NYC Trip, Food Comas & Renzo Gracie's Academy
Food Porn Ahead...
Hey guys, coach Tom here.
So, disclaimer this blog is on a few highlights from my recent birthday trip to NYC it is not specifically about fitness or nutrition but they do feature.
I have decided to break this down into 3 sections so you can pick to read them all or just choose what interests you.
Section 1. Renzo Gracie Academy NYC
Section 2. Geek
Section 3. Food
1-Renzo Gracie Academy NYC
Day 1 – Just Visiting
On my first morning in NYC I decided to visit Renzo Gracie’s Academy to get an idea of what to expect and plan my training. As I approached 30th Street and recognized the familiar blue flag logo I have seen so many times in online videos I have to say I was more than a little nervous. The building looks kind of like an office from the outside, you go through an ornate gold door, nod at a doorman and then see a small laminate sign pointing to the academy and down an ominous looking set of stairs.
As I approached the stairs I could feel the extreme heat emanating from below, an apt feeling of walking into the fire. I’m not sure if it’s purposefully heated to such insane temperatures or it’s a by-product of a broken air conditioner – either way it makes the training incredibly intense and taxing – but more on that later.
I was greeted by a very friendly receptionist who explained I was free to attend all classes and spend as long as I wanted each day for the price of a day pass. She allowed me to explore the academy on my own so I took a stroll around the strangely familiar setting. The infamous huge blue mat area, a weights room, cage walls and a lot of dangerous looking guys some of which I recognized. I had that feeling of being sized up, eyes watching me – not in a bad way, just the way it works as a stranger at a new academy – fresh meat.
I thanked the receptionist and made plans to return for the 7.30am submission grappling class the day after
Session 1 - 7.30am
I woke at 6am ready to go, nervous but excited, I walked through the morning bustle of the waking city and steadied my breathing and nerves. As the blue sign became visible I felt the adrenaline bubbling up and had a quiet word with myself. Upon entering I was warmly greeted by the receptionist and a black belt instructor (who’s name escapes me) – they were both incredibly welcoming, friendly and asked me some questions about where I train and where I am from. When I said the UK they immediately said ‘oh do you train with Roger (Gracie)’ – I explained where and who I trained with and chatted briefly about training.
After signing the waiver I went to get changed – a combination of extreme heat and nerves meant I was already soaking wet with sweat and keen to get started. I changed and got on to the mat and sat quietly watching everything unfold. There were already classes running and people training and drilling. As more and more people arrived I realized just how busy an academy Renzo’s is, it was about 7.15am and there must be 50+ people here. As I was just getting to grips with the situation, Eddie Cummings steps on the mat and sits to my left, I try not to be a fan boy (whilst being a massive fan boy) and nod a greeting to him. Then arrives Professor Danaher – he carries a palpable aura with him – people seem to just automatically sit up straight and take notice, he kind of reminds me of a movie super villain – Darth Vader maybe…or Hannibal Lecter
The class gets busier and busier – its no gi and there must be 30-40 people on the mats. Garry Tonon and Gordon Ryan join the class and it is starting to seem very surreal to be sharing the mat with some of my grappling heroes.
Professor Danaher starts the class quite informally and everyone crowds around to absorb the knowledge, we are learning a sweep directly into a submission. It seems like a big part of Danahers ideology is to look for the finish rather than just the points and that style sits incredibly well with me. Over the course of the class we add some other submissions including a heel hook – to learn heel hooks, from Danaher at Renzo Gracie NYC was a dream come to – amazing techniques, awesome detail and instruction.
We are then told to prepare for 4 x6 mins rounds of sparring – start standing, all subs allowed, my favourite format but intimidating to say the least in this room of killers. My first roll goes well, we exchange several subs and positions and despite my nerves I feel maybe I am doing ok, my second roll goes even better, I escape some leg locks and apply my own – we have an interesting and high paced roll. The heat is ridiculous, I am sweating buckets which is making escaping easier but finishing a lot harder. My third round I hear ‘lets roll’ from behind me – Eddie Cummings has just asked me to roll – damn.
I fight off some of my initial apprehension and bump fists – shortly after I am being heel hooked, Eddie is being nice and not breaking my leg outright – I try and escape, he tightens it a notch and I feel my knee ligaments groan under the pressure so I take the tap. The next 5.30 mins are humbling to say the least; he shuts down everything and taps me several times. If you think he’s all about leg locks, try out his armbar, triangle, kimura and RNC they are all powerful, fast and devastating. He’s a monster – incredibly strong for his size, explosive and dynamic. By the end he’s just playing and I am straight out of ideas. The round ends and I know I’ve just experienced something special.
I stagger to my feet, pretty exhausted and broken and on to my final roll - Garry Tonon. Wow – another of my heroes and I am allowed to roll against him, we bump fists and start to exchange takedown attempts. Garry has an effortless style, he has amazing flow and movement and attempts several takedowns. When we hit the floor we exchange several positions, he seems to use just enough skills and energy to beat me at every turn but no more than is necessary. I get RNC’d and Danaher congratulates Garry – I remember thinking that’s pretty cool that Danaher was watching my rolling (Garry’s really) even if I did just get choked. I get tapped another couple of times, but have an incredibly fun and energetic roll.
Class finishes and everyone queue to shake Professor Danahers hand and offer thanks, He reminds me of some type of king sat on his thrown (the mat) and his subjects are all coming to pay regards. I wait around and take in the whole experience, it was amazing – I can’t believe I had the chance to actually roll with Eddie and Garry. I meet Gordon Ryan at the water fountain and get a picture, I chat to him briefly about EBI and his victory. He is an incredibly nice guy and offers to do some rolling later in the week. I get pics with Eddie, who despite being a killer of the highest order on the mat is incredibly approachable and friendly off of the mat. I ask Garry for a pic and he thanks me for the roll – I can’t think of anything to say (im a little star struck) so I thank him for kicking my ass and head off.
Me with EBI Champion 'King' Gordon Ryan
As I am leaving the building Professor Danaher is outside, to be honest he’s really scary. Its just something about him, he doesn’t act tough or aggressive – he just seems like someone not to be fucked with. I thank him for an amazing class and we talk briefly – I nervously ask if he does photos – and he says ‘sure’. We grab a pic and I wander off – not quite able to process my morning.
Me with the awesome and scary Prof. John Danaher
Session 2 - 7.30am
Another 7.30am submission grappling class, I get there early and head to the mat. There’s a guy warming up, I recognize him as one of the guys training with Garry after class at my last session. He looks tough; muscular guy, skin head, 1000 yard stare – I decide to say hello and shake hands. He immediately surprises me by being incredibly friendly and welcoming (don’t judge a book I guess) – his name is Kostia and he is over from France training – a brown belt in both Luta Livre and BJJ – he humbly states he’s not sure his brown belt measures up at Renzos - I think he's probably too modest.
He suggests we drill so we worked some stuff from previous classes from butterfly guard – very cool of him to share the knowledge and we partner for the class. Professor Danaher is teaching a very cool guard pass and back take – its super slick – it looks awesome but is surprisingly doable. We spend the class repping it out in stages, Professor Danaher corrects a few issues I am having and the technique really starts flowing. We move on to sparring and I spar with Kostia, he’s a great grappler, very quick, fast takedowns and an interesting style. We exchange subs and both catch a couple, it’s a great roll and I can feel I am learning so much from everyone I have a chance to train with. My next roll is with the Lion Killer himself Garry Tonon.
I am slightly slightly less awe struck and decide with the upmost respect I am going to try harder this time (not that it would make an iota of difference) We wrestle, he’s incredibly agile and takes me down, we roll and then stand up, I get to his back (with his assistance I am sure) and take him down, he doesn’t really go down just bounces up and we go back to it – he takes me down and we carry on rolling. I get him into a nice leg lock position (again only because he’s playing I am sure) I am threatening a heel hook and he has his classic nonchalant look like he’s not remotely worried – he escapes of course and I am pretty sure he then tapped me but I cant remember what with…
That all you got bro?
I roll with Kostia again – and once again we have a great roll. His style is similar to Garrys with dynamic takedowns, great agility and dangerous submissions.
The class finishes and I sit on the floor trying to bring my heart rate to normal – the sparring and heat are intense, I shakily make notes in my journal, scrawling on the page – whilst I drip sweat onto it but not wanting to miss any details of the class.
Session 3 - 12.00am
Between sessions I had to go out and buy some new kit, I make it back with time to spare. The 12.30 session is a Gi class but also you can attend nogi and Danaher will modify for the class. I thought this was an awesome idea, very progressive and allowed for the nogi athlete’s to get extra practice in. I train before class again with Kostia and he shows me some very cool techniques from tornado guard, as well as practicing my first berimbolo. He’s incredibly generous with his time and knowledge and its great to be learning these extra techniques in and around class.
Class starts with throwing and Professor Danaher teaches an Uchi Mata both with and without the Gi. Its great to practice takedowns, and I know Garry Tonon has been vocal in interviews about the importance of practicing them. Many schools start kneeling and don’t practice takedowns (or leg locks) Renzos seems to do things a little differently.
We move onto some very cool triangle set ups from closed guard and against a standing opponent (as with all techniques I have kept things deliberately vague as I do not want to share specifics after the recent issues of people releasing details of Danaher leg lock concepts – I do not want to be on his shit list) suffice to say the concepts and ideas are cutting edge, very interesting, well described and amazingly powerful when executed correctly.
Sparring comes around and I have several tough rounds against ever increasingly bigger and higher belted opponents. I manage to get a few taps until I hit a guy who I believe was brown/black belt and is a well built 110-120kg – he destroys me with kimuras (my shoulders still ache) and a few heel hooks for good measure. Despite smashing me, he compliments my style and ability, which was nice and gives me a few pointers on escaping.
I have my final roll of the holiday with Eddie Cummings, he welcomes me over and I thank him in advance for the schooling I am about to receive. I decide like with Garry to up my game, be respectful but try harder. I do, it doesn’t matter. Well maybe that’s a little unfair, I felt I did better – I escaped a few subs and tried really hard to get anywhere close to a sub. To summarise I had my ass kicked ever so slightly less badly. His guard is insane, he can move me around like I weigh nothing even though I must have 10kg on him. He attacks from all angles and his submissions are seriously hard and fast – controlled but scary. At one point I see an opening for a leg lock, I (too slowly) attack for it and Eddie counter leg locks me – probably for the sheer audacity to try and leg lock the leg lock master.
The session ends, I sit down again sweating into my notepad – trying to capture all of the details of the class. I feel broken, my whole body aches, my knees throb, my shoulder are screaming and my elbows don’t work - but I couldn’t be happier. Despite only attending a handful of sessions I feel I am already a better grappler, techniques and concepts aside just sharing the mat with these guys was awe inspiring – immediately little gaps in knowledge and techniques are bridged. I cannot recommend this gym enough, top quality instruction, amazingly welcoming and world class grapplers on the mats daily. A truly eye opening, humbling and inspirational experience.
Thoughts on rolling with Eddie
Eddie is a complete and utter monster. My training partner Kostia described him as a shark and that seems apt. He attacks submissions with lightening speed and a controlled savagery – you have no doubt he could easily destroy your limb and you don’t want to waste any time in tapping slowly. It seems whoever you are he treats you the same – with respect but also as someone in his way that he will go through – and he does. His guard is a puzzle to pass, seemingly impossible and his attacks are varied and destructive.
Eddie Cummings and me, my knees still hurt :)
Thoughts on rolling with Garry
A gentleman grappler, he is the definition of ‘be like water’ – he flows and crashes. He really looks after you, pushes you hard and uses just enough force to win. Incredibly agile, explosive and impossible to hold down, pin or trap - an escapologist with a dynamite offence. His submissions attacks come from every where, where you block one thing you accept another, defend the submission give up the pass, stop the pass end up in a submission. Truly an incredible proponent of the art.
The Worlds best submission grappler Garry Tonon and me after our roll.
If you're here for grappling thats it...if you like comic books and food please carry on...
Apart from geeking out about my grappling and rolling with some of my favourite grapplers ever – I also got to indulge my other biggest hobby – comic books! I visited the amazing Midtown Comics on day one and was wowed by the sheer volume of memorabilia, comics, action figures and merchandise they had in store. As an avid collector I didn’t know where to start, so I settled on a T-shirt and returned the next day for a further exploration. Eventually I picked up some Punisher comics, an abominable snowman game piece and spent a lot of time thumbing through back issues – a completely amazing store.
I further indulged my geekdom on the walk back from the awe-inspiring statue of liberty at the New York Forbidden Planet – WOW. This store had one of the largest collections of amazing sci-fi, comicbook and horror related merchandise I have ever seen. I immediately dived on an almost full size infinity gauntlet replica – which I found out is a money bank. The infinity gauntlet is an awesome comic book event featuring my favourite comic book character – Thanos - its also a device that grants the user power over reality, the soul, space, time, the mind and all power (I could have used this to level things up at Renzos). I then picked up the completely awesome Kratos God of War 3 Neca action figure. I’m not a gamer at all, but God of War and Kratos rock, one of the most badass characters ever conceived, awesome design and execution on the figure. Interchangeable head sculpts, blades of Athena and the Nemean Cestus – I’ve wanted a Kratos to add to my collection for a long time and was completely chuffed to find him. I have also been searching for Bendis’ Daredevil run. I was never a huge fan of the character but the awesome Netflix series has won me over and despite my dislike of Bendis’ work in the Marvel Cosmic sphere his Daredevil comes highly recommended. I had searched multiple shops for this previously to know avail, but low and behold it was there. There is something so satisfying about finding a treasure you are after rather than having it shipped from somewhere online – the hunt is part of the fun.
My Forbidden Planet haul
I also swung by the Disney store – yep I admit it, now owning Marvel comics they have a whole host of interesting stuff to offer. With Captain America Civil War about to be released there was a real buzz in the air and lots of products promoting it. I got myself a Winter Soldier, a character I really like (you should check out the original graphic novels – awesome read). I thought this particular fig was out of production but it looks like with the movie a new batch of them were released. Amazing details, a very cool base and some mean looking weapons.
My final geeky indulgence was getting to watch Captain America Civil War on a huge movie theater screen in Times Square. I can think of no better way to take in this movie, I was blown away by the characters, the fight scenes and an awesome interpretation of the comics story line. I won’t provide any spoilers but the airport scene may arguably be the best superhero action sequence on film. Spiderman was amazing (pun intended) as was T’Challa the Black Panther. One thing different between our audiences in the UK and our US counterparts is their emotional reaction to films. I admit I am an anti-social cinema goer, I would much rather it was just me there and the screen but that being said the atmosphere was electric and everyone seemed genuinely pumped for the movie. People laughed out loud, cheered, whooped at character reveals and cheered at epic moments. I have to say what at first seemed annoying and brash soon become entertaining and addictive, I found myself giving rounds of applause and shouts of encouragement to the heroes on screen, an all round amazing movie and unforgettable atmosphere. They didn’t do sweet popcorn though WTF!
3 - Food Porn
Talking of popcorn, the food in the US is renowned for being over the top, huge and delicious and I can attest it all was. Below is a brief food journal of some of the meals and snacks I sampled from some of New York’s most famous eateries and a few great discoveries of my own.
As this is technically a fitness and nutrition website I will also let you know that I went away weighing 82.5kg and after a week of much much less training than normal, no macro or kcal tracking and eating pretty much everything I fancied I came back weighing a staggering – 82.5kg.
That’s right I gained zero weight. I often find this on holiday and am pleased I’ve managed to carry on the tradition so to speak. I didn’t actively try not to put on weight but also I did follow a few good habits, like walking lots rather than taking cabs or the tube and eating when I was hungry and not just for the sake of it – you can read more about how to stay in shape o holiday in our previous blog -
Nutrition on holiday - How to eat like a fat kid and stay lean.
So some of the meals I ate:
I LOVE pizza an actually ended up eating hear twice, this amazing pizzeria is housed in an old church, complete with original (pizza shaped) stain glass windows. They are regarded as having one of the best pizzas in the city – a reputation I think they earned handily. The Pizza is huge, the crust is particularly amazing – their marinara sauce was excellent – three slices pretty much filled me up, the other 5 were pure indulgence.
Cut my life into pizza, this is my plastic fork...
I went here for a proper NYC style cored beef sandwich. If you’ve had corned beef in America, you know it’s very different from the UK. I wasn’t disappointed with this huge offering.
Famous for its cheesecake as well as its breakfast, I went to juniors between training sessions at Renzo’s and re-filled on pancakes and bacon. Awesome fluffy pancakes, rich maple syrup and perfectly crispy bacon. An incredibly busy restaurant just off of Times Square with delicious food.
Recommended as one of the best spots for breakfast, I went with a corned beef hash, toast and poached eggs – and it was fantastic. A more ‘classy’ setting than a lot of the other diners I visited, situated under Grand Central – it has an awesome atmosphere and very high quality food. I also managed to squeeze in a chocolate chip pancake for good measure.
I spotted Scotty’s one block away from our hotel on the first morning and was won over by its authenticity. A true NYC diner, away from the tourist spots it has a menu with basically every type of food and combination on it! I went with a ham omelette, fried potatoes and toast – a huge serving, super fast service and it was col to sit back and watch the locals hurry in and our ordering various breakfast items on their way to work.
Hard Rock Café
Not an exclusive New York joint, but a cool location on Times Square, we visited here on our first evening after landing, trying to stay awake and super hungry after almost no food in the day. I HATE aeroplane food so didn’t eat it. I went with a ‘burger’ called the Texan. Essentially 10lbs of smoky BBQ puled pork, Jalapeños and fried onions in a bap, with fries and cowboy BBQ beans. It was tough to get through that much food, but I persevered. Hugely recommend the food, excellent service and a truly cool restaurant filled with hundreds of authentic rock memorabilia.
Home of the Cake Boss TV show, I had to drop in here to sample some of the ridiculous baked goods. There was so much on offer but I decided to go with a doughnut as they are a personal favourite :). I went with a 'Jelly' Doughnut - jam for us brits. I can say with out a doubt that it was the heaviest doughnut I have ever felt - if anything it had too much filling. It basically fell in on itself - which explained why I was given a spoon and fork to eat it with. A crazy dessert and a serious sugar rush for sure.
Biggest. Doughnut. Ever.
I believe this is a worldwide chain, although it had the feel of a bohemian cafe - it was full of 'writers' typing on apple laptops and people who looked like they had been kicked through a 70s thrift store, but they did have some pretty amazing waffles to be fair. I went with a chocolate ice-cram and raspberry nomination - delicious.
New York was an amazing trip and an incredible city to visit, I think whatever you're into you could totally enjoy it in NYC. I cannot recommend Renzo Gracie Academy enough, an amazing place - very welcoming to visitors and world class coaching. The shopping whether general or incredibly niche was overwhelming and the food was ridiculous. It certainly is a fast paced and busy metropolis but I felt very welcome every where I visited and would love to go back soon. Thank you so much to my girl Leigh for organising such an incredible 30th birthday present - truly unforgettable.