Taiwan has long been a repository for martial arts and now there is another invasion of fighters who are passing on their deadly skills.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), mixed martial arts (MMA) and capoeira are three of the latest combat sports spreading around the world to have taken hold here.
Ancient forms of martial arts were used for self-defense or offense, but these new techniques are attracting adherents with different aims.
Historically, martial arts have been an important part of life in Taiwan since the first Chinese arrived in the 1600s and were used by militias to fight off Aborigines and protect settlements from bandits.
After the end of the Qing Dynasty, Japanese colonialists banned Chinese martial arts and introduced kendo and judo. Following World War II, many Chinese martial art teachers fled China and found refuge in Taiwan.
Today those who take up martial arts are more likely to be interested in keeping fit, becoming more confident, adding or losing weight and developing a sporting interest with like-minded people. They are leisure-time warriors.
BJJ was started by a master of Japanese jujitsu who emigrated to Brazil. It is defined as a combat sport that concentrates on grappling, especially on the ground, where locks and chokes are intended to force a submission.
Coaching sessions are sweaty affairs, where the maximum of effort is expended and no quarter is given. Training often leads to competitions.
“I would much rather see BJJ practiced as a sport rather than being promoted as an activity for goons,” said Warren Wang (王韋人), a medical doctor and BJJ coach in Taipei.
“There’s often misconceptions about studying martial arts and a lot of people who do it have a false sense of confidence.
What: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the Taiwan Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy (台灣巴西柔術學院)
Where: B1, 1, Ln 231, Yanji St, Taipei (台北市延吉街235巷一號B1)
When: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday (8:30pm to 10pm), Saturday (10am to 12pm)
Further information: See taiwanbjj.org or call 0968-371-238
Cost: NT$2,400 a month (twice a week) , NT$3,000 a month (4 times a week)
What: Mixed Martial Arts at Evolution Combat
Where: 4F, 138, Roosevelt Rd, Sec 3, Taipei (台北市羅斯福路三段138號4樓)
When: Evening classes are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30pm.
Afternoon classes are on Monday, Tuesday and Friday at 1pm
Further information: See evolutioncombat.com or call 0922-176-141
Cost: NT$2,000 to NT$3,000 a month
What: Capoeira at the Capoeria da Bahia Tai-Brasil
Where: Merry Monarch dance hall, B1, 26, Ln 16, Guangfu S Rd, Taipei (台北市光復南路116巷26號B1)
When: Monday and Wednesday from 8:30pm to 10pm at the Merry Monarch dance hall, and Friday at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall same time
Further information: Contact email@example.com or 0960-374-726
Cost: NT$400 per lesson or 12 classes for NT$3,500
“There are kids with black belts running around thinking they can defend themselves against anyone and moms allowing their kids to walk home late at night because they’ve done a few classes,” said Wang, 30, who is Taiwanese but took up BJJ as a student at Berkeley, California.
“This is isn’t true. If somebody comes at you by surprise with a knife, a gun or a bottle there’s not much you can do. There’s no guarantee you can defend yourself.
“I tell these people that they are involved in a sport. It’s not about beating people up, it’s about training and bonding, hosting or traveling to tournaments and competing as a team.”
Scott Sommers, 44, a teacher at Minchuan University, is in many ways a typical convert to martial arts. Though he did judo and boxing as a teen in Canada he played team sports after school, such as rugby.
The BJJ student took time out from fighting a younger man at the Third Asia-Pacific Rim invitational tournament earlier this month, to explain why he took up the sport.
“Two years ago I looked at myself and saw a wreck. This is a safe and reliable way of getting in shape. I got more injuries when I played rugby. I’m 172cm and was over 100kg. I lost 20kg to 25kg, stopped drinking, went on a diet and developed a liking for health and fitness.”
“Scott was throwing up after 30 seconds of rolling or grappling when he started,” Wang said. “Now he can go forever.”
Fellow BBJ grappler and English teacher Vaughn Anderson, 28, is more serious about fighting and is not only a BJJ instructor, but also boxes and competes in MMA competitions.
“What I like about martial arts is that it makes me feel that even in my shoes I can achieve something big and get the cheer of the crowd. There were 4,000 people watching and it was the first time a crowd was shouting for me,” Anderson said of a mixed martial arts fight he entered in Guam.