What It’s Like to Use the Globetrotter Network for the First Time: Q23 Bangkok

Dust Mop Jiu Jitsu: The Expat Files: Chapter Two: Q23-Bangkok, Thailand

On the pleasures of living out of a bag, trusting your commitment to BJJ and overcoming the fear to drop-in to another academy.

This is Chapter 2 of what I’m calling the Expat Files. If you want to know more about what this project is, you can read more about it in the first article here.

There’s a specific joy that comes with living out of a bag that’s small enough to be your carry-on. You feel like you’ve stripped down to your most basic essentials. Sadly, my bag that lasted me 10 years and 8 countries fell apart on the last day I left Korea. At the Daegu airport, I quickly found an outdoor store, and repacked my stuff. To save space, we only packed quick-dries, easy layers and, since I was still doing grad school, my laptop. For BJJ, I had decided against bringing my travel gi. All the no-gi clothing lends itself easily to hiking. I said a wistful goodbye to my favorite adventure bag and we were on our way!

After one year teaching abroad, Rachel and I were ready to slowly make our way back to the states. Our first stop was Bangkok, Thailand. We made no specific plans since we knew we would be physically and emotionally exhausted. Leaving our job as kindergarten teachers meant saying goodbye to a hundred small children screaming they loved us. Sitting at the airport, I remember reflecting on how many aspects of daily life would no longer be accessible to us. No more bathhouses, festivals about anything and everything or barbecue with unlimited side dishes (it’s just not the same anymore). My gut had grown accustomed to eating kimchi multiple times a day. Would I even have access to that in the states?

At that point I was in the habit of going to Jiu Jitsu three times a week. Would that be another thing that disappeared from my life like random street protests and little kids treating me like a jungle gym?  Not wanting to lose my momentum, I looked up places on the BJJ Globetrotters facebook group. The recommendations brought me to Adam Shahir Kayoom’s gym, Q23. While I was excited to go, I was definitely unsure about what it would be like to visit someone else’s gym. It took me almost 15 years from hearing about BJJ to finally go to a class and now I was just going to waltz into someone else’s club like it was no big deal. Despite my hesitations, something inside compelled me to go through with it.

Bangkok was so different from where we had taught. It’s a mixture between modern developed Asia with skyscrapers and public transport, but with the rustic vibe that comes with motorcycle taxis and floating markets. Getting inside from the noisy street felt like entering an airlock. The gym was on the fifth floor of a pretty ritzy looking hotel. High ceilings, floral patterns, saunas and people wearing tennis whites. It seemed like a country club until I found a door with the logo on it. Q23 operated in a small room and it reminded me of what I had at Ulsan Fight Gym. To date, it’s the fanciest setting I’ve seen for a BJJ gym but the room itself reminded me of what I had in Ulsan.

Adam was a nice guy as he registered me for the class and gave me the rental gi. I remember being fascinated by their routine. Like most gyms, they had some warm up movement drills. But they did partner shrimping and reverse shrimping through people’s legs which actually gave me more context for that specific movement. To this day, I enjoy showing that to new white belts who seem like they’re struggling to get movement right.

“Okay, let’s do some live rolling (Jits speak for sparring).” As soon as Adam said that,  everyone went to the wall to grab tennis balls. From there, they rolled while holding them in their hands. I watched from the sidelines since I was asked not to spar. If you don’t know Jiu-Jitsu, grips are extremely important. The gis we wear feel like bathrobes because you are allowed to grab the fabric. Holding tennis balls means focusing more on using your legs. Four years later, I have yet to try that. It’s always cool to see a gym do something unique. 

Unlike Ulsan Fight Gym, most people at Q23 were expats so Adam taught in English. It felt so strange to be in BJJ class and be able to understand everything.  Not just for the  lesson, but also the small talk. For context, all the international friends we made in Korea had the same experience:

  • We tuned out the conversations around us since we couldn’t understand them. 
  • We stopped whispering since we assumed most people couldn’t understand us. (It’s a dangerous assumption. Rachel and I got into some pretty embarrassing situations. We definitely had some Korean folks chime in on some very intimate conversations around our sex life…). 

The result is that when you return to the states, people think you speak way too loudly and you find the conversations around you incredibly distracting. The class at Q23 had both problems. I am positive they spoke at a normal volume, but to me it felt like I could hear every word in every sentence in every side conversation.  

Despite not getting to do everything, I had a great time. I was also proud of myself for getting to the class. My biggest worry with leaving Korea was that I wouldn’t keep training. Now I knew BJJ would be at least one thing that I wasn’t leaving behind. 

After the class, a few of us were chilling with Adam. We all laughed as he told us his daughter was getting into trouble in school for putting boys into submission holds. “They keep messing with her! I also keep on telling her that it’s going to make boys feel uncomfortable if you make it look that easy. I’m probably just encouraging her.” 

Except for Ho Chun and a few others, I had never really chatted with someone in a Jiu Jitsu gym. I also never worried about personality clashes since those only occur when you have the ability to communicate. Nobody I was friends with did BJJ and I didn’t know if I could make friends with someone who did. As a visitor, I didn’t know if people would be okay with me being at their gym or perceive it as a dojo storm. But everyone at Q23 was nice, and welcoming. I could see myself hanging out with them. 

I remember this British dude being my training partner. He offered  me a ride back to my hotel. He had been living in Bangkok for ten years, was married to a Thai woman and first came to teach English before moving on to doing some business distribution thing. Before doing BJJ, he trained some Muay Thai but found everyone too aggressive. He felt like Jiu Jistu was more welcoming. I had just met this guy, was in his car, drinking a coffee that he had just bought me. I had to agree that the folks who do BJJ are my kind of people.

Getting a ride, shooting the shit with the instructor and swapping BJJ stories would come in many more gyms. At each one, I imagined what it would like to stay and make it my permanent academy. What if I became a mainstay instead of a blip on the radar? What if I were there for birthdays, tournament wins and holidays? It’s not that hard to imagine that as a possibility. Later in the states, my strategy for finding friends would be joining a Jiu Jitsu gym. It has definitely paid off, but that’s for a later chapter. 


The Dust Mop takeaway: 

There’s a unique kind of insecurity that comes with starting Jiu Jitsu. People get instantly hooked. You might know you want to train forever, but you can’t ensure that you will be there one year later. Life and work might get in the way. But at some point, you do something that gives you evidence that you’ll be in this for the long haul. For me, I knew that getting my ass to a lesson in the first week post Korea was proof that I would continue on. Going to Q23 was proof. It was not a passing fad. I had gone out of my way, on a vacation, to train jiu jitsu. From then on, I was able to trust my own commitment.

This was also the first time I dropped into another community’s gym. Before starting BJJ in Korea, I had been scared to walk into a studio. After Korea, I was intimidated to step into somebody else’s. But since visiting Q23, I no longer have that fear. Instead, I had the feeling that these were all people I would want to know better if I had more time. I knew dropping into gyms was going to be a staple of my jiu jitsu journey as long as I train.

My goal is to visit 100 gyms! If you ever want me to visit yours and write about what it’s like to learn from you, feel free to reach out at [email protected]

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