Writer Elias Cepeda is in California this week, visiting and training with some of the best fighters and teams in the world. We'll have longer features to come from this trip, but Elias is also keeping FOX Sports readers plugged-in to his travels as they happen with a daily travel journal this week. The second entries are below. Stay tuned each day for updates!
If you missed it, Part 1 of the travel journal is here.
Night -- April 25, 2016
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The night after the Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) I'm back in Downtown LA to visit and train in the nerve center of Bravo's movement -- 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu headquarters. The gym is packed and buzzing with energy carried over from the EBI tournament on Sunday.
There are 10th Planet instructors from out of town visiting. My friend, black belt and seismology professor Amir Alam is back on the mats one day after competing at EBI.
At the moment, Eddie Bravo himself is not here. He's coaching a fighter of his who is fighting in an MMA bout not far away.
So, his students begin class demonstrating and practicing drills that I'm told are universally practiced in the 10th Planet orbit. The drills are sequences of techniques transitioning into one another.
They're good drills, from both the top and bottom, allowing each partner to work and react to logical counters and offensive movements and flow into other positions. Amir partners with me and works through the drills slowly so I can pick them up.
The rest of the room, almost all of them wearing the eccentric or whimsical rash guards characteristic of 10th Planet, move through them with well-practiced speed. Next, there's some solid butterfly guard-passing techniques demonstrated that I'm familiar with training at my team's TDC MMA gym back home in Chicago.
Much else of what I'll be exposed to tonight in terms of technique is far from familiar. We'll get back to that in a moment.
As the technique portion of the class ends, a loud cheer takes hold of the room. Eddie Bravo has walked into his gym.
He's got good news. His student, their teammate, won her fight.
Moreover, she did it from a signature 10th Planet position. "She got her in The Twister and then just punched her until the referee stopped it," Bravo proudly told the room.
Everything pauses for a bit as Bravo goes over the fight and shows it on his phone to students. There's an informality in the relationship between he and his students, but also a clear respect for him.
In the 10th Planet galaxy, Bravo is a buddy, as well as technical and quasi-spiritual leader. "All right, guys, you ready to roll and entertain me?" he asks, signaling that it is time to start jiu-jitsu sparring.
Like with the EBI competition, there won't be any strikes thrown, and no real takedowns as we start from the ground. But here is where we get to the unfamiliar.
I've trained, competed, fought, and coached others for nearly 17 years but the people I roll with, here, bring an approach that swerves me a bit. They dive and twist for leg-locks.
Some are alarmingly comfortable hanging out in neutral positions from underneath you. All of them attack confidently from positions that are traditionally considered defensive or transitory ones.
I find all of this to make 10th Planet system practitioners very dangerous to roll with. Well, not truly dangerous, because everyone rolls safely and doesn't crank on the holds they grab, whether arm bars or heel-hooks, so there's plenty of time to safely tap out, but it's certainly threatening and eye-opening.
Over late-night Thai dinner with Amir and his teammate Scott, I tell them how impressed I was by 10th Planet stylists being threats from unique positions. "Make sure you tell the haters," he says with a laugh.
Because of Bravo's unique approach and self-promotion, to say nothing of his shocking submission grappling victory in 2003 over BJJ and MMA legend Royler Gracie, Bravo has attracted more than his share of detractors in the jiu-jitsu community. More importantly, however, he's also attracted lots of people to martial arts and his system.
High-level UFC fighters from many different lineages have flocked to him for coaching and used his techniques effectively in the cage. Many more regular folks have begun training at 10th Planet schools, transforming into novices to slick rash guard-wearing alien ninjas with nutty flexibility and extensive submission knowledge.
You don't have to train 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu system stuff, but if you ever run into one of their guys or girls and they catch you sleeping in a position you thought you were safe in, don't say I didn't warn you.
Day 3 -- April 26, 2016
This morning consisted of writing, checking out of my Gardena hotel, and then loading up the rental car and heading through Beverly Hills, to West Hollywood to meet Cain Velasquez and Travis Browne. The two heavyweights will meet in July at UFC 200, and the UFC's PR team has put together a luncheon for local media members to ask them questions.
I'm not local, but passing through is good enough for today. Travis goes first, and the discussion soon turns to the domestic abuse allegations he faced in the last year.
The father gets emotional talking about the pain of being accused of something he says he didn't, and would never do."Hapa" doesn't get emotional talking about his opponent Cain, however.
There, it is all stoic respect and matter-of-fact discussion of their respective abilities. Velasquez walks into the room with his wife, to the right of Browne as he is still talking.
After a while, Browne moves down to an end of the table and Velasquez takes his place in front of media members. He admits that press stuff like this is the least favorite part of his job, but still deals with all of us cheerily and gives thoughtful answers.
He'll soon be back in San Jose doing one of his favorite things -- training at the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) with teammates like Luke Rockhold and Daniel Cormier. Velasquez says he can't wait to fight again, after another long lay-off due to injuries, and discusses changes he's making in his training to try and stay healthy.
"Making it to the fight is now the most important thing," he reasons.
I leave lunch early as dessert is being served. I'm not done with California, but I've got a plane to catch up North to beat Velasquez to San Jose.