Saturday, August 17, 2013

Infecting Europe with all the good things

Barcelona, like any big city in the world, has a fair share of places catering to any possible hobby you could have. Dance schools, gyms, tango, painting, wine pairing, opera signing, ballet, even hockey (yes, in Spain), what have you - there is tons to occupy your free time if you have it, and so many options to spend it, if you only look for the thing that interests you.

Of course, martial arts are no exception, being the highly regarded and followed sport around the world. There is a lot of variety in the world of martial arts themselves, even more than you could imagine: lots of people have heard of boxing, karate, and possibly kung fu, but there is also kick boxing and Thai boxing (Muay Thai), jiu jitsu and Brazilian jiu jitsu, capoeira, jeet kune do, wresting, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and many many more. And basically, if you want to try any of it, you are in luck, because in my experience every big city has at least several studios, gyms or dojo that offer martial arts training in one or a few disciplines. Yes, even for adult beginners.

Barcelona being no exception, it didn't take a lot of time to find a martial arts school just for me. I was looking for a place to continue training in Muay Thai that I started in Canada, preferably close to where I was going to be living in Barcelona - no small feat because, alas, you can't count on the gym being close to you, only on the fact that it exists somewhere. As luck would have it, I found an academy 10 minutes away from my apartment. Barcelona Martial Arts Academy had a website (!), it was close by, it looked good, and I laughed my ass off at their awesome headline, "Infectando Europa con Fuerza Técnica" (I still laugh at it, but now I love it, because I know it's true).

So in April I went there, intimidated like hell, because all I did in Toronto was fitness-oriented kickboxing. I was in good shape, could take multiple reps of abs crunches, seat-ups and body kicks, do cardio and more cardio, but technique-wise I was an absolute beginner, and I knew that. My first class was a complete failure, or so it felt like, - but it was no question if I was going to be back for more. I mean, eventually I would learn the difference between a jab and a cross and won't have to ask Natalia to show me how to do a hook, right?


BCNMA is addictive. In spring, I was coming three times a week for an hour, mostly because I had to commute from a temporary apartment I knew I was moving out of. In summer, when I came back from Canada straight into my permanent accommodations that were close to BCNMA, I started going four times a week without fail, week in week out, Monday to Thursday. At  some point I realized that it was not enough and picked up a personal trainer for Kali (a Filipino martial art that we do as part of the self-defense class) in the meantime: basically, a super-awesome friend who goes to BCNMA as well agreed to hang out and beat me up in the park or on the beach with bamboo sticks so that I could learn the basics faster.

And then, not very long ago, I was at last allowed to move up from the foundations level to what I call "everyone else level" (and what Michael calls "Combat Athlete Program " level, but I like my version better). All it means is that I no longer wear a grey T-shirt, but a blue one, and I am allowed to attend classes where beginners shouldn't go, for the sake of their egos among other things, because the stuff taught there is much harder. I am so damn proud of my blue shirt I now take my ass to the academy five times a week, doing two classes at a time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That's the plan anyways; in reality, sometimes it turns to three classes per night, because hey, why not learn some Brazilian jiu jitsu as well?

We now have a gorgeous new space with two training areas, so now two classes can run simultaneously. We have awesome people coming in to train, mostly guys (not surprisingly), but quite a few girls too. All classes - be it Muay Thai, self-defense or BJJ - are really, really fun and educational. They are fun all thanks to the instructors, obviously, and BCNMA is a very special place, because it is run by people who make it so every single day. Michael and Natalia are the only ones teaching, and they are the owners, so there is no slacking, neither in teaching nor in being taught. I used to be intimidated by both of them, albeit for different reasons, but that feeling sort of went away, now replaced by endless respect and admiration.

If I don't literally have heart eyes (like so ), while at the academy, it does not mean I don't feel this way every single time when I'm there. Sure, there are bruises, and sweat, and hair getting in the way, and shins kicked, and insteps injured (ouch), but this is my favourite place to be in all of Barcelona. Well, maybe apart from my bed. Zzzzz.

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