BUSAN, South Korea – Picture this: A no holds barred fighting competition in a cage where anything is legal (eye gouges, groin shots, biting, and hair pulling). Then take a 250-pound chiseled giant that looks like he’s been cut from stone and put him up against a skinny 170-pound guy who looks like he’s dressed in a pair of funny pajamas. Who would your money be on? What if I went on to tell you that the skinny 170-pound guy beat up guys twice his size time after time, by choking them out or breaking their arms?
That man’s name was Royce Gracie, and back in the early 1990’s, he went on to win multiple UFC championships with a martial art virtually unknown outside of Brazil or Japan at the time, known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
To the casual observer, it may just look like two guys rolling on the ground dry humping each other, however Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art full of intricacies that pushes the limits of the body and mind. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a self-defense system that was created by Royce’s father, Helio Gracie, and his uncle, Carlos Gracie that focuses on ground fighting and emphasizes technique over size and strength. It also incorporated elements of Judo, wrestling, and grappling.
Interestingly, there is a thriving BJJ community in Korea. An American BJJ black belt named John Frankl first brought BJJ to Korea ten years ago, and it has really taken off. The first John Frankl Motor One competition in Seoul held ten years ago had about 15 competitors – the last one had over 350.
Busan is fortunate to have one of the best BJJ gyms in the country, as well as three BJJ black belts (Park Jun-young, Chae In-muk, and Sung Hee-yong). Dong Cheon Bek San, translated East Heaven (meaning Korea) White Mountain (which is in reference to the legendary Baekdu mountain in North Korea), is a family of several BJJ and MMA (mixed martial arts) gyms in Busan and the surrounding areas, where both Koreans and expats train together. Park Jun-young is not only one of the founders of DCBS, but also happens to be the first Korean Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
Busan Haps sat with Park Jun-young to find out what it took to become the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt in the country.
Busan Haps: When did you start your BJJ training?
Park Jun-young: I started in 2002.
BH: Generally, it takes ten years to receive a black belt in BJJ. How long did it take to get yours?
PJY: It took me five years to get my black belt. I got it in 2008 from Roberto Tozi.
BH: Five years! That’s pretty quick. How did you get it so fast?
PJY: Well, most people have 9-5 jobs, but Jiu-Jitsu was basically my job. I trained everyday, six days a week, sometimes even seven, for hours and hours just like a real job. I was persistent.
BH: When was the first time you went to Brazil?
PJY: The first time I went to Brazil was in 2005.
BH: So you were a foreigner living in a different country? What was the experience like?
PJY: When I went to Brazil, it was the first time I had ever been out of Korea, so it was pretty eye-opening. All I had ever known was Korean culture, and Brazilian culture is quite different.
BH: What are some differences?
PJY: Well, the way younger people interact with elders is the biggest difference. Brazilians are very respectful, but it’s just different. Also, drivers in Brazil are crazier than in Korea if you can believe that.
BH: What did the Brazilians think of you at the competitions?
PJY: It was funny. I really stuck out. Many of the Brazilian guys looked at me and thought they’d just tear through me. That I’d be a cakewalk. I think people were a little surprised when I kept winning and submitting people. Everyone was very accepting and friendly though.
BH: What is the best thing about Jiu-Jitsu?
PJY: Definitely the challenge. There are so many difficult aspects to Jiu-Jitsu. It also takes dedication to excel in this art.
BH: What is the most important thing you want to teach your students?
PJY: Well, training hard develops not only physical attributes, but mental ones as well. Things like discipline, respect, and humility. I also think keeping an open mind is important. Not only in the gym, but outside the gym as well. I hope that when I’m dead and gone, my name can live on in my students. Someday they’ll leave, and maybe open their own gyms.
BH: There are a lot of Koreans at the gym that do not speak English, and many of the expats (girls and guys) who train aren’t necessarily fluent in Korean. You speak both languages, but is this a problem when it comes to teaching?
PJY: No, not at all. BJJ is very hands on. I didn’t speak any Portuguese when I first went to Brazil, and I was able to understand my instructors perfectly. BJJ is really able to transcend language and cultural barriers. Also, we’re a family here, and everybody is treated with respect. We’re not Korean, or American, or Canadian here, we’re all the same. Also, having foreigners train here is great, because we can share each other’s cultures.
BH: What would you say to people, specifically foreigners, who want to start training BJJ, but are nervous?
PJY: Well, first and foremost, we’re all here to learn and help each other progress, not to hurt one another. Jiu-Jitsu is one of the few martial arts where we spar everyday, and you’ll be on the mat rolling (sparring) on your very first day. Being nervous is okay. Everyone is nervous the first day they start something new. For most people, BJJ is mind bogglingly hard at first, but it’s important not to give up and most importantly to have fun.
BH: In North America, BJJ is well known because of the UFC. What do Koreans think of BJJ, and do you think it will grow here?
PJY: I definitely think BJJ will grow here in Busan and in Korea. Wrestling, and of course Judo, are quite popular here and BJJ is very similar. Koreans also know about BJJ through MMA, and they like it. There is an MMA fighter from Busan who fights in the UFC named Kim Dong-huyn. He is undefeated. His trainer is actually a purple belt student of mine. Once Koreans latch onto something, it usually becomes an obsession, so that is a good thing if it involves Jiu-Jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu itself is addictive once you get into it.
BH: How does it feel being the first BJJ black belt from Korea?
PJY: It was amazing. I worked so hard to get my black belt. I was happy of my achievement, and very proud to represent Korea, however, I also felt, and still feel, pressure to always keep progressing, because people in the BJJ community here know who I am and expect me to perform well.
BH: Okay last question. What’s the best thing about BJJ? The fame, the money, or the girls?
PJY: (Silence. Looks at interviewer like he’s stupid.)
BH: Thank you Park Jun-Young
PJY: Thank you. I’d also like to congratulate my good friend Chae In-muk who just received his black belt after eight years of training. Also, come train with us!