Meet Normann Shay, a man with limitless potential. From being Madonna’s choreographer, personal trainer to a Brazilian Jiujitsu proponent – join us as we discover his journey on taking up the sport.

In light of the Olympics, undeniably one of the most popular sporting events in the world, currently taking place in Tokyo, Japan this year, it is unfortunate that not all sports make the cut—even some of our favourites. In the spirit of celebrating some of these sports, we at Augustman Malaysia would like to uncover some uncommon and under-appreciated sports around the world.

normann shay brazillian jiujitsu
Photography by Kim Mun / Hopscotch Studios

The fireworks, the camaraderie, the competition, and designer outfits – welcome to the Olympics! We tune in to bear witness to the genetic potential of our species, and also the histrionic extremes of the spectators. A version of reality programming that dichotomously celebrates the best and most unseen of our kind (here’s looking at you; women and Paralympian athletes). Still, the median age of the Olympic audience is growing older as we speak. A great stop-gap is to include the various combat sports that have built the UFC into the seven billion dollar behemoth that it is today.

Here Brazilian jiujitsu proponent Normann Shay tells us what make this style of grappling as essential skill for any modern combat athlete:

TELL us ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND, WHERE YOU GREW UP, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR HOMETOWN…

I was born in Paris and grew up in the south of France in a city called Nimes. My father is Corsican and my mother is from the Caribbean (Guadeloupe). My father is a karate black belt and owns a muay thai and boxing academy in France while his twin brother (my uncle) has a similar gym in Germany, so I grew up in the martial arts. For work, I was a professional dancer/choreographer with Madonna for 12 years and I’m currently a creative director in the fashion industry.

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO Brazilian JiuJitsu (Bjj)?

I started Brazilian jiujitsu nine years ago in Kuala Lumpur when I met a BJJ black belt champion Hakim Gouram, from Belgium who was  in Kuala Lumpur for a seminar. He stayed for a couple of months and we had friends in common back in Europe, so we clicked very well. He introduced me to BJJ which I fell in love with straight away. Later I moved to New York City for work and met Renzo Gracie, who took me under his wing at his NYC academy, which I still represent to this day.

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN PURSUING BJJ, FOR YOU PERSONALLY?

One must have patience. You won’t get a black belt in five years like certain martial arts. It takes years of hard training to get it. But when you do get it, its one of the biggest achievements in the life of a martial artist. Also finding the right academy to train, especially with my work, where I travel all the time and need to be able to train while traveling. It’s hard but I always manage to find the right place from the advice of my master Renzo Gracie.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO BEGIN TRAINING AS A BJJ ATHLETE IN MALAYSIA?

There is no best way. I think the way is to take the 1st step into the academy and try out and when you start to understand BJJ i guarantee you’ll fall in love with it. I train here in Kuala Lumpur at the Marcos Escobar academy in Kota Damansara with certified black belts and very good teachers – you are all more than welcome for a free tryout (once current SOPs allow for it). We will welcome you with open arms and end up choking each other – in a good way of course.

HOW CAN BJJ TRANSFORM THE MALAYSIAN SPORTS SCENE?

I will be honest with you, a lot of very good BJJ athletes come from around the world – Brazilian, USA, and so on. But not many people know that there are few Malaysians who are putting this country on the map of BJJ competitions. Some Malaysians have even won gold medals in world competitions!

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