"The 10TH Planet system is a language unto itself. Riddled with simple names like “zombie” and “honey-hole,” the system was designed for BJJ in MMA."

10TH Planet Koh Tao:

Throwing our bags in with the rest of the tourists shuttled between islands on the ferry systems of Thailand, we set off on the final leg of our trek from Bangkok to Koh Tao. Twenty minutes into trip the boat stopped moving. Ten minutes later a diver splashed off the back of the boat to clear a fishing net that had fouled the propeller.

This gave Rome and Marshall time to get to know Tom, who noticed the BJJ patches on Rome’s bag and sparked up a conversation. He was taking a dive course on the island, so Rome told him about the 10TH Planet gym and invited him to join us for a roll. This exchange reinvigorated my appreciation for grappling’s ability to create an instant connection with strangers.

Once the engines were working and the boat was moving we arrived at the Koh Tao Pier, grabbed our bags and set off down a path that must have shared the same decorator as the Conch Republic. Small dive shops and boutiques line the brick street, which led us to the main road that encircles the island. We took a left and continued up a hill, that took us past a temple with tall wooden doors flanked by wax statues of meditating monks draped in orange robes. As we cleared the peak of the hill, like a message from the great beyond, we saw a sign reading “MONSOON GYM AND FIGHT CLUB, 10TH PLANET”

Dropping our bags at the base of the stairs leading up to the Muay Thai platform, Rome communicated with the dorm attendants the only way he knew how, through charades. It took a hot minute, but he finally got the message across. The owner of Monsoon, Darius, who was gone on holiday, had offered to let us crash in the dorms during our stay, and we were more than happy to accept. This opened up our budget a bit for food, recreation and recovery.

Our plan was to rest that evening, but as soon as we settled into our new living quarters Marshall threw on his spats. Instinctively, we all followed suit and joined him to check out Koh Tao’s very own 10TH Planet training lab. The space was new, built in six weeks start to finish, and consists of just one thing: mat space.

Luke, wearing a Game of Rolls rash guard and fighting shorts, greeted us with a smile and open arms. We warmed up on our own for about 15 minutes before Victor, an unassuming Swedish entrepreneur with a golden pony tail, offered to teach us how to play Game of Rolls. Victor created the game as a way to inspire the creative side of Jiu-Jitsu and facilitate a medium for “giggles” as he would affectionately describe it.

The game is simple. There is a deck containing two types of cards, position and wild. Each position card has the name of a position accompanied by an intuitively designed anatomical demonstration of said position. The wild cards hold a variety of “advantages” and mirror that of a chance card from Monopoly. A wild card may require a participant to play with a “broken arm,” restricting them from engaging with it throughout the roll, or could lead to the player being blindfolded with a sleep mask (or just closing their eyes on the honor system).

Each player is dealt two position cards. These are the only positions from which the player may attempt a submission from throughout the roll. For every belt color difference, the lower belt will receive one wild card. So a white belt would be given two wild cards if matched with a purple belt. And that’s it. The players roll with the higher belt handicapped by the implications of the wild card, and if there is no submission the lower belt is declared victorious. If the belts are equal, house rules.

Tucking the game away, we entered into a drilling session that was as much dance as Jiu-Jitsu. It began with a standing entrance followed by a back step and flow of the hips that led your partner to the floor, leaving you perched with knee-on-belly. The tango continued to a front roll over your shoulder and under your opponents un-trapped leg, which ended in the “truck” position, one of the many 10TH Planet vocabulary terms that anchor the algorithm of tape and index cards on the wall at this brain trust.

Eric and I found our corner and started drilling. We weren’t planning on filming that day, and Eric was tired of being asked, ‘So when do you get to train?’ so he just jumped in. As a surfer and athlete, he has a keen awareness of his hips and body weight, which allowed him to pick up the technique quickly. Luke stared in disbelief when Eric told him it was just his first class.

The 10TH Planet system is a language unto itself. Riddled with simple names like “zombie” and “honey-hole,” the system was designed for BJJ in MMA. It is learned by an array of artists and aliens that all seem drawn to both the creative and effective side of Jiu-Jitsu, keeping their bodies flexible and movements precise.

Each day in Koh Tao started with an alarm clock of roosters and rap music, as the pop of shins thumping pads echoed through the dorms. Training sessions began with gluten-free pre-workout shakes, and ended with high fives and fist bumps. Marshall, a 10TH Planet purple belt, acted as our interpreter each night as we engaged in the ritualistic post-training discussion of techniques.

Koh Tao has more Burmese workers than Thais and Westerners combined, yet there is a sense of community everywhere you go on this island. People are welcoming and generally honest. A variety of shops, gyms and restaurants keep the island full of energy to compliment some of the best diving in the world.

Part 3

Tim Kline

Tim Kline

TK is a former pararescueman and retired surfman from the Jacksonville Beach Voluntary Life Saving Corps. He has traveled the world on military and humanitarian missions, as well as exploring on his own.