Studying Martial Arts Around the World – Interview

Traveling means a lot more than ticking a few boxes in a whistle stop 3 day tour of a country, if you really want to get to know a place, you need to stay there, get off the tourist trail and really immerse yourself in the culture.

Studying, working or training in another country is an awesome way to integrate yourself and get to see a much more real side, today I talked with Stephen Bischoff from the shameless traveler, while we were taking the Trans Siberian train, who has been doing martial arts around the world over the last few months, let’s catch up with him:

Training at the shaolin temple

Stephen training at the Shaolin temple

Hey Stephen, so you’re on the road now, how much traveling have you done to date?

Well, I’ve been on the road 8 months and I’ve done 14 countries thus far. I expect to add at least 8 more countries on to that total in the next 3 months between rocking across the Trans-Siberian and a whirlwind jaunt I have planned in Southeast Asia.

 

You’re really into your martial arts, which disciplines do you study?

I pretty much study anything I can get my hands on. My basis is in Jeet Kune Do, but I have studied Muay Thai, American Boxing, Sanda Sanshou, Silat, Doce Pares, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Judo, and several more. I’ve been at it for 12 years now consistently so I have dabbled quite a bit.

 

So how many countries have you done martial arts in?

I have done martial arts in four countries now. Obviously a lot of training in America, but I’ve also studied Sanda with the monks at the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng, China, I’ve studied Doce Pares Escrima and Eskrido under Supreme Grandmaster Cacoy Canete in Cebu City, Philippines, and most recently I trained Muay Thai in Bangkok, Thailand under Grandmaster Toddy, which was a lot of fun.

Training muaythai in bangkok

Stephen with his muay Thai trainer in Bangkok, Thailand

Has it been expensive to study those overseas? What sort of budget are we talking about?

That is probably one of the most surprising things about training overseas is that it is relatively cheap to train martial arts here.  For instance, it would have cost me several hundred dollars to train with Grandmaster Toddy in Las Vegas for only a couple days, but in Thailand I lived at his school in an air conditioned room for two weeks, trained with him 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, and the grand total was about $400, which blew my mind.  Everywhere I have trained I have encountered these extreme discounted rates. I guess they figure you spend the money to come to their countries they’ll give you a deal.

 

 

Do you have to be an expert to get involved? Are there options for absolute beginners?

You definitely do not have to be an expert.  Now that does not mean you do not have to try, you always should give it your all.  For instance anyone can go train at the Shaolin Temple, but 95% of people won’t last very long because the training is so unrelenting and vigorous. Grandmaster Toddy on the other had really caters to beginners. His gym is known for taking people from beginners to pros, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a fighter either. There were two women there training to get in shape and lose weight. He even had them on special diet plans.

 

How have you organized these study trips?

You simply have to ask. Do your research, find an email or a phone number and make contact. There is nothing to be nervous about, the martial arts community is really friendly.  If you can’t make contact just show up, that’s what I did at the Shaolin Temple. I showed up there and talked to them and then the next day I was moved in and training.  Also, if you are not sure about a school, for instance there are hundreds of Muay Thai gyms in Bangkok, do a little research, read forums on the internet, both martial arts and travel. People seem more than happy to tell you when a school sucks on the web.

training martial arts in the phillippines

Stephen training martial arts in the phillippines

What’s next up for your martial arts career?

I think the next thing I would like to do is study Wing Chun Kung Fu in Hong Kong. There are a lot of reasons, that is where Bruce Lee studied under the Famous Ip Man and I’m fairly certain his son Ip Chun still teaches it there. So that will be another incredible experience and dream when I make that happen.  Wing Chun is one of my favorite styles.

 

What are your martial art goals?

I’ve been studying for a while now, so in the next few years I want to start getting a handful of black belts and teacher certifications.  I’m very close to getting my instructorship in Jeet Kune Do, I’m getting very close to my black belt in Doce Pares, and I’m 3 hard months of training away from getting my Kru in Muay Thai. So I guess those are my big three things I want to accomplish in the next couple years.

 

How are you funding all this awesomeness?

I’m funding it in three ways. The first is teaching English Camps in Korea three times a year. The second is from the income I make my maintaining my travel blog shamelesstraveler.com. The third is the savings I put together with hard work before I left America.

shaolin temple martial arts

Shaolin temple martial arts in action

From all your travels, what have been your highlights?

There have been a lot of highlights, that is the best part of traveling, the non-stop highlights.  I have two main highlights though, the first and the biggest highlight was my trip to Tibet.  I have never been anywhere like Tibet and almost nothing I can right can justify the awesomeness of the experience.  The people, the sights, the feeling in the air, and if you go you will feel it as soon as you step off the train, are incomprehensibly amazing.  The second big highlight was training at the Shaolin Temple. For me it was a dream come true, something I’ve wanted to do since I saw my first Kung Fu movie when I was a kid. As an adult it was a feeling of accomplishment, like running a marathon, that I could still push my mind, body, and soul to their limits and come out walking tall. The training was intense, the community was awesome, and my master Shifu Hu really became a spirit guide for me and an example of the greatness a human being can ascend to. I clearly loved it.

 

I understand your journey is just beginning, what are your travel terms for the short and long term?

Well, my main goal is to simply keep traveling.  I have completely embraced this lifestyle now and it is hard to imagine going back behind a desk anywhere.  Right now I’m hitting up the Trans-Siberian railway system from Beijing, China, up through Mongolia to Russia, down into Kazakhstan, back up into Russia, and then end in Finland for a spectacular show of the Northern Lights.  After that I’m meetin up with some of my best friends from home and we are going on a two month romp of South East Asia where Burma is my most anticipated place to visit. Long term I want to do Asia for one more year, spend the year after in Europe and Africa, and then after that just keep on going man haha.  We’re travelers, our long term is always just to keep going.

 

Thanks Stephen, check out his site for more shenanigans. Stephen kindly said he’s happy to answer comments below, so ask away. Happy travels!

 

13 thoughts on “Studying Martial Arts Around the World – Interview

  1. Per Wilhelmsson

    I am in a situation were I am able to pursuit the very same dreams I had as a child as you did and I wonder how you managed to find that monastery in Tibet? I’ve read much about the Chinese government “destroyed” several monasteries in Tibet and made them income-based due to foreigners interest of martial art. I would really like to take lessons from a real shaolin Shifu if it’s possible. And also, were there any rent or cost to fund your stay and daily living with the monks? Im thinking of going a whole year and really commit myself to their lifestyle and also to learn Mandarin.

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  7. Alex

    How much money does one need to get started in a lifestyle like this? Im 22 work at a warehouse have a high school diploma pretty much don’t know jack. Read a lot…. It’s concerning though, let’s say I was successful at making it over there and begin to run low on funds, is one able to find work to support this pursuit? Do you pay rent at these places? Would you recommend I go through college and continue to train in the states before I think about this lifestyle? Kinda create a foundation? That doesn’t sound to bad of an idea. Extremely interested to lean more about this if this reaches you I humbly ask for any guidance you or Stephen may offer it will be greatly appreciated.

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  9. Takezo

    hi, very cool article. I envy you for being able to work even away from home. I would also like to go to china for a couple of years. Would you raccomand it to me considering I train for actual fighting? I don’t agree with josephs point of view. Buddhism and phylosofy give you peace. Martial arts are made to win fights. Atleast as a traveller who has dedicated the last 2 years travelling without almost anymoney in thailand to get stronger, that’s my point of view. Thanks for your time, and let me know ifyour looking for a travelling mate to train with.

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  10. Joseph

    awesome interview…I’ve been meaning to learn martial arts, but where I come from, there isn’t a great variety (if any) of those…so through this article I got another reason to head over Thailand – great food, cheap accommodations, friendly people and martial arts…you can’t ask for more :)
    Stephen, I’m a total beginner as far as martial arts is concerned – which style would you recommend? I’m not looking to be the new Dragon Warrior (honestly), just want to get in shape (maybe even build up a little muscle tone), and throw in a little self defense. I know that martial art is not about fighting (huge advocate of nonviolence), and it teaches you discipline!

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    1. Johnny Post author

      hey joseph, – steve will be happy to help you out if u wanna do it – drop him an email and he says he’ll reply asap =)

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