Niko Han was one of the pioneers to bring Brazilian Jiu Jitsu back to his home country of Indonesia. Albeit great success with multiple gyms under the Synergy umbrella at present day, there has always been plenty of obstacles Niko had to overcome.

Since young, Niko was given a brief taste of Judo and traditional jiujitsu. Later in his teens, he later practiced a shaolin based kung fu known as the iron lotus.

However, it wasn’t until watching the infamous UFC 1 whilst studying in the United States that Niko showed deep interest in martial arts.

“When I saw Royce beating all the bigger guys with BJJ, that was it. I knew this was the martial art for me, I knew I had to learn it.”

Back in the day, it was very hard to find BJJ gyms since nobody knew about the sport. Niko shares, “I looked up Royce Gracie in the yellow pages or for BJJ / Gracie JJ and even called 411 but couldn’t find anything. I ended up driving around LA looking for Gracie JJ gyms but with no avail.”

“I visited Hapkido and traditional Jiu Jitsu gyms but still couldn’t find any BJJ. I ended up practicing Aikido for 3 to 4 months. This was challenging, beautiful, technical and a difficult martial art.”

That same summer, Niko returned home to Indonesia for his summer holidays, and coincidentally, he came to know that one of his friend’s boyfriend owned a Brazilian restaurant, so he asked the owner if he knew who Royce Gracie was. To his surprise, he said he knew who he was, but he didn’t know him personally… but he did know someone better, Royce’s older brother, Rickson who taught Royce a lot of his skills.

Niko was amazed and once he got back to the United States, looked in the yellow pages and contacted Rickson Gracie.

Niko remembers, “At that time, I was lifting a lot of weights and was about 95kg. Basically, I was trying to get heavier and stronger. When I first arrived at Rickson’s Academy at LA on 28 th October 1996, Rickson told me to roll with a guy who was only 65kg so I thought I would easily man handle this guy – but the next thing I knew, I was tapping like I was playing percussions, tapping left and right. My lungs were bursting and I was suffering. I wasted all my energy trying to beat this guy but I just could not. Yet I knew I was much bigger and stronger than him. This was the first BJJ class I ever took and I hated it.”

“I remember driving home and slamming the steering wheel in the car. My ego was shattered and I didn’t want to go back. That was not fun. But the next day, I thought if this smaller and much weaker guy could do this to me effortless – I thought there must be something to it, perhaps luck? So I went back a few days later to try again.”

“… And the same thing happened I played the percussions, drove home, slammed the steering wheel and this happened at least 3 times in a row.”

And in January 1997, Niko decided to stop lifting weights and started seriously on BJJ.

On 1 st June 1997, he participated in his first tournament and won the gold medal. The rest is history.

Niko has trained all over the world with great martial arts masters such as Rickson Gracie, Jean-Jacques Machado, Marc Laimon, Ethan Milius, Marcus Vinicius and a lot of other top level athletes*. He has won (and also lost, as he says) many competitions**. You can find him now at Bali, Indonesia, at his gym, Synergy BJJ MMA Academy.

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Fightlife: “What was your biggest challenge, and what did you do to manage this challenge?”

Niko: “I think it was a challenge when I first came back to Indonesia, I wanted to introduce BJJ to the local martial arts community. But because I knew how tradition works in Indonesia, I knew that people wouldn’t take threats very well.”

“So when I first introduced BJJ here, I made sure nobody would get offended by it. I wanted to approach the community in a positive way. I wanted them to think that we were not their foes but friends. We were there to show and share.”

“I didn’t want to show the superiority of the art, but to show that BJJ and MMA can complement their traditional arts.”

“We defeated this challenge by travelling to different cities where there were different martial arts communities and by inviting them to our workshops since 2006.”

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Fightlife: “Has Martial Arts impacted your study life / working life in any way?”

Niko: “I realize now that martial arts has impacted me a lot subconsciously. When I first started understanding the philosophy of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, I used the Gracie philosophy in day to day life and decision making – business deals, interacting with people. For example, I would find the path of least resistance, try to use my opponent’s energy, trying to stay calm under high stress situations where someone is trying to defeat you, finding a method to try to get out of bad situations or to get on top of a specific situation and defeat the other person without panicking and without losing it.”

“This kind of mentality and philosophy helps a lot with day to day life. With the relationship with wife, with friends, business deals and as well as business relationships and also on how to interact with other people.”

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Fightlife: “What problems or mistakes have you faced? How did you overcome it?”

Niko: “I have no regret per se. Life in general, there are always problems coming up or mistakes you could have improved on – the idea is to keep looking forward, try to fix the problems in the most efficient way, getting everyone on the same page and to make everything transparent. That’s how it is in Gracie Jiu Jitsu – no hidden agendas. If you have that kind of mindset strategy and game plan, there are no misunderstandings, and if there still are, they must be resolved.”

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Fightlife: “Injury is part of training. Would you agree? How do you encompass injuries into training?”

Niko: “Yes I definitely agree. From training or outside of training, I try to work around injuries unless I really cannot train. I always try to train.”

“Throughout the years, training hasn’t always fun but in hindsight, injuries are a blessing in disguise. You are forced to play a whole different type of game whilst not relying too much on your physical attributes.”

“I learnt to play more defensively or play in positions which I never would have if he were 100% healthy. It was because of those injuries and through them that I have improved in a lot of different aspects of my game.”

“Of course, you must want to not stop training, and force yourself to handicap yourself.”

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Fightlife: “Describe your training, what do you think sets you from different people?”

Niko: “I don’t feel much different from other people, but I am borderline obsessed about martial arts in a lot of ways…”

“I don’t know if that sets me apart from others, but I just love what I do.”

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Fightlife: “How do you set your goals?”

Niko: “I write things down. I have a lot of notes. Anything I see on video, competition, I write it down and try it out in training or when sparring with a student – it’s all trial and error.”

“In fact, I’m very into writing things down so I can remember to do things. If I don’t, it’s easy to forget it. I only realized this years later – so, write things down!”

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Fightlife: “Is there anyone that gave you so much inspiration that quoted something you couldn’t forget?

Niko: “There’s a lot but Bruce Lee said it right – “Be like water. Water can crash and water can flow.” That’s what martial arts is about and that’s what BJJ / MMA is about.”

“His philosophy of taking whatever works and throw away what doesn’t also makes a lot of sense. I share that same philosophy and that’s why I chose the name “Synergy”, to stay open minded. We use any grappling and striking that works and remain unbiased. Synergize to something greater.”

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Fightlife: “Are training sessions (or seminars) your sole medium of learning, or do you use other mediums as well.”

Niko: “I learn a lot from videos, even when we used VHS. Back then, I tried to collect and trade them and study videos whenever I could all the time… whomever I could learn from, I would learn.”

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Fightlife: “Is it possible for a layman to say, walk into your gym and learn both striking and grappling all at once? Would you recommend to focus on one first, if so, which art?”

Niko: “It depends on their goal.”

“If they want to become a MMA professional they should. But of course, it also depends on time, talent, willpower – it’s very challenging. Are they willing to put in the time and sacrifice to do that?”

“I try to always start with the worse case scenarios first. But their training schedule will be broken up into standing striking, wrestling, ground grappling, MMA and specific aspects.”

“It wouldn’t be hard to link them up – it just has to be customized on what they have to work on. Spending more time on things they are not excelling so much on.”

“On the other hand, if they only want to learn self defense, I would recommend to only learn BJJ first, and teach them what to do in the worst case scenarios, i.e. when they are on their back. How to escape the positions and submissions and how to handle striking based grappling situations on the ground.”

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Fightlife: “What was the best advice you were ever given?”

Niko: “To keep it playful and to keep it fun and to not to take it too seriously. Life is too short to take it too seriously.”

“We are fortunate to practice the arts that we have a passion for. And that we should be grateful we are able to train and the fact that we are healthy enough to do this, is a gift – the rest is a bonus.”

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Fightlife: “What is your philosophy of coaching and its relationship to education?”

Niko: “I had problems with authority when I was young. It was difficult for me and I couldn’t deal with authority in a smart and calm manner.”

“This has influenced my coaching philosophy a large deal. To me, all my students are my friends. I don’t feel and better or superior than my peers. We all have mutual respect.”

“Everything I teach has to make sense – it has to be logical and rational, it has to be practical and efficient and it has to be smart.”

“I think this coincides with education. The student has to understand what is being taught and that teachers should teach in principals, concepts and the larger picture(the macro) instead of only in micro details.”

“The students should then be able to use these principles and make their own techniques. That’s my teaching philosophy.”

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Fightlife: “What is your biggest fear regarding Martial Arts?”

Niko: “I fear martial arts getting commercialized.”

“We have to make sure that the art and sport goes in the right direction and that it doesn’t get commercialized and that it remains honourable. Especially with Synergy, I need to make sure it goes in the right direction and it doesn’t sell out – as far as belt and stripes, which is happening in many different places right now.”

“I also fear that there are too many rules when it comes to the sports’ competitive aspect and that the martial aspect of the art loses its meaning. We need to keep the rules realistic to real life combat but remain safe.”

“On the other hand, MMA is amazing sport because it brings different martial arts together. Grappling, striking – ground or standing – it has the best out of all of them – we can see what works and what doesn’t, it’s fantastic in that way.”

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Fightlife: “If you had to choose one art to learn and stick with it, which would it be?”

Niko: “Rickson Gracie BJJ.”

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Fightlife: “If there was one move you had to learn, what would it be?”

Niko: “How to take a much larger person down to the ground and stay on top of the person. i.e. effective and efficient take down without injuring yourself.”

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Fightlife: “What do you do for fun? What makes you really happy?”

Niko: “Teaching for me is fun. If my students accomplish their goal, it’s fun. When whatever I teach works for them, it’s fun. When I help them fulfill their goals and aspirations it’s fun.”

“Outside of training and teaching, I also love being with family and friends. Love the movies, travelling and experiencing other cultures.”

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Fightlife: “What would you like your legacy to be? What would be your ultimate achievement?”

Niko: “I want to make sure my students learn proper martial arts and proper self defense. I just want to help as much people as much as I can. To help them better themselves as a martial artist.”

“On the other hand I would love to have MMA in the curriculum of all Indonesian High schools, elementary, university, military, law enforcement, police department, security companies. That would be another dream come true.”

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*EXPERIENCE

  • Rickson Gracie Academy October 28, 1996
  • BHJJC December 10, 1998
  • Jean-Jacques Machado Academy May 5, 2001
  • R1 Training Center October 17, 2001
  • UCLA Wrestling February 12, 2001
  • L.A. Boxing Gym September 6, 2001
  • Broadway Boxing Gym January 15, 2002
  • Nova Uniao Academy, USA August 5, 2002
  • Nova Uniao Academy, Brazil May 2003
  • Master Jiu-Jitsu Academy, Brazil June 2003
  • Cobra Kai Jiu-Jitsu Academy, USA January 2006-2008

**ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Gold medal at the South-East Asian Gi Absolute Grappling Games (March 17, 2007)
  • Gold medal at the South-East Asian Gi Grappling Games (March 17, 2007)
  • Bronze medal at the South-East Asian No-Gi Grappling Games (March 17, 2007)
  • Silver medal at Java Freestyle Wrestling Championship (October 10, 2004)
  • Gold medal at the Desert Quest 4, 8-Man Superfight Tournament (February 15, 2003)
  • Silver medal at the Grapplers Quest West 3 (November 16, 2002)
  • Gold medal at the Pan American Submission Wrestling Open (July 28, 2001)
  • Silver medal at the Bad Boy Submission Open (May 9, 1998)
  • Silver medal at the Machado No-Gi Championship (September 30, 2000)
  • Silver medal at Rickson Gracie’s International Jiu-Jitsu Championship (August 31, 1997)
  • Gold medal at Joe Moreira’s De Brasil Championship (June 1, 1997)