Featured Traveller: Tatu Piispanen – BJJ Globetrotters

Tatu Piispanen – BJJ Globetrotters

Age: Master 2 for the final year

Belt: You guys are getting belts..? (Purple)

Profession: Designer

How many years in BJJ: I’m in my 10th year of training. Yeah, I should be better by now…

Other martial arts: None whatsoever. Hell, I hadn’t even done any other sport before BJJ, let alone a martial art! I believe starting later in life has its pluses too. For example, I had zero past injuries coming in – my bad knees are all pure BJJ. Also, I don’t have bittersweet memories of an attributes-based “young man’s game” – I’m stronger, more mobile, and better looking now than when I started, thanks to training. I hate when people say, “I wish I started sooner”; it’s just another way of saying you wish you were better without having to work for it. Just fucking own being a late bloomer.

But I’m pretty sure I’m still a top-5 authority on kung fu movies in Finland. So, feel free to challenge my knowledge about vintage martial arts cinema any time!

Where do you live: Helsinki, Finland. Our capital area has a very healthy BJJ scene. Lots of gyms and open mats, and cross-training at different places is encouraged. The level is high – as long as you don’t spar with me – and drop-in fees are not a common practice.

Sadly, the pandemic is putting a giant stress not only to the practitioners, but also to the business side of things. Training contact sports is currently not allowed in my area, but hopefully is again when this interview comes out. I really wish all the academies will be able to bounce back.

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, you’ve likely heard about the one that disputes the existence of Finland altogether. Well, this has spawned a spinoff theory claiming that I do not, in fact, exist. There is an amusing discussion about the topic on the Beltchecker.com forum, which is a few hundred messages long and has been going on for a year now.

I don’t know what to believe anymore either. Maybe I am just a hoax.

Tatu Piispanen BJJ

Tatu Piispanen BJJ training. Photo by Sammy Hämäläinen

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
I guess you’re running out of people to interview… I can’t consider myself a “traveler”, really. Of course I like to travel, but that’s like saying I’m a foodie because I like to eat. I work a corporate 9-to-5 office job, which thankfully is quite flexible. In a typical pre-Covid year I’ve been managing to make about six or seven trips abroad, most of them shorter ones. Training camps and competition trips are pretty much my favorite type of vacations.

No matter what form of travel, I always bring my gi and hunt for a gym to drop in. BJJ people are cool wherever you go. And trying to strangle a person while a drop of sweat from their forehead finds its way onto your eyeball – that’s a meaningful interaction and connection right away, which also transcends possible language barriers. Especially if I find out you’re a fellow deep half guard player, I can trust without a doubt that you’re a superior human being worth getting to know better.

But my biggest inspiration in combining these two for the past five years has for sure been the BJJ Globetrotters community and the friends I’ve made through it. I already have invitations to more gyms and homes that I will ever have time for, for which I’m truly grateful.

Tell us about your most recent travel and your upcoming travel – where have you been and where are you going?
You know there’s a global pandemic fucking up everybody’s travels right?

Considering that, I’ve actually had a relatively sweet travel year, thanks to careful planning, a lot of luck, and some Globetrotter friends helping me out. Within the past year I’ve made it to Norway, Italy, the Caribbean, and the United Arab Emirates. I have literally entered a country both one day after it has opened for tourism and one day before it has closed for tourism. I’m pretty sure you can see my brain through my left nostril now due to the amount of Covid tests I’ve taken.

When traveling can’t be taken for granted anymore, you start to appreciate it on a different level. This February I managed to transport my pale ass to the Caribbean Island Camp in St. Barthélemy, and holy shit that was a special experience! Warm sand between my toes had never felt so good. Right now, I’ve relocated to Dubai for a few weeks, because Finland shut everything down from gyms to restaurants. More Jiu-Jitsu and cocktails, less snow blizzards. I still work remotely on weekdays, but just to be able to go to a class after work feels like a privilege in these times.

For the next one… who knows? It’s more up to the ever-changing travel restrictions than me. I’m hoping to make it to at least one BJJ Globetrotters camp later this year and can’t wait to compete internationally again.

Tatu Piispanen – BJJ Camp

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
It’s mainly the genuine generosity of people that keeps surprising me, because you run into so much terrible human behavior these days, especially on the internet. It’s easy to succumb into a slumber thinking all of humanity deserves to be consumed by a gargantuan bone-eating mutagenic plant-god, but then you get to travel and train, and encounter some really wonderful people that you suddenly don’t want to meet an instant grisly demise. I mean, you will still attempt to wrist lock them, but that’s different. People have gone out of their way to provide good experiences for me, and I try to pay that forward of course.

For actual juicy travel stories, you have to catch me on the side of the mat or over a pint of beer. Perhaps we can even produce a new one together right then and there.

Photo by Juha Koivisto

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
Not really. I don’t care about luxury and prefer to save wherever I can, but I’m in a position now where time is more valuable to me than money. These days I’m also more concerned about minimizing the environmental impact of my travels rather than cutting all possible costs.

That said, I guess the true pro tip here is to know or get in touch with the locals before you go. If you can crash their couch, eat their food, storm their dojo, and use their finger tape, you will save a ton. And in case you don’t have any friends already at where you’re going, don’t be afraid to reach out to strangers. The worldwide BJJ community is amazingly welcoming. If you both know what an oil check means, you’re already connected on a profound level.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
That traveling to a camp during a global pandemic might not be as impossible or risky as it may first seem. Of course, you might be in a situation where there are restrictions factually preventing your freedom to exit or enter a country, but if that’s not the case, I believe it can be done in a reasonably responsible way. It’s never zero-risk opening the door of your home and venturing out. But given the way that the situation is handled at the Globetrotters camps, combined with common sense measures to ensure your and especially others’ safety, I say going doesn’t have to mean you’re a Covid-denying, self-infatuated prick. Traveling now comes with a certain amount of stress and uncertainty, but the rewards have made it more than worth it. Attending a BJJ Globetrotters camp has been the year’s highlight for me both in 2020 and 2021.

And to paraphrase Blaze Foley, remember that you don’t always get what you go after, but you do get what you wouldn’t have got if you hadn’t gone after what you didn’t get.


Thank you to Tatu Piispanen – BJJ Globetrotters for making this interview!