Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tahiti and Moorea Jiu-Jitsu

While visiting Tahiti, I spent time at the local Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy in Papeete, the Fabrice Girot Jiu-Jitsu Academy. The academy is run by Professor Fabrice Girot and operates out of a rented elementary school classroom. The students are mostly Tahitian, with a few French.

Fabrice is an excellent teacher and treated me and my GF very well. He is a true gentleman warrior. Fabrice and his students were thrilled to host a visiting black belt professor from the outside world and he and his students were so warm, friendly and gracious. Fabrice contacted the local news reporter and we were featured in the following week's sports section. I was so pleased to see a high level of technical jiu-jitsu on this isolated little island! Despite the growing popularity of BJJ, there is still a dearth of qualified instructors in the world. All too often, in schools far and near, you encounter schools run by self-promoted instructors, guys who award themselves black belts who shouldn't even be brown belts; brown belt instructors who shouldn't be purples; and purple belts at a blue belt level. Because of the demand for qualified instructors, unscrupulous people step in and teach out of their range of ability. This happens right here, all over the United States.

Jiu-jitsu is one art where you can't fake it because the truth comes out on the mat. The fake guys resist sparring or entering tournaments and for good reason: when they do, they take a drubbing, rarely getting past the first round. It was wonderful to see the technical proficiency of Fabrice's students. Man, those Tahitian boys are big! They grow them big in the islands, plus the Polynesian people are gifted with a natural athletic aptitude. I was honored to do some teaching at Fabrice's school, sharing the jiu-jitsu I know, and came away with many new friends.

The following week I was scheduled to visit the adjacent island of Moorea. Wondering to myself if I'd be able to find anyone training jiu-jitsu there, I was waiting for the ferry over and I saw a HUGE guy wearing a Gracie jiu-jitsu t-shirt. I immediately introduced myself and struck up a conversation, as I do! His name was Joel and despite a considerable language obstacle, we managed to communicate through the universal grappler's language. I understood that he'd trained eight years on his own, learning BJJ from DVDs and teaching it in turn to his friends. He'd even set up his own mini-underground inter-island tournament. He offered to pick me up the next day to visit his informal dojo. There on the island, most of the guys are surfers and train no-gi submission wrestling. On the way to the dojo, Joel continually apologized for the the shabby, built-by-hand school to which he was taking me but when we arrived, I was absolutely thrilled! It was one of the coolest outdoor structures I'd ever seen! It was built by Joel's friend, Jody, the local physical education teacher, and I thought it was utterly fantastic. It was an outdoor structure, totally open on all sides but for a low perimeter wall, and covered over, to shield from the rain, with a sloping, Tahitian-style roof. It was exactly what I'd visulaized in my dreams of Tahitian BJJ training. The mats, while a little, err, firm, were adequate. Joel asked me to teach a class and I happily obliged. Once again, the guys were HUGE! Some of them looked like they belonged on the cover of Men's Fitness.

Here, on this little island, thousands of miles from anywhere, this hardcore group of about 15 guys have been teaching themselves a fairly high level of no-gi grappling with Joel, a white belt instructor. The next day, I decided to give Joel a blue belt test. He donned his gi and after 1-1/2 hours of testing his proficiency, I was pleased to award him a blue belt.

I enjoyed teaching and training with the Moorea boys for the next week and once again, left Moorea with new, good friends and comrades. It never ceases to amaze me how
truly determined people can excel despite overwhelming odds. I plan to return soon and visit with my new friends. BJJ is alive and well on Tahiti and Moorea.

1 comment:

Peter Kim, MD said...

Awesome. If I ever take a 2nd honeymoon in Moorea again, I know I'll be in paradise if I can train in BJJ while there.

There's a sizable community here of folks with a Polynesian/South Pacific Islander background. There's an iron haired gent in his late 50's, rows outrigger canoes for a dedicated hobby, forearms like my calves, can easily imagine his ancestors splitting heads like ripe coconuts...nicest soul you'd ever meet.

One of our office staff, similarly gentle and sweet, is the youngest in her family, just a bit shy of 6'2". She's the "shrimp" of the clan...