In the midst of a Hangzhou winter season, when the wind is blowing and nothing you do keeps you warm, try something new like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the Monster Fight Club just a short walk from Da Tie Guan subway station.
I bought a three month gym membership recently in a last ditch attempt to get fit for the Christmas season but quickly found myself lacking in motivation. In the evenings after work, the treadmills were all occupied, and finding mat space in the yoga class was like parking your ebike outside of Wu Mart! Impossible!
Now, when I heard I could try a Jiu Jitsu class, my first reaction was terror. “I’m not strong!” I tested the martial art waters a little when I was a kid but now? Ah, what the heck! How bad could it be?!
Upon entering the studio, I was greeted by the owner Zhong Xi, his wife and their two year old daughter. I was given some hot tea to take the chill off and a white gi and belt. It was time to change.
Whilst waiting for the class to begin, I looked nervously around at the other students, a mix of men and women, some big, some small, all stretching on the mat. One of the women smiled at me and came to help me to tie my belt. “Welcome,” she said. “First time?” Oh yes! Was my response. “Don’t worry. It’s fun!” There was no more time for chit-chat as the instructor, Chen Bin, entered and we began with a warm-up.
Stretching and some simple cardio done, we moved on to forward and backward rolls (with a twist). Learning to break your fall, should you ever find yourself in a sticky situation, was harder than it looks and surprisingly energetic! Roll after roll in quick succession and no time to stop as there was the next person behind me. This was a challenge! Or so I thought…
Next, we circled around to watch a demonstration of the grappling technique we were going to be practicing. Pinned to the ground, Chen Bin effortlessly flipped his opponent 180° degrees to switch roles – wow! Could I do that? The instructor then broke down the steps easily for us all to see… closed guard, open guard, gi grab, weight shift, knee to attacker’s chest, pull on their arm and flip.
I was paired with a woman of similar size and off we went to practice. It was difficult at first, but everyone was so supportive, and there was always someone demonstrating to others to make sure the technique was correct. Taking it in turns to be the attacker, we spent the next ten minutes breaking down the process, slowly to begin with then gradually getting more confident. After a few attempts, I finally managed to swing my partner off me and I landed on top of her to finish the move as we were shown. This was a proud moment!
The class continued with a variation of the first technique and eventually progressed into ‘fight time!’ Now this looks and sounds scarier than it really is – I promise. This was a chance to put all those skills we learnt into practice with different opponents. During this exercise, there was no punching or kicking allowed, just grappling, with the aim of pinning your partner into submission. There was no pressure to participate and there were a few students observing and supporting their classmates from the sidelines. A truly intense experience.
It was during this time that I managed to ask a few ‘need to know’ questions to Chen Bin and Zhong Xi.
NAME: Chen Bin
NAME: Zhong Xi
This class was fantastic. Tell me how you got started here.
CB: I’ve only been training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the last five years. You may have noticed that although it’s a popular sport in the West, the development here in China has been really slow.
From student to instructor in five years, that’s pretty impressive…
CB: Yes, when I started, there were no classes available here, so myself and a few friends taught ourselves through watching clips on the internet and competitions on TV. It motivated me to want to learn more. So two years ago, I went to Shanghai to train with the Atos Ju Jitsu team and trainers and qualify as an instructor myself. That’s when I approached Zhong Xi about opening a gym here in Hangzhou.
ZX: I have been training in Wrestling since I was ten years old. It’s a part of my life. I trained rigorously and followed a similar program to that of the Olympic team. After seven years, I started Chinese kickboxing and was trained by two very famous coaches here in Hangzhou, 尤邦孟 (You Bang Meng) and 周建海 (Zhou Jian Hai). I owe a lot to them as I trained with them for six years. I too, wanted to share my knowledge and enable others to learn these skills, and so after a lot of planning and hard work, Monster Fight Club finally opened three months ago.
How can the study of Jiu Jitsu affect our everyday lives?
CB: It’s not just a way of exercising for me, it’s a lifestyle. If I have time, I try to train every day.
ZX: Yes, it’s good fitness, not just in cardio but in strength and agility too. We need to look after our bodies and this definitely makes an impact.
What are other reasons for training?
ZX: Self-defense is what people think of first. The techniques you can learn here are effective and don’t require huge amounts of strength to do. Another reason is to make friends. We are like a family here. Everyone is welcome.
Are there any requirements? Health, age or otherwise?
ZX: No, we are open to all who wish to learn. As soon as we step on the mat, we are all equal. No matter your age, gender or nationality. Language is not a problem here; some of our students speak English but for the most part, it’s demonstration and practice.
There are lots of gyms in Hangzhou. What makes you different?
CB: The instructors here work with a small group of students, they get to know you, your body and any goals you may have. They will push and support you to challenge yourself and be the first to praise and congratulate you when you achieve even the smallest of milestones. As well as group classes, we also offer one-to-one personal training and tailor your program to suit your body and life style to offer a complete package.
ZX: There’s no salesman guilting you into paying for a year’s membership; we are a family run business who will find a deal to suit your needs.
Where do you see the club in five years time?
ZX: As long as this building is here, we will still be here training. We are discussing the possibility of opening new venues around Hangzhou so that it’s convenient for more people to try, so watch this space!
What about competitions?
ZX: Two months ago, we attended the Justice Fighting Championships in Shanghai. It was a great success as one of our students won the +77kg (heavyweight) category. We are very proud. Now we have aspirations of bringing competitions to Hangzhou and helping more local people to participate.
I caught up with the women with whom I had trained to ask her some questions about her experience here.
How is it being a woman in a largely male-dominated sport?
It doesn’t make a big difference. If I want to train with another woman, the instructor will listen to me. But I don’t mind being paired with a man. I like to challenge myself, and it’s a great feeling if I win!
What made you decide to join the class?
I just wanted to find a new and interesting hobby, something to keep me fit and meet new people. We’ve all become very close friends; we trust each other and respect each other.
I thank her for not being too brutal with me. She has certainly encouraged me to try some other sports here at Monster Fight Club. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and will be back in the near future.
Classes in wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, kickboxing and strength and conditioning run most evenings. They prepare for all levels, so don’t let being a beginner stand in your way! Contact MFC via WeChat or call to ask about timetables and introductory membership prices.