I'll preface this post by saying I'm not accustomed to making a big deal over my birthday and having turned 30 last year, I was more than happy to have a quiet dinner with the family. Of course my lovely wife did better and planned a wonderful suprise party with all my buddies from the academy. And while that was great, I was doing my best to downplay the monumental 30th birthday. So this year as I turned 31, I felt the pressure was off and with a year of nagging injuries I wanted to do something nice and relaxing. That's when I decided to forgo with any gifts and take a nice weekend trip to Chiang Mai to visit friends and spend time in one of our favorite cities in Thailand. The visit was long overdue but what better excuse to go!
I had been to Chiang Mai a number of times before so I've seen most of the sights that most tourists would visit. My agenda was to train, relax and eat good food and I did just that. Getting in at around noon on Friday we checked into the hotel in the center of Old Town Chiang Mai and took a nice walk before lunch. Now this was my birthday weekend so all no-no's on food were now OK provided I moderated myself, haha. Anyways, I started things off with a nice burger and beer. Man oh man did that taste good. Having taken out all red-meat and poultry from my diet + alcohol, it was nice to have both making the weekend all the more special for me.
So before I could settle into a food-coma, I made sure to get in touch with Pedro Schmall, head instructor at MMA Chiang Mai to see the training schedule for that night and the next day. I first met Pedro nearly 4 years ago when he first came to Bangkok from Brazil to teach at EMAC. He would later teach at Taiwan BJJ and Beijing BJJ, heading the fight team at AOW before returning to Thailand and setting up shop in Chiang Mai roughly 9 months ago. He's been a good friend and teacher over the years and it's great to have him back in Thailand. We met up a couple of hours before the evening class to catch up and see how things were going. If anyone knows Pedro, one of his passions besides BJJ is food which makes us a great pair, haha. Opting out of the generic cafe, Pedro took my wife and I to the local market to get some fresh coconut-juice and snacks. How does anyone cut weight in a place like this? I can see why most don't cook at home cause the markets are just full of great eats, great prices and so convenient. I had to stop myself from eating more than a bite cause I had training coming up so we got back on the bike and heading to the academy. Which by the way is conveniently located across the street from the train station!
Forrest was demoted from purple to green
At the academy I got to meet the guys and see another set of friends Bryan Garrison and Forrest Akers. Bryan is another California transplant to Bangkok as is my wife so it's fun to see two Californians chat it up. Bryan was the first to establish Chiang Mai BJJ and is now co-managing MMA Chiang Mai alongside Pedro. It's a case where passion necessitates action and Bryan is just one of those guys that helped make things happen which we're all grateful for. Forrest I know from Hong Kong and Kowloon BJJ but was in town with his wife and daughter on holiday. Forrest has managed to do what I am still bitching and moaning about which is getting super healthy and fit. I met him a few years back when he looked like me now, haha, but today is all lean and cut. Damn you! Throughout the weekend he repeated to me 'no sugar' and 'eat less than you burn' or something to that nature. All jokes aside, good on him but this was my Bday weekend and I was going to indulge. After catching up we got to training.
This was probably the first time in Thailand where I trained in a semi-open-air gym without air-conditioning which I must admit was really nice. I might forgo visiting during hotter months like April but it was a nice change as I'm not into air-conditioned air. The warm up had a nice focus on injury prevention and the major joints like knees, hips and shoulders. Getting into things I was reminded of Pedro's game and the clarity he has in the fundamentals. The concepts taught were not complicated but they were certainly not simple either. A huge importance placed in full-body control and movement, inline with hip-placement. Struggling a bit I was adjusted step by step to improve where I placed my pressure when applying a choke. Much more than my arms, it required my full body to contract to make the choke work properly and with minimal stress on my upper body.
big-boy-jitsu on little-guy Li
the tables turned, getting some of my own medicine
When it came time to roll we had about 40 minutes left and was assigned to roll with a visitor from China, Li. A student of Pedro's, I was assigned to roll with him for the entire 40 minutes, haha. Him being much smaller than me I wasn't in the mood to run around and did my best to keep solid and maintain the pressure. Annoying open-guard to say the least but kept it up and did my thing. Wasn't able to finish him but passed several times, reversed from bottom and defending the triangle attempts. Stopped a little early of the 40 minutes, got some water then started with Pedro. The tables have turned as Pedro makes it obvious that I am no longer the bigger/heavier guy in this match, hahaha. Well, I may actually be heavier but no one puts pressure on like he does. Let's just say it was an exercise in survival and while I managed to pass Pedro's guard, the glory lasted just a few seconds which leads me to believe he let me pass. Damn...
After class we ate at the Thai restaurant just nextdoor. Thanks to Forrest and Bryan for their ordering skills I just sat back and waited for the food to arrive which was great. Called it an early night and headed back to the hotel, ready to train the next day.
Saturday morning, my birthday, I get up to enjoy a nice breakfast and took a truck-taxi to the academy. Saturdays are just technique with no rolling. Got in early to find Forrest training with Pedro and helped out as camera-man. At the end got to drill some the techniques they had just gone through with no-gi and soon after dawned the gi for more tech. A lot of stuff to wrap my head around but left with some really great details. Sorry, that's for me to know and for you to check on your own when you visit MMA Chiang Mai. Wrapped things up near 1pm and headed back to the hotel to clean up and get some lunch. Relaxed for the better part of the afternoon at the hotel pool and met up with more friends in time for dinner. When given the power to choose what I wanted for my Bday dinner I choose anything meat, or specifically I wanted BBQ. We surfed the web and headed of for Pinky's, a buffalo-wings spot. And thanks to iPhone maps, we spent the better part of an hour walking in circles on the wrong end of town. Only to realize we had been dropped off right in front of the damn place at the very beginning. Anyways, didn't like the spot much so we decided to have a few beers, try the wings and then head off to another place. Again, thanks to our buddy Bryan the next stop was just around the corner and proved to be just what I was looking for. Got my dinner at Woody's, celebrating my birthday with a chili-cheese-burger, fries and onion rings. Whatever good I did for myself training, I undid with this meal, haha.
Bday dinner at Woody's
Nothing too crazy really as we had to call it an early evening to get up early the next day for Jungle Flight, a zip-lining tour. Waking up at 6am, barely getting some coffee and eggs in me we head out for an hour into the mountains. I highly recommend this specific tour and company as it provides the largest selection. And if you go, try to request Mr. Boston as your guide. That's his nickname but I would say he's probably the most colorful and fun guide to be with. Provided the rest of the people in your group aren't stiffs and can laugh at themselves, having a good time while screaming for joy/terror.
That pretty much took most of my Sunday with just enough time to check out the vendors setting up for the Sunday market. By then the wife and I were missing our son too much and wanted to see him and scheduled an early flight home. Very grateful for grandparents, haha.
I really do enjoy Chiang Mai for its laid back vibe and cool weather in comparison to Bangkok. With the added attraction of friends and MMA Chiang Mai, I hope to coming back more often. If you're in the neighborhood, you need to stop by train with Pedro and the gang. Theyr'e a solid bunch with a huge passion for all things BJJ/Grappling/MMA.
A special thanks to Pedro, Bryan and Forrest for being excellent hosts.