For the past 4 years I have been training BJJ and submission grappling in Taiwan. MMA has had very little success here and so grappling interest hasn't had the boon like so many other countries in the last decade or so.
For 5 years I lived in Kaohsiung, a city at the southern end of Taiwan. A year into my move I found an online ad for people looking to train BJJ in my city. The club is affiliated with Kazeka Muniz, but he lives in the States and being a small club, getting the funds together to fly anyone over was always a tall order.
Now, because of the lack of interest in grappling here, although the guys could definitely whoop me when I joined the club, and some still do, there was a definite lack of high-end, black belt instruction and training partners. For people who train with purple, brown and black belts regularly, you may not know how good you've got it. Getting your butt-kicked on a daily basis is great motivation to train hard. Becoming top dog after a couple years can be really disheartening.
The other issue constantly threatening the club is the revolving door or foreign training partners. As Westerners in Taiwan many of the members, including myself, are foreigners and most of us are English teachers. Westerners are great because they show more interest in training than Taiwanese, but they almost always end up leaving, to another country or back to their home country. We could have a guy train with us for a couple years, just getting really tough to spar with, and then gone for good. Because of this we've really tried hard to get Taiwanese interested in training, and thankfully a good group of them have been really dedicated to training in the past 2 years.
Progress has been made in developing the club but it always felt like we were swimming against the current. It took a few very dedicated members to keep the club alive when attendance would falter. Sometimes our class would be as small as 3 people, where only a few weeks prior it was closer to 10 or 15.
This is the situation for most people training in Taiwan. All together there are about 7 or 8 clubs in the country and the only ones with consistent attendance and higher level members are in the capital, Taipei, where the population is very high and residents have higher income to spend on things like BJJ.
As much as I wished we had a black belt instructor on a day-to-day basis I was still very grateful for the club I was part of. The club leader taught us everything he had learned from Kazeka when he went to train with him in the States and we would all watch DVDs and youtube videos for new techniques to share with everyone.
A couple months ago it was me making the exit from the club as I decided to move to the north end of Taiwan, closer to Taipei. Looking at a map I guessed it would be pretty easy to get into the big city and train with the clubs there. Unfortunately, once I got here I realized I was further than I thought and getting into to the club would take at least an hour each way. That's fine once a week but not for regular training.
I was really disappointed and thought maybe it would be a while before I could start training regularly again, which made me sick to my stomach. Training was such a big part of my life for 4 years and the thought of not doing it anymore left a big hole. Too big, in fact. Big enough to do the next best thing.
When you don't know the city, any people in it and there's no place to grapple, what do you do? You start a new club of course. I'm only a blue belt, but in a city with very little grappling experience, that leaves me as the most qualified to start a club. I wanted to find some training partners and pass on the things I learned. Of course I know I'm not truly fit to be teaching BJJ but its certainly better than nothing.
That's the nice part of training in a place that doesn't care about MMA. Its not cool to train, and no one is showing up because they want to be affiliated with a famous name. People show up because they, like me, love grappling, and will learn from a blue belt, or run a class or do whatever they need to do as long as they can get some sparring time.
Using my social media skills I got the word out that I was starting a club. A month went by without any real interest, but then I got a couple emails. With 2 people wanting to join we had to find a space, and much to our amazement as nearby gym had recently renovated to include a big ol' mat space and a room for striking. I met with the manager and he told me that so far they had judo, kickboxing and weightlifting classes in the new room. He knew what BJJ was and immediately invited us to run our classes there.
So now we're a month in and we've gone from one class a week to three. The attendance is still low but the ones we've got are dedicated, including the manager, who is a 95 kilo Judo blackbelt. Not a bad sparring partner to have. Other people in the gym see us train and many of them have shown interest in joining. My hopes are high that this will catch on. The manager has even asked me about starting kids classes, which would be great as I have had a few thousand hours teaching kids already.
I know this post is long but I'm sure I'm not the only one out there in a similar situation. I wanted to share my story so others may be encouraged. If you're not in a "hotbed" for MMA or a major city it can be really frustrating to find training partners, and you may find yourself thinking its a waste of time to train without a qualified instructor. Its true, you would learn faster with SuperBlackBeltBrazilian but if you simply don't have that option, like most people in the world, training with a couple interested people is much better than not training at all. I've never been a part of a big school and yet I can control and submit the previously mentioned Judo gorilla (I'm 10 kilos lighter and not cut like he is). That's got to count for something right?
After thought: Just 2 months after moving my old club put together enough money to bring Kazeka out and train with them almost every day for a couple weeks. I'm grinding my teeth.