It’s always a glorious thing to see children take to the mats and compete. Some kids are so young, they may not even be in school yet or they may attend preschool and are still learning the art of stringing words together to form sentences. They’re presence at tournaments is based on their joy of rolling on the mats with their friends. There are no hard-core competitive urges occurring or thoughts of gold swimming in their heads. Only the joy of participating in an event that makes them feel like they’re at a big birthday party. When it’s their turn to get on the mats, they act like it’s time to eat cake!
This year at the 2010 Gracie Barra Season Opener, there were about 550 competitors signed up for the event, and approximately 40% of those were children. Most all GB schools represented with large numbers of competitors. Some students experienced their first tournament ever, while others were veterans of the game, regardless of their young ages.
Aalijah Pineda is a five-year-old white belt from GB Garden Grove who’s been training for four months. She wants to be an MMA fighter when she grows up. She sees her dad watching MMA fights, and she likes what her dad likes. Aalijah is a dedicated little girl. This was her 2nd tournament. She has already come in 2nd in a no-gi competition and is very committed to her Jiu-Jitsu training, which she does four times a week.
Aalijah’s parents are very supportive of her. Originally, Aalijah’s father, Jeff, was the one who wanted to sign up to train. When they got to GBGG, Alijah immediately did, too, “We didn’t have enough money for both of us to join,” Jeff says, “So, I let her sign up first.” A selfless act from a loving father, but that’s not all he does for the daughter he so cherishes, “Right now I work in Ontario, which is an hour away from the school, so I had to readjust my schedule at work and leave early to make sure she gets to class on time,” Jeff says.
At the GB Season Opener, Aalijah won her first match, lost her second, and had a great time in the process, “My favorite part of the whole day was winning my medal!” she says. Her coaches, Ronis Gracie and Vito Gambino, were very proud of her performance, “She’s a really sweet little girl,” Gambino says.
Diego Solano is a five-year-old white/yellow belt from GB Santa Barbara who’s been training for five months. This was also his first tournament and like Aalijah, he won his first match and lost his second. Diego trains three times a week under Professor Rodrigo Clark whom the family loves, “He’s a great guy,” Diego’s dad, Edwin, says.
Diego loved all the attention he got at the tournament and was happy to be there. “He had a lot of fun,” Edwin says, “I was more nervous than he was!” Diego’s favorite part of the whole day was competing. “He wanted to fight more,” Edwin says, “Every time the ring coordinator would yell out a competitor’s name, Diego would stand up and say, ‘I want to go again!’”
There were many families who competed at the GB Season Opener. Most schools had siblings or a parent and their children competing. The Castellano family from GB Encinitas was one of them. Tanner Castellanos enjoyed his 5th birthday at the GB Season Opener. Tanner is a white belt who’s been training for 2 ½ months. It was his first tournament. Tanner’s mom, Gloria, loved watching her son compete. “He was smiling the whole time,” she says, “He had a twinkle in his eye during his matches and after.” Tanner had four matches and won three, giving him a 2nd place finish. After his last match, the proud little brother ran up to his older brother, A.J., and said, “Hey A.J.! I did it too! Did you see me?”
A.J. Castellanos is a seven-year-old yellow belt who’s been training since he was 2 ½ years old. He’s competed in five tournaments, including all four GBCompNet events. He placed 1st in three of them, including last year’s GB Season Opener. This year was no exception as A.J. won gold again after having six fights and winning all of them. A.J. loves Jiu-Jitsu and was appreciative for the opportunity to compete, which was his favorite part of the day. Gloria says her son touched her heart when he turned to her, and in true Little Champion form, said, “Thanks, Mom. Thanks for pushing me and for always being there for me.”
Amara Devericks is a 9-year-old white/yellow belt from GB San Clemente. This was her first tournament. Amara moved to San Clemente from Seattle, WA a little over a year ago. When she first moved, she didn’t know anyone. Her dad, Eric, says Amara had some self-esteem issues and wasn’t sure of herself, so he wanted her to do something where she could excel, learn some good life lessons, and make friends. He chose Jiu-Jitsu, “In Jiu-Jitsu you don’t win all the time. You learn by losing. I wanted Amara to experience both (winning and losing) on a regular basis. Amara is more self-confident now and handles life situations better, on and off the mats.”
Eric also put her in Jiu-Jitsu because he thinks fathers and daughters need to find things to do together. “In a few years, she may not want anything to do with me,” Eric laughs, “I wanted to find something we could do together. It makes us closer and our family stronger. It’s just another way for us to spend time together.”
Amara is a hard worker and really good at all that she does, but Eric thinks Jiu-Jitsu is valuable for her development in life. “As Professor Flavio always says, ‘Jiu jitsu is a metaphor for life.’ Amara doesn’t think of it at that level, but she’s using her lessons from Jiu-Jitsu at school and at home. I’m really proud of her.” Amara had two matches at the tournament. She won her first and lost her second. “She did her best and she’s happy,” Eric says.
John Duque is a true testament of how Jitsu-Jitsu can change your life. John is 9 years old and has trained at GB Ventura for over a year. He was having disciplinary problems at school and was coming home with “yellow cards” a couple of times a week, indicating that he was “goofing off” in class. His dad, John, said he was getting worried because his son was not only becoming a disciplinary problem at school, but at home as well. “One day I saw Fabio Leopoldo’s GB Ventura Jiu-Jitsu poster, so we drove to the school and I signed him up immediately.”
John says the change in his son’s life is amazing, “John was a C+ student. Ever since he started Jiu-Jitsu, he’s become an honor roll student and his attitude has turned around completely. All of his issues at school and at home have stopped. I know this wouldn’t have happened without it. John holds his professors in such high regard. It’s given him a new direction in life.”
GB Ventura gives students black stripes for commitment. John already has two black stripes on his yellow belt. This means that he has not missed one Jiu-Jitsu class or been late in a year! Not only is he completely dedicated to his own personal development in the art, but he is also helping out on the mats in the Little Champions I classes, as well. “We are so proud of him,” John says, “He’s always been shy, but when he’s on the mats, he’s a different kid! Jiu-Jitsu has opened him up. I am so thankful to GB for the change they’ve made in my son. I am also proud of Professor Erik for what he’s done for my family.”
This was John’s first competition. He lost his first match and came back and won the next two. John says, “I can’t wait to do it again!”
We often forget what this innocent glee feels like – to love something so much that the glory is in the act itself, not in any other form of gratification, like winning or losing. This simple passion is apparent in all the Little Champion divisions. There is no anxiety, stress or “competitive fever” with these little guys. They have a pure and simple love of the sport. It’s the opportunity to roll around on the mats with their friends that means the most to them. Our gift is getting to watch them do it, so we can reflect and remember the values that are truly important in life.