Malaysian Pride

Go with the Flow

Penang is a small state situated in the Northwest of Malaysia comprising mainland Bukit Mertajam and Penang Island. The combination of British colonial architecture and sandy beaches draws many visitors to this island each year, I on the other hand was there for Jiu-Jitsu. The reasons for this start in Vietnam over 4 years ago were both Poppy and I met. 

Poppy and I met when we were both competing at the inaugural ASJJF Open in Ho Chi Minh City in 2019. I was introduced by my friend Fitri Rosmin whom I had met the year prior at another competition at Saigon Sports Club. 

The events after that competition are hazy at best, a few too many craft beers later and I was suggestible enough to agree going to a nightclub where Poppy’s friend was DJ’ing. According to one of my students Luke, by the time the sun was coming up we were discussing half-guard on the side of a road in front of my hotel, which I had been locked out of. 

5 weeks later, Poppy had come to Yangon with his cousin to visit and train. I recall very little of our interactions in the evenings we hung out but what I do remember was that he had kept asking me to visit him at his gym Flow BJJ academy. A ‘pandemic,’ a military coup and some time to re-establishing my life as part of Arete later and here I was on a flight to Penang 2nd June 2023. According to Poppy I had forgotten to mention which date I was arriving. (Good start)

I arrived late afternoon in Penang with little to no issue and I was soon on the way to Poppy’s office in George Town. 

Poppy Jang

Promotion Discussion

Shortly after my arrival to Poppy’s office we were updating each other on the current state of Jiu-Jitsu in our respective regions. The usual gossip, politics of our national federations, team break ups, new gyms and competition shenanigans. Shortly thereafter we were on our way to a cafe close by to meet with Charlie Cagil Dagseven. Charlie is an Andre Galvao Black Belt and has been part of Flow for a while, from what I understand his father was a wrestling coach and they are of a Circassian heritage. As Charlie is the senior belt and knows more regarding the students at Flow, both Poppy and he felt it prudent to include me in the discussion, as Arete and Flow were in discussions to affiliate. 

What struck me during this meeting was the care in which they took to discuss their students promotions, each of their potential level and current standing in their ranks. They were even kind enough to ask if I would like to have the honour of wrapping a long overdue purple belt on one of my first training partners Neil, whom I had started Jiu-Jitsu with in Aberdeen, Scotland over a decade ago. 

From the moment I got off the plane to Penang, Poppy was extremely welcoming. I honestly felt very guilty for not taking up his offer to visit for so long. 

Flow BJJ Promotion Day

After a great morning touring the small city with Neil, reminiscing of our time in Scotland we headed to Flow for their belt ceremony. Given that there were some team medals won at Malaysia’s aptly named ‘Spazzfest’ in Kuala Lumpur, some well deserved promotions were due. 

On a personal note, I was really looking forward to seeing Neil’s face when he got his well deserved purple belt and I was sure Poppy was going to get his long overdue brown belt. Both Poppy and Neil had been on their current belts for at least 5 years. With work, travel and no long term head coach heading Flow it had been a challenge promoting the senior belts on any legitimate capacity. 

The gym is located in a little strip mall on the first floor, a flight of stairs later and you’re immediately struck but how aesthetically simple yet beautiful the gym is. The mat area is all white, with a padded wall with the gym logo displayed proudly on its wall. The lounge area is homey with the floor covered with collected grappling stickers, the high ceiling that has a hatch that can pour direct sunlight into the already well lit gym and the white motif of the gym accentuates a level of cleanliness the gym has. 

With the formalities finished and being introduced to Cha’nelle and Jessen, the other gym owners, Poppy and Charlie had everyone sit according to belt levels with higher belts upfront and lower belts going back. Congratulations were given to everyone in attendance including those who had recently competed. Stripes were the first order of business and watching the students faces lighting up as they got tape wrapped on their belts reminded me of how it felt when I got my first stripes on my white belt years ago. 

My current team has had a policy of not giving stripes and only giving belts, this was modified for white belts recently, but from blue belt onwards, you earned your belts period. (I was surprised to hear from students that was one of the reasons some people wouldn’t come to Arete) Watching everyone coming up to the front reminded me how special a day it is, as a student or a coach. Being in a coaching position now, you realise how special a day it can be. Once the white belts were promoted, it was time for Neil to receive his purple belt I was called out front. 

Neil: The Catalyst for my life in Asia

My speech was short as possible but I did make sure to mention the history Neil shared and how he was the catalyst to my move to Asia years ago. Had it not been for him, I wouldn’t have experienced the life I have now. (Good orr bad is still up for debate) When I consulted him of a possible move to Thailand, he didn’t even hesitate. He toId me simply, ‘go, you will never regret going.’ To this day I am thankful to him and proceeded to wrapped the purple belt around his waist. After that we both sat down to watch my brother get is well deserved brown belt by Charlie. 

After the promotion it was time for the rolls. I got to roll with many of the students and instructors and I was impressed by how technical they all were. No ego, no roughness just good technical rolls. Charlie was on another level, solidly built with a lifetime of wrestling in his family he felt like a rock that could not be moved. To top it off he had a black belt from Andre Galvao himself, for he was extremely technical but at the same time he was very respectful on how he sparred. 

Promotion Day with Flow BJJ June 2023

The vibes at Flow BJJ arrer very similar to my own team Arete so I think it was so easy to get along with everyone there. A tough, technical gym with a very welcoming family vibe. Every should stop by the gym while you’re visiting Penang. It’s an incredibly welcoming gym with no shortage of great partners to train with and their kid’s program is very popular.

Update: As I write this gym report months after visiting Poppy and Flow I am very happy to tell you that Arete BJJ & Flow BJJ have officially affiliated together. Not in the strict sense but as a coming together of two gyms for the goal of mutual growth. 

Flow x Arete BJJ

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