I wanted to share some of the responses I've received from the questions posted on the BJJ communities in SEA. I think these are some great examples of what some of the common challenges are in introducing jiu-jitsu to perhaps a reluctant public and some distinct differences in what each location may need to address in order to make it. Please continue to send me your responses to the 3 questions and I will post them on the blog so that we can continue this dialogue on BJJ in your community. -Luke
1. What did it take for the scene to grow to the point that it is now?
2. What were some of the challenges and hardships?
3. How can we continue to grow and expand the community of BJJ?
Phil Denzau (Tinguinha, Thailand)
1. I give a lot of credit to Niti (EMAC) and Adam (Kayoom) on this issue. Niti has committed his resources and time to build his gym and make a friendly environment to train. Adam has been the only long-term teacher we have had here in Thailand for 3-4 or so years. He is a very fair and good person, and has great skills on the mat.
Obviously, I would say going forward, I think BJJ-Asia will play a pretty significant role in futhering this development. I think Luke has a pretty good vision on things and is willing to put in a lot of his own time to help move things along in cohesive direction.
2. A) proximity of school locations and schedules (meaning limited availability of classes (see current schedule as only offered night class on certain days versus schools in the US that offer multiple times a day and most every weekday)
B) Price - It's difficult to expand to the Thai market due to a relative low wages in the country. This makes it more difficult to expand the market into the Thai customers. In the US, the wage is higher and most everyone can find a way to afford BJJ training somehow.
C) Similar to point #1, but limited availability of schools. In the US there were so many choices to go other places if you wanted to train at another school for whatever reason. I can only liken this to the huge availability of car dealerships were a consumer can shop to find the right car for them. Assuming more schools open, then people will have more choices ability.
D) I talked with many people when I taught BJJ that were my wife's friends. Many expressed an interest in knowing more about BJJ and learning about it. However, most people were simply not exposed to it. If they were, some were scared to give it a try. BJJ in Thailand has to reach out to these people, as some people just train for enjoyment or fun.
3. Almost need to sponsor or subsidize local that are unable to afford training, but want to participate. Otherwise, it's the more affluent have had limited participation to this point in Thailand due to busy work schedules and very active night life in BK.
Another thing is potentially free workshops and seminars at other martial arts schools or somehow link up with other martial arts programs to draw interest in for people already participating in martial arts, but not BJJ. I know I tried to get involved with other schools, but in Thailand, some of the other arts, ie, Aikido, TKD, were very unfriendly to say the least.
Increase exposure of MMA in Thailand. I think the amateur scence is better then professional fighting for various reason, but chiefly, to prohibit the influence of gambling and other more violent no rules fights, which will turn away potential people wanting to join in. In the US, the wide exposure of MMA has drawn people to BJJ schools (as you can safely train BJJ versus many other combat sports).
Vince Choo (KDTA, Malaysia)
1. In addition to a lot of online marketing and positive culture, I/my gym tends to stay away from the "fight mentality" culture, being selective with clientele and positioning in a premier neighborhood sets the tone and culture of the gym. I always promote BJJ as a sport first, with self defense and MMA applications much further down the line. I mention the latter very briefly to avoid attracting the "street fighter" type personalities.
2. The challenges are on-going. They consist of providing the correct information about the sport, its history and evolution. As advocates of BJJ we constantly need to inform people about the effectiveness of the activity and the healthy benefits it provides. Local problems include the fact that most Malaysians are not physically active by nature, less so when combat sports are involved and painfully obvious when niche activities like BJJ is in the limelight.
There is a growing awareness but it takes time for people to understand that grappling and wrestling are part and parcel of any effective martial artist's arsenal. I hear concerns and objections from men and women alike about the close proximity and physical contact that is inherent in this sport which I quickly try to dispel with practical, everyday type situations where physical contact is involved.
In addition, as BJJ is not a recognized Olympic sport, the government does not provide any assistance in promoting the art. Even importing something simple like a BJJ uniforms become prohibitively expensive and puts it beyond the reach of most children and adults.
Not until recently, there was no black belt present in the country. In spite of the 5-years plus of regular class training, online and media promotions, demonstrations we have participated in, membership levels are comparatively low. This tends to give the non-member an elitist perception of what we do while on the contrary, we would like to include more people from all walks of life.
Locally, there is a lot of resistance from the traditional martial arts community. We've had to debunk a couple of groups who were making outlandish claims on the origins of their art where grappling and BJJ/Judo techniques were involved. Some have since closed after being publicly shown up while others renamed their art and continue to dupe unsuspecting clients. Other more established traditional arts tend to remain sceptical and while it is tempting to initiate a physical challenge to set aside any doubts over the effectiveness of BJJ, I believe it will backfire as the local community tends to favour community over everything else, irregardless of the effectiveness of the art. This is one of major the disappointments as I have experienced the closed-mindedness of such individuals and groups locally.
Others obstacles include the lack of suitable training space. Judo is not that popular here and while there are dojos here and there, time is often limited and mats are hardly available.
3. Perhaps set up regional seminars, competitions, leagues and teams. BJJ is popularized in the Americas via competition and the same can be said for the Far Eastern countries like S. Korea and Japan. Why not in S.E. Asia? I know there are groups like Mr. Kamphuis in the Philippines making tremendous advances in promoting BJJ and submission wrestling and it is inspiring to see his achievements. I would say that his organization is probably leading the way in the region.
A lot also has to do with local cultures. In Malaysia there isn't really a local warrior mentality. The country has largely been founded on agriculture and raw materials. No significant military history or need to defend itself from neighbouring countries unlike the Philippines, Thailand and to some extent, Indonesia. Malaysia and Singapore share a similar history hence the similar lackadaisical attitude to combat sports.
Most people who are attracted to BJJ tend to be internet-savvy, have studied or heard about BJJ while studying overseas or already involved in martial arts somehow. We need to bring these together and form a community of like-minded people. Your blog is a great way to achieve this and has already been making a lot of connections regionally.
Niko Han (Synergy Jiu-jitsu, Bali)
***note: Temporarily taken off but will return shortly
Ralph Go (Newbreed, Philippines)
1. What helped the scene to grow is regular organized competitions and being exposed to BJJ from other countries.
2. For our club, we don't have any resident black belt to guide us or teach us. To ensure we continue to get better we needed to travel, compete elsewhere, attend seminars which is very hard financially or we will continue to be a big fish in just a small pond.
3.A very good suggestion from my friend Roman de la cruz of Fokai o, is that we could set up a sort of Southeast asian or BJJ-asia jiu jitsu federation in our region. in where all countries have a voice and contribute to the development of bjj in the region. If X club needs a black belt or a brown belt then maybe they can just contact the federation to help them set up seminars etc etc. Also instead of just dealing with X from philippines or Y from Thailand they would deal with the federation instead. maybe even compete and represent bjj-asia in competitions overseas. just popping out ideas.