When it comes to top destinations for studying Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the Land of the Morning Calm probably does not make most people’s lists.
But it should.
South Korea offers an excellent fight culture; a high standard of living; the chance for your money to go further than it would in most Western countries; and most importantly, plenty of high-level jiu-jitsu instructors ready to teach you everything they know about the Gracie art.
This is not to say Korea is the perfect destination for everyone. No place could live up to such a standard.
But if you’re looking to get away for a year and learn jiu-jitsu in a new culture, South Korea should be close to the top of your list.
Here are five reasons why.
It’s easy to make money
If you have a bachelor’s degree in any subject and you are looking to make some money overseas, then Asia has the perfect job for you – English teacher!
What makes South Korea better than many other English-teaching destinations, though, is that virtually all of its cram schools (known to the locals as hakwons) will give you free accommodation in an apartment.
No, I am not talking about a dirty, little dorm room that you will have to share with three or four strangers; I am talking about your very own clean, cozy studio apartment.
Salaries are generally about two-thousand American dollars per month. You will have to pay for heat, electricity, and Internet.
But after that, all of that money is yours.
In other words, you will have about $1900 worth of spending money per month. Try making that type of money as a teacher in the United States!
On the down side, most schools and hakwons will want you to sign a year contract, and there are few non-teaching jobs available to foreigners.
So, if teaching English to a room full of rambunctious, Korean-speaking kindergartners or grade-school students isn’t your thing, finding work will be hard.
The cost of living is low, but the standard is high
With close to two-thousand dollars a month for spending money, you don’t have to live frugally. But if you want to, you can in South Korea.
If you stick to Korean restaurants – which typically serve hearty helpings of rice, pork, beef, chicken, noodles, and kimchi – you can easily eat for under ten American dollars per day.
Public transportation is also cheap and plentiful, especially in the big cities. Seoul, in my humble opinion, also has one of the cleanest and most user-friendly subway systems in the world. The buses aren’t bad either.
The standard of living is what you would expect in any wealthy nation. Living accommodations are generally clean and sanitary, foods are almost always safe, and the government is certainly no more corrupt and incompetent than in any other developed democracy.
Simply put, you will be enjoying about the same standard of living that you would in Canada, the United States, or any other wealthy nation, but you will almost certainly have more money in your pocket.
BJJ is popular
When I lived in Korea, I had the joy of training at Evolution Jiu-Jitsu in Seoul under Jang Won Byeon.
But he is not the only game in town.
Here is a partial list of some of the other gyms you could train at:
John Frankl BJJ: Professor Frankl is not only a professor of jiu-jitsu, but an actual college professor. He earned his PhD from Harvard and he teaches Korean literature at Yonsei University, where he also runs a jiu-jitsu program. He is American, but from what some of the locals say, he speaks better Korean than most Koreans.
MARC Union: Also located in Seoul, MARC Union BJJ is run by black belt, Marc Lee. My friend trained at his gym for a while and loved it.
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Seoul: This is a Gracie-certified gym located in Gangnam (yes, the district that inspired Psy’s Youtube hit, “Gangnam Style”). It is run by Jason Park, a jiu-jitsu brown belt. You can read one blue belt’s review of the gym here.
Tozi Korea Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: This one is located in Busan, in the south of the peninsula. The instructor, Park Jun Young, is a black belt under Roberto Tozi. He is IBJJF-certified and speaks English and Korean.
For a longer list of gyms, check out Tapology.
It’s a great place to study up on non-BJJ arts
Combat sports and martial arts are popular in South Korea. Taekwondo and hapkido dojos are plentiful in small cities like Pyeongchon (where I lived), and ubiquitous in large cities like Seoul.
But don’t think for a second the Land of the Morning Calm has forgotten about the grappling arts. Judo is popular there, and if you’re a rather ample-sized individual, Ssireum might be up your alley.
My former jiu-jitsu instructor’s son even does Greco-Roman wrestling.
A minor warning, though. Your instructor, especially if he is an older gentleman, might not be able to speak English. My advice is to learn as much Korean as you can on the plane and get really good at Charades.
It’s the best place to train in Asia
The living standards are higher than most places in Southeast Asia, but the cost of living is far lower than in Japan. Fight sports are more popular than they are in Taiwan, and unlike China, you will never have to worry about Big Brother monitoring your Internet activity.
And as far as North Korea goes, I hope I don’t have to explain why you’re better off in its southern neighbor . . . or any other place in the world, for that matter.
Taking all of these reasons together, South Korea offers the best of all worlds in terms of living and training.
So, if you feel like living the jiu-jitsu lifestyle in a radically different culture, why not make South Korea your home for a year?
[Image via StockSnap.io]