Meet The Man Who Has Trained BJJ At 116 Gyms In 22 Countries

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After finally meeting Rob Barker from Pandas Odyssey in San Diego last month, we caught up for a chat about where he has been and where he will go on his year long journey. Enviable to anyone with a passion for traveling and training, Rob is truly living his and many others dream.

The Jiu-Jitsu Times: Hey Rob, thanks for joining me today, mate, and taking some time out of your awesome but hectic schedule! Where in the world are you at the moment my man?

Rob Barker: Hey Luke thanks for having me! Right now I’m on my last stop in Australia at Sunshine coast.

JJT: Oh nice one, mate! So I was lucky enough to catch up with you and share the mats with yourself in San Diego earlier on in October. You had just ticked over a huge milestone of 100 clubs. Tell us about the journey so far?

Rob: Yeah the Free Rollers trip to San Diego was amazing. I don’t think I would have had near as much fun traveling there on my own.

The big 100th club milestone was a long time coming. It kept getting pushed back from being sick or things not working out to train at some clubs, but the goal was always 100 clubs inside a year of traveling and finally on my way to meet you and guys I hit that goal while ducking in for a morning class during my layover in San Francisco. Got to train with Kurt Osiander and his guys. It was a pretty special morning.

So now it’s been over a year of traveling and training. I hit clubs all over Europe and Asia. As of today my count is 22 countries, 74 cities, 116 clubs. It’s been a wild ride from meeting friends and feeling like we’re now family to being stuck overnight in a hockey rink because the roads got snowed in (gotta love Canada). Lots of ups and downs and loving every minute.

JJT: Whoa!! Yeah that trip was pretty cool! But wow 74 cities that’s a huge number! So for those that don’t know, we met through grindr… um, I mean BJJ Globetrotters. Have you had the chance to train at any real crazy locations that may not have a huge BJJ presence? What about with other globetrotters?

Rob: Yeah I only recently counted the number of cities when I realized I’ve been to a lot of countries. It is funny how you keep track of clubs and travel the world and collect coins and never once think, ‘Hey, I’ve been to a lot of cities.’

Yeah we met on Globetrotters about four year ago when I first started researching and saving and planning the Odyssey. You were one of the first guys to follow me and start talking with me about traveling. I couldn’t have done half this trip with Globetrotters in terms of places to stay and keep costs down. In terms of training I’d say most of the places I go to are from fellow globetrotters, either offering me to come over to telling of great places they’ve been to. For places that are out of the way, Kherson Ukraine was awesome. It’s a bit of a travel, but it’s so worth seeing the real Ukraine. I trained with a group of white belts who just started their own club and they took great care of me and fed me all kinds of good Ukrainian food.

Koh Tao was also a great spot, on this little island in Thailand that’s known for its many diving schools. There’s a 10th Planet school there and that’s where the card game ‘Game of Rolls’ comes from, and it’s amazing

JJT: There is something special about really experiencing new cultures and exposing yourself to parts of the world that most people will only read about. In regards to different training styles, etc., what have you discovered along your odyssey? Who trains the hardest? Who have been the friendliest? Met any real dicks?

As of today my count is 22 countries, 74 cities, 116 clubs. It’s been a wild ride from meeting friends and feeling like we’re now family to being stuck overnight in a hockey rink because the roads got snowed in (gotta love Canada). Lots of ups and downs and loving every minute.

Rob: I think in the end it’s all about awareness. Social awareness while traveling to different countries and seeing different cultures. Seeing how other places get on their daily lives and seeing what really matters in the world (hint, it’s nothing to do with 90% of the bullshit going on in North America). Really I think it comes down to real experiences. You can read and watch a million things on different countries but until you’re actually there, you really don’t know anything.

I’ve been pretty open to training in different styles while traveling, especially since I do some traditional styles back home as well, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting some clinics on catch wrestling, sambo, combat/submission wrestling, and 10th Planet jiu-jitsu, on top of the different lineages of BJJ I’ve been to. I can say that the wrestling-based grappling styles are a harder bunch, mostly because they’ve been taught that being on your back is bad so they try harder to not be there. There’s no bottom players, also because every move is taught to be done using full body to drive and commit to every move.

There’s so many friendly places, most of the places I’ve been to were quite friendly and I would say 90% of the others were more just shy due to language barrier. There has been a few unpleasant places, places that felt more like a business than a club, where people where only there to smash on each other or be ‘better’ and ‘give the new guy a go’ but it’s all a learning experience. People on the street aren’t going to be nice if they want your wallet. i just switch to work on defense and let them use their strength while i just survive.

JJT: Nice man! Well it sounds like you are having an absolute blast! Hopefully we will cross paths again soon. Until then what’s next for the Panda?

Rob: Yeah man, our hangout was far too short. Maybe I can get you up to Canada for some pancakes and real maple syrup, haha!

I leave OZ in a few days then it’s off to NZ for a few weeks, then Singapore, and ending the year off spending the holidays in Cambodia. I have plans to go until at least the end of March which include more Southeast Asia and maybe going back to Europe for some places I missed.

JJT: That it was, mate! Definitely will come to Canada my man! Just in the summer time though, haha! Anyway thanks for catching up, mate, and sharing your story! Any last words?

Rob: Awesome! Oh, people can follow my adventures, read my blog, and watch my videos at Panda’s Odyssey.

All photos used with permission of Rob Barker.
Interview edited slightly for clarity.

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