Friday, October 5, 2018

The Origins of Chiang Mai Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, by Bryan Garrison

Please note this post refers only to the history and personal journey that led to the formation of the gym Chiang Mai Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  

In August 2008, when I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I'd been studying Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for about 6 years. Originally, I trained under Claudio França (black belt under Master Francisco Mansor) and Garth Taylor (black belt under Claudio França) in Santa Cruz, California, USA.  Following getting my blue belt from Claudio, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for work where I continued to study BJJ under John "J" Janero (Rickson Gracie purple belt then/ current Saulo Ribeiro black belt).

I decided to move to Thailand and try living abroad before attaining my purple belt. A bittersweet decision as I regret not getting my purple belt, but I did truly love living in Thailand.

There were some very good options for training BJJ in Thailand when I moved here (Bangkok BJJ, EMAC, Bangkok Fight Club, Tiger Muay Thai, etc.) but those camps were all located in Bangkok and Phuket. Since I chose to live in Chiang Mai, it seemed like I had no options. After living in Chiang Mai for nearly a year I really started to miss BJJ.

A good friend of mine from Belgium and I were talking one day, and we started discussing BJJ. He had some martial arts experience but had never been exposed to the grappling or BJJ. After talking a bit, we decided to get together and train together.  For a couple months, we trained at Muang Chiang Mai Stadium on a permanent wrestling mat they had there.  Unfortunately, the mat room had open block walls and a lot of dust covered the mat daily.  We brought our own cleaning supplies (mops, buckets, etc.) and cleaned before we trained.  This routine got old and we decided to set up our own training space.

We renovated a room above his bar and laid down some custom made massage mats (the space is still there to this day).  Eventually more of our friends joined and after a couple months, we decided to make it official.  In May of 2009 we started Chiang Mai Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.  It was definitely a unique situation as there was a bar below and BJJ above in the same building. It somehow took though, and the club started building momentum.

In late September 2009 Chiang Mai BJJ took a small team to Bangkok and competed in the 2009 FBT Thailand BJJ/ Grappling Open hosted by Bangkok BJJ and BJJ-Asia. It was a well-run tournament and we had a blast. A few of the guys did well in the white belt and beginners, no-gi divisions. The team even brought back a silver medal in the no-gi competition. It was a proud moment for me since the club had only been open for a few months, and we all trained hard for the competition.

As fate would have it, Niti Techottiasnee (owner of EMAC in Bangkok and now a BJJ black belt under Professor Adam Kayoom) heard mention of Chiang Mai BJJ at the tournament and realized there was some interest in BJJ in northern Thailand. A friend of his, Professor Pedro 'Bebe' Schmall (a Royler Gracie black belt) was looking to relocate from Beijing, China during this time. The three of us met briefly to discuss the potential success of BJJ in Chiang Mai. After the meeting, there was a lot of optimism about Pedro instructing BJJ in Chiang Mai.

About a month later (November 2009), Pedro moved to Chiang Mai to set up a new school.  The school was to be a collaborative effort between EMAC, Chiang Mai BJJ, and Pedro. EMAC provided the facility, Chiang Mai BJJ provided students (myself included) and it's BJJ network, and Pedro provided the BJJ expertise.  On March 11, 2010, after a few months of getting things established, MMA Chiang Mai officially opened with Professor Pedro Schmall as the head instructor.

The era of MMA Chiang Mai under Professor Pedro Schmall was short lived however.  In September 2010, Pedro returned to Brazil and MMA Chiang Mai continued as a club co-operated by myself and Krzysztof Hajtalowicz (a.k.a. Chris Haja).   Chris and I helped prepare another small team for the 2010 FBT Thailand Open (October 23 & 24).  Again, the team did well even bringing home a few medals.

In early 2011, MMA Chiang Mai merged into a collaborative effort with multiple instructors and the name was changed to GoldenTriangle International Martial Arts.  Muay Thai, western boxing, judo, and BJJ were all offered independently under the new format.  We had a number of visitors including Professor Adam Kayoom of Bangkok BJJ during the following months.  I continued to co-operate GTIMA until I accepted a position managing Bangkok BJJ in June 2011.

To be continued…