Instructors Dan Hombert, top, and Bobby Woodman demonstrate during a training session at the Elite Martial Arts Academy in Whitehorse on Oct. 10 in the lead up to the 2019 Alaska State No-Gi Submission Grappling Championships. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

Elite Martial Arts Academy grapplers prepare for return to Alaska State No-Gi Submission Grappling Championships

“We’ve been ramping up practices and getting it more intense because it’s just a whole new level”

Close to a dozen Brazilian jiu-jitsu players from Whitehorse’s Elite Martial Arts Academy are deep into preparations for the upcoming 2019 Alaska State No-Gi Submission Grappling Championships in Anchorage, Alaska, on Nov. 2 hosted by the Alaska State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation.

Athletes from Elite made the 1,200-kilometre trip for the 2018 iteration of the event, returning with four medals.

Instructor Dan Hombert said that with the knowledge from last year, the possibility of bringing home even more is very real.

“This year we definitely have a little bit more of an idea what to expect from the Americans,” said Hombert, explaining the prevalence of wrestling in Alaska makes for a type of grappling that Elite’s athletes have been prepping hard to combat.

“We just can’t be nonchalant on our feet. We either have to be shooting in for takedowns ourselves, quickly, or deciding we’re going to pull guard,” he said. “What was happening last year was a lot of times we were on the feet and because they were so good at wrestling, they were able to take us down and end up in an already dominant position like side control.”

So while “pulling guard” — pulling your opponent down on top of yourself while wrapping your legs around their hips — may not be the most intuitive thing to do against wrestlers, a group known for traditionally having excellent balance, Hombert said it will be the key to success.

“We want to be able to pull into guard and get into an attack guard right away,” he said. “When we’re on our back, if we’re getting into guard, we want to be attacking heavily – not playing a passive sort of game. Not as much looking for sweeps, but getting your guard up high and attacking with triangles and armbars.”

Beyond readying for competition with more wrestling pedigree, Hombert said the club has also been working to up the intensity.

“We’ve been ramping up practices and getting it more intense because it’s just a whole new level,” he said. “Even when you think you’re going close to 100 per cent (at the gym), there is kind of ‘friendly’ 100 per cent and then there is 120 per cent ‘I’m-trying-to-win-because-everyone-is-watching.’”

Despite the adversarial nature of prepping for a tournament, the importance of building relationships isn’t lost on the grapplers at Elite.

“They have a good jiu-jitsu scene,” said Hombert. “We’re just hoping to get a few medals, hopefully a couple golds, and also build friendships and alliances there with other gyms.”

The tournament itself is a one-day event with weigh-ins the day before. Competitors are split broadly into either beginner, intermediate or advanced divisions based on years of experience, and further based on weight.

As the name suggests, participants do not wear a traditional jiu-jitsu gi but instead compete in shorts and a rash guard.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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