The BJJ PRO New York of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) held it’s annual International Open Championship at CCNY’s Nat Holman Gym in Harlem recently to the delight of a filled to capacity arena. Contestants came from every corner of the country and all parts of the world to compete for gold. The ten mats that filled the gym were at times a blur of twisting, grappling and spinning bodies as competitors tried to put their opponents into a position of submission. A sport of technique and moves with names like: “Upa,” “Hip Guard,” “Mount,” and “Underhook” became the language spoken by many in the crowd.
Denny Russell Sisti along with 3 others represented “BJJ United” out of Pennsylvania. Denny lives in Harrisburg PA. and has traveled to tournaments around the country to compete for money, pride and prestige. He took home a gold medal in winning the “Purple Adult Male Light-Feather” title and told me that his goal is to move to San Diego and work at becoming a black belt. Southern California and San Diego in particular is the hot bed for this sport today and he needs to progress to a brown belt before he can attain a black one. Looks like he is on track to accomplish that. When I asked Sisti what drew him to the sport, he said he was “tricked” into BJJ five years ago when he went to a gym to pursue his dream of becoming an MMA fighter. He said he was taken to a BJJ gym where he watched, then tried it and soon began to get hooked on the sport. It has now become his passion.
John Ehrhardt of team “Vitor Shaolin BJJ” out of western New Jersey competed in the “Master 2 Purple Belt Heavy” division where he was beaten by two more experienced opponents. Ehrhardt told me he has been doing this for about 5 years now and has found it to be something that he truly loves. John is a picture of strength with a rock solid body of developed muscles. Yet he told me that the sport is not about overpowering an opponent. Rather he believes it is about technique and speed and that the concept of this sport is to show that physical strength can be offset or enhanced by an experienced grappler who knows how to maximize force by using a mechanical advantage instead of pure physical strength. Ehrhardt said that he would rather fight a bigger, heavier opponent because he would be faster. John is very powerful and a gifted athlete and works out with weights. On the other hand Sisti doesn’t use weights and prefers to work on cardio for endurance.
One thing that stood out to me were the skills of the women who participated in this tournament. Fast and strong would be the words to describe them. In talking to Jessica Cherman who along with her husband Danilo Cherman, own and operate “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” in Wallingford, Connecticut, I was told that the sport attracts a wide range of people who have participated in other sports and were just not happy with where they were going with it. She has been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA since 2010, is currently a brown belt under Danilo. She has become an avid competitor throughout her Jiu Jitsu career. Jess has successfully created the largest woman’s team in Connecticut and her gifted team of 27 male and females grapplers brought home a number of medals. She pointed out the mental aspect of the sport and that there are specific trainers like Gustavo Dantes who is known as “The BJJ Mental Coach.”
One thing that stood out like a bacon of light throughout the tournament, was that the competitiveness of these powerful athletes did not overshadow the grace and respect they showed for each other in victory or defeat. Sure there was disappointment in a loss, but over and over again I saw smiles with gracious hugs and hand shakes after each and every match. The sense of pride and passion in all these athletes is amazing. This sport is a hidden treasure in the midst of all the high profile sports we watch today. What a fantastic well organized event.