On February. 27, 2023, I went on the adventure of my life. I sold most of my possessions and booked a one-way flight to Singapore to train at Evolve MMA—Asia’s top martial arts organization. What I thought would be a 6-month visit exclusively to the Lion City turned into a 60-day escapade training martial arts throughout Asia.
I visited a handful of countries and got to train at numerous gyms. I met many new faces, had unforgettable experiences, and learned a lot in the process. Here is my experience training martial arts in Asia.
60 Days Training Martial Arts in Asia
It’s 5:07 am as I write this; the date is Friday, April 28, 2023. I’m sitting on the edge of my hotel bed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Yesterday, I booked my one-way plane ticket back to Canada which departs on Sunday, April 30, 2023. And as I punch these words into my keyboard, I can’t help but reflect on my time here in Asia over the past 60 days.
I’ll never forget this experience; Asia is an incredible place, and I feel privileged to have spent the last two months here. This article is about the experiences I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned during my trip. And it all began in…
My journey began in Singapore at Evolve MMA. The original plan was to train there for 6 months and then simply return home.
However, Singapore only allows Canadians to stay for up to 30 days unless they have a work Visa. And unfortunately, I didn’t meet the requirements to qualify for that documentation. So this forced me to create other plans.
Through careful study, I learned the country has an “Extension of Stay” program you can apply for after your allotted 30 days are up.
My plan was to apply and keep extending my stay through this program until I reached my 6-month goal.
However, I ran into another problem once I arrived at the Calgary International Airport: I couldn’t board the plane to Singapore unless I showed evidence I would be leaving the country within 30 days from my date of arrival.
And obviously, my one-way ticket didn’t meet that requirement.
So right then and there, I purchased a plane ticket from Singapore to Bangkok (which I’ll get into in the next section of this article). But I made my way to Singapore—the Lion City!
I had an incredible experience as I got to:
- Accomplish my goal of training at Evolve MMA
- Learn from World Champions in BJJ
- Meet many cool and interesting people
- Spend a night at Marina Bay Sands (Singapore’s most luxurious hotel)
As my allotted 30 days in Singapore came to an end, I began to feel excited about a change in scenery. Looking back, I’m actually happy I didn’t stay for the full 6 months; Singapore became old hat pretty quickly and I wanted to experience more.
Of all the countries I visited in Asia, Thailand was the most engaging and captivating, especially Bangkok. The city has so much soul and energy to it; there was a unique liveliness Bangkok exuded that was lacking in Singapore. The photo above was taken during my very first Muay Thai class.
When I decided to go on this journey of training martial arts in Asia, I had no idea I’d end up in Bangkok trying Muay Thai for the first time. My instructor (Han) was very patient as he guided me through the attacks and techniques
Fight Lab in Bangkok
Muay Thai was cool; however, I wanted to get back into my element—Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
A friend of mine recommended I check out Bangkok Fight Lab. This place was crazy.
The gym had an open concept, meaning that part of the facility was open to the outdoors.
This idea was pretty cool until you began drilling the techniques and the humidity from the Bangkok heat had you sweating more than a guilty suspect during an interrogation.
But I loved every minute of it.
Training in Bangkok was one of the best experiences of my trip. This city has so much to offer. Moreover, it’s the most unique, lively, and invigorating place I’ve ever been to. And if you asked me which destination I’d want to revisit most from my trip, without hesitation, it would be Bangkok.
Other Training Facilities in Bangkok
Shortly after spending some time at Bangkok Fight Lab training BJJ, I found another training facility—a high-quality gym not far from my hotel.
Travelling can be disorienting. When you’re moving from place to place, city to city, or country to country, it becomes challenging to keep hold of your bearings—mentally speaking.
For this reason, retaining a consistent routine is essential.
And one of the disciplines I’ve incorporated as a staple (something I do every day without fail) in my life is running and weight training.
So when I found this gym and saw that it had all the equipment I wanted and needed, I was on cloud 9. Moreover, Bangkok is a chaotic and hectic city; life here is so fast pace that it’s hard to slow down to catch your breath.
This gym really helped give me some psychological breathing room and mental stability in this foreign, tumultuous, and high-spirited city.
The Maldives is a very unique place. Situated off the coast of India, this small island archipelago consists of more than 1200 islands scattered throughout the Indian Ocean.
And with only 500,000 inhabitants, life here moves at a much slower pace than anything I’ve experienced so far.
Everyone is so laid back and relaxed.
People here spend their time lounging on the beach, enjoying the beautiful weather, and not taking life (or themselves) too seriously.
It was a welcoming change of pace coming from the anarchy of Bangkok. And training here was a very interesting experience as well.
Why? Because my training partners here had an unusually high degree of flexibility. Seriously. These island boys (in the photo above) are made out of rubber! Training with them was like rolling around with a contortionist smothered in baby oil.
All jokes aside, the Maldives offered one of the most fun environments while I was training martial arts in Asia. Moreover, it offers a very unique experience for anyone who wants to “slow down” for a little bit.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
During the tail end of my trip, I visited Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for 10 days. There, I found Monarchy MMA—Malaysia’s top martial arts gym.
This academy offered training in numerous disciplines; everything from wrestling to BJJ and Muay Thai to boxing were all available.
The photo on the left is me with Diego Vargas, a BJJ black belt with nearly two decades of martial arts experience. Vargas is incredibly kind, respectful, and knowledgeable in BJJ and Muay Thai.
It was an honour learning from him during my stay in Kuala Lumpur.
Aside from Evolve MMA, Monarchy MMA in Malaysia was the best martial arts facility that I had the privilege of visiting in Asia. This trip was initially supposed to be a 6-month runway of training in Singapore.
But it soon transformed itself into a 60-day Asian exploration with martial arts training sprinkled throughout the visits. And I learned some valuable lessons as a direct result.
1. Shake Things Up Every Once in a While
It’s easy to become stagnant in life. You get caught up in a familiar and safe routine, and before you know it, 10 years have flashed by leaving you with nothing to show for that valuable time wasted. I’m not knocking a routine; in fact, I highly value structure in my days. But what I am saying is don’t be afraid to “rock the boat” every once in a while when you feel your life could use a change of pace or a fresh start.
I sold all of my possessions, handed over my apartment lease, and travelled to the other side of the world to train martial arts. And despite the fear, uncertainty, and challenges I faced, it was among the best decisions I ever made.
2. Learn to Become Flexible
Life is messy; things don’t always pan out how you want. For this reason, flexibility in your plan and approach is essential. I thought I was going to spend 6 months in Singapore; that was my goal. However, once I learned I couldn’t even enter the country without displaying proof I would be leaving it within my allotted time limit, I had to be flexible.
And quite frankly, I’m actually glad I didn’t spend the full 6 months in Singapore. Why? I got to explore more of Asia, train at other martial arts academies, and return home sooner with a new vision for my life and a burning desire to make it happen.
3. Honour Your Intuition
I wanted to train in Singapore since I took up martial arts. It was a pulsating desire that had been gnawing at me for a year and a half. And when I finally took that leap of faith, it was the most liberating experience of my life. The lesson? Your intuition is always speaking to you; sometimes it’s through subtle inclinations and, other times, powerful desires.
You have to follow it because it’s guiding you in the direction you need to go in; it’s giving you the experiences you need to have, and it’s helping you become the person you’re supposed to become. You know what you want to do in life; start doing it.
Whether it’s opening your own business, making a career change, or moving to another city, you have to honour your intuition—even if it terrifies you.
And here’s the deal…
You should be more scared of the results of not following your intuition. Ignoring your inclinations leads to stagnation; this weakens your resolve to achieve other goals and dreams, turning you into a Drifter getting tossed around by life rather than a Director who’s calling the shots.
Even though this trip did not pan out the way I anticipated, it was still an experience I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. I’ve learned so much and have developed a new level of confidence and self-assuredness. And for these reasons—in addition to many others—it has been a formative trip that has genuinely contributed to my development as a man.