Between Christian Graugart, The Miyao brothers, and the steadily growing fame of the Pedigo Submission Fighting athletes living in “Daisy Fresh” an old laundromat that was converted into a jiu jitsu gym, the idea of sleeping on the mats is not as unheard of as it used to be. Stories of practitioners chasing the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu dream of training full time are nothing short of inspiring, but for most of us, seem unattainable.
I sat down with a Southern Californian jiu jitsu practitioner, Tommy* (not his real name), who lived in the gym and trained full time for four years (before the pandemic caused gyms to close down across the globe), and asked him how he managed to live in a gym and train full time. His answer: “Just do it.”
Tommy moved into his gym in 2016 as a white belt and left as a purple belt. Renting in Southern California proved to be too expensive for him and there was a visiting Brazilian competitor who had already started living at his gym. So he thought “Why not?”
But What is Sleeping on the Mats Actually Like?
Living in a gym isn’t exactly legal and at the end of the day it is a place of business not residence. So mat dwellers have to adjust their personal schedules according to the business hours. For example, if there’s an early morning class, then no matter what, they need to get up and prepare the gym for class. According to Tommy this involved waking up at six thirty in the morning, so they had enough time to pack up their sleeping bags and inflatable beds, clean the mats and make sure the gym was presentable enough for the morning class.
When asked if it was comfortable, Tommy responded:
“Oh yeah. You definitely get used to it. It becomes… It’s basically home. When you do it, or when you do anything often enough, it just becomes normal. So that was just normal. That was just what we did. It felt special too. You get used to the routine you know. Especially training at night and then after everyone clears out. Those staying take turns showering. Then everyone takes turns with the one air compressor we had like inflate each inflatable bed. Just a constant *mimics air compressor noise* of all the air beds inflating. When it’s not too many people it’s okay. But if it turns out to be a lot of people staying for a tournament or something, that’s when it starts to get a little uncomfortable.”
Does Privacy Exist When Living in a Gym?
Lack of privacy is another issue when sleeping on the mat. According to Tommy, the only privacy was in the shower but “even then it was a little iffy cos you could always get teammates who need to come in to grab something they left in the shower room. There’s no real separate space. The only private space would be the small changing room, which you could lock yourself in.”
When asked what the biggest number of athletes staying in the gym at one time was Tommy said:
“Oh man that’s a tough one. I think close to maybe 20. It would get crowded when major tournaments were coming up like Pans and Worlds. I can’t remember an exact number cause those were the days where I tried to avoid the gym. It got too much. I would just go back to sleeping in my car at that time. I was lucky enough to have a separate space which was my car.”
Is it worth it?
Despite all the sacrifice, when asked if he would go back to sleeping on the mats again, without missing a beat Tommy says “Oh yeah absolutely. Staying at a place that make me happy is an easy decision.” He credits his growth to being around “some of the greatest talents” in jiu jitsu twenty hours a day, every day. Improving in that environment is a given, no matter what level you are at.
“I think in the summer of 2017, I think like four of five of us. Its was a constant group. Some people stay a little longer than others, some are temporary. There was a core group of about 4-5 guys and every day we’d be just waking up, training at midday, then going to the beach, surfing, bike riding, getting acai, doing whatever, and then coming back at night time to train and that was just such a fun time.”
Living alongside professional practitioners is inspiring according to Tommy and made him aspire to be like them. “You see these kinds of people are so dedicated. You wish you could be like them and you just jump in there, you try your best to measure up to their standards. Even if you fall short, it makes you so much better.
When talking about the pro training sessions he got to take part in Tommy shared that “it was just a very special treat. It’s not like a regular class that you get anywhere else. It’s just a special feeling, something that I guess the feeling is something they call an esprit de corps. You feel like you’re a little bit more special than normal.”
A Surprising Plus Side: Living Alongside World Champions Will Probably Keep You Safe From Burglars
When asked if he felt safe while sleeping on the mats, Tommy advised “Where I stayed it was relatively safe. So not really. Also this sort of thing isn’t exactly, shall we say, legal. So you’ve got to be conscious of what you’re projecting out into the world while you’re staying there. Just keep it respectful and keep the privacy of what you’re doing. Because while you’re doing something for yourself, you need to have respect for and protect the gym that you may be doing this sort of thing at. That requires conscious effort.”
Upon further thought he added “actually someone may have actually tried to break in through the ceiling once. I was not there at the time. But when you’ve got a number of black belt world champions waiting for you down below, it’s like trying to jump into a shark tank. I think they thought twice about that and they split.”
Advice For Anyone Else Wanting to Live the Jiu Jitsu Dream:
I asked Tommy what advice he would give to anyone else wanting to move into their gym and train full time: “Just do it.” This is pretty sound advice considering that the majority of the best grapplers on the planet have been sleeping on the mats at one point or another.
The only thing he advises to prepare for is the time of the year and temperature. You may need to invest in a fan or extra blankets. Apart from that there’s apparently nothing to it.