Gustavo Dantas and Jiu-Jitsu’s improvement in Arizona

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Dantas with stalwart competitor sidekick Kristina Barlaan / Photo: John Cooper

The 6th Arizona International Open got off to a good start on Saturday, February 26, 2011 as the kids, teens, and adult white and blue belts hit the mats starting at 10:00 a.m. to compete in this much-anticipated Jiu-Jitsu event. By the end of the day, over 1,000 spectators had filed in and out of the gymnasium, watching the tournament take place.

Day two consists of a black belt open with prize money, that names like Bruno Bastos, Roberto “Tussa” Alencar, Rafael “Barata” Freitas, and Samir Chantre, to name a few, flew in to compete for.

Nova União’s distinguished black belt Gustavo Dantas is the brain behind and creator of this event, along with three others he throws throughout the year. Over the last ten years, Dantas has built the reputation for throwing high-end Jiu-Jitsu tournaments in the state of Arizona. Currently, he offers three kids and adult tournaments and one kids-only tournament. Originally, his tournaments were all in-house, but eventually he invited other schools to his events, and once he hit one hundred competitors, he started taking them to larger locations. At the 6th Arizona International Open, 700 competitors signed up, but that was only because Dantas closed registration at that point.

Dantas, who is a self-proclaimed workaholic, perfectionist, and promoter, has taken Arizona Jiu-Jitsu by storm. When he started organizing his tournaments a number of years back, he reached out to every Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school in Arizona and invited them to his tournaments. “There are not too many states in the country where you can get the whole state together,” Dantas says, “All the schools in Arizona support my work. I’m really trying to improve Jiu-Jitsu in Arizona.”

Recently Dantas spoke with IBJJF Executive Director Andres Fernandes and told him he wanted Arizona to be 2nd in the country, next to the IBJJF in California, in tournament size and participation level. Dantas was happily surprised when Fernandes said Arizona already is 2nd.

It’s no surprise that Dantas has become as successful as he is. He takes his tournament business very seriously and seeks to enhance, and improve each and every one he organizes. “The key,” he says, “is to try to give competitors exactly what competitors want. Things like a tight, on-time schedule, good referees, a clean bathroom…people appreciate that. If my tournaments are even five minutes behind schedule, it bothers me.”

Dantas’s strategy has been to follow whatever the IBJJF is doing. “They’re responsible for the growth of the sport,” he says, “I try to do exactly what they do here in Arizona and I try to improve every year.” Dantas, who has very high standards and expectations about how tournaments should be run, has given people a reason to stay in Arizona for Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. “They don’t have to travel to find good tournaments anymore. They can get that here,” he says.

At one time, Dantas was an avid competitor himself, but these days he’s so busy promoting and organizing his tournaments and running his school, he just doesn’t have the time to train for competitions. “I compete when I can,” he says, “Last year I won the Masters and Seniors International as a Senior 1 and the Vegas Open in the masters division.”

More than competing, though, Dantas’s true passion lies in teaching and training his students. He currently has his school in Arizona and twelve affiliate schools. “I really enjoy it,” he says, “I’m really fortunate to have a hobby as a way to make a living. I’m very blessed.”

Dantas has been doing Jiu-Jitsu for twenty-two years. He grew up training with Nova União in Brazil and started training in Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 14. “I knew when I started that I would do it for the rest of my life,” he says, “After I got my degree in physical education, I moved to Las Vegas for two years before ending up in Arizona in 2000. This is my home now. I’m not going anywhere.”

Looking back, Dantas sees that Jiu-Jitsu changed his life by giving him an abundance of confidence. “Everyone respects the higher belts,” he says, “which turns into respect overall. There’s also honor and all the other good qualities martial arts bring with it. They’re all good things.”

In the next two years Dantas’s plan is to hit 1,000 competitors, but he likes to move slowly and efficiently. “My goal is to expand, but at the right time,” he says, “I’m going to start running six mats at a time at my next tournament.”

The tournament business is nothing new to Dantas. Even as a child he was always something of a promoter for tournaments and competitions. “Even in my neighborhood as a kid,” he says, “I would set up soccer games and get kids to come. From the beginning, I knew my tournaments would be big in Arizona. One day, they’ll be like the Pan – 2,000 people competing.”

Dantas doesn’t plan on going anywhere either. “I’ll still be doing this twenty years from now,” he says, “I’m not just trying to make some money over the weekend. I’m trying to promote Jiu-Jitsu in Arizona…to change lives the way it did for me. Jiu-Jitsu gave me direction. It changes what people can do with their lives.”

The one thing Dantas would like to see in the near future is to have more people from out of state come to compete at his events. “I would like to invite them to come to my tournaments,” he says, “They will not regret it.”

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