About four months ago, one of my favorite training partners got his black belt. The week after that, he told all of us he fell in love and decided to move to San Diego. We wished him the best and naturally talked about where he should train when he moved.
San Diego is like a jiu-jitsu paradise, with at least five elite jiu-jitsu gyms in the area. We talked about the Art of Jiu-Jitsu with the Mendes brothers, 10th Planet San Diego with Richie Martinez, Studio 540, even Edwardo Tulles has a gym there. But in the end, my teammate decided on Atos. Of course, I immediately decided to impose myself on him for a place to stay so I could come visit and train with him at his new school.
The first thing you notice when you walk in the door at Atos is this gym is a pure jiu-jitsu school: no MMA cage, no CrossFit area, no yoga classes, just two slightly elevated and matted rooms, a front desk, and two bathrooms. And then you see the trophy case — Atos’ shrine to the “Arte Suave.” The list of champions that train in this building sounds made up: Lucas Barbosa, Keenan Cornelius, Josh Hinger. Jonatas Gracie, and of course, Andre Galvao. These guys are for real.
After signing the waiver and paying mat fees you get an Atos rashguard to wear under your gi (white gi only, non-affiliated). It is all about the team here. Then you see Andre Galvao walk on the mat and it becomes real. This month is even more special because fellow founder and current head coach of the United Arab Emirates national team Ramon Lemos is in town with his squad to train.
The structure of the classes changed each time I trained. I get the impression that the week is looked at on the whole instead of day-to-day, and Andre alters them according to what the team needs each session. On day one, he taught technique for twenty minutes, and it was amazing. The truly great instructors have a way of streamlining through the extraneously confusing babble clouding complicated and advanced techniques so they become user-friendly and manageable even to beginners.
Then we rolled.
Live rolling was as intense as you expect it would be, and everyone is on the mat together, from the world champion black belts to the weekend warrior blue belts. My very first live roll was with this tall, baby-faced purple belt who, very politely, asked if I’d like to roll. It was Darin Conner DeAngelis, 20 years old and the current IBJJF number-one ranked purple belt in the world. After drilling some positional movements to cool down, the class ended.
I trained two more sessions at Atos on Tuesday and capped off the long weekend with a no-gi roll with Josh Hinger — 2016 and 2017 no-gi world champion and the only American to ever win ACBJJ Nogi Grand Prix — followed by a roll with the maestro himself, Andre Galvao.
The trip was amazing. Atos is amazing. My overall impression of the culture of that school can be encapsulated into a single moment forever frozen in my mind: On the second morning of training, Andre had us broken up into groups of three for round-robin rolls, which added up to thirty two-minute rounds. Andre and Ramon Lemos walked around the room coaching and observing. One of the rules of the round robin was the guy taking the round off had to stay standing. As the rounds continued, the guys resting got tired and started to sit, forcing the coaches to call them out.
After training, Ramon addressed the class as a whole. He talked about completion and what it takes to be a winner: “You have to learn to act like a champion,” he said. “When you are tired, remember the man across from you is a man just like you, and he is also looking for a reason to quit because he is tired too. When you sit down and show him you are beaten, that reason gets farther away from him.”
That is the culture of that school in one speech. Every one of those guys trains to win, and you can tell; they’re conditioned through amazing coaching and a deeply driven desire to live up to the expectations behind wearing that Atos rashguard. It should speak right to the heart of any competitor.