This article will only pertain to those that are:
- Braziian Jiu Jitsu Practitioners that are looking to experience world renowned training at Renzo Gracie Academy in Manhattan, NYC.
- Interested in visiting NYC itself and doing tourist activities while there.
- Adventurous and open minded… seriously, if you are not an adventurous soul, read no further.
Choosing Where to Train BJJ in NYC
This summer, as I was trying to figure out how to obtain girlfriend brownie points for my upcoming three year anniversary with my boyfriend, I reached out to some of the Renzo Gracie NYC competitors and staff to get information on private lessons and their mat fees.
My boyfriend and I decided to not only get ample training in at Renzo’s, but to also take a mini vacation to NYC and experience the tourist side as well even though we have both been there in the past.
First off, why was our primary pick Renzo Gracie Academy (RGA) compared to the many other NYC schools? Their mat fee may be higher and there was way less space on the mats during class times but 6th Degree Black Belt Renzo Gracie himself teaches many of their classes and his credentials are more than impressive. He has trained many professional fighters such as Georges St Pierre, Frankie Edgar, Chris Weidman, Matt Serra, Ricardo Almeida and many more in addition to being a top ranked Jiu Jitsu athlete and fighter himself.
John Danaher is also a part of the Renzo Gracie Program and specializes in leg lock and back system attacks. He is currently well known for his coaching of the Danaher Death Squad including Gordon Ryan, Gary Tonon and Frank Rosenthal. Not only do these guys know top Jiu Jitsu, but I have had the pleasure of meeting them many times and they are very personable as well.
Choosing Where to Stay in NYC
After picking our main academy to focus on, we needed to find a place to stay nearby the school.
We decided to go to NYC from a Sunday to Tuesday in September. The average cost of hotels in the Manhattan area at this time was between $300-$600 per night with the prices only escalating as the date approached.
I downloaded the AirBnB app and accepted that we would be compromising 5 star amenities (and 4 and 3) for our budget. The goal was to stay in Hell’s Kitchen, near enough to RGA. Times Square and Central Park were also walking distance and the area seemed safe enough. After a lot of research and reading reviews on the AirBnB app, I chose to stay at a location with a private room in a shared apartment and shared bathroom owned by a Spanish Speaking only host.
Initially, I was scared of giving up personal space and cleanliness but realistically all we did was sleep in our room. The room was actually homey and the air conditioning unit did not disappoint in the 80 degree heat. We did not even shower there as the gyms we trained at all had bigger and better showers. The language barrier was also thought provoking as we would be trying to navigate an unknown city and attempting to get into the building for the first time seemed nerve-racking since the woman would not be present.
My anxiety was met with nothing but problem solving as the AirBnB deemed the person I was staying with as a superhost* (look into this people) and I realized that you can translate all the Spanish to English in the app so that directions would be clear. I also noted that the woman hosting us was very easy to access at anytime. It did take a little getting used to that the hallways smelled of weed periodically, occasional intoxicated people sat on our front stoop accidentally blocking our exit and we had to leave our room and open a locked door via key in the middle of the night to get to the shared bathroom. Clearly this is something we are not used to but we are young and more than willing to try anything once for the experience plus it really does sound less appealing than what was actuality.
Here’s your takeaway – location and convenience to food, gyms and tourist attractions all for the low price of $80/night plus AirBnB fees for a total of $125 a night for two people was unbeatable.
Getting Around NYC on a Budget
Next, how were we going to get around NYC on a budget? First off, should we take the train to the city or drive? All normal answers pointed to DO NOT DRIVE but after doing research on parking garages, ICON parking garages were the move. We both did some finger crossing and breath holding on the ride in because, well, need I say more about NYC driving? It proved successful though as I downloaded the ICON parking app, looked up some coupons for them on the internet and ended up parking my car literally across the street from our AirBnB for a grand total of $90 for over 48 hours of parking with the ability to access our car and take stuff out of it all 24 hours in the day. Unfortunately, we could not move the car from the garage and it would not have made sense anyway as all NYC parking is unrealistically expensive.
This led to my next thought, should we just walk a considerable amount a day? Not a chance as we would have to leave insanely early and some of the walks were ridiculously far. How about uber? Uber prices were ranging from a minimum of $20 for a ten minute shared drive. Here is where your super adventurous soul comes into play – bike!
I downloaded the Groupon app and discovered a plethora of biking options. I decided upon Rental Bike NYC where a regular bike rental for a day is $40. The Groupon app allows you to rent a bike per day for $12 so I purchased two days of bike rentals per person. ($24 per person for two days x2 people = $48 for two bikes with lock and baskets). There would have been a $100 deposit to keep the bikes overnight but a quick wink to the male staff and a friendly tone to the workers allowed me to keep the bikes for free overnight. Apparently, chivalry is not dead!
We biked everywhere aka we took our life into our hands everywhere! There may be bike lanes all over the city but do not let this fool you, biking in the city is SCARY. Once you get over the initial scariness (just kidding – you will never get over it), it is pretty amazing to bike through the city and take in the fresh air and smells, see everything as you go, visit the pop up shops along the way, gaze at the unique street murals and meet the most interesting people EVER. Biking was actually one of my favorite parts of our experience. We averaged about 15-20 miles of biking per day. Just prepare yourself for bikers honking at you, people going the wrong way in lanes, endless construction and an abundance of awkward facial exchanges in passing.
Training at Renzo Gracie Academy NYC
Next up, training. At the academy, we paid $40 to train for the day but come on people, $40 to train with the best BJJ people in the world? This is a steal. We also paid separately for an hour private lesson with RGA black belt (he actually got promoted to black the day after our private) Frank Rosenthal. If you do not know of this guy, you should. He has a great resume which includes wins at RISE, ONNIT and Kasai Pro, he is fantastic at leg locks, his BJJ as a whole is very well rounded and… he is just a regular guy trying to make it in the world just like the rest of us.
We were accepted with open arms at the academy and we learned that the $40 fee covers any classes you can get to in that day which, for us, would have been three. Think about it, that is a lot of BJJ (over 6 hours) for just one day and at a top school.
Training at Bancho MMA
We also went to Brooklyn, NYC for a day to train at Bancho MMA under black belt Matt Kaplan and black belt and EBI Champion Jon Calestine for a morning. I had originally heard that there could be a $20 mat fee but we had been lucky enough to meet Jon and Matt in the past and we did not end up paying a fee that day. We trained two hours at this school and then went out to brunch with all of the guys. Jon Calestine may be very well under-looked in this martial art but I am a small girl as I have mentioned before and this smaller guy provided me with endless opportunities to advance my BJJ. He offered great tips, constructive criticism and he was completely down-to-earth. This was quite a treat.
Food and Entertainment in NYC on a Budget
Next, we picked the tourist attractions we wanted to do and we utilized the Groupon app for every single one of them within reason (here is one example):
- Two tickets to Madame Tussauds Wax Musuem and purchase of 4D Marvel Experience (regularly $40 without 4D, we paid $31.50 per person x2 = $63)
I researched food places prior to going on the vacation because I am an EXTREME foodie of every culture and I wanted to eat everything I possibly could for the cheapest prices.
Here are some examples that include an array of ethnicities: (Additional quick advice: order water with all meals or look for happy hour specials for drinks and foods).
- Gnoccheria by Luzzos in Manhattan (Italian) – Tris signature dish for two which includes three types of Gnocchis for $28 total.
- Gotham Market during Sunday happy hour (Mexican, Italian, Pho, tapas, seafood, southern, smoothies and açaí bowls and dessert are all offered) – I ordered 3 specialty crafted tacos for $9 total. This was more than enough for one person and they were some of the best tacos that I have ever had. I also had a large waffle covered in fruits, chocolate and whipped cream for around $6.
- Bibble and Sip – creative dessert, breakfast and bakery featuring llamas and my neighbor Totoro. I ordered a parfait and seasonal hibiscus drink which totaled under $5 together.
- Food trucks! Do not underestimate these easy stops along any route. Not only are they cheap, they are so tasty. I highly recommend The Halal Guys.
- Many sushi/ Korean/ hotdog/ Thai places for on the go right in Times Square. I was able to get a full meal of bibimbap Korean with leftovers for only $7. My boyfriend stopped for a hotdog snack one evening for just $1.
- 123 Burger Shot Beer – (this was right below our AirBnB) They offered $1 cheeseburger sliders among many other tasty and cheap bar foods.
IN TOTAL for one person for a two night three day trip to the city:
- Two nights for two people at an AirBnB centrally located in Hell’s Kitchen District of NYC $250/2 = $125
- Three Full classes at Renzo Gracie Academy = $40 + a private lesson at the discretion of the instructor’s pricing (well worth it, highly recommend)
- One class at Bancho MMA if I had paid the mat fee = $20
- Wax Museum tourist attraction for one = $31.50 (Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Sex Museum and 9/11 Museum also had deals)
- Keeping my car in the city and splitting cost with my boyfriend = $45 for two days
- Biking throughout the city for two days for one person = $28
- Food for an over-eater for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday = $135
GRAND TOTAL = $525 (cheaper than most of the hotels in Times Square for one night
Experience = Priceless