A local gym is taking legal action against a man who had in September called out one of its coaches for being a “scammer” after a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt worn by the coach raised suspicions about his martial arts credentials.
The man it is suing is 24-year-old Alvin Ang, the founder of a local Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament. He announced yesterday that he had engaged lawyer Clarence Lun from Foxwoods Legal firm to defend him, the same person defending Singaporean marathoner Soh Rui Yong in a separate defamation case.
Ang, who runs the Singapore Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open, is also running a fundraiser targeting S$25,000 to pay for his legal fees. More than S$5,000 had been raised as of Thursday morning.
UFC Gym Singapore manager Barnabas Huang wouldn’t talk to Coconuts Singapore. Through a publicist, he said he has taken the matter to the courts for adjudication and “would not be able to make any comments about the issue.”
At issue is a September Facebook post in which Ang said gym trainer Iskandar Saim was a “scammer” who could not have earned his brown belt in the sport.
“Please vet your staff properly. We of the martial arts community hold coaches to high standards, and we wouldn’t want a fitness gym coming in and besmirching our reputation,” he wrote.
Ang’s post included a screenshot of Iskandar’s Instagram post, showing him wearing a brown belt in a group photo at UFC Gym Singapore after a BJJ training session.
“He’s not a brown belt, never been, never will,” Ang wrote. “He’s not even a white belt 2 stripe mate.”
The post attracted comments from others in Singapore’s passionate BJJ community, where suspicions run high of “fake fighters” who haven’t paid their dues or earned their colors.
Most were critical of Iskandar. That led Huang the gym manager to clarify that Iskandar was hired to teach Muay Thai and not BJJ, adding that he had been “temporary suspended” while they looked into the matter.
In November, Ang said he received a letter of demand from the gym to take down the post, apologize and pay over S$40,000 in damages.
Coconuts Singapore wanted to find out what Iskandar thought of the accusations and reached out numerous times to talk to him. After several days of failed efforts including Iskandar blocking a reporter on Facebook and Instagram, he replied to say that he didn’t want to talk.
Ang said he published the original post after questionable photos and videos of Iskandar had already been circulating in the BJJ community. Iskandar shared photos on social media of himself wearing a brown belt 10 months after announcing in October 2017 that he’d received his purple belt.
“To get a brown belt, it’s an average of eight years of consistent training, which is like three or four times a week. So if you are a brown belt, people would know. Nobody knew who he was and suddenly he showed up,” Ang, who wears the blue belt, told Coconuts Singapore.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu has six belts: white, blue, purple, brown, black and red. Ang, who trains at Impact MMA and Team Highlight Reel, said he received his blue belt after four years of training. He started the sport in 2012.
The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s graduation guidelines stipulate that a year must pass before students can rank up from purple to brown. It’s 2 years for the preceding leap from blue to purple.
As videos piled up in the comments purporting to show Iskandar attempting common BJJ moves, so did the online scorn. In one, his attempt at a triangular chokehold appears “very amateurish,” Ang said.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is similar to the Japanese original, but most of the action takes place on the floor, where combatants grapple without striking each other and leverage is an equalizing force. Began a century ago, it has swept the world as a fitness craze in the past decade and has taken root throughout Southeast Asian cities.
In Singapore, the community has mushroomed from just a few hundred members three years ago to more than a thousand today, Ang said.
Over in Bangkok, BJJ black belt Morgan Perkins said the capital’s two gyms training a few dozen fighters 14 years ago have multiplied into seven or eight packing students into large classes.
The Bangkok Fight Lab founder said calling out fake fighters has become something of a parallel sport online.
“This has been going on for a long time, people calling out fake black belts online and talking all kinds of shit,” he said. “It’s not something I want to waste my energy on.”
He said it’s more difficult to pull off at higher levels in such a tight-knit community, which is also why anyone doing it is unlikely to be motivated by financial gain – they won’t get away with it for long before being found out.
“I don’t think anyone who sucks, who doesn’t have any legit skill, can. Eventually people will see through you,” Morgan said. “I don’t think you’re going to get rich. It’s more than making money for a lot of these guys.”
Ultimately, he said, the responsibility is with whoever awarded them the belt. While a fighter who paid for their belt may be a pariah in the community, whoever bestowed it upon them is really the one in the wrong.
Shady BJJ fighters came to light in Singapore after practitioner Joshua Robinson — whose black belt raised doubts within the community — was jailed 2017 for having sex with minors and possessing what was believed to be the largest collection of child pornography in Singapore.
“When you’re a coach, you interact with women and children, you are in a position of power with them. If you’re a fake, it’s very dangerous,” Ang said.
On social media, Iskandar presents himself as a practitioner of all kinds of martial arts, including BJJ, Muay Thai and Silat.
An Instagram photo published in 2017 showed a man tying a purple belt around Iskandar at a fitness center that looks like the now-defunct Radiance PhysioFit at Shenton Way.
Iskandar also has said that he conducts self-defense classes for women in some of his posts.
Ang said several BJJ fighters in Singapore have reached out to Iskandar about his doubtful credentials, and said Iskandar apologized to them individually and promised to — in Ang’s words — “stop pretending to be something he isn’t.”
“We thought the matter was over. Then, we spotted him in a photo at UFC Gym,” Ang said.
Additional reporting Todd Ruiz
More news from the Little Red Dot at Coconuts.co/Singapore.