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Review: MMA Travel Guide by William Stevens

Unless you’re a Green Beret or Peace Corps volunteer, the prospect of extended travel overseas is likely a daunting undertaking – especially in regards to countries that don’t speak your native tongue. But if you’re an MMA enthusiast kicking around the idea of studying Muay Thai or jiu-jitsu at its source, then author William Stevens, and his book the “MMA Travel Guide”, has got you covered. Drawing on his own experiences visiting Thailand and Brazil for the past decade, Stevens (himself a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Louis Vintaloro and Royler Gracie) lays it all out in concise, Fodor’s Handbook-esque fashion. Here’s a breakdown of the book’s finer points:

-Geography – You may not pass any advanced geography exams after reading the book, but the MMA Travel Guide certainly lays out where in Thailand you’d go for training at the top Muay Thai camps, and where you’d find the jiu-jitsu academies in Brazil. There’s a decent breakdown of Bangkok, which, for international travelers, will likely be the point of entry into the country, as well as descriptions pertaining to the more exotic Phuket and Chiang Mai locales. Having visited Thailand myself, I can say Stevens nails it – especially the part about not renting motorbikes. (I saw tons of tourists absolutely mangled on those things, and that was before I even left the airport.)

For Brazil, the travel tips extend only as far as the city of Rio de Janeiro, but there’s so much jiu-jitsu in Rio, you’d have to really want to visit the country’s other grappling spots (Sao Paolo, Minas Gerais, etc.) to be inclined to check them out.

-Local Customs – Did you know pointing your feet at someone or tousling their hair can offend a Thai? Stevens has that little tidbit in there, as well as others, which should hopefully keep you from getting your butt kicked by locals who are sick of your post-boozing nonsense. There isn’t much by way of insight into local customs re: Brazil, suffice to say that acai is loved by one and all. Still, what more do you need to know in Brazil?

-Language – Stevens lays out a ton of important words and phrases in Portuguese that would be essential to any jiu-jitsu tourist (or just plain tourist who wants to avoid having some stranger put their knee on his belly). But the Thai that’s laid out in the MMA Travel Guide is fantastic. Words and phrases are spelled out for Western pronunciation, and addresses are written out in Thai. In other words, if you want to check out the Sasipapra Muay Thai Gym in Bangkok, all you need to do is hold up that page of the guide to a taxi driver and he’d be able to read where it is. That’s very, very helpful.

-The Nitty-Gritty of Training – For the section on Thailand, the facilities offered by each of the camps are laid out. Also, the pros and cons of staying at a camp versus hotel are weighed, and Stevens even touches upon checking out live Muay Thai fights (a must for fight fans and aspiring fighters alike).

For the jiu-jitsu practitioner trekking to South America, the MMA Travel Guide encourages all belt levels to make the trip. Included is a description of what training is like at the Gracie Academy in Humaita, as well as necessary tips on diet, cardio and communication.

If the MMA Travel Guide has any shortcomings, it’s that Stevens only writes about what he knows – Thailand and Brazil. The way information on training in those countries is provided makes me wish the author would do the same for places like Holland, Japan, and even the United States. But alas… “My experience is really only with Brazil and Thailand, so I don’t really have any plans on other books,” said Stevens via email. “Wrestling is the one martial art that really has been most dominant in MMA, but who really needs a travel guide to Ohio? Seriously, I thought about doing a tour to visit the top MMA trainers in the USA, but running my two schools and trying to sell my book alongside has used up all my time. Maybe in another life.”

Oh well. At least the MMA Travel Guide gives us the birthplaces of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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