If you only follow professional jiu-jitsu as a casual fan, you probably haven’t heard of Young-am Noh. But if the South Korean black belt can pull off the upset he’s been working for at this year’s Abu Dhabi World Pro, he might soon become a household name.
Noh began his martial arts journey in 2002, when he took up MMA. But he always felt “uncomfortable” being violent and hitting his opponent, so he later switched to the “Gentle Art.” “I found that jiu-jitsu just fit me better as a person,” he says.
Although Noh isn’t throwing punches or kicks in the cage anymore, his competitive career is alive and well. Getting to the top, however, has been tough. “In Korea, there aren’t that many great BJJ competitors,” he says. “So I travel far to the U.S. or the U.K. to train while also running my own BJJ academy [in Korea].” Despite not having a lot of elite-level academies in his own country, Noh still manages to get training in at schools like Atos, AOJ, Cobrinha BJJ, and most recently, Roger Gracie Academy in London.
Noh may have to put in extra effort to gain access to the level of training he requires to reach his full potential, but it’s been paying off. He’s won the ADCC Asia Trials twice, and more recently, the Abu Dhabi Continental Pro. In 2016, he went up against world champion Gabriel Arges of Gracie Barra in what he calls “the best match he ever had,” losing by just one advantage point after Arges gained two points in the last thirty seconds to tie the match.
Noh is well aware that his name doesn’t carry the same weight as, say, Gordon Ryan’s. But for him, victory at the World Pro and beyond means more than just boosting his own brand. “I didn’t start jiu-jitsu until sometimes after I turned twenty years old,” he says. “Most Brazilian competitors start training as children. I want to be an example of someone who started very late, but trained super hard… [I want to demonstrate] that by leading a very disciplined life, you can over come odds and become a champion.”
As Noh’s chance to shine in the Abu Dhabi World Pro fast approaches, so does his chance of proving that he can rise from his position as the underdog and put South Korea on the jiu-jitsu map. “I will never give up. I strongly believe I can do better in proving that not only Brazilians or Americans can be champions,” he says. “I have fought and sparred against the best jiu-jitsu guys in the world. Usually if I lose, it’s by one advantage, or it’s a very close game. I know most people out there don’t know who I am or aware of my skill level. I’m hoping this is my year and I can be a breakout and be known like Craig Jones.”
Keep following the Jiu-Jitsu Times for continued coverage of the 2018 Abu Dhabi World Pro.