I meet Marco de Jesús Alvarado online, which is a very safe place for me, because Marco is a Black Belt Jiu-Jitsu fighter and referee, who is an American from Los Angeles but with Guatemalan roots.
I watch jealously as he sips at an IPA beer as we chat. At the end of this month (May 29) he will be celebrating working and living in Hangzhou for four years. He keeps busy running a gym and the Taco Bros restaurant downtown.
With the news that the Asian Games have been postponed for a while because of the continuing Covid virus situation we get to talking about how Marco became a referee. He tells me that around 3 years ago he was training the local police in the art of Jiu-Jitsu but the pandemic put a stop to it. Nevertheless, after time had passed and we entered the 'new normal' he was able to go to Beijing with colleagues to undertake some referee training courses with one eye on the Asian Games. He explains there was a worry that travel restrictions would stop some of the world class, highly qualified, Olympic referees from travelling to China. So being a Black Belt fighter in Zhejiang province with some refereeing experience it made sense that he should undertake the training.
After the training Marco was asked to take part in a Jiu-jitsu event in Hangzhou for the Asian Games. He was asked to be a referee there as he is nationally certified as a referee for Jiu-jitsu. He was also well known as the highest ranking black belt in Hangzhou. The competition consisted of the Zhejiang team with a few other outside players that were able to make it. It was an intense competition that was held over a couple of days but the mighty Zhejiang team were able to beat the competition. Marco underlined what an honour and a pleasure it was to be asked to be a technical official for this competition and hopes that he will also get his chance to be a technical official at the forthcoming Asian Games.
Marco believes that the Asian Games will give Jiu-Jitsu a huge boost in China. He explains that four years ago outside of the main centres of Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing the martial art discipline was not very popular. He also mentions Zhang Weili (张伟丽) a Chinese mixed martial artist who is also a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who has also helped to put the fighting style on the map in China.
Last week I talked to Ximena a practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga Yoga and asked about connections between Yoga and Chinese martial arts, so I put the same question to Marco re Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Chinese martial arts. He talked about how Kung Fu has similar objectives to Jiu-Jitsu -- the deflection of power and counter attack, but admitted not really knowing enough about Tai Chi and other forms. But he joked that he had heard his sport called "violent yoga!"
I ask Marco about his gym and he tells me that there are many nationalities at his gym which gives it a real international flavour. His students include men and women from all around the world, the US, UK, Azerbaijan and many others, of course, he also has Chinese students. There are all levels of classes including what he calls the "fundamentals" or beginners. He says that new students don't need to be shy or frightened of entering a Jiu-Jitsu gym. Martial arts are very disciplined and all about respect so students are not expected to fight from the very beginning. A new student doesn't need any previous martial arts training and Marco underlines that Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone. In his gym the age of the students range from 17 to 50 and he tells me that the No 1 White Belt in China is a young female from his gym.
The key rules he says are No. 1. Take care of yourself and No. 2. Take care of your training partner. Let's finish with a quote from Carlos Gracie, a famous veteran of the sport on the meaning of jiu-jitsu. "The biggest lesson I learnt from jiu-jitsu was how to truly know myself".