Tuesday, September 1, 2015

BJJ in Chiang Mai: 3 Month Update on my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Journey

I can't believe that I've been back on the mats for 3 months now after taking a 2 year break from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A huge part of getting back on the mats is in thanks to my good friend Chris Lioe who is a purple belt from Orange County, California.

Team Quest has been making a huge push to get more people doing BJJ in Chiang Mai and even started offering two open mat days a week that are completely free even for non-members. I think it's awesome they are letting people use their mats without a fee as well as offering classes taught by a legit black belt. There's also the BJJ Club at Chiang Mai University which has been growing in popularity. Here's my three month update on my personal journey, recovering from an injury and thoughts on the growing sport here in Thailand.

Chiang Mai vs. Phuket for BJJ

I'd love to say Chiang Mai is better for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu simply because I prefer living here over Phuket, but that would be a untrue. There are so many more gyms and rolling partners down south at Phuket Top Team, Team Quest, and the new AKA Thailand.

If you're looking for the best Jiu-Jitsu program in Thailand, it would still have to be the program at Phuket Top Team with Olavo Abreu, a 4th degree Carlson Gracie Black belt. However, if you're looking to live in Chiang Mai for the overall better quality of life, lower cost of living, and access to the digital nomad community then be happy we have a growing scene here as well and bring your gi!

Phuket is the winner for best BJJ programs
Chiang Mai is the winner for best overall quality of living

Taken at Phuket Top Team a few years ago

Team Quest Thailand

A great facility with a Professor Bruno Carvalho a 3rd degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt leading the classes now. They also have open mat rolling sessions on both Saturday and Sunday which is completely free even for non-members.

At only 250 baht ($7us) per drop in class or 2,000 baht ($57us) per month for unlimited BJJ classes it's a heck of a lot cheaper than training in Phuket which charges an unbelievable 10,000 baht ($285us) a month. If you're wondering why BJJ is 3x the price in Thailand as it is back home, it's because people back home do it as a hobby a few days a week while at a fight camp, you're training 6+ times a week and really getting your money's worth.

Either way, with Team Quest now lowering their unlimited BJJ class prices coming to Chiang Mai combined with it's lower cost of living is a no brainer if you're on a budget.

BJJ Class at Team Quest Thailand in Chiang Mai

My 3 Month BJJ Update

Ever since my buddy Chris moved from California to Chiang Mai and convinced me to buy a gi, I've been super dedicated to rolling again. My grappling cardio went from 0 to a respectable 8 in just a few weeks and because of my background in wrestling, MMA and Muay Thai and the fact that I'm a lot bigger and stronger than most guys, i've been able to hang against some of the blue and purple belts which has inspired confidence.

I mainly train at the Chiang Mai University mats but solely because it's 2 minutes from my apartment in Chiang Mai and I'm currently more interested in open mat than learning new techniques but if I was coming here for an actual fight camp or to up my jiu-jitsu game I would have gotten an apartment by Team Quest and just trained their full time instead.

Instead of going to technique classes or trying to piece together techniques myself, I started following Nic Gregoriades' BJJ Building Blocks program online instead which is a 52-week online course that you can do from anywhere. I originally planned to follow the videos week by week, but then found myself watching 3 or 4 at a time right before class so I could try out the techniques that day. So far i'm only 1/4th of the way into the course but can already highly recommend it.

At Chiang Mai University's BJJ Club

Overcoming the Injury 

My grappling cardio was getting insanely good, my tech was improving every week and I started being able to be a danger even to purple and blue belts that were smaller than me while being able to submit fellow white belts my size.

But then...I got hurt. The stupid thing was, it wasn't even during rolling, but afterwards while stretching. I still believe it's healthy to stretch, but over stretching, especially when the mats are slippery from you dripping with sweat can be dangerous. I was doing a neck stretch I learned when I used to wrestle in high school and slipped forward on my shaved head and heard a loud popping noise in my spinal cord. It was a scary moment, but luckily I was completely fine with the exception of not being able to put any pressure on my neck without it being sore. I'm pretty sure I had tore some of the supporting ligaments or supporting muscle.

I iced it and let it rest a few days before testing it again, but every time I put the slightly pressure on my neck, I could feel it wasn't quite right. As much as I loved my progress in BJJ, I didn't want to risk further injury so I marked a date on my calendar for an entire month and didn't even consider rolling again until then.  In retrospect I should have continued my online training to learn technique, but I was so disappointed in myself for doing something so stupid that I didn't open it once. Luckily, I forced myself to go to the gym, do pull ups, strength and conditioning, hikes and even went to the university once to sprint on their track.

Pool side in Chiang Mai on the weekend with Chris

Back in Action

As of this week I'm back in action and back on the mats. So far after two days of rolling, my cardio is still suffering but I'm back on track and my grip strength feels like it is completely unused to what I'm trying to do, but it's an incredible feeling to back.

If you're still thinking about whether or not you should come to Chiang Mai to do jiu-jitsu, I'd say go for it and bring your gi. The Muay Thai scene up here has always been fantastic with Team Quest, KC Muay Thai and Santai all being great gyms but now BJJ is also growing. If you do plan on coming to Thailand to train, make sure you read my book 12 Weeks in Thailand: The Good Life on the Cheap as it'll save you a ton of money and give you an idea on how to navigate life out here when you arrive. 

By the way, big thanks to Chris Lioe for helping lead the BJJ revolution here in Chiang Mai and for being a great rolling partner. Happy birthday buddy!

Hope to see you all out in Chiang Mai and on the mats.

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

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Hey if you've read this far, you might as well at least leave a comment. Even just to say what's up! If you have any questions about training in Thailand just ask it here in the comments and I'll answer so everyone can benefit from it.