‘You’re nice, just your business is bad!’ Meet the Hong Kong sex shop owner using jiu-jitsu to tackle misconceptions
Amateur martial artist Oleg Vasilyev winning medals on world stage as he also wrestles with stigmas attached to sex shops
There is a diverse range of professions among the practitioners who meet almost every morning to roll at Hong Kong’s premier Brazilian jiu-jitsu studio in Tsim Sha Tsui, from bankers to students to professional athletes.
One of the amateur martial artists, Oleg Vasilyev, pauses for a moment when asked where he works.
“I own a chain of sex shops,” says the hulking Vasilyev, in his thick Russian accent.
It was outside the Wan Chai outlet of his Take Toys franchise that Vasilyev caused a stir earlier this year, placing a video advertisement displaying the use of sex toys on a 2.3-metre screen.
“There was no nudity, no girls, just pure products,” he says of the O’Brien Road display.
But a review at the Obscene Articles Tribunal in August upheld an interim classification made in April that the video was not suitable for those under the age of 18.
“I asked why condoms can be advertised, because condoms are intended directly for sex. And pills are for erection.
“I showed some photos like girls advertising some skin products totally nude. Teenagers can see this but it’s OK. Where is the logic?”
Vasilyev has another theory why he was forced to remove the advert.
“It overlooks the footbridge to [the] Immigration [Department], so all the government officers pass it on their way to work, and they probably just couldn’t stand it,” the Russian said, laughing.
The 48-year-old owns other outlets in Jordan, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok – I even passed one walking from the MTR station to our interview in Tsim Sha Tsui.
The advertisement still prompts a double take, but Vasilyev insists he has had to tone down his promotional efforts.
“It’s affected my business,” he said. “But that’s the nature of business, it’s hard to grow.”
The tribunal’s attitude to displaying sex is a far cry from what Vasilyev witnessed in Las Vegas a little over a week later, when he embarked on a six-week trip in the US to tour 40 national parks, among other things.
“In Las Vegas, I just entered an erotic museum and there is a lot of nudity,” he says.
Strip clubs aside, Vasilyev was primarily in Las Vegas for the World Master Jiu-Jitsu IBJJF Championship as he looked to build on his stunning haul of two gold medals at his European Masters debut in January.
“It was harder than the Europeans, at the worlds they compete, like, 15 times per year,” said Vasilyev, who won his blue belt super-heavyweight division but lost his first match in the open-weight tournament.
“I didn’t expect guys from Brazil. It was almost professional, lots of training.”
Vasilyev only began training BJJ when he moved to Hong Kong three years ago, but proved to be a natural – though he was perhaps too strong for his own good.
Despite paying for membership at the now-defunct Epic MMA gym, Vasilyev claims he was barred by one instructor from attending classes simply because the instructor couldn’t take him down.
“So many bad things happened to me at Epic, I didn’t expect,” he said. “The instructor injured me on one of my first rolls. I took him down, and he was a black belt in judo, so maybe he felt insulted. My elbow popped out and he said it was my fault.
“He came and said to me one week before I had a competition, ‘You can’t train any more’. He said he didn’t care,” Vasilyev claimed.
“I asked another instructor to let me train, and I won the competition.”
Vasilyev said a shoulder injury sustained in Las Vegas could keep him out of the Europeans next year.
But it hasn’t stopped him from training four times a week at local black belt Viking Wong’s Hurt Locker studio in Tsim Sha Tsui as he looks to help continue the growth of the sport, which in turn is helping him to disprove misconceptions about his character.
“Even my first coach in BJJ, he said when he heard that I own sex shops I’m some kind of bad guy,” said Vasilyev.
“But when he met me he said, ‘Oh, you’re a really nice guy. It’s just your business that is bad!’”