Being the first person to achieve something that no one else has ever done is an amazing accomplishment. Park Jun-young was the first Korean to be awarded a black belt in BJJ. He has taught me a lot about BJJ and is the person who awarded me my purple belt. Getting one from him meant a lot to me, and I really felt like I earned it through hard work and, of course, his guidance.
Here’s an interview I did with him for an article in Busan Haps magazine:
Busan Haps: When did you start your BJJ training?
Park Jun-young: I started in 2002.
BH: Generally, it takes ten years to receive a black belt in BJJ. How long did it take to get yours?
PJY: It took me five years to get my black belt. I got it in 2008 from Roberto Tozi.
BH: Five years! That’s pretty quick. How did you get it so fast?
PJY: Well, most people have 9-5 jobs, but Jiu-Jitsu was basically my job. I trained everyday, six days a week, sometimes even seven, for hours and hours just like a real job. I was persistent.
BH: When was the first time you went to Brazil?
BH: So you were a foreigner living in a different country? What was the experience like?
PJY: When I went to Brazil, it was the first time I had ever been out of Korea, so it was pretty eye-opening. All I had ever known was Korean culture, and Brazilian culture is quite different.
BH: What are some differences?
PJY: Well, the way younger people interact with elders is the biggest difference. Brazilians are very respectful, but it’s just different. Also, drivers in Brazil are crazier than in Korea if you can believe that.
BH: What did the Brazilians think of you at the competitions?
PJY: It was funny. I really stuck out. Many of the Brazilian guys looked at me and thought they’d just tear through me. That I’d be a cakewalk. I think people were a little surprised when I kept winning and submitting people. Everyone was very accepting and friendly though.
BH: What is the best thing about Jiu-Jitsu?
PJY: Definitely the challenge. There are so many difficult aspects to Jiu-Jitsu. It also takes dedication to excel in this art.
BH: What is the most important thing you want to teach your students?
PJY: Well, training hard develops not only physical attributes, but mental ones as well. Things like discipline, respect, and humility. I also think keeping an open mind is important. Not only in the gym, but outside the gym as well. I hope that when I’m dead and gone, my name can live on in my students. Someday they’ll leave, and maybe open their own gyms.
BH: There are a lot of Koreans at the gym that do not speak English, and many of the expats (girls and guys) who train aren’t necessarily fluent in Korean. You speak both languages, but is this a problem when it comes to teaching?
PJY: No, not at all. BJJ is very hands on. I didn’t speak any Portuguese when I first went to Brazil, and I was able to understand my instructors perfectly. BJJ is really able to transcend language and cultural barriers. Also, we’re a family here, and everybody is treated with respect. We’re not Korean, or American, or Canadian here, we’re all the same. Also, having foreigners train here is great, because we can share each other’s cultures.
BH: What would you say to people, specifically foreigners, who want to start training BJJ, but are nervous?
PJY: Well, first and foremost, we’re all here to learn and help each other progress, not to hurt one another. Jiu-Jitsu is one of the few martial arts where we spar everyday, and you’ll be on the mat rolling (sparring) on your very first day. Being nervous is okay. Everyone is nervous the first day they start something new. For most people, BJJ is mind bogglingly hard at first, but it’s important not to give up and most importantly to have fun.
BH: In North America, BJJ is well known because of the UFC. What do Koreans think of BJJ, and do you think it will grow here?
PJY: I definitely think BJJ will grow here in Busan and in Korea. Wrestling, and of course Judo, are quite popular here and BJJ is very similar. Koreans also know about BJJ through MMA, and they like it. There is an MMA fighter from Busan who fights in the UFC named Kim Dong-huyn. He is undefeated. His trainer is actually a purple belt student of mine. Once Koreans latch onto something, it usually becomes an obsession, so that is a good thing if it involves Jiu-Jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu itself is addictive once you get into it.
BH: How does it feel being the first BJJ black belt from Korea?
PJY: It was amazing. I worked so hard to get my black belt. I was happy of my achievement, and very proud to represent Korea, however, I also felt, and still feel, pressure to always keep progressing, because people in the BJJ community here know who I am and expect me to perform well.
BH: Okay last question. What’s the best thing about BJJ? The fame, the money, or the girls?
PJY: (Silence. Looks at interviewer like he’s stupid.)
BH: Thank you Park Jun-Young
So, those are the three black belts here in our little corner of the world. Here are a couple of interesting pictures.
Chae In-muk third from right (white belt)
Sung Hee-yong second from left, Park Jun-young third from left (as blue belts)