Female jiu-jitsu competitors at the 2010 Gracie Invitational in London. All images courtesy Seymour Yang.
by Seymour Yang
If you ever was entertained the notion that martial arts are a universally practised activity, that notion would be easily dashed if you attended the SENISHOW martial arts expo, where the Gracie Invitational was held, this weekend. Yes, SENISHOW is a massive event, possibly the biggest martial arts show in Europe, but the neighbouring exhibition hall hosted a computer games fan convention and as we entered the shared arena hallway, we were vastly outnumbered by the surreal sight of thousands and thousands of grown men and women dressed as all manner of ghosts, aliens, stormtroopers and, bizarrely, in one case, a tetris block!
The Gracie Invitational was held over two days – men’s white belts and some blues competed on the Saturday, all women’s categories, higher grades, no-gi and the show-piece event, the Absolute 1000, was held on the second day. I attended the second day.
Day two started a little late but once it did, the brackets raced through at lightening pace. Spread across six mats, with seating surrounding all four sides and a decent size holding area, the fights came thick and fast. The event was run by BJJ black belt Jude Samuels with assistance by my own instructor, Nick Brooks. This gave me the extra privilege of access to all areas for photography and extra close-up views of the fights. But to be honest, the dividers were so close to the mats that everyone was granted good views of all the fights.
Dominique Vitry (left) fends off Paula Almeida’s open guard.
The rest of the exhibition hall hosted hundreds of martial art stands and displays all competing against one another for attention, which made for a very noisy and busy atmosphere. The loud, rhythmic capoeira display next to the BJJ arena added a particularly authentic flavour for much of the period.
One annoying thing I noticed was that in order to go to the loo, you had to leave the exhibition hall, and go to the main hall, which was a long way away. It just meant extra hassle especially if you were waiting for names to be called.
There were some amazing fights on the Sunday. Highlights for me were watching my team mate Dominique Vitry fight in the women’s absolute semi against a Paula Almeida, a larger Portuguese purple belt. Dominique won by a large points margin but not without the drama of escaping an impossible armbar! Dominique was awarded her much deserved purple belt straight after.
I also enjoyed watching brown belt Oli Geddes secure some impressive submissions on his way to winning gold in his category. Oli is fast making marks in the brown belt divisions much as he did at purple and blue.
Luke Costello takes the back of Lucio as crowds watch on.
But the showpiece of the day belonged to the Absolute 1000 where winners of each purple, brown and black belt group would be allowed to compete against one another for a prize of £1,000. Here, we had the delights of watching seasoned black belts fight against smaller purple belts or two rival brown or black belts smashing ten bells out of each other in a bid to win the coveted prize.
Every match in this prize event was a brilliant display of BJJ at its highest. For me, the highlights included young purple belt Luke Costello against experienced black belt Lucio. Both fighters attacked with flair, immense skill and a good amount of vigour as several times they crashed into the crowd. Lucio won by a slim points margin, but there was no doubt among us that Luke Costello is a name to watch for the future. Another couple of fights that I really enjoyed watching involved the smaller guys. Purple belt featherweight Alain Pozo gamely stood his ground against the much heavier black belt Henrique Santana, and little pluma purple belt Mark Phung holding off a much larger brown belt. For me, watching these lighter guys fight put in such a spirited performance against bigger and higher ranked opponents was truly inspiring and shows just what a good idea the Absolute 1000 event is.
Henrique Santana imposes his superior weight against Alain Pozo.
Unfortunately, the Absolute 1000 was unable to finish as the whole tournament over-ran and the exhibition hall had to close. So the last four or five players shared the £1,000 prize.
Since it began six or seven years ago, the Gracie Invitational has always attracted huge numbers of competitors, many of whom travel from overseas, and this year was no exception. Being sited within the confines of a massive martial arts expo, adds to the unique atmosphere of the event. I’d like to thank the organisers, the runners, the scorers and all the many many people who worked extra hard over the weekend to ensure that us competitors had a good time. I look forward to the next Gracie Invitational in two years time.
Seymour Yang is a purple belt from the Mill Hill Roger Gracie Academy and writes the BJJ blog www.Meerkatsu.com He picked up bronze at the Gracie Invitational.
This is an installment in our Tournament Review Tuesdays column, where FightWorks Podcast listeners submit reports about Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling competitions that happened the weekend prior. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of The FightWorks Podcast. Through the rest of 2010, if you submit a Tournament Review Tuesday piece, you might win an Isami gi!