The Birth Of A Martial Arts Revolution

The Birth Of A Martial Arts Revolution

Sunday 12:32 AM

When I first settled down permanently in Singapore in late 2007, there were only 8 blue belts (including me) and 2 purple belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the entire country. There were no brown belts or black belts. I still remember getting smashed by my buddy Jason Quek Jee Tien in my first week here when he was a purple belt. He was the highest ranked jiu-jiteiro in Singapore at the time (and known as the Little Red Dot’s founding father of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Believe it or not, but my friend Sul Mohamad Sulaiman was also a blue belt at that time. And yes, he was the best blue belt in the country by far. He smashed me like a little bug. At that time, there was almost no martial arts culture or community in Singapore. There were maybe a total of only 100 people in the entire country who trained in either Muay Thai, MMA, or BJJ at that time. I taught Muay Thai in a tiny gym owned by Singaporean Ben Liu on Keong Saik Road in Chinatown. The community was so small back then that we all knew each other and we all cross-trained with each other at some point or another.

When I decided to open EVOLVE, everyone thought that I was crazy. People told me that it was foolish because martial arts was viewed as a “gangster mafia” industry in Singapore run by secret society gangs, and that it would never be mainstream in the country. Luckily, I was naive enough to let my love for martial arts guide me. As a lifelong martial artist, I opened EVOLVE in November of 2008 (with an official grand opening in January of 2009) with the simple idea that I wanted to share my greatest passion in life with the world. Martial arts changed my life and I knew it would help many others too. I was determined to make my mark. A couple of years later, I launched ONE Championship. I had no idea that it would spark a martial arts revolution across Asia. The rest is history as they say.

The truth is that we all stand on the shoulders of the great men and women who came before us. I owe everything to Kru Yodtong Senanan and Master Renzo Gracie. Without them, I would never have started either EVOLVE or ONE Championship. In fact, since Day 1, EVOLVE has taught both authentic Sityodtong Muay Thai and Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (in addition to a variety of other styles in those arts as well as several other types of martial arts). Over 35 years ago, the late Kru Yodtong brought me under his wings and taught me the beautiful art of Muay Thai. He ignited my lifelong love for the magical Art of 8 Limbs, and I have never stopped training since that first day. (Even in this quarantine lockdown, you will find me on the heavy bag every day at home!). As for BJJ, I started my jiu-jitsu journey in the legendary blue basement at the Renzo Gracie Academy NYC when I lived in New York City. I trained there for 3 hard years, and earned my blue belt. I switched to No-Gi for the last several years before jumping back into Gi training again over the last year to earn my purple belt in the Gi. Thanks to Rafael Gordinho Lima, Leandro Brodinho, and the army of black belts at EVOLVE, I am now inspired and determined to work my ass off to earn my black belt in the future. To give you a sense of who Kru Yodtong and Master Renzo are as people, they both supported my crazy dreams by flying to Singapore for the Grand Opening of EVOLVE in 2009 as well as for the inaugural event of ONE Championship in 2011. As martial arts royalty, they are both legends of the fight game, and I will forever be indebted to them for their generosity of spirit. I only hope that I can carry their flags well enough to honor their extraordinary legacies. Since Day 1, EVOLVE has continued their legacies by teaching authentic Sityodtong Muay Thai and Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (in addition to a variety of other styles in those arts as well as other types of martial arts).

As life comes full circle, I am thrilled to welcome Robert Degle from the Danaher Death Squad to EVOLVE! In my humble opinion, John Danaher and Renzo Gracie are two of the finest professors in the history of the kingly art of jiu-jitsu. John’s many contributions are well-documented, but he is probably most famous for creating the world’s most effective system of full body attacks in jiu-jitsu today. He also singlehandedly created the most feared, winningest submission grappling team on the planet in DDS. Kudos to Renzo for always inspiring an open-minded philosophy with his students. There was a time when Brazilians refused to learn leg attacks, but Renzo has always been different. He created an open learning culture where thought leaders like John could flourish with new ideas. Renzo was also the first member of the Gracie Family to add boxing and Muay Thai to his MMA arsenal. In his prime, Renzo was by far the most aggressive, well-rounded Gracie. I would argue that he has always been the most dangerous lion of the Gracie Family in the fight game. He had KO power in his hands and he kicked like a horse. Of course, his grappling was next level. As for me, I cannot wait to learn the revolutionary DDS system of leg attacks and back finishes under Robert Degle and add them to my submission grappling game. In addition to Robert teaching full-time at EVOLVE, both Professor John Danaher and Professor Renzo Gracie will be gracing EVOLVE with their greatness on their teaching visits to Singapore as they always have done in the past. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself because I don’t know what I did to deserve the life of my dreams. I am truly full of gratitude and appreciation for all of my lucky blessings. Martial arts is what I love. Martial arts is who I am. OSSS!!! #gratitude


Chatri Sityodtong is a self-made entrepreneur and lifelong martial artist from Thailand. His rags-to-riches life story has inspired millions around the world on BBC News, CNN, Financial Times, Bloomberg TV, CNBC, Channel NewsAsia, and other major media. He is the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of ONE Championship, Asia’s largest global sports media property in history with a global broadcast to over 2.7 billion potential viewers across 150+ countries around the world. He is also the star of the Asian edition of The Apprentice, the award-winning, global reality TV series. Forbes most recently selected Sityodtong as one of Asia’s next generation tycoons. Sityodtong was also named “Asia’s King of Martial Arts” by the Financial Times and the “2nd Most Powerful Person in Sports in Asia” by FOX Sports. He is also an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD, Europe’s top business school. Inducted recently into the Black Belt Hall of Fame, Sityodtong is a Kru in Muay Thai and a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Sityodtong holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Tufts University.


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