Visiting ROMA BJJ on the Big Island of Hawaii

While coming face to face with molten lava was the primary reason for visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, since I had some free time I made sure to check out one of the local Brazilian jiu-jitsu gyms.

I’m lucky that in this day and age, BJJ is so popular that you can find a gym in every major city and Hilo, Hawaii is no exception.

While Hilo only has a population of 43,000 and has a small town feel, it’s considered one of the bigger cities on the big island.

I typed “BJJ” into the Google search window and two schools came up. I chose ROMA Jiu Jitsu Academy because the scheduling worked out the best and sent them an e-mail to let them know I was visiting and ask what the drop in fee was.

They informed me that the drop in fee was $15 and asked if I had my own gi, the uniform used in BJJ, and I proudly responded, “YES!”  You see, I like to bring my Gi with me whenever I travel just in case an opportunity to get in some training arises… like it did here.

Unfortunately, they told me they had a strict rule that only white gis with no outside school patches were allowed in their gym. On the plus side, the Gi I brought was white however it had a school patch from one of my old gyms.

I asked if they could make an exception since I was a visitor and they responded with a polite “no,” but mentioned that they offered gi rentals for $10. Luckily they had my size in stock so I took them up on the offer.

I was as little taken aback at such a strict policy in a gym whose head instructor is a brown belt.  Even Marcelo Garcia, whom many consider greatest BJJ competitor of all time, didn’t have such stringent requirements when I visited his gym.

I had only come across one other gym that has a rule like this: the Art of Jiu Jitsu. Not only is the Art of Jiu Jitsu the most beautiful gym I’ve ever visited, it’s also run by Rafa and Gui Mendes, both multi-time world champions. They could understandably come up with whatever rules they want and students would still flock to them.

When I delved further into ROMA BJJ’s website I discovered that they are actually an affiliate of Atos which is the affiliation the Mendes brothers are part of, and things made more sense. The white gi with no outside school patches rule is likely a universal rule of the affiliation.

I showed up 15 minutes early to ensure I had enough time to rent their Gi and fill out all the necessary waivers.

ROMA BJJ is located on the second floor of a plaza in the small downtown of Hilo and I could see the sign from where I parked. I circled the first floor trying to find the entrance, but was puzzled to find every door to the second floor locked.

Then I saw a gentleman walking with a Gi and I approached him, introduced myself and asked if I could follow him to the gym. We walked to one of the first doors I tried and it was still locked. He then walked me to an entrance on the other side of the building, another door I had tried, and miraculously this time it was unlocked!

Somehow in the time between my circling the building and my running into the student, someone had unlocked the door.

It turns out I had come a bit early.

The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the gym was. They certainly took many cues from the Art of Jiu Jitsu. Almost everything was painted a pristine white with the exception of the brown the logo on the wall that was carved out of wood. The flooring outside of the mats was the same shade brown.

The gym was immaculate. Skylights filled the room with natural sunlight and the windows opened to the waters of the pacific.  This was my first time training in a gym with an ocean view.

Of course I forgot about all of this stuff the moment I stepped onto the mats for the 90 minute fundamentals class.

The warm up consisted of the standard jogging, hip escapes, forward rolls, and backward rolls. The warm up continued by partnering up and alternating guard pulls and sweeps of our own choosing.

The technique of the day was the baby-bolo, which is something I’ve always had a hard time with because I have short thick legs, short arms, and very tight hips.

The instructor provided some good details to adjust the technique for my body type and overall lack of flexibility, which really helped.

Then came the best part of every BJJ class: SPARRING.

One of my favorite things about training in different gyms is testing my skills against new people. After training regularly at my own gym I know where I am in the hierarchy of skill.  The BJJ belt levels progress in this order: white, blue, purple, brown, and finally black.

Since I am a blue-belt, I always have a nagging fear that I’m not a ‘legitimate’ blue belt. In my mind, a ‘legitimate’ blue belt, should be able to submit or at least control most white belts, spar to a draw most blue belts, and give a few purple belts a competitive roll.

My fear is that I will show up to a gym and get spanked by ALL the white belts and doubly spanked by the blue belts and up!  This fear isn’t entirely unfounded because this has literally happened to me before!  Fortunately, it’s been quite a while, but I still carry the scars with me.

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On this day, I held my own.  Once the class ended, I walked away from the training session feeling confident in my abilities. I still have a lot to work on, but I’m also not as bad as I think.

I’m glad I visited Roma BJJ and definitely recommend you do the same if you ever find yourself in Hilo, Hawaii. Every one I met including the instructor Kawika was friendly, approachable, and had a great attitude.

My only two pieces of advice are:

  1. Don’t show up too early
  2. Make sure your gi is white and doesn’t have a school logo… or better yet, just leave your gi at home and pay the $10 rental fee.

Check them out here: ROMA Jiu Jitsu Academy

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