Romulo Barral – Spider Guard & Knee Slide DVD
I first saw Romulo Barral in 2007 at Worlds in Long Beach, CA. Outside of Brazil he wasn’t well known at the time but watching him sweep, triangle, and choke his way through everyone made it clear he was a huge force in the BJJ world. My friend Benny Dariush, a BJJ powerhouse in his own right and who you should watch in the upcoming April 16th UFC, introduced me to Romulo over 5 years ago. I owe my knee slice passing and spider guard to him. He also happens to be an awesome human being. I actually can’t believe he even lets me train with him when I think of the fact that I forgot my belt the first time I went to his gym. Yes, I was that guy. Needless to say, Gracie Barra Northridge was my first stop when visiting California.
I actually attended the grand opening for this gym several years ago and it still looks great. It has an awesome vibe. You’ll see multiple time world champions as you walk in the door and they will immediately greet you and joke with you. Bleachers were a recent addition for spectators and there is ample mat space. One of my favorite things about the gym is the awesome wallpaper of some of the best Romulo Pics taken. Locker rooms have plenty of space and there’s a large shower as well as male and female restrooms.
For the competition class Romulo goes into coach mode and leads the group in confident and inspiring fashion. In regular classes he typically shows moves in sequence. His attention to detail is excellent and he is able to give great pointers without over complicating the move and confusing newer students. You can tell how much he loves Jiu Jitsu and his energy is contagious. I’ve also attended classes with several other instructors, including Edwin Najmi’s class, and every one of them shows moves in logical fashion with great attention to detail.
Standard classes follow the normal GB warmup of running, squats, pushups, and ab work, with technique and a few rounds of sparring. The competition training was much more intense. It started by warming up with take down entries for 5 min. Followed by 5 min of more intense takedown entries. Then there was another 5 minutes of full takedowns. Then 5 minutes of guard pulling. Then 5 min of guard pulling and your partner trying to set up a pass. At 30 minutes in you’ve already done more work than most full length regular classes. Then we did 6x 8min rounds of sparring.
My first round was with Romulo. I hadn’t rolled with him in at least 2 years; and although I know I’ve gotten much better, I was seriously questioning my progress as we rolled. He pulled to his patented collar and sleeve with the foot in the bicep guard which quickly turned into a blender as he transitioned into single leg X positions, seated guard, and X guard. Not only has he gotten better with a sneakier guard, he now goes straight into his passing when he gets to the top so you never get a chance to catch your breath. Once on top the roll played out as usual with him knee slicing, doing a highly stylized double knee on stomach(pretty sure he saves that for the ultraheavy weights of the world), and finishing me off with a cross choke. And that was just the first 3 minutes! To this day his guard is the least comfortable experience of anyone I’ve rolled with. Despite that, I can’t stop smiling for 99% of the roll. 1% of the time the involuntary grimace from being crushed briefly overrides the smile but being able to train with your BJJ idols is one of the coolest things about this sport!
What to Expect
The school has grown a ton and you can expect the mats to be full. Everyone is engaged and having a good time. You’ll train hard, get solid instruction, probably get tapped out, and you’ll definitely enjoy yourself. It has the standard professional environment you’ll find at a Gracie Barra academy with a wonderful personal touch that makes it feel like family. I also think it’s one of the most underrated gyms in terms of aesthetics. Because of the great facilities and instruction, it’s not uncommon to see big names dropping in to train. In the last couple weeks Kenny Florian, AJ Agazarm, and Octavio Sousa joined the standard Edwin, Gabriel, and Bruno ensemble. It says a lot about the gym and Romulo that so many great practitioners seek him out for training.
Rominho is one of the most humble world champions you’ll find in the sport. Whether you visit the gym, attend a seminar, or are able to take a private lesson with him, you’ll have a great experience, be welcomed, and learn a lot. If you live in the area, don’t waste your time training anywhere else. It’s absolutely one of my top picks for training and I can’t think of a better gym to kick off my series of posts on gym experiences than this one.