Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu draws crowds at the Southern California Classic

Candice Perez

The Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy had its first annual Southern California Classic tournament on Saturday at the Irvine Valley College Gym.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. IVC’s gym was filled with the family atmosphere characteristic of the Gracie Barra organization, which includes students of all ages.

More than 300 academy students participated. Up to six matches took place simultaneously on mats in the center of the gym.

The youngest GB students, four to six-year-olds, competed first. Parents shouted encouragements from the sidelines, and coaches knelt to tie the little ones’ belts.

Abel Castellano V, a six-year-old competitor, won his match. Castellano had been practicing jiu-jitsu since he was 2 1/2 years old and competing since he was five. After the match, A.J. comforted his pouty-lipped opponent with a hug.

Later in the afternoon, when adult students entered the mats, the atmosphere became more intense. The sidelines were densely packed. Faces of competitors and spectators alike appeared to be carefully strategizing, as in a chess match.

The beginning and end of most matches, however, were still marked by friendly smiles, handshakes, and hugs.

Cal State Fullerton student Patrick Sandoval, 18, who graduated from Aliso Niguel High, has been training at Gracie Barra America in Irvine, the newest GB studio, for three months. Sandoval’s father also trains there. Sandoval has wrestled for seven years.

“Everything from stand up is the same [as in wrestling], just the ground game is different. In wrestling you just want to pin the guy, but here you want to submit them, so it hurts a lot,” Sandoval said, after winning the bronze medal in his division.

“Coach Marcio, head instructor of the school, goes through the fundamental techniques with all his students, and I think that probably makes us the most prepared. Statistics wise we probably come up with the most [wins].”

Marcio Feitosa is head of schools in the southern California region.

“Our goal is to provide a safe, fun, and familiar environment for our students to experience the excitement and thrill of a jiu-jitsu tournament,” Feitosa said.

Opponents were matched up according to age, weight, and belt color. Age determined the number of minutes in a match, and points were earned by executing certain moves like sweeps, mounts, and holds.

The competitor who ended with the most points moved to the next round until only gold, silver, and bronze winners remained.

Joao Sovrinho, from the Garden Grove studio, has been coaching for four years and practicing jiu-jitsu for 13 years.

“They gain more self-confidence. They learn how to compete, and also to lose because sometimes in life you don’t know, it doesn’t always go so well,” Soyrinho said of his college-age students. “They are healthier than other kids their age.”

Soyrinho’s students, Katlin Hanley, 19, and Golden West student Brennan Rose, 19, business, both won a medal in featherweight division.

“More than just jiu-jitsu, it’s looking at life differently, taking different approaches to doing work. It really helps you want to pay attention to your diet and your health,” Hanley said. “Success to me is good training, even if I do get submitted. I like to leave the gym wanting to learn more.”

William Anjo, 25, travelled to Irvine for the tournament from Roland Park, near San Francisco. He had been training for four months before competing in a super featherweight match Saturday. “[my opponent] kneed me in the face hella hard,” Anjo said.

“That kind of threw me off because I felt like he might have done it on purpose, even though there is no striking allowed. But he was really fast and kind of jerky with his movements, so it could have been an accident.”

Michael Ramirez, 28, also a super featherweight at 141 pounds, traveled from Encinitas. Ramirez won a silver medal in his weight division.

Head of Gracie Magazine, Luca Atalla, was photographing the event. Atalla is partners in the magazine with Carlos Gracie, Jr. “There is a real family environment here that is different from other martial arts. It is not very usual to have so many babies around matches,” Atalla said.

“Among all the Gracie schools people know each other and watch each other’s kids train, so there is lots of support and connection.”

Like the Academy, the magazine began in Brazil. It has published 140 issues, including 30 in America.

Hanley and Brennan had each been training for about seven months before the tournament.

Silvio’s Brazilian Barbeque set up grills outside the IVC gym and catered to hungry competitors and family members all day.Even warriors need to eat.