"We couldn’t have been five minutes into our acquaintance before Rome and I realized we were about to take a class directly from the source."
Relson Gracie BJJ:
Koh Phangan is known to backpackers for its Full Moon Festival, an all-night beach party thrown during-you guessed it-a full moon. We found ourselves in the heart of this community at the Slumber Party Hostel. The main building is adorned with paint that reads, “Because you didn’t come here to sleep!”
Lucky for us, the moon was not full, and the place was empty. We split our four-bed dorm and threw our extra gear on the spare. After Koh Tao, Marshall headed back to his Fight Club-inspired residence in Taipei to continue the 10TH Planet continental infestation. The next day was the only morning session planned for our trip, so we called it an early night.
With a pep in our step we rose, rented scooters and set off to find the dojo. The Party Hostel was located on a street Rome had affectionately dubbed “The Wild West” for the dusty winds that engulfed the line of bars and restaurants. We were quickly clear of the dust and met by sunshine and shade as we cruised through the mountain breeze on our way to Momentum Mixed Movement Arts, home of Relson Gracie BJJ-Koh Phangan.
As to be expected, Google Maps proved only useful in navigating to the far side of the island. From there we contacted Ivan, the gym’s owner, and got vectored in to the Utopia Resort, where the gym is located off of a side street. Pulling up on our scooters, we saw a three-meter-high bamboo gate, decorated with a banner: ‘MOMENTUM MIXED MOVEMENT ARTS’.
Through the gate, across a concrete slab, and down a set of stairs, tucked away in the mountains of Koh Phangan, is a compound that poses rather suspicious similarities to the dilapidated buildings that the Foot Clan hoodlums in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ran about parkour-style in the 90’s.
Built inside a structurally-sound abandoned development project, Silvio has partnered with Ivan to develop BJJ in the movement-inspired playground, that will soon rival any course on American Ninja Warrior. Ivan lives in a bamboo hut attached to the six-meter wide, 16-meter long mats that are shaded by a roof of palm fronds secured atop a bamboo frame.
Peering through the mountains and overlooking swaying palm trees that lead to the ocean, the mats are flanked to the right by a large empty swimming pool decorated with graffiti. In the middle of the pool sits a pedestal, undoubtedly envisioned to host entertainers in its original conception, now host to Eric and his camera equipment.
The surrounding pool deck is ornamented with a variety of improvised TRX-style bands, kettlebells, inversion straps, and clothes drying in the sunlight between classes. Silvio, followed closely by his daughter, entered the gate, gi in hand.
“How are you brother!” he greeted us with a large smile.
We couldn’t have been five minutes into our acquaintance before Rome and I realized we were about to take a class directly from the source. Silvio grew up in Teresopolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Jiu-Jitsu was a way of life.
“Some people went for competition, I used my black belt to see the world with my own eyes. Learn English. Make $100 a week. Sleep in the dojo, walk to the shower. That’s enough man,” Silvio explained through a thick Brazilian accent.
After class we had breakfast at World’s End Cafe with Silvio, Ivan and Frank, a curly-haired white belt who has spent the past few years traveling and setting up coffee shops as an experienced Melbourne barista. There, Silvio educated us on the inequality his Brazilian countrymen face. As a single father, he decided planting roots in Koh Phangan was the best way to share his knowledge of BJJ and conduct a lifestyle agreeable with his nature.
The vibe created by Ivan and Silvio flows into the holistic nature of movement; it is not predicated by competition, although competition is a strong incentive to keep the tools sharp. Both agree that Martial Arts have healing capabilities, joining the body and mind in search for internal unification. Ultimately though, they both enjoy just being able to play.
We carried this playful mindset with us as we left breakfast and headed to the beach. Not riding, but surfing our scooters through the mountains. Not walking, but bouncing down the path to the ocean.
We swam out just past the reef when Rome brought up the training scene from the 90’s rock-ballad-turned-surf-epic, In God’s Hands. In the movie, the surfers practice holding their breath while running under water, carrying rocks as weights to hold them down.
This was inspiration enough for Eric to dive down, grab a rock, and start running on the ocean floor. Rome and I seized the opportunity to catch up and we all took turns carrying the rock back and forth through the crystal clear water, weaving between reefs and boulders. Eventually, we brought the rock all the way back to shore. It was a lot of fun.
On our second day, Rome gave an impromptu class in our adopted mountain dojo, teaching the Danimal rear-naked choke. Eric, Ivan, Frank and a couple curious backpackers drilled and rolled as Rome instructed and I filmed.
Koh Phangan is home to a variety of festivals, gurus and spirits. The development of Momentum Mixed Movement Arts will now allow the island to play host to a full movement playground as well. With Ivan’s athleticism and body awareness, Frank’s focus and passion, Silvio’s instruction and experience, Relson Gracie BJJ-Koh Phangan has bright days ahead.
I was on a pier with my brother in Los Angeles working through an existential crisis, when a quote appeared out of nowhere from a group of teenagers whose conversation briefly slipped into my focus:
‘You don’t find yourself, you create yourself.’
With each roll, we alone dictate our focus and energy. The formula is simple: the amount of focus and energy you put into each roll will create the practitioner become. Whenever possible, use your free will to create.