The PanAms: One of the Big Ones (BJJ Tournaments, That Is)

You can find a BJJ tournament any time of year, but there are some events that draw lots of big names and big action. The event scheduled the end of this month in Irvine, CA, is one such tournament.

Competition season in Brazilian jiu-jitsu has started. Truthfully, if you want to compete, you can find a tournament most any time of year, but there are some marquee events that draw lots of big names, big numbers, and big action. The event scheduled for the end of this month in Irvine, CA, is one such tournament. Formal names have included The PanAmerican of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and the name currently on the website of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, which is the Pan Jiu Jitsu Championship 2012. Those in the know just call it the PanAms. Technically, it is targeted to competitors in North and South America (hence “Pan-American,”) but it attracts high-level competitors from all over the world. And since it is an open event, it also attracts many competitors who might not be as well known but whose love of the sport is comparable.

I have attended the PanAms many times, both as a spectator and as a competitor. Either way, for me, entering the venue is like getting off the NJ Transit train in Penn Station in New York City after arriving from my hometown near Princeton: My heart rate immediately rises, I feel bombarded by stimuli, and I feel a sense of heightened physiological arousal that is equal parts excitement, anticipation, and nerves. In “the city” (for denizens, there is only one), anything can happen and usually does. Similarly, at the PanAms, spectators and athletes alike are guaranteed to witness the full range of human emotion, grappling celebrities on the level of Madonna or Michael Jordan, and the smell of – well, let’s call it “excellence.” Oh, and high-level grappling coupled with determination, gumption, drive, and even a touch of moxie.

Competitors are grouped into divisions based on belt level, weight, gender, and age. Weight is an important issue, as many people cut a lot of it so they can have an advantage by being at the top of a weight range as opposed to being at the bottom of the next higher one. The tournament lasts for four days; roughly speaking, white and blue belts compete early in the weekend, purple and brown later on, and black toward the end. In brown and black belt divisions, preliminary matches in each division usually take place on Saturday, and quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals matches usually occur on Sunday.

If you are not competing on Sunday, it’s a day to eat acai and Brazilian BBQ, wear your academy t-shirt, visit with friends you only see at tournament time, and enjoy the grappling. If you are competing on Sunday, it’s a day to prepare yourself mentally and psychologically (presumably the physical preparations are long since dialed in) for another day of contest, both with your opponents and with your monkey mind. While I have experienced both kinds of Sundays, I hope this coming Sunday will be one of the latter – and that at the end of it I am able to celebrate a good performance, preferably at a churrascuria, surrounded by both friends and meats, and not necessarily in that order. Wish me – and the rest of the competitors – luck!