While the jiu-jitsu scene in Australia is still growing, more and more Aussie grapplers are showing up to big competitions and making jaws drop as they submit big names and, in doing so, make big names out of themselves. And it’s no coincidence that most of them either have trained at or are currently training at Absolute MMA in St. Kilda, Victoria.

A number of Absolute athletes (Craig Jones, Ben Hodgkinson, and coaches Livia and Lachlan Giles) represented their academy last year at ADCC, with Jones and Lachlan both making the podium. The gym also has Pans champion Hope Douglass and Polaris and GrappleFest veteran Jeremy Skinner among their ranks, with a number of other rising stars making names for themselves locally and internationally.

To put it simply, this is not a coincidence. The Melbourne-based academy has built itself on a foundation of top-quality coaching and now sits comfortably on a population of highly trained and disciplined athletes, making it the go-to spot for casual BJJ-loving tourists and elite-level athletes alike.

This past week, my partner and I took a trip to Melbourne intending on adding a little bit of jiu-jitsu at Absolute into a visit that was intended more for sight-seeing and relaxation. But, you know, we’re jiu-jitsu people, so we should’ve expected that we’d end up training as much as possible when given the opportunity. Here’s what to expect from a week-long “traincation” at Absolute MMA St. Kilda:

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The Facility

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The gym was undergoing renovations during our visit, but the space was still, well, spacious. The academy features just about everything you’d need if you want to train multiple times a day: showers, multiple mat space areas, changing rooms, and equipment for strength and conditioning. Cleanliness was clearly prioritized — hand sanitizer was readily available, and a PSA flyer in the bathroom displayed photos of staph infection along with information about how to tell if you might have it and what to do if you get any weird skin issues. Being that Australia is currently in the middle of summer, it was hot (over 100F outside), and while it was clear that only so much could be done to cool down the space and encourage circulation, the coaches certainly did their best with fans and AC units. The location and popularity of the academy does make finding parking difficult, but thankfully, Melbourne has an excellent public transportation system that would make driving there unnecessary for many people.

Image Source: Absolute MMA St. Kilda

The Classes

Time is truly no excuse not to show up if you’re visiting Absolute. The gym offers boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, and wrestling classes, but the timetable proves that jiu-jitsu reigns supreme as a priority. Literally every level of jiu-jitsu is represented, from intro classes to fundamentals to intermediate to advanced to pro training. Livia also teaches a women’s class on Fridays, and there are plenty of kids’ classes separated by age so that young practitioners can learn with teammates who represent who they’d likely face in competition. Gi and no-gi classes are available in such numbers that you could easily pick one or the other and still train at least once a day, often multiple times a day.

The Instruction

While time and energy didn’t permit us to attend every class on the schedule, we were still able to attend classes by both Lachlan Giles and black belt Mikael Yahaya. Both coaches were great at what they do, with Mikael giving beginner-friendly explanations in the fundamentals class and ensuring that every student was practicing the technique correctly before moving on. Lachlan took the intermediate, advanced, and pro classes that we attended, and as expected, his coaching methods were heavily focused on refining details and helping students go from seeing the technique for the first time to being able to implement it in live rolling that same day. Even on an absolutely packed mat, he still made sure to answer every student’s questions in detail.

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The class structure was very similar for fundamentals and intermediate classes: see the move, drill the move, positionally spar with the move, then three live rolls with the teammates of your choosing. For advanced and pro classes, students were instructed to choose what they wanted to practice for drilling. This provided an unexpected moment of panic for me: What was I working on? What should I be drilling? Did I even know jiu-jitsu? What’s an armbar, for goodness’ sake? Thankfully, other students assured me that I wasn’t the first person to get the deer-in-headlights look when asked what I wanted to be drilling, and I joined many other attendees in drilling the techniques we’d learned the previous days.

My partner and I also took a private lesson with Jeremy Skinner to improve our heel hooks. Like his coaches, Jeremy was very detail-oriented and patient, and he didn’t waste a moment of the hour we spent with him. He clearly explained why we should do this instead of that, and my partner and I both came away from the lesson with an arsenal of new details. While I imagine a private lesson with any of the Absolute coaches would be worthwhile, I can confirm that a lesson with Jeremy is well worth the money if you can fit it into your budget.

The Rolls

I’m going to be honest: it hurts to move every single part of my body right now. The Absolute team is no joke, and rolling with them was a very humbling experience. I learned a lot about my own strengths, but any and all holes in my game were very quickly exposed and used against me. As a female grappler, I was on top of the world from being able to roll with many high-level women who welcomed me with open arms and made sure that I was never left without a partner. Everyone pushed themselves hard, and I left each class looking like I’d just emerged from a swimming pool and feeling like someone might need to carry me out.

Image may contain: 15 people, including Averi Clements, Livia Giles, Sarah Tchernych and Young Nghiem, people smiling, people standing and indoor
Image Source: Livia Giles

Also noteworthy is that students start learning leg locks at blue belt, and all the white belts I rolled with were very straightforward about not knowing leg locks yet. This was a huge relief for me because it took away the fear that I might be That Jerk who heel hooked a white belt not knowing that they didn’t even know how to do a straight ankle lock.

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The Takeaway

Even though our trip to Melbourne wasn’t intended to be a jiu-jitsu trip, I have no regrets about it turning into one. Absolute MMA delivers everything you’d expect from a gym that produced Craig Jones and the Giles couple and combines it with a healthily competitive inner-gym culture. Some of the highlights for me included:

  • The realization that I could and should be focusing on what I need to be drilling in order to improve various aspects of my game
  • The opportunity to roll with so many other higher-level women
  • The attention to detail in both the classes and the cleanliness and organization of the gym
  • The availability of classes throughout the day, every day
  • Also, Ffion Davies was in town for a seminar and stopped in to train, and it was 10/10 cool to be casually rolling in the same room as her and Liv and Lachlan at the same time.
Image may contain: Ffion Eira Davies, Averi Clements and Livia Giles, people smiling, people standing

The downsides:

  • Parking and traffic can be tough, so if you do choose to drive, leave well in advance just in case.
  • I learned that I’m more out of shape than I thought, and it made me sad.

If you’re a jiu-jitsu nerd visiting Melbourne, a stop into Absolute MMA St. Kilda is a must-do on your trip. The quality of training we got from just one week was enough to make us eager for our next trip back even as we drove back home, and I can’t recommend it enough for anyone from jiu-jitsu newbies to advanced practitioners alike.

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