Review: Island Top Team Visiting Student Program

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Recently, I’ve been working on a review of the Modern Leglock Formula with Stephan Kesting and Rob Biernacki. Rob and Stephan have done two instructionals together to date: The BJJ Formula and The Modern Leglock Formula. There are rumors that there may be another one on the way, as well.

When I do a review, I do a lot of research into the background of the person or company I am reviewing to provide points of interest to readers. In researching Rob, I watched the interview below where he talks about the visiting student program at his club Island Top Team in Nanaimo, British Columbia. I had been trying to decide what to do for a vacation and since my friend and former training partner, Sarah, now trains with Rob, I decided to take advantage.

I contacted Rob to discuss a visit and I’ve just returned from a six night stay.  This is my experience. 

Areas discussed:

  • Accommodations
  • Cost
  • Touring Nanaimo
  • Recommended Gear
  • Training
  • Rolling
  • Atmosphere
  • Rob Biernacki
  • Private Lessons
  • Nanaimo Airport


Rob’s townhouse has three levels:

  1. Entry level with the main guest bedroom and a laundry room / bathroom
  2. Main level with the living room and kitchen
  3. Top level with Rob’s room, a bathroom and a guest bedroom

Visitors usually stay in the guest bedroom at the bottom level. That’s where I stayed for the week. In the room, there is a closet, a drying rack for gear that has to be hang-dried, a mattress and a futon. When there are more than two visitors, two people are assigned to this room, depending on their gender. For example, a female wouldn’t be expected to share the room with a male. Additionally, guests who Rob is familiar with are assigned to the upstairs room if the downstairs room is occupied.

What I liked about staying downstairs is that it was very quiet and there are no windows so it was pitch black no matter what time it was. After a thirteen hour trip, the quiet darkness was comforting and I slept very well. I also liked having the bathroom right beside me so I could use the washroom and get ready without bothering anyone.

Remember that laundry is done after class so if you are a light sleeper, you may want to bring ear plugs if the sound of the washer and dryer will keep you awake. I had no problems, I wear earplugs every night regardless.

The downstairs bathroom does not have a shower. Visitors are more likely to use one of the three showers at the gym after class than the shower at Rob’s house. There is a hairdryer at the gym but not at the house.

Visitors are expected to be self-sufficient regarding cooking and cleaning up afterwards. They can store their food in the fridge and kitchen area. While I visited, a returning visitor was also at Rob’s and we all coordinated well together, cooking and cleaning for ourselves individually.


Lodging and training at Island Top Team is absolutely free. I wanted to bring a gift for Rob but turns out he’s very difficult to buy for. He is a bit of a minimalist and does not like “stuff” so don’t waste your time and money buying him some trinket from your local souvenir shop like I did. He won’t want it.

I observed Rob over the past week to get an idea of what he might like as a gift, for the sake of this article because I know the reciprocity principle runs deep and most people would like to repay his generosity.

  • Gas card. Gas in Nanaimo is EXPENSIVE. I assume that any resident would accept this.
  • I feel he may accept BJJ gear just because he trains so much. He is 6’2, 180lbs. Size M or L rashguard, depending on the brand. Size M Gildan tshirts. It appears he likes navy and black. (Everyone does their laundry together after class and I am sneaky so I checked the tags when I folded a load of laundry) Shorts and spats, the tags were gone but they looked like size 32 shorts to me.
  • Sushi. (Sarah said that her family enjoyed sushi from Nori)
  • Prawn Chop Suey from Hong Kong House
  • Smoked oysters
  • Black tea
  • Honey
  • Defense bodywash
  • San Pelligrino
  • Multigrain Cheerios
  • Tide Pods

What kind of person is so difficult to buy for that one has to stoop to buying Tide Pods? However, free Tide Pods means he can spend his own money on what he really wants. I’m sure purchasing everyday items like toilet paper, dish soap and other cleaning supplies when you get your groceries would be useful, also.


Training is gi and no gi so I brought:

  • Two long sleeved rashguards
  • Two short sleeved rashguards
  • Two pairs of shorts for under my gis
  • Two gis
  • Two pairs of spats
  • Shampoo, conditioner, body wash for showering after class

Laundry is done every day after evening class. I used all of my gear a couple of times.


Rob teaches his students in modules and has two different class types: BJJ 101 where students learn fundamentals and BJJ 201 for more advanced techniques. When I arrived, BJJ 101 covered Guard Retention and BJJ 201 covered Ashi Garami. Every day we would expand upon what we had learned the day before.

Students are expected to come in early and warm up on their own and class consisted of drilling technique for about forty minutes, situational sparring, then rolling. If you are travelling with Rob, you will arrive to class early so you will have lots of time to warm up.

Instruction at Island Top Team is carefully planned and structured to ensure that students have a complete game. I don’t feel a week is long enough to benefit fully so if you are a visitor, I would recommend enrolling in the online academy and working through the modules, as you can, at your club.

Just because you are learning different techniques during your drilling time at your club doesn’t mean you can’t try to incorporate your own interests into your rolls afterwards. Your jiu jitsu is your responsibility, I don’t feel it’s wise to depend on or to blame anyone else for your game.


I’m always very nervous when I visit a new club because I had a back injury since 2015 that I’ve only recently recovered from. I used to be nervous because I thought I would aggravate the injury but now I’m even more scared that I will hurt it again because I’m finally back to living a normal life. I’m so sick of asking people to be careful with me that I only mentioned to Rob and Sarah that I was a little worried and would be rolling carefully.  

Island Top Team has a variety of different sized people and I rolled from top to bottom with the smaller women to the largest men. All of them had a very technical, smooth flow that has been cultivated to train safely and to encourage experimentation in their games. Rob stresses safety first at his academy and I really appreciated that. Though I didn’t tell anyone I was nervous, they all rolled with me in a way that eased my tension.


I was only at Island Top Team for a week but I immediately felt welcome and made fast friends. Rob and his team have welcomed my friend Sarah with open arms and their bonds continue to strengthen over time. There is a sense of family at the club and an informality that encourages goofiness and a lot of laughs.


Rob is a very hard worker with a lot of projects on the go. He takes care of all of the membership, administration and management of his club, he teaches multiple classes per day and he also goes in and works on new techniques and materials with his teammate Rory regularly. Rob and Rory work together on, an online academy that offers concept-based jiu jitsu modules, pedagogy and match analysis to practitioners worldwide.


On the last day of my visit, the other visitor, Jon, and I went in and drilled while Rob and Rory worked. We used the Modern Leglock Formula app on my phone to drill the Stomp 411. It was surreal to be watching Rob and Rory on the app, which I’ve been doing for about a year at home, while they were drilling in the background.

Between classes, if you are in the common area, you will sometimes find Rob there working away on his laptop. In addition to planning his online academy material, he is constantly responding to questions from people who contact him regarding his instructionals or visiting student program, in addition to locals who are interested in trying BJJ.

rob1I found Rob to be very kind and friendly and any apprehension I had about staying at a man’s house by myself quickly disappeared. He was a perfect gentleman and very easy to get along with. He’s also conscientious about getting household chores done so it was easy to work with him with after-class laundry, dishes, and the like.

During my visit, Rob asked me if I had any questions about jiu jitsu. I asked about holes in my game and he gave me a quick idea of what I could do right away to get better. He watches all of his students rolling during class and offers coaching so I was thankful for the feedback.



Both Rob and Rory offer private lessons. Visitors who want privates aren’t required to schedule the lessons before arrival, however it would probably be a smart idea because they both appear to be very busy. For pricing, contact Rob at


Rob offers transportation to and from the gym and airport to his townhouse based on his teaching schedule. If a visitor wishes to go sightseeing in Nanaimo, they will have to provide their own transportation.

My trip was dual purpose: I wanted to visit my friend Sarah and I wanted to train with Rob. I was very fortunate that Sarah could get some time off work to take me around Nanaimo because it’s a very beautiful area.

Check out Tourism Nanaimo to plan your sightseeing. It is worthwhile to go out exploring when you aren’t training. Cars can be rented at the airport.


The Nanaimo Airport is very small and it was under construction when I arrived. Rob had to drop me off very early for my flight because he had to teach a class so I settled into the lounge area to wait for a while. In the lounge there are vending machines and padded chairs. Outlets are located along the back wall to recharge electronic devices. The point of this section is to warn you that as of June 22, 2018, I do not recommend moving from the initial lounge area to the new gate area, though the lady will come in every ten to fifteen minutes to recommend that you do.

The gate area has metal chairs with cloth cushioning, freezing cold air conditioning and for some reason, when people speak in there, you can’t block them out. The lounge area is better, stay there if you can because it’s a long walk back. If the woman comes and recommends that you go to the gate, ask about the chairs before you go there.

This is the plane they use for Nanaimo to Vancouver
This is the cold pit of hell.

My trip to Nanaimo went by much too fast and although I am glad to be home, I already miss my new friends. I hope to be back again soon to train with them all and explore more of the area.

If you are interested in taking advantage of the visiting student program, contact Rob at You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.


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