Gym Review: Valko BJJ (3/8/11)



Valko Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
820 N. Orleans inside HiFi Fitness
Chicago, IL



Jay Valko – BJJ Black Belt (Eduardo de Lima), Pan American nogi Bronze Medalist, U.S. Nationals Gold Medalist



RJ Cohen – Judo Black Belt, Am Can Gold Medalist, Junior World Team member, Junior US Open champion




Valko BJJ is located within a personal training facility called HiFi Fitness.

Upon entering, adhere to the following directions:

  1. Walk into HiFi Fitness (820 N. Orleans)
  2. Walk up the strairs
  3. Walk around the desk
  4. Walk down the stairs
  5. Walk down a super long hallway
  6. Walk across the fitness floor (I felt like I should’ve been in Narnia by this point)
  7. Attempt to change in the locker room
  8. Realize that this locker room is a public (read: mixed gender) locker room
  9. Sheepishly put shirt back on and walk to the Men’s locker room
  10. Dress in a VERY nice locker room (with all amenities including showers)
  11. Finally arrive at the mats!

Please feel free to omit #s 7-9 and not make a fool out of yourself.

Jay has a great space set up in the main training room.  The mat space was sufficient for the 20+ people who were in class on Tuesday night.  The largest classes are usually the open mat on Saturday and the Monday night class.

Jay has thought about expanding the space and also has plans to add in a cage wall for his mma fighters to practice with.

My experience:

Class began in a very calm manner.  Warmups consisted of shrimping in place, hip and leg movements, and a few other movements that I was familiar with.  The final warmup movement was awkward, but was a HUGE part of the sweep we’d learn later in the class.  Great forward thinking to include it in the warmup.


Technique for the day first how to stand in guard, and a sweep as defense.  Details were excellent and although I had learned the technique before, I didn’t realize a few of the subtleties that Jay showed.  I realized that underhooking the leg was important and moving my hips laterally to sweep was better than pushing into my partner.  But, what I always had trouble with was coming on top.  The warmup that we went over really allowed me to come on top without ANY issue whatsoever.   I never used this sweep because I could bump my opponent over but never came on top in the ensuing scramble.  With this detail, there was no scramble and I always landed on top.

I believe that this detail is typical of training at Valko BJJ.  We continued with an omoplata from the same sweep.  Jay noted that some people are taught to roll to escape (which is what I was originally taught).  Rolling escapes the submission but ends with you on bottom in a REALLY bad spot.  Typically, people brace their arm and base their leg out to prevent the sweep and protect their arm.  This makes it very hard to finish the submission.

Lastly, we went over an omoplata by the bottom person in defense of the stand.  Moving directly into the sweep proved to be the best option.  Right off the sweep Jay taught a 1-step triangle from s-mount on top.  I always learned it in two steps, but the one step (with a single added detail that I didn’t think about) I was able to going straight to it off the sweep.  Again, detail in technique seems to be a keystone of Valko BJJ.


As the class makeup was mixed between white belts and a fair number of colored belts (at least 10-15 with half being purple or brown), this technique seemed very familiar to them.  It’s easy to tell a large number of people have been with Jay for a long time.  This being said, it was one of the most welcoming environments I have ever been in.

After technique we went into sparring.  I really enjoyed that Jay had a focus for the sparring for the day of guard passing.  4-5 people were in the middle and we ran a king-of-the-hill style training where you had an opportunity to train with a large number of people of varying ranges (including Jay).  I was handily swept by one of his purple belts and by Jay when attempting to pass their guard.  They both hit some sweeps that are very different from what I’ve used before.

The sparring was intense and safe and after positional sparring we moved to open sparring rounds.  Jay is very good at keeping time (I’ve trained at academies where one round will be 5 minutes, the next is 12, the next 9.. and it just depends on whenever the instructor feels like rotating) and keeping rounds consistent.  With a large class tonight, we started from the knees, but typically Jay starts on the feet to encourage a complete game.


As a gym that encourages competition, this helps students ready themselves for tournaments (which Jay’s students typically do very well at).


The next class was judo and, I must admit this is completely my fault, I can’t remember any of the throws that Jay went over.  He and his purple / brown belts have a very good judo game thanks to working with their judo instructor, RJ Cohen.

Unfortunately, RJ was unable to make class tonight and Jay taught, but typically this is not the case.  I had a great discussion with Jay about how much he enjoys being a student of judo and wrestling and I really liked seeing an instructor enjoying being a student again.


Training with Miguel and seeing him continue to grow after so many years of training has been very good for my jiu-jitsu.  When your instructor is still learning, so are you.  I feel that Jay’s students are growing exponentially compared to others who train at academies where the instructor is set in his/her ways.


For example, here’s a great video Jay made of the his wrestling class.



After judo technique, we went into standup sparring.  This was fantastic because I’ve not been to a gym where standup grappling was emphasized as much as it is at Valko BJJ.


I just want to take the time to highlight the Allen vs. Allen duel that took place.  The pictures say it all.


Overall, this was an excellent experience and I would wholeheartedly recommend Valko BJJ to anybody in the city, or anybody with the time to travel in.  It’s really not a difficult drive at all.  I drove all the way from Northwest Indiana with no issues whatsoever.  Just don’t trust your GPS and always account for traffic once you get into the city.


Thanks for reading!  A special thanks to Jay for opening up his academy to me!!

And apologies for this review taking almost 3 weeks to be put up.  Thanks to all of you who have continually checked the site with no new content.

One of my largest goals will be to get content up consistently and hopefully we’ll see that happen now that things are slowing down a bit outside of BJJ.

New Breed BJJ visit is happening (tentatively) on April 5th and I’ll be covering US Grappling in Chicago on the 9th!!  Look forward to reviews of both!


This entry was posted in Gym Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Gym Review: Valko BJJ (3/8/11)

  1. Allen (small) says:

    Nice review! Obviously I’m bias but I thought it was very detailed and a very accurate assessment of the school in general, Jay and everyone that trains at Valko. You’re welcome by anytime. By the way, love the pictures!

  2. Pingback: Need a non-political gym in downtown Chicago? - Sherdog Mixed Martial Arts Forums

  3. Ben says:

    I’ve trained at 6 different bjj schools for periods of time greater than a month, including a few in Brazil, and the level of detail in technique that Jay Valko teaches is unparalleled. I dare you to find any other school that has white belts hitting pendulum sweeps in competition on a regular basis. And as for wrestling and judo, most schools just avoid it altogether. Jay had an All-American wrestling coach with years of experience a Judo coach with international credentials. He is building the future, and in the next several years his school will become the dominant force in the Midwest.

    • bjjinchicago says:

      Are you training with Jay right now? I agree that he is building quite an amazing team. I think he’s incredibly thoughtful about his jiu-jitsu as well. I keep a personal training log over at the Sherdog and jay took the time to read it and write a really great response to a few things that I wrote. Not a lot of black belts care enough to take the time to do that. In fact, the only three I know of are Mark Vives, Jay Valko, and my coach, Miguel Torres.

  4. Pingback: Chicago Judo/BJJ Help - Sherdog Mixed Martial Arts Forums

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s