Open Mat in Asia
Article written by Kenneth Molnar; Jiu Jitsu Student
Asia Jiu Jitsu Journey
I recently returned from a five month backpacking and Jiu-Jitsu journey through nine countries in Asia. My travels took me from the mats of Shanghai, the underground gyms in Tokyo, the high rise gyms of Saigon, the laid back surfer gyms in Bali, the Muay-Thai dominate gyms of Bangkok, and many more.
Thanks to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I received amazing experiences and an influx of new friendships from around the world. We all shared this common bond of Jiu-Jitsu, but the variety of cultures and styles I encountered in each gym were just as exciting to discover as the countries themselves. Here are a few of my observations:
Jiu JItsu Family
Part of the Jiu-Jitsu family. No matter where I went, when I walked into a new gym with a Gi in my arms and a look of hesitation on face, I soon had people surrounding me with handshakes, questions where I’m from, and excited that I was there to train. Everyone wanted to roll with me and everyone wanted to watch me roll. Just as much as I was learning from their jiu-jitsu, they were equally trying to learn from me. After class, we would grab food or drinks and act as if we all were lifelong friends. I was always treated as a member of the family in every gym I traveled to.
Styles mirror cultures. Asia has a rich history and deep seeded traditions that cultivate into their societies behavior. For example, Chinese are very friendly, active, and don’t have the same space or social boundaries that western cultures have and the play a strong De-La-Riva, inverted guard, and deep half guard. They embrace the parts of jiu-jitsu that are uncomfortable and awkward to most people.
Japan has extremely talented individuals and perfects the fundamentals with a sprinkle of deep half guard. Japanese are very traditional and thus master the basics, but they also lack many jiu-jitsu gyms because most Japanese follow the traditional path of Judo or Karate. Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam have a very broad range of styles because these countries often had only two to three official gyms in the entire country and where started by immigrants from other parts of the world. I found most of these gyms to have a wrestling and smash based style due to the fact that most of the gyms where started by ex-military from the USA with a strong base in greco-roman wrestling. Jiu-Jitsu in Thailand focused on defenses, escapes, and getting back to the feet in order to utilize their amazing muay-thai. The gyms where MMA focused and had a tenth planet vibe of no Gi with a lot of rubber guard practitioners.
Jiu Jitsu Worldwide
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is worldwide now. Despite there not being a whole lot of official Jiu-Jitsu gyms in Asia, I was surprised to find so many small, back of the garage run gyms. No matter where I was, from a country side town to some island in the pacific, someone often times could point me to some shop with mats on the ground and people training. Many of these places were just people that moved there, threw down some mats, and managed to convince their friends to come train until it slowly grew into a class. And to no surprise, everyone knew all the modern styles, such as berimbolo or 50-50 guards. With the spread of the internet, and modern grappling in general, everyone has access to the knowledge and instructional footage to spread Jiu-Jitsu all over the globe and I can testify that it is indeed blossoming.