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Drop IN: Saigon, Pt.1

The rain gets heavier and the wind starts to blow harder. A mom with a family of three on a motorbike creates an A-frame wave in the middle of the street. I’m lost in the movement of the current as it peels left and right. A banh mi wrapper rides the breeze.

I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

Leaning against a post, a Vietnamese man in a blue tee puffs away on his pipe. I start to recall my trip as we both get lost in traffic.

“Walk that way. You’ll see your hotel,” says the robot voice from my driver’s translation app.

“But I don’t have a hotel.”

“Yes. Bye-bye!” he replies with a smile.

“Do you have any rooms?” I ask the person at the front desk.

“We do. 250,000 Dong.” (approximately $14 USD).

“Can I see the room first?”

It’s actually not that bad for backpacking standards. Probably been a year or so since the last time it was cleaned and some window panels are missing, but I have a balcony!

I’ll take it.

After exploring my new surroundings and realizing I’m the only Westerner in my neighborhood, I grab a banh mi and head in early to get some rest for tomorrow’s class.

“Training tonight?” asks a bearded man wearing a Buffalo NY hat.

“I am. Hello, I’m Rome.”

He introduces himself as Joe and tells me that he’s the wrestling coach. Joe leads the way up some stairs just above a coffee shop. I walk through two opened glass doors and see a man on the mat playing with two dogs. The man walks up with a smile, a dog under his left arm, and another dog at his side.

“Hi, I’m Eric.”

Eric’s a laid-back purple belt from Colorado who has made a life in Saigon. We both trade stories centered around grappling as more and more members show up. He grabs everyone’s attention to start warming up with movement drills.

After a quick sip of water, a circle forms, and Eric teaches the technique for today’s class: a smooth and controlled armbar to triangle to omoplata flow.

Eric claps his hands, and everyone gravitates to their favorite partner to start the drill. I circle the room working angles behind my camera while Eric bounces from helping his students to repping out some of his own.

Another quick water break, everyone grabs their mouth piece, and Top Down Bottom starts. Three sets of two grapplers are down in the closed guard position. Once an advancement is made, a new person comes in to continue the chain.

I’m able to jump in and catch a few rounds before the timer goes off. Then, with everyone warmed up and pouring sweat from the humidity, full sparring begins.

Eric welcomes me to the Saigon grappling scene with my first roll. It’s a fun flow roll, where the speed goes up, but calmly, and then back down to a flow. We’re both putting each other in some tricky spots: hunting for back takes and Kimora grips just before the timer beeps.

Joe would be my next roll. With his wrestling background and a blue belt, I know it’s going to be fun. Joe has a solid base, and his pressure game is on point for passing. I spend most of the round inverted, looking for foot and hand holes to keep him just far enough away from passing. Nicky Rodriguez would give him the nod.

With some more back and forth action, the timer sounds once more, and I return to my camera to document the remaining rolls.

While filming, I notice most of the students all have solid fundamentals- technical escapes, fighting for grips, looking to finish. Definitely a positive experience sharing the mat with these guys.

We take a picture, shake hands and bro hug it out before parting ways. Eric tells me about a ONE Championship card scheduled for the next day and asks if I want to go, so all in all, good first day.

I hail a Grab and head back to my hotel.