It’s been two weeks since the 2011 IBJJ Worlds Tournament, and I’ve sat down to write this article 4 or 5 times.  Every time, I get caught up in describing the beautiful submissions and well calculated strategies that were on display in all the belt classes over the course of four days. 

But I realized that if you’re reading this and you frequent BJJ Weekly, then you’re already a total BJJ maniac like me, and you already know the outcome of the matches. You were probably watching it live from the event or at home streaming it on your computer.

As I read over my play by play coverage, I started to think, “This is boring!”  But I had such an amazing experience when I was there! Why wasn’t it coming out in my story? So I took a step back, and asked “why did you go all the way to the worlds this year anyway?”

So let’s start with why I didn’t compete.   Recent events in my life have carried me on a road 3,000 miles away from home, friends, family, my academy, my association, and my instructors.  I just didn’t feel like a move from the east coast to Las Vegas two weeks prior was good for training for the worlds.  Not to mention, like many of you have probably felt in the past, I feel like I’m in the middle of a BJJ “Slump”.  The real reason I went to the worlds was to get “the spark” back, the excitement, and the desire.

If I had to sum up all four days of competition in one word, it would have to be “INSPIRATIONAL”!  This year’s tournament brought out more competitors then I’d ever seen at a world’s event before.  And it wasn’t just more black and brown belts.  There was a massive swarm of white, blue, and purple belts.  They travelled from all over the globe, put on their gis, tied their belts, and stepped out on the tatami. They were putting it all on the line for the chance to be called a World Champion, and to bring prestige and respect back home to their academies.

The electricity in the pyramid could have powered New York City for years.  The stands were filled, the vendors were buzzing. The bullpen looked like a Miami night club on a Saturday night with competitors mashed shoulder to shoulder, not even enough room to stretch. 

Everyone was eager.  They funneled through the gi check stations, and one by one they stepped out onto the mat, ready to show the world just who they were and what they could do. 

I saw amazingly technical matches in every bracket and weight, men’s and women’s, at every single belt level.  I was trying to photograph the event, but it was almost impossible – I kept getting caught up in the moment!  I was leaning over the plastic barriers shouting encouragement and advice (Usually for someone I didn’t even know!).  When you are there, you begin to share the excitement and their fire of the competitors.  The decision not to compete was haunting me as the day drew on. All I wanted to do was to get out there on the mats.

Time passed so fast; I was locked on match after match with occasional breaks for an acai bowl from Sambazon or a quick bathroom break (which I tried to delay, because the minute I left the barrier my spot was gone for hours).

After 11 hours of intense Jiu-Jitsu, I finally headed back to the hotel for the evening.  I was so excited to look at all my photos and videos, and go over the notes I had been scribbling in my little notebook throughout the day.  Once I got all that finished I tried to lay in bed, but somehow or another found my hips squirming, my feet forming little hooks, hands searching for lapel grips in the sea of covers on my bed.

As drained as I was, I couldn’t sleep. I would have done anything at that moment to head right back to the pyramid if only someone would have been there.  The next morning I jumped out of bed, gathered my stuff, and was the first person in line for a ticket to get in.  I positioned myself in a better spot then the day before, and prepared for another long day.

Since I was so caught up in the action yesterday, today I wanted to dive into the world of the competitors.  Within minutes of setting up my gear I overheard a conversation about strategy and future match ups right next to me. 

There were hundreds of those conversations going on, but what caught my ear about his particular one was the Australian accents.  That was when the actual significance of those accents hit me, and I realized how large this event was.  I’ve driven from state to state to compete. I’ve even occasionally caught a flight to another place for a tournament.  But I’ve never left the country, let alone come half way around the globe for my chance to shine.  Suddenly these people seemed like the most dedicated and bravest people I had ever come across.  I decided that I HAD to spend some time with this group.

It just goes to show what a bond Jiu-Jitsu can be to people regardless of their background.  Here I was in Long Beach, CA having a conversation with three people from Australia and one from New Zealand.  Despite the difference in the way we talked, the conversation was very much the same.  Talking about the latest DVD’s and gis, discussing favorite styles of guard and passes.  We were even exchanging tips and tricks and trying to demonstrate them while seated in the yellow bleachers of the pyramid. 

We were laughing and having a great time, and it felt like these people were my friends and my teammates and like we had spent years on the mats together in the past, when in reality we had just met.  It was a truly amazing thing to so quickly bond with strangers and build a friendship instantly.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to be them.  They were two purple belts, a blue belt, and a white belt (who began training only four months prior to this tournament) far from their home academy, friends, and family. There wasn’t a coach or instructor anywhere in site.  They came to the biggest fight in the world, without the guidance of a black belt, or the backing of a huge team to chant and sing and encourage from the sidelines.  This was absolute bravery if I had ever seen it. 

They came to a strange place, with no guide or familiar face, fought against incredible jet lag and time zone differences, and adjusted to the American diet all just hours before the biggest fight of their lives.  

They had every reason in the world to complain, and had all the makings for great excuses if they didn’t come out on top, but they did none of that.  They all fought their hearts out, and for that day I felt like I was part of their group, as I almost lost my voice shouting from the sidelines. 

It was like I was a member of their Academy from back home, because at that moment I wanted to see every one of them stand on top of the podium when it was all over.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards this time around, but even in loss they were cheery and uplifting. 

They came here to test themselves, and that they did.  They fought great matches and really seem to have learned from the experience.  There is no doubt in my mind I’ll see this group again next year at the Worlds again.

After my time with the Australians, I started noticing more accents in the crowds. I started paying more attention to the T shirts and patches from various affiliations.  It was refreshing to see so many smaller Academies and teams present, and not just a sea of patches from the larger more well-known associations. 

I was cheering for the under dogs more and more the next few days.  It takes guts to represent a smaller Academy, especially when you step out on the mat and your teammates voices are drowned out by the singing, chanting, and stomping of a big cheering section on the other side. 

Alliance seems to drown out any sound what so ever in the place, they fill an entire section of bleachers, and they chant and sing in perfect unison.  The section next to them is covered by the largest Alliance flag I’ve ever seen that spans row after row after row of bleachers as they jump and wave it around proudly, and you can only start to wonder what effect does that have on you when you’re competing against one of their guys?  As if their Jiu-Jitsu wasn’t already top notch, they seemed to have mastered the mental warfare too!

I spent the next few days talking to as many people as I could. At first I was expecting to hear a variety of stories.  However, no matter where the person was from, or what rank they were, all the stories sounded pretty much the same.  This was just another testament that Jiu-Jitsu unites people.  The gist of all the interviews was how hard they had worked for this, how far they had travelled, and how being a World Champion was a dream. 

This struck me as amazing, how all these people who don’t know each other had the same dream - how I had the same dream.  I’ve always said the BJJ community was great, but this was just unreal to take in.  I suddenly realized that no matter where I travel on this planet, because of BJJ I would have “family” waiting for me.  Everyone I talked to wanted to exchange email addresses, add each other on Facebook, invite me to train at their academies, or stay at their homes. 

I now realize that the IBJJF puts on more then just a tournament once a year when they hold the Worlds.  This is a convention, a meeting ground.  They are making the bond of the BJJ community even stronger.  This event directly strengthens our community, and our BJJ Lifestyle.  With top notch vendors with gear available to people that could not normally get it (one of the Australians explained how expensive it is to have quality gis and training gear shipped to them), and with Sambazon there exposing people to healthy and delicious foods. Thousands of people from all walks of life together in the same place out of one common love, mingling, forging friendships, business deals, new sponsorships, hell maybe even some new love interests. 

This “tournament” was really just a meeting of the best our community has to offer.  The experience was amazing, and unfortunately it’s all of this that you’ll miss when you buy the 2011 Worlds DVD’s.  There was so much more then just incredible Jiu-Jitsu to take in those four days in Long Beach.  I’ve made friends, I’ve learned so much, and most importantly…I found my spark. 

2012 I will step on the other side of the barriers, bow to the referee, shake hands with my opponent, and give it all I have just like all the others, in hopes of becoming a World Champion.