Anywhere you go in the world, you can find adventure, interesting experiences and friendships you’ll value for a lifetime. This was consolidated as an absolute truth to me, when I randomly ended up in Taiwan during my round-the-world trip to train Brazilian jiu-jitsu back in 2011.
I had planned for a stop-over of just one day in Taipei, as it was the cheapest route to take from the Philippines to Japan - a place I had been planning to visit for a long time. To me, Taiwan was mostly just something I’d read on labels in clothes and electronics. It had never occurred to me, that I would end up visiting, let alone finding so many friends and training partners there.
To make a very long story very short, as I got to my hostel bed the first night and logged on to their wifi, I randomly got in touch with a Scottish jiu-jitsu guy, who was visiting there too. I had barely arrived, and was actually on my way to leave again, but decided to stay a little longer, as we got the immediate idea to do an absolutely mad road trip around the entire island of Taiwan.
First of all, the climate is very comfortable and you will be able to wear shorts and tank top all year long. Taipei, the 9-million person capital city in the north, boasts the second tallest building in the world, a fast paced nightlife and cheap beer and food. The natural beauty outside of the city is stunning and I’d highly recommend renting a car and just going for a spin, where you’ll run into one beautiful beach and scenic mountain road after the other. You could also just jump on a bus or train, which is a fast, cheap and easy way to get around there. If you are into surfing, there are tons of secret spots with world class waves, but you’ll have to find them yourself, as I promised the locals I wouldn’t reveal them.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu has been growing strong in Taiwan for the last ten years, with the largest gyms located in Taipei and Taichung. There’s a good mix of belts on the mat seven days a week, and I’ll personally attest to the level there, as I had some really hard rolls during my visit.
I visited several other gyms around the country, and everywhere I went, I found great sparring partners and friends. Everyone spoke English quite well, so communication was never a problem. There is an absolutely enormous university Judo hall in Taitung on the South East coast of the island, that must be able to fit two hundred people sparring at the same time. Walking in the door of that place, with no expectations and actually no intentions of visiting the country in the first place, I was completely blown away by the place I had stumbled upon. I stayed in one of the jiu-jitsu guys’ houses in the mountains, ate snails and chicken feet, surfed deserted beaches and guillotined more smiling locals than I could count.
I had planned to stay for just one day, but by chance opened a door to a whole world of experiences, people and training that I had never expected to find. When I finally got back to Taipei airport, we had been on the road for almost a week. What a rush of travel-drug that was!
The Scottish guy I explored the island with, Dan “Imal” Reid, became a great friend of mine and we’ve traveled together on a number of occasions since. I promoted him to brown belt this summer and as a true BJJ Globetrotter, he somehow found his way back to Taiwan, to tap into what seems like an endless flow of adventures. As I write this, he is riding motorcycles into the sunset in the mountains of Taiwan and teaching jiu-jitsu for a living. I am not sure he is coming back home any time soon.
Words by Christian Graugart