Photo source - https://bit.ly/2uXs7G0
"At the start of class, where you may expect to see an organized line up or any concrete regiment, there stood only shirtless men in the tightest of spats striking funny poses and engaging in playful, physical arguments."
Time passes fast when you're working.The first week flew by, and it was time to find our new Jiu Jitsu family. After tracking down the location of Kaohsiung BJJ, we proceeded to take the bus into the city.
Our “host parents” instructed us to say words that sounded only to us like, “DAI-UM-BI-O” to the bus driver. “DAI-UM-BI-O” being the phonetic English version that we thought we heard, and what we understood to mean “Shopping district” in Chinese. I’ve since looked it up, and that version is nowhere close to the original pronunciation. Having only ever been fluent in a non-tonal language, you can imagine the frustration in trying to pronounce any Chinese word correctly.
As we walked to the bus stop, we practiced over and over again to one another, moving further and further away from the correct pronunciation I’m sure. The outcome was just as we thought: the driver stared at us with a blank face, clearly lost in confusion while we awkwardly repeated gibberish to him.
Fortunately, I had a map in my back pocket and we were able to simply point to our preferred destination. The bus driver laughed and motioned for us to come aboard. No words necessary after all. It was worth a try and a good laugh.
We stepped off the bus just a few blocks from the gym location. A few blocks of walking in the relentless Taiwan sun left us drenched in sweat and we hadn't even began to roll. I remember being excited but nervous to meet the Kaohsiung students, because I heard they were well versed in leg locks, which was still new to my game at the time. What better time to learn than on your Jiu Jitsu vacation? Nine floors high in one of the identical buildings that made up the city was a square filled with mats, weights, punching bags and some of the most incredible wall art I’ve encountered at a gym. Helio’s face encompassed an entire back wall, filled with chaotic brush marks of an array of deep colors. I remember fixating on that wall before anything else.
Art by A.Leo - https://bit.ly/2InLwb8
It wasn't long before we were attending double classes and making new friends and acquaintances every day. I must confess. I will probably never find people like the ones at Kaohsiung BJJ again. Dan Imal was a Scotsman on an adventure of his own when he came across Taiwan and made a decision to stay in order to plant his seeds and grow something great. His coaches were carefree, passionate people that were clearly dedicated to the gym and Dan’s vision. The gym’s vibe was whimsical and laid back with a good balance embedded in the leadership provided. It was great to watch.
At the start of class, where you may expect to see an organized line up or any concrete regiment, there stood only shirtless men in the tightest of spats striking funny poses and engaging in playful, physical arguments. The banter was that of a higher standard, very quick and witty. It was like watching a comedy, as if it was scripted. Intelligent minds coming together just to fuck around. It was immensely entertaining. When the class began, a new energy blanketed the room. Standards were set, and the bar was raised to make the most of our training time. Hours later the mats were flooded with puddles of sweat. Taiwan heat is no joke. After a class or so, big industrial floor fans were placed at opposite corners of the mat, were you fortunate enough to roll in front of one.
Hard training was no stranger of this crew. Maybe more importantly, neither was humility. I admired how Dan would acknowledge each and every student, new or old that walked through the door. He even went as far to shake everyone’s hand at the start of class. He was also always honest with every student in regards to their progression, or if necessary, lack thereof. If a student was curious to know why they hadn't been belted or where he thought they were as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner, he would simply tell them.
There was no mystery or uncertainty about your status or growth. This was contrary to other locations we trained where the belt was not meant to be discussed, and in doing so you were disrespecting the process or even delaying your own. There was also no room for emotions on to the mat. Everyone was expected to act as collected professionals.
One night, two students got a bit heated while rolling and began to take out their aggressions on one another. Dan asked them to remove themselves from the mat, talk it out and return when things between them were manageable. When the two students returned, Dan then asked that they continue their roll. I remember thinking, that is how I want to run a gym someday.