Kids take front and center in Arizona

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The Gustavo Dantas-produced 3rd Southwest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Classic brought in a whopping 562 competitors this weekend at Phoenix College in Arizona. Dantas throws four tournaments a year, and three of them are directed at adults and kids, with just one of them for kids only. Traditionally, the Southwest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament is his smallest tournament of the year, and with that being said, he’s still packing in the crowds.

The kids division was an exciting one, with GD Jiu-Jitsu winning it by racking up 131 points in the team standing. BJJ Revolution took second with 88 points, and MMA Lab took third with 66 points.

Araya Garcia of Relson Gracie strategizes / Photos: Deb Blyth

Araya Garcia is an 11-year-old yellow belt from Relson Gracie in Arizona who competes in the medium heavyweight division. She’s been training for three years and had two matches on the day, both against Mikaila Gonzales, who also hails from Relson Gracie. Her first match didn’t end the way she would have liked but she was happy for the win. “I tried to armbar and choke her, but I couldn’t,” Araya says, “I ended up winning by advantages.” In her second match, she tried for the choke, but once again it eluded her. “She pulled guard, and I got in mount for four points,” Araya says, “That’s how I won.”

Araya trained extra hard for this tournament. She likes to compete and says she likes to fight new people who have techniques and games she hasn’t seen before. Her favorite move is the triangle or the forearm choke, and although she went for them today and wasn’t able to close with them, she is still really excited about her gold medal win. “I feel awesome,” she says. Araya loves Jiu-Jitsu for a variety of reasons and says it’s changed her life for the better. “I feel stronger, and I have more confidence now,” she says.

Araya and her supportive father, Ron

Araya’s dad, Ron, is her biggest fan. He says she does all of Gustavo’s tournaments, so she’s competing every three months. “I’m here to support her,” he says, “She knows more than I do. I try to coach her and she’s like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that!’ I love watching her. She makes me so proud. She loves it and has a great time. And even though she doesn’t win all the time, she still has determination to come back and compete again. She’s really grown in the last six months. Her Jiu-Jitsu’s getting really good.”

Damian Hosokawa goes for a takedown.

Nine-year-old yellow belt Damian Hosokawa of BJJ Revolution comes from a Jiu-Jitsu family. His dad, Gerson Atoigue, is a brown belt; his mom, Nana Hosokawa, is a blue belt. They fully support Damian in his efforts on the mats, and it shows. He trains everyday with his dad, to his delight.

At the 3rd Southwest Classic, Damian had two matches in his featherweight division. He won the first by armbar and the second by a sweep. “It’s been a good day,” Damian says, “I won today, and I’ve won all year. I’ve been in all four of Gustavo’s (Dantas) tournaments and I’ve won them all.” Damian, who has been training for three years, says winning gold feels great.

Like the sweep he won his final with, Damian says the half-guard sweep is his favorite move. “It’s easy,” he says, “If they’re already on top of you, it’s easy to ‘timber them over.’”

Damian says he loves Jiu-Jitsu because “if anything goes wrong, I know self defense.” Asked if he’s been picked on at school, he says, “Yes, but I didn’t do anything but tell my teacher. I didn’t feel like I needed to do anything. I feel really confident.”

Damian and his family all partake in Jiu-Jitsu.

His dad, Gerson, really enjoys watching his son grow and develop through Jiu-Jitsu. “He’s awesome,” he says, “He’s gonna be better than I ever was. It’s a pleasure to watch him.” His mom, Nana, concurs, “He just enjoys doing Jiu-Jitsu so much,” she says, “I support him 110%. He’d rather be on the mats than anything else. He’ll turn down other really fun things for it.”

Robert Maloney gets his hand raised.

Robert Maloney of Siege MMA/Lotus Club is a 15-year-old green belt with some strong grips! This ultra heavyweight had two matches in his division and closed them both out with a one-handed lapel choke, earning him a gold medal for the day.

It’s no surprise the lapel choke is Robert’s favorite move, but the way he sets it up is. “People always think I’m going for an Ezekiel,” he says, “but then I hold myself up with one arm – I have really good balance – and choke with the other.”

Robert competes every couple of months. He does all of Gustavo Dantas’ tournaments and says he usually comes in first or second. He recently learned the flying armbar and it’s quickly become his favorite move, although he’s a little nervous to use it in a tournament, so he hasn’t tried it yet. “I know that I just need to exhale as I hit the floor so I don’t knock the wind out of myself,” he laughs.

Robert Maloney and his BJJ crew

Robert loves everything about Jiu-Jitsu and it’s changed his life in the process. “I used to get in trouble in school,” he says, “Jiu-Jitsu kept me out of it. I train every day. It keeps me out of bad stuff.”

Jiu-Jitsu has given Robert a sense of confidence he didn’t have before. He’s a sophomore in high school, so he sees a lot of bullying and intimidation going on around him, but he is unfazed by it. “I see kids fighting at school for nothing,” he says, “I stay away from them. I don’t have to prove myself.” He does his “proving” on the mats.

Derek Wheeler and his proud coach, Michael Westbrook

Derek Wheeler of MWBJJ is a 14-year-old yellow belt under ex-NFL great and now Jiu-Jitsu black belt Michael Westbrook. Derek had two matches for the day and won both by points. “I compete a lot,” he says, “I’ve been to all four of Gustavo’s tournaments. I win about half the time.” Although that record would discourage some, Derek is motivated by it and trains harder. “When I lose, it means to me that I need to train harder,” he says.

Hard work is no stranger to Derek, Michael Westbrook says. “He’s been working his butt off – five times a week! He’s advancing at a pace he’s supposed to be at, and I’m very proud of him.” Michael says that Derek is a great listener. “That’s hard to get kids to do sometimes,” he says, “Derek makes coaching easy.”

Derek’s goal is to win as many tournaments as he can and to do Jiu-Jitsu for the rest of his life. “I want to be a black belt,” he says, “Jiu-Jitsu has changed me. It’s made me stronger, bigger, and more relaxed. I feel confident in the world… at school and anywhere.”

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