I’ll be honest.
Most traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gyms in Eastern Europe are poorly structured to allow practitioners to progress in our sport.
Perhaps, this is due to instructors still maintaining an “old school” mentality, but honestly, that mindset is not conducive to contemporary training.
During my “Wandering Warrior Travels,” living in Istanbul, Belgrade, and Kyiv I observed peoples’ lack of positional knowledge, overuse of ancient techniques, and the fact that many of my training partners relied on brute strength over skill.
There is loads of evidence on BJJfanatics, Youtube, and FloGrappling that show you that modern Jiu-Jitsu is better than the old-school “porrada.”
Ultimately, if you love to travel but also want to train, not injure yourself, and still become highly proficient in BJJ, you must be very careful about who you train with.
Not all gyms are created equal.
And suppose you are interested in traveling to Eastern Europe… or are already living here!
In that case, especially if you only train No-Gi, your options are almost zilch because most of the higher-level Eastern European Jiu-Jitsu gyms are Gi-based.
But zilch does not mean non-existent; here are three BJJ or submission grappling gyms (I’m sure there are more gyms) you will love to train at!
But before we continue, you need to know my criteria for assessing a gym.
That said, if you don’t want to spend thirty seconds looking at my criteria, scroll down to #1.
Look, I don’t train in the Gi, so I cannot assess a gym based on its Gi training, but submission grappling is another story (No-Gi).
I use my two years of training in the blue basement (Renzo Gracie NYC) as my baseline.
And how I assess a BJJ school is based on three criteria:
Overall skill level (knowledge of positions, breaking mechanics, transitions, and level of physicality) aka do you use more physical strength over technique? If so, how much? Do you balance it all?
Teaching approaches (perspectives) towards leglocks, unorthodox guards, and other modern grappling techniques.
Gym environment (friendliness, open-mindedness, number of women etc.).
If a gym has large amounts of technical, Jiu-Jitsu players, the coach implements modern BJJ techniques into their teaching structure, and the gym environment does not have a clannish mentality; this is a “higher level” gym.
Because I am serious about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, skill level and gym environment are extremely important now that I’m a “Jiujithsu Nomad” with no coach.
1. 10th Planet Belgrade
10th planet Belgrade, Gavrila Principa 46, Beograd 11000, Serbia is in the heart of Serbia and is home to one of the top four grapplers in the country.
The head coach Dejan Zabunovic is a brown belt under Lauri Karppinen and is known throughout the grappling scene in Serbia for winning every competition.
The school has a very “modern” approach to Jiu-Jitsu, and the teaching style is very similar to 10th planet Freaks in San Diego, California.
The Serbians at 10th Planet Belgrade are extremely friendly and open to foreigners and different Jiu-Jitsu styles: heel hooks, Berimbolos, rubber guard, etc.…
If you are looking for a travel destination in Eastern Europe and a gym that will help you improve your overall No-Gi skill level, this is the place to check out!
FYI… Serbia is one of my favorite places in the world!
Budget: Inexpensive (6500 Dinars or $65/month)
2. Submission Only, Istanbul
Submission Only is located in Istanbul, Turkey.
Address: Pınar, Pınar mahallesi Balaban dere cad, Ilgaz Sokağı No:2, 34460 Sarıyer/İstanbul, Turkey
Technically, Istanbul is not Eastern Europe, but it’s right next door to Bulgaria.
This is a smaller gym packed with some of the best submission grapplers I’ve met in this area of the world and the best No-Gi guys in Turkey (they also train Gi).
The head coaches are three brown belts (OZGUR HANAY, Kaan Sarpel, and Yiğit Hanay) who practically win every tournament in the country.
The three stalwarts embody the ideology that you don’t need a Black Belt to become highly proficient in Martial Arts.
One of the coaches Yiğit Hanay is a brown belt who is a 2x ADCC Turkish champion.
The school is very modern in both mindset and teaching structure, emphasizing lower body submissions, which is reflected in their competition record.
The Submission Only crew welcomes everyone with open arms, and they have an abundance of high-level English speakers, which makes communication much more effortless.
If you are traveling to Turkey, this gym is where you want to train.
Budget: Inexpensive (650 Lira or $75/month)
3. Checkmat Ukraine
So, we all know the Checkmat Jiu-Jitsu style: heavy passes, big emphasis on control, and a lot of pressure.
If you come to Kyiv, Ukraine, Novopechers’kyi Ln, 7, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000— this is a “hybrid” gym that mixes up old-school porrada with new tech.
The head coach Max R. is a Black Belt under Leo Viera and was training and competing with Checkmat HQ for years before moving to Ukraine.
He has an American/Brazilian/Ukrainian mixed perspective on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This means he was taught an “old school” style but recognizes that his students will start losing competitions if he does innovate his teaching approach.
And Checkmat Ukraine dominates many tournaments throughout the country.
Although they aren’t strictly a No-Gi Jiu-jitsu school, you can still learn a lot from them.
They are home to some of the country’s best grapplers and rising stars, such as Mitchenko Yevhenii, a UAEJJF European champion, and Andrew Ischuk, a blue belt whose been beating black belts since he was a teenager.
In general, Kyiv, Ukraine is a beautiful place to visit but if you travel to this country, you will notice a dismal number of English speakers here.
Most individuals speak Russian and Ukrainian, so it’s a bit harder to navigate this country compared to other Eastern European ones.
But if you train at Checkmat, you won’t have to worry about speaking Russian or Ukrainian because many of their grapplers understand English, including their head coach who is has a native speaking level.
Let’s be real, better communication makes your trip and training smoother— and we all know the famous adage, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.
Budget: Inexpensive (1500 Hryvnia or $55/month)
P.S: If you are interested in any travel/BJJ tips, check out my article about how a BJJ network will help you stay safe in foreign countries.
Thanks for identifying these gyms for readers like me who can’t go out of training even when they are traveling. Unlike Eastern Europe, there is a lot of information available about gyms in Western Europe and that’s where such articles prove very helpful.
Your idea of ranking a gym based on multiple factors, including technique-over-strength in teaching methods, caught my eye. Brute strength sometimes rules over technique in a fight but during training, focus on technique should not be compromised. Experienced trainers who understand BJJ and comprehend various techniques in-depth, never make this mistake.
Surely, this article will be a very good guide for BJJ enthusiasts who are residing in or traveling to Eastern Europe.