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Martijn de Jong: Mainstreaming MMA

Hans David Tampubolon

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, November 2, 2016  /  03:47 pm
Martijn de Jong: Mainstreaming MMA

Footwork: De Jong and Engelen circle the mat during a training session. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

While Indonesians are familiar with hybrid fighting styles, the concept of practicing mixed martial arts as a healthy lifestyle and for personal development is still pretty much an unknown territory.

A bell rings and two men dressed in black start to take each other on using jabs and kicks at a fitness center in a posh mall in Central Jakarta.

After five minutes, the bell rang once again and the two men went into a clinch and threw elbows and knees for another round.

Finally, the bell rang for the third time and this time around the two men went to the ground and grappled together while trying to lock each other’s joints for another five minutes.

The two men were Tatsujin Dojo founder Martijn “The Specialist” de Jong and one of his students, professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Anthony Engelen. 

What they were doing was a sparring session that simulated the reality of an official MMA fight under the unified rule of three five-minute rounds of freestyle fighting with only 30 second of rest in between.

In each round, de Jong and Engelen basically practiced three different styles: the punch and kicking of kickboxing, the clinches using elbows and knees from muay Thai and the submission holds and grappling of jiu jitsu. 

Each round was intense and after the session was over, both de Jong and Engelen and the mat they fought on were completely drenched with their sweat.

(Read also: MMA gym vows to produce Indonesian world champ)

Also, de Jong’s nose was a little bit bruised after the session.

“He [Engelen] punched me right in the face,” de Jong said with a smile.

It is a bit odd to see someone smiling after receiving a punch to the face, especially when it is a martial arts master getting one from one of his students, but that is just the way de Jong lives his martial arts philosophy.

“It should have not happened, but it did. I don’t get mad because of it. I instead try to look at what I did wrong and how I can fix it in the future,” he said. “Coping with loses, that is what we as Tatsujin practitioners practice every day.” 

De Jong founded the Tatsujin Dojo in 1995 in the Netherlands and since then it has become one of the finest MMA gyms in the world. It has produced multiple MMA world champions, such as Alistair Overeem, and is now expanding into Indonesia.

While Indonesians are familiar with hybrid fighting styles, the concept of practicing MMA is still pretty much an unknown territory.

Loren Mack, the senior director of public relations at ONE Championship, one of the largest fighting promotion agencies in the world, said that MMA had a strong presence in Indonesia, but only in a small niche community. 

“The main challenge was in getting the general public on board to view MMA as a competitive sport and as a fun sporting alternative to the usual ball sports,” Mack said.

To bring the idea of MMA as a healthy lifestyle to the mainstream community, de Jong, whose students have been fighting professionally for ONE, developed a collaboration with Celebrity Fitness, the largest fitness chain in Indonesia, to open classes to members and personal trainers.

The collaboration started in June 2015 through a seminar on MMA and since then de Jong said the response over practicing MMA as a healthy lifestyle alternative had been great. 

Using the Celebrity Fitness’ client base as a starting platform, de Jong already had hundreds of clients enrolled in his Tatsujin Dojo classes within a year.

(Read also: The Fitness Phenomenon)

Each student practices with a personal trainer who has received official certification from de Jong to teach the Tatsujin Dojo’s MMA system.

“A lot of clients and personal trainers are interested in it [MMA] because of its high intensity workouts. You lose a lot of calories and the afterburner is also very high compared to other sports. You also learn how to defend yourself, which is a big plus and it also builds confidence,” de Jong said.

One of de Jong’s new clients in Celebrity Fitness’ Tatsujin Dojo class is a housewife named Arin, who has been practicing the system for about two weeks.

Arin said she decided to give MMA a try following her personal trainer’s recommendation. 

“My personal trainer told me it was going to be like boxing with some additional stuff,” she said.

“I still feel a little bit awkward doing it, but what I can really tell is that it is more fun and less boring than doing regular exercises. I get to punch and kick my personal trainer as hard as I can. How is that not fun?”

After several sessions, Arin said she would recommend her friends take MMA classes as well. “Exercises are always more fun with friends,” she said.

De Jong said clients like Arin, who looks for the health, fun and personal development aspects of MMA, comprise most of Tatsujin Dojo’s client base in Indonesia.

“Only 10 percent become fighters based on my experience running my gym in Holland,” de Jong said.

He believed that eventually the number of Indonesian clients who wanted to fight professionally would grow significantly and therefore he had already developed a plan to establish a specialized Tatsujin Dojo gym that would cater to the needs of these people.

(Read also: Seven foods to avoid before hitting the gym)

“It will open in January next year, hopefully,” he said.

For now, de Jong said he would focus on expanding the MMA lifestyle concept in the Indonesian mainstream market, but for the long run he had made it his personal mission to develop a world champion from Indonesia.

De Jong, whose parents and grandparents came from Medan in North Sumatra, said he had been fascinated by the great world class fighter potential in Indonesia. 

He has been visiting regions outside of Java and has seen how most Indonesians in the regions are genetically built and naturally gifted to become world class MMA fighters.

“It’s amazing, Indonesia has the best potential. All have good genes, live close to nature and have the right mindset. All you need is quality programming and nutritionists and managers,” he said.