJ
This time, I dragged my own sparring partner along, entirely new to martial arts and with whom I was hoping to have some fun.
At this point, we were right in the middle of Christmas and the New Year so the gym was operating on a slightly more relaxed holiday schedule–luckily for us because we had a hard time finding the place and showed up late.
I should note that at some gyms, arriving late at a jiu-jitsu class is considered highly disrespectful and in some cases flat-out unacceptable.
However, I called the gym a few times as we were trying to make our way there and they assured me that it was OK to arrive a little late this time.
We found Gracie’s a little after 6 PM on a Thursday and, because of the holidays, the Fundamentals and Advanced classes were combined into a two-hour session from 6 to 8.
After suiting up, my partner and I stepped in a little late but that instructor was kind enough to take some time introducing us to the gym and getting us caught up with the lesson.
Because my partner was entirely new to jiu-jitsu, the instructor ran did a quick run-through of the basic positions for him and we enjoyed rolling through those in the sparring rounds.
For programs, timetables, and more information visit their website. If you have questions and want to get in contact first, it’s best to give them a call.
Note: As of the now, I have no pictures of this gym. I jumped in late and was immediately engaged in the class, so I honestly didn’t think to take any. I might be back for a follow-up on my free trial, however, now that the training schedule is back to normal. It’s a nice place though; you can take my word for it.
It wasn’t until I tried jiu-jitsu in Sydney that I was properly introduced to the various styles, from Barra and Humaita to Kempo. Let’s get this sorted out, shall we?
Starting from the beginning, we have jujutsu–a traditional Japanese martial art form–giving birth to judo, BJJ, aikido, and other such popular fight sports.
The name jujutsu can be translated to “gentle art” or “flexible technique” and it is one that is used to defeat an armed opponent without a weapon (or with a small one).
When judo was brought to Brazil around the time of the first world war it was picked up by the Gracie family, who shifted the emphasis to ground grappling.
Judo, at the time, was still known as Kano Jiu-Jitsu, for its founder, which is why its Brazilian variation became known as BJJ and not “Brazilian judo”. (Probably a good thing.)
One jiu-jitsu association, Gracie Barra, is more traditional and focuses on self-defense. Conversely, the association of Gracie Humaita teaches a form of the sport that has evolved for competition.
Gracie Barra and Humaita Jiu-Jitsu gyms can be found all throughout Sydney and its suburbs.
Beyond that, I’ve heard talk of many noteworthy MMA gyms in and around the city as well and I look forward to visiting as many as I can.
However, racing into the first month of the new year, I have not yet been able to make regular classes work with my schedule.
With the nearest gyms over in Castle Hill still a good 40-minutes away, my 4-year-old with me most of the time, and English classes that conflict with most of the training sessions, it appears I will have to forego training for the remainder of January.
When the summer holidays come to an end for my family here in The Hills of Sydney and I escort my daughter to Manila to spend the Philippine summer with her father, I will be returning to Sydney for a stay in the city and a chance to dive deeper into the MMA scene.
To make the most of the interim, I’ve taken up a 24-day yoga challenge. More on that later.