Gym Review: Gracie Barra (St. Louis Park)

Rolling at Gracie Barra 06/15/11
Meet the crew (at least the one that was there for my visit) at the brand new Gracie Barra BJJ gym in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The owner and head instructor is black belt Rodrigo Sul (front row center).
For those of you that can't quite see his face clearly, here is a better picture:

When I first heard about the Gracie Barra gym opening, I was curious. So, like everyone else in the digital age, I closed the adult themed website that I had been looking at and went to gbtwincities.com.
There I was introduced to just a name: Rodrigo Sul. 
Being a fan of Bullshido, I noticed that he had his black belt, however, it noted neither from whom it was received or where. Of course there is no crime in not listing the lineage, however, in a state with only a dozen black belts, people tend to put that right out front.
So, being the semi-competent investigator that I am, I asked around.
Who is Rodrigo Sul?
I kept asking and I kept hearing the same answer: "really nice guy."
Interesting. 
After a little more investigating I learned he had earned his black belt from Gracie Barra (Brazil) instructor Joelson Souza.
That works for me. Gracie Barra is excellent about listing their black belts and with such a long and storied history, being able to wear and represent a black belt for Gracie Barra is an honor in itself.
Of course, I still had to met the guy.
After contacting him, did he ask my full name?
No.
Rank?
No.
Gym affiliation?
No.
He simply said to come on in and try the place out. No fear of spying or competition, just an open door.
Now, back to the smiley face. I defy anyone that has met or will met Rodrigo to name another person that seems as genuinely open and friendly. I was met with a huge smile and a hug. Okay, so maybe EVERYONE that I talked to was right, he is a really nice guy.
Straight to business. Beginner BJJ from 6pm-7pm.
We went over the traditional Gracie style. The idea of BJJ as a combat art instead of just a sport. How to throw while countering punches. 
Then a few drills, a little rolling and before I knew it, class was over.
Rodrigo has a genuine excitement for teaching that you don't always get the privilege to be a part of.
Between classes Professor Sul explained to me the concept of training at a Gracie Barra school. There is a set schedule and routine to teaching, particularly at the beginner levels. There is a curriculum that a student in Minnesota will do, knowing full well it is the same that will be practiced in Chicago, LA or Brazil.
From there, in the advanced classes, the instructor still has a set routine, but there is more leeway for interpretation and variation, allowing the instructor to adapt his game and the style of his students to the sport.
A quick drink of water and straight into the advanced class. We were joined by a couple of purple belts and a black belt (Adrian Ricci).
This time we worked some cross-sides controls and gi submission set ups (you want more details, go to a class).
Again, the hour flew by and it was already time for what turned out to be over 45 minutes of constant rolling. Not five minutes, then a break for a few minutes while students chat. It was all business. 
In my opinion: THE ONLY WAY TO TRAIN FOR COMPETING!
Five minute sessions with a constantly rotating partner kept me on my toes while trying to conserve my energy. It was a hot night and I was sweating like Nixon, but I held my own. The skill and style of his students is top notch and they were a true blast to roll with.
And a special thanks to Adrian Ricci. Either he was being really nice to me or he is the most patient grappler in the world, because his methodical approach kept me both at ease, but fully aware that a butterfly sweep was eminent. 
Rodrigo himself showed he deserves the black belt. I recall seeing a blurred smile as we bumped knuckles, followed by my internal monologue, "Is he on my back already? Crap, is that today's technique I completely failed to see coming?"
By the end of the night I was soaked in sweat, most of it my own. 
And smiling. Maybe because there is something wrong with me, don't judge me.
I don't know if Professor Sul's smile is contagious or if the atmosphere was just what I needed, but I really had a great time rolling and greatly appreciate how open and friendly the atmosphere is.
Fair warning though, just because they are nice and smiley, doesn't mean they can't roll right through you.
If you are anywhere near St. Louis Park, you have to at least give the gym a shot. There is no pressure, no sideways-looks, just a chance to roll at a top-rate school with a great coach.
Shameless plug: Gracie Barra Twin Cities is offering a summer enrollment special of $99/month. Sign up now and get a FREE GI as well. Click HERE and act now!
Thanks again to Professor Rodrigo Sul and all his students for allowing me in the gym and on his mats. I had a great time and see huge things for the gym and their comp team in the near future.
NEXT STOP: Minnesota Kali Group in Minneapolis