The Key Players
During his high school years in Bangladesh, Ali (not his real name) started training in Judo. Then he moved to Australia where he was schooled under Peter De Been in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and was granted a blue belt. A Mixed Martial Arts fan who loved the T.V. show ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, Ali missed the action of martial arts when he returned to Bangladesh. He couldn’t share his passion with his family or friends.
Across the globe, Sawasdee Kamal Chowdhury (Dee) was introduced to BJJ while residing in the U.K. Instantly he became hooked and was later awarded his blue belt after putting in time on the mats under Roger Gracie. When Dee moved to Bangladesh he missed doing the sport that he loved. Hitting the gym just to define his body by pumping iron was too monotonous and there seemed to be lack of team spirit.
My encounter with BJJ began in Canada when I walked into Toronto BJJ. I worked my way up to blue belt. Then I relocated to Bangladesh. As I took leave from my Sensei Jorge Britto, I thought, “I’ll miss being part of the BJJ community.”
All of us experienced co-education while training BJJ.
Acceptability as a Profession
Ali, Dee and I crossed paths through BJJ at a local Karate club. However, unlike our mentors, we didn’t teach BJJ as a profession. A senior martial artist compared us to some early cricket players. Back in the late 90s, athletes on the national team used to play in neighborhood fields. When people asked the athletes what they did for a living, they were bewildered by the answer, “I play cricket.” How could one play cricket for a living? They couldn’t grasp the concept that you could play cricket professionally and make money. In order to make money, you had to have what they presumed as a real job, for example, being a doctor or an engineer. Today, people accept cricketers as professionals. However, for now, we have our day jobs and BJJ is a passion on the side.
Professional involvement will definitely help it grow faster.
Again, cricket was rarely played by women here back in the early days. Even today, their participation is limited. It’s the same story with martial arts, including BJJ, where I see negligible practitioners.
Traffic in Dhaka
Ali introduced BJJ to Bangladesh. He started to teach a few people at a local Karate club and initially, he didn’t charge fees. A challenge he faced was that his students couldn’t make it to class on time, if at all, because of traffic congestion. The World Bank found that 93 percent of respondents in their research rate traffic in Dhaka as a serious problem.
One report states that the average speed for a commute in Dhaka is 4-5 km/hr.
It’s not uncommon to be stuck in one place for 35-40 minutes.
The commute negatively affects our psychological, emotional, and physiological wellbeing. It creates feelings of nervousness, tension, stiffness, irritability and fatigue. All of these elements hamper BJJ training, including poorer performance. Additionally, women in Bangladesh are expected to contribute to household chores on top of school and work. Thus, time is an essence they don’t have adequate amounts of, especially to commute to training.
Difficulties of Establishing a BJJ Organization
While Ali was teaching BJJ at the Karate club, Dee came across a dojo named KO Fight studio (KOFS) that was making some noise as a full contact fighting gym. The idea of teaching BJJ emerged as KOFS was grasping with the concept of MMA. Instantly there were a swarm of challenges. The Kimono (traditional garment; full-length robes) for BJJ practice isn’t available in Bangladesh. Neither are BJJ mats.
The first few classes were taught by placing double layers of yoga mats over the concrete floor.
Sparring, which is an obligatory part of training, was discouraged.
The World Bank in their Doing Business 2015 data ranked Bangladesh 172 and 174 for 2016. There are challenges here setting up an organization and importing training materials. There are other relevant issues due to bureaucracy, corruption, lack of transparency, and a poor rule of law. Corruption in Bangladesh has been a continuing problem with the country being ranked as the most corrupt country for the year 2005 by Transparency International. This sabotages our ability to bring in talent from abroad, training equipment, and to develop local talent. All of this is needed to promote and sustain BJJ as a sport in Bangladesh. On top of that, there are security considerations should we bring in a female instructor for local women.
Attitude Towards Health
A major challenge Dee and I have found in our BJJ program is the attitude towards fitness in general. We joke that people would rather live an unhealthy lifestyle, get sick, and pay fees to a doctor instead of paying dojo fees. At a corporate wellness program, I also had participants who were hesitant about participating although their fees were paid.
Women in Bangladesh suffer from gender discrimination which includes a lack of inclusiveness in society and malnutrition. To provide for their family, women pass on quality foods which are essential to their nutrition. For example, some women don’t eat until men have finished eating. There are also cultural and religious contexts that restrict some women from training, especially with men. Although improving, a woman’s destiny is assumed to be a home-maker. Her husband, father, or brother is there to protect her. Thus, there is the belief that she doesn’t need to learn self-defense.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything else.”
-George Bernard Shaw
Against this backdrop, in the first week of October 2015, Javed Uddinn, a British citizen of Bangladeshi heritage visited us. As far as I know, he’s the only know person of Bangladeshi background to hold a black belt in BJJ. Javed has trained under Maurício ‘Maurição’ Motta Gomes and has received his black belt from Roger Gracie. He’s conducted two seminars and has also decided to help us develop BJJ in Bangladesh. At a time when we’re facing challenges promoting BJJ, especially to women and children, this comes as a blessing. Javed mentioned to us how BJJ has grown in Pakistan against all odds.
We also had Ayesha Kamal, a Gracie Jiu Jitsu blue belt residing in the UK, visit and conduct a Women’s Self-Defense program based on BJJ. Her husband and I assisted her. So for Dee and myself, there’s a ray of hope to establish a local BJJ federation, organize tournaments and seminars, and also enlighten people through BJJ.
We want to create an organization and structure that will work to enable and empower people through BJJ. In turn, BJJ can be used as a platform for the empowerment of women, child development, and confidence building, among other things such as creating social harmony between diverse communities.
Mohammed Tanvir (Nick) Mosharraf has been practicing martial arts actively since 2002 and has been exposed to Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ and Kyokushin Karate among others. He is an avid fan of Boxing and MMA. He believes in using combat sports and martial arts to foster community relations and also enable and empower people from all walks of life.