Over the past 12 weeks, I have backpacked through Asia and dropped in to train at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academies at every stop. During my travels through Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan, I was able to train at 10 different academies and found common trends between these academies and the gyms I have trained at back in the United States including the passion of the coaches and students, welcoming training environment, and family atmospheres at each gym. Here are 5 things I learned BJJ Globetrotting Through Asia.
Classes are in English: I had previously trained in BJJ in Bangkok three years ago and was surprised all of the classes at Ralph Gracie Thailand were in English. While each country in southeast Asia has their own language, you can get by on English and hand gestures on the streets and on the mats. Just about all of the instructors at BJJ and MMA schools in Asia are ex-pats from Brazil, Europe, and North America and speak multiple languages including English. Also, many of the locals training in BJJ speak solid English they learned in school. When I trained at Carpe Diem BJJ in Japan, the coach first recited the steps in English for the ex pats, then repeated it in Japanese for the native students.
Coaches and Students are Friendly: Whether I was in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai, Myanmar, or Tokyo, I could always count on meeting friendly people through BJJ. In Singapore, the staff and coaches at Evolve MMA took me out to dinner two nights in a row. My friend Ren, who I met when he dropped into my home school in Los Angeles, gave me a great tour of Kuala Lumpur and took me to an amazing dive restaurant for locals on the outskirts of the city. In Chiang Mai, the owner of Fight Fit invited me to meet up at a bar to watch UFC 196. In Myanmar, I went out for dinner and drinks several times with the members of The Yangon BJJ House and sat front row with the school’s owner for a ONE Championship card. Yuki Ishikawa, the owner of Carpe Diem BJJ in Tokyo, invited me to sit with him at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s event. If you are traveling alone, training BJJ is a great way to meet friendly and cool people on the road.
There are luxury MMA/BJJ palaces in Southeast Asia: In the United States, most BJJ academies are housed in warehouse or strip mall locations and offers mats, changing rooms, and restrooms. There are amazing, spotless, state-of-the-art, country club-like martial arts palaces with world class coaches, locker rooms with towel service and fancy showers, fitness centers, ice baths, swimming pools. Evolve MMA in Singapore has scoured the world to recruit 55 of the top Muay Thai, BJJ, and MMA coaches in the world with BJJ World Champion Michelle Nicollini being the newest coach added to their impressive roster. Tiger Muay Thai has a whole campus with dormitories, on-site trainers, and a full cafeteria so you never have to leave the complex. Saigon Sports Club has an outdoor swimming pool where you can lounge and relax after training. Epic MMA Club in Hong Kong has free laundry and storage for your gis in addition to an amazing weight room and fitness area.
There are high-level coaches in Asia: As stated above, the level of coaching is growing in Asia. Evolve MMA has a roster of former Muay Thai, BJJ and MMA champions. In Phuket, numerous well-know BJJ black belts including Olivio Abreu of Phuket Top Team and Chris Vamos of Tiger Muay Thai are now teaching near the beach full-time. Fernando Terere black belt Jimmy Johnstone of England is now the head instructor at Saigon Sports Club. In Hong Kong, UFC Fighter and third degree black belt Alberto Mina leads the BJJ program at Epic MMA Club.
Schools have lots of Ex-Pats: While there are locals at the BJJ gyms in Southeast Asia, the sport is still made of many ex-pats from around the world. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an expensive sport and much of Southeast Asia is still considered developing and third world. So many of the students in class are ex-pats working corporate gigs abroad, while the locals training tend to come from wealthier backgrounds and have been educated at local American or International schools.