What initially inspired you to get involved with martial arts and particularly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
Like a lot of kids, I became interested in martial arts through Bruce Lee movies, especially growing up as a Chinese kid in Australia back in the day when it was pretty rough. I started in full contact fighting at age 13, did TKD and kickboxing too but started to focus on traditional Chinese martial arts. When I was in high school, I saw one of the early Gracie Jiu-Jitsu ads by Rorion in Black Belt magazine and became interested in BJJ. But back in the early 90s there was no BJJ in Australia so I continued doing other arts. Then when I came to Shanghai to further study Chinese wushu, I found Paul Borret's Shanghai Mixed Martials Group which also trained BJJ under Shoot champ Matt Stevens, so I began my BJJ journey and never looked back.
Share with us the beginnings of your academy/gym. Who was/is the primary teacher and how large a student body was there?
The evolution of BJJ in Shanghai is a long story!! But in a nutshell, BJJ in Shanghai was initially taught by Matt Stevens (a purple belt and East Japan Shooto champion). Paul Borret has a MMA group and we trained BJJ several times a night. Eventually, the expats left and we began to focused entirely on BJJ. At the beginning it was a club led by myself and my friend Ben. During this time, we had Chet Quint come visit us for training every month. Eventually Ben also left SH and I become responsible for the club. Then my friend Ryan contacted me and came back to SH from the US, together we started to really grow BJJ in Shanghai. Tony Eduardo came out and lived in Shanghai. It was at this stage that SHBJJ formed, our group turned into a proper academy with a permanent training facility. All of this happened over many years!
What were the major hurdles of starting an academy/gym and do those same challenges exist today or have they been replaced with new ones?
SHBJJ didn't happen overnight, it was a gradual process. When SHBJJ evolved from a club to an academy, we had to start worrying about the finances in order to keep the academy afloat. In Shanghai, the challenge is to educate the locals in BJJ and get them involved in regular training. Expats already know about BJJ but they come and go, so the student base is really transient, which means it is very difficult to grow the student base.
What keeps you inspired after so many years?
BJJ is just so fun and addictive. There is always something new to learn and it's mentally stimulating. Plus, it's always fun to get on the mats everyday and see your friends and have a laugh on the mats.
What advice do you have for other academy/gyms just starting out?
Start small, keep cost low and love what you do.