I know I said that I would eventually post my own responses to the questions I had put out earlier but with all the feedback I've received so far, I think it would come off sounding like a broken-record. I would like to comment on a few points that I think are key as well as some more questions for those involved in the bigger picture of what BJJ can/will become in Southeast Asia.
One of the most consistent comments made had to be the lack of instruction or long term stay of a qualified instructor. In most cases black-belts come and go depending on what kind of visa/work situation they can secure. Some instructors travel from location to location seeking employment while others by circumstance due to their job relocating him/her to that city and by default, teaches jiu-jitsu. So in this case there is the professional fighter/instructor and then there's the 'regular-guy-who-is-a-bjj-black-belt-with-a-regular-job-who-teaches-bjj-for-fun-but-not-as-a-fulltime-job'. My point here is that with the two different cases, comes two difference scenarios that effect the club/academies ability to pay and support said instructor.
Because circumstance brings the 'regular-guy-black-belt' to your town, his/her expenses and costs are much different than the traveling fighter/instructor that requires housing, salary and amenities (all of which would technically be supported by the student fees collected). Yet that doesn't account for the schools rent, electrical bills, etc. I'll admit to being spoiled when it comes to living in SEA cause things are relatively inexpensive here, depending on the kind of lifestyle you wish to live. With that said the cost of living is not nearly as high as it is in the US or other parts of Asia like Japan, Hong Kong, or Korea. So the income made from student fees is quite low and most of this goes to rent and electricity. Most often the instructors that come through treat it more or less like an extended vacation where enough money is made to live (there) but probably not enough for any substantial savings. Some have come to Thailand because they have interest in training Muay Thai during the day and then teach at night in order to subsidize their living expenses. So this combination has worked relatively well for the camps outside of Bangkok that offer cross-training but at the same time, the students tend to be a rotating cast of expats and tourists looking for a training holiday.
So what happens to the local guys that are here to stay, wanting more than what's available to them cause the scene has yet to produce a large enough body of higher-ranked belts. The number of brown-belts are coming up but I'd say there are still far more blues and then a growing number of purples now. The scene is young and these thing will come in due time but we're all faced with that challenge of securing quality instruction.
It is also quite common for clubs to change locations for a number of reasons. The number of students can directly effect the ability to pay rent. Sometimes when training in a shared space with another martial-arts group there can be a conflict of interest or without the proper financial support, the classes are held guerilla-style in whatever space is available. The less consistent the training space is, the more adjustment and discomfort is then placed on the beginner and casual student. The hardcore guys will train whenever and wherever but how many of you are the hardcore bjj guys? In a given club, I usually count 3, maybe 5, that are just diehard jiu-jitsu guys that at times will compromise their day-job in order to train more, haha. So this demographic doesn't count for larger part of the club's income. It's your '2nd home' where familiarity is a must in the weekly routine of coming off from work and leaving the outside world where it belongs, outside. As much as you build a familial bond with your teammates, there is also a connection the space in were you've invested so much of your time. Where I train, we bow in and bow out as show of respect to the people you've trained with, the instructor you've entrusted to teach you and the space that you've shared with others. Now I know BJJ is one of the more casual of the martial arts but gestures like this still mean something and it's something that I see done all over the world.
Similar to how consistency and familiarity is important to the environment of training, having an organized schedule and support system within the club is equally important. With an exception of a few clubs that I've visited, I would say that it's a paid service and a like all activities that you pay for, you expect a certain level of professionalism. This can range from classes starting on time, the instructor is present before and after class or people are properly informed as to any schedule changes, etc. In the cases where a black-belt instructor is not available and lessons are left to the blue/purple-belts the circumstance have changed but the expectations shouldn't. A lesson or technique in mind that is relevent to the students' level and overall program is most necessary. Especially for the beginner, things can be quite overwhelming when explaining a technique like 'armdrag from open-guard to take the back to bow'n'arrow choke. I've been to classes where the instructor, while a very accomplished grappler, explains the technique but is not aware that some students just have a 'what the f#*k' expression on their face. Personally I really enjoy teaching and take the time to research for myself different options from techniques that I am working on for my own game. I enjoy just as much in my ability to execute a move as I see in others, knowing they've really put themselves to the task of getting better. While I am not a master of jiu-jitsu, I do feel comfortable enough in sharing what I do know to help others find that 'light-bulb' of awareness and feeling of accomplishment. I know it sounds geeky but I get a kind of high from seeing the newbies fall in love with jiu-jitsu after struggling so much those first few months. So organized in both the management of the school as well as the direction of the class and its students.
This is where it gets a little tricky and let me preface this by saying that I am extremely proud of the SEA BJJ community. I've made this comment before that I believe the SEA scene to be young and with some growing pains to experience as we move from a handful of clubs/academies to a substantial community of practitioners. Everyone is trying to survive and provide the right elements to attract more students and awareness of BJJ. Which is great and is why in a given year, the number of tournaments has increased significantly. At the same time, I notice that within a given community, not all are there to support by participation, aid or acknowledgement. Which I must say is a hard pill to swallow for those that have taken it upon themselves to produce an event for healthy competition. Nurture your scene because it's only by having that exchange that you really get to push yourself and the people around you to improve. To not participate or support is really just hurting yourself. It will take a little bit from each group but that little bit is going to the greater good.
I'm sure there are personal conflicts to be heard but don't let someone else's problems become your own. I have never been one to take on someone else's hate/disrespect for a person/group I have never met or gotten to know in person. It just doesn't feel right to me. There's always two sides to the story.
I had an interesting conversation with a brown-belt at the Cope De Hong Kong this past April and it's something that has stuck with me since then. I had shared with the group that I was planning on opening a school that would be non-affiliated to avoid any politics involved with representing a single school. The brown-belt asked me, "So what are you going to do when you're given your brown-belt?" To be honest, before that point I hadn't given that issue any thought. Perhaps as a blue-belt, who cares about what I do but as a brown or even a black-belt, what then? I'm sure with those rankings come responsibility but again it's a decision that I have to make for myself. I can choose to train under someone who understands my interest of being politics-free while still representing the source of my knowledge. I may not gain the affiliate support and name recognition for being a 'X' black-belt but I would trade that off for the support and recognition of the greater jiu-jitsu community. I know this may sound very idealistic but it's what I am working towards.
A good friend shared with me some words that I quite like. "You don't give grief to others but sure as hell don't take it either."
When I make reference to a greater body of practitioners which is where we're headed, it makes me think about the level of organization involved to help make things standardized and consistent, especially in competition.
Today, you really have to be aware of the rules cause in each comp, they're different. From being penalized for pulling guard in a no-gi touranment versus what kind types of footlock are allowed and at what level. These have gone through several changes from comp to comp and in each area of SEA. I know most comps reference IBJJF rules but there's always the slight change and depending on the ref (which by the way is another article unto itself) things can go either way.
What are the benefits of being affiliated by the way? What level of support are we talking about? What is required in the way of support to make these things happen in SEA? In earlier posts with comments given by instructors and practitioners there some ideas come up that I think are worth looking into.
Ralph Go (Newbreed Philippines)
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.
Vince Choo (KDTA Malaysia)
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?
Phil Denzau (Tinguinha Thailand)
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.
Henry Chan (Bracie Barra Hong Kong)
To spread the Art in hongkong would be the commitment of a few individual whom are really interested in spreading the Art, in due course, such few individuals will grow into a bigger community.
Warren Wang (Taiwan BJJ)
Through more interaction and mutual respect, I am confident the SEA grappling community will grow.... Regardless of how and what everyone does, the fact that people are doing something, good or bad, right or wrong, will inevitably put SEA BJJ on the map. Hence the influx of black-belts to Asia now. With more recognition globally and everyone's efforts, interests in BJJ will for sure catch on.
These are all some great comments from the people directly involved with the scene. As things develop I think we need to keep ideas like these in mind and work towards a collaborative mindset to make things really happen.