The last time I was in China, the Olympic Games were still a few months away and the finishing touches were being made on the event spaces in Beijing. Even now the World Expo is pretty much done but I'm not too interested to check it out in the first place.
Late flight leaving Bangkok to arrive in Shanghai in the early morning. Unfortunately the flight turned out to be 5+ hours late due to the surprise-snow in China and we didn't take off till about 7am (originally scheduled for 2am). So I found interesting spots to sleep in the airport, doing my best to avoid loud China-tour-groups who refuse to sleep but chat away in the wee hours of the night. Despite the horrible delay, I had no problem passing out on the plane and waking up as we arrived to Pudong International Airport.

First impression...FREEEEEZZZZING!!!

@ Fulton Place

@ Kin

Met up with some old friends and quickly inaugurated myself to Shanghai night-life. For those in Shanghai or visiting, I highly recommend one of Shanghai's latest and leading spots for Modern European cuisine, Fulton Place. Yes, I know I've come to China and I should be checking out Chinese food but I left New York and there are just somethings you can't find here in Bangkok. And don't worry, I ate my fare share of Chinese food on this trip and have the gut to show for it. When you have an opportunity to treat yourself and in need of something off the local chain, the food created by chef Marc Johnson is fantastic. If you're a carnivore like myself, he cures his own meats which just makes it that much better for me, haha. Anyways, without getting into too much of this, I would also recommend Kin. New this year, Kin is three things in one. 1. multi-faceted store. 2. cafe. 3. DJ school and creative center/gallery. All together the folks at Kin look to nurture a community of creative folks, providing a platform and meeting space for the new generation of musicians, artists and designers.  

I have a number of friends that left New York like myself to work abroad and hadn't seen them in sometime so it was great to catch up and see what everyone was up to. I'd like to thank them all for being such great hosts while in town. Thank you.

Prof Jacintho answers questions w/ demo-partner Masa
The first full day in town I headed to the event space to attend the referee seminar headed by Prof Sid Jacintho. Having flown in from Abu Dhabi, Prof Jacintho is one the leading referees in the Pro JJ organization and a key figure on some of today's most exciting match ups on the world level. So no doubt it was a great pleasure to have his undivided attention to ask questions and go over different scenarios that have caused confusion in tournaments past. I know I'm not alone in saying this but one of the biggest issues we have to deal with as a young community producing events are the rules. The more we know and understand them beyond the superficial level, the better the standards we can be upheld and stronger we can become. After producing events myself, I hate to see future events crumble because of misunderstanding and resentment over the rules.   

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to aid in some of the translations of the IBJJF rules from original transcription from Portuguese to English and to be honest, there was a lot of grey area. Perhaps in its original language and the practices in Brazil may be more clear, who knows, but the English translation needed work. The copy today is far superior to where it began but even so, we still find a lot of things to clarify and too often fall victim to inexperience and misinformation at tournaments.

Some of the great details learned from this seminar was the difference just 1-second can make between an advantage, 2-points and nothing. This could potentially be the deciding factor between a win or loss. The areas that we spent a lot of time on was probably over points from the take-down since this can vary depending on who initiates, how control is established, reversed or pace of play. We also spent a great deal of time on sweeps from all variety of positions and how one must establish control to earn the points. 

Prof Jacintho was extremely generous with his wealth of knowledge and experience. Often referring to specific matches where a very fine detail made all the difference. I'm sure the seminar could have been very dry and matter of fact but everyone had a great time laughing and joking throughout the session. Another point that I really appreciate is his perspective on what it is to be a referee. We obviously enjoy BJJ but few would say they enjoy reffing. Mostly likely cause only a handful of us in the scene do it and it's a thankless job but Prof really has a passion as a referee. He explained that in the process of being a referee, he continues to learn no matter what belt level he is watching over. Everywhere from white to black-belt, he's learning and absorbing all the variables which both challenges and excites him. So he encouraged us to be proactive, engaged and embrace all aspects of training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. And I see as we rise in the ranks, being a referee is definitely a part of that experience or should be to some degree. 

Considering the rate in which our community is growing, it will fall on the new purple-belts to take on that responsibility to ensure we have quality refereeing and for these people to be properly educated about the rules.

Much thanks to Prof Jacintho and host Yamada-san for bringing such a decorated person to give this seminar.

I'd like to preface this part of my recap with a few words about producing an event on this scale. As a co-director of the BJJAT, this last year was a third event in Thailand. Of course each one is better than the last but there will always remain to have some problem here and there. With the community being relatively small and considering the investment it is for most to partake, we are very sensitive to making it worthwhile trip for all competitors. At the same time, I would stress on the competitor's side that all these events need our support. While some events may not be perfect, we're all still learning and its these early steps that can eventually lead to greater things. If we do not support by competing and attending, then we will be left with very little and our ability to raise the standards of competition will lessen. Perhaps this is a big thing to ask and consider but it's a reality of where we are today.

On to the tournament...

I misjudged the time and got to the event late but relative to how most tournaments start, I did not think 45 minutes late would make that big a difference. To my surprise, by the time I had arrived the white and blue-belts were already underway and several black and brown-belts had competed. I was both shocked and upset with myself but I just did not realize it was working like this. I quickly got myself to the registration table to check myself in and weigh-in. I signed off on my name, paid my fee and was directed to the weigh-in station which was...empty. I then checked the brackets and could not find my name or division. I then checked with the organizer and was told minutes later that I was the only one in my division. I then asked that I compete in the absolute. I was told that needed to be arranged since I was not already included in this category and I would be informed later what was possible, if not, then given a refund. Suffice it to say, I did not compete and unfortunately did not receive a refund...yet.
JR Santos later wins by ref-decision after 0-0 score

Rather than wait around I got to work and set up my video camera and photos station next to the center score-table. The competition area consisted of three mats. Each sporting a large LCD screen with name, photo, team and points which was very impressive but I'm sure took some negotiating as this was a new program. There was definitely no shortage of staff working the event but it was not clear who was in charge of each station as there were no uniforms or markers to separate staff from spectator. In addition to, this event was being televised live to China and I believe Abu Dhabi with decent sized camera equipment and staff all around the mat area. Large bleachers were where spectators were asked to stay but again, it's a hard thing to coral so many people when everyone wants to be close to the action.

Philippines represent 
 Shanghai BJJ

Roughly 100 competitors had registered for this event and it was great to see so many familiar teams in attendance along with some new faces. Immediately I could see we had folks from Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macao, Korea and Japan. In the white/blue-belt division the stand out for me was JR Santos from VPF/Atos JJ. I've been keeping an eye on JR's progress as he is usually the lightest in his bracket, often fighting much larger opponents and fairing better than most would. Anyways, he cleared through his division with a consistent game and composure. There was definite pressure coming from what I imagine was a Chinese competitor with some substantial wrestling skills. Despite the stacking and pressure, JR came out with the win by ref's decision with the score being 0-0. The two largest teams in attendance of course were locals Shanghai BJJ and Alavanca. Both showing well and having a decent rivalry with the cheers and coaching either side of the mat. Shanghai BJJ's current instructor Prof. Bruno Moreira Marques got in the mix, showcasing an experienced game with technique and timing. Prof Marques would eventually meet Rodrigo Caporal in the black-belt finals of the Abu Dhabi trial but was unable to take home the gold, succumbing to a collar-choke by the Atos black-belt. In traditional Atos fashion, Caporal pulled out the trusty sword and hacked away as his teammates shouted and cheered. 
Coaches Oga & Daniel from the sidelines

 Taki secures the armbar for the win over Daniel Charles

Bruno Marques vs Rodrigo Caporal (finals)

The energy was high despite how cold the competition area was. Granted, there was a heated room for the competitors to stay and keep warm but once outside it was close to the temperature outside, minus the wind. By 3pm I was back to wearing the same as if I were outside. So big hand to all the referees that braved the cold temperatures, wearing no more than slacks, polo-shirt and socks. Talking to some friends after the event and explaining to them the conditions, I was informed that conditions like this are quite common. A first for many so it's something to consider when competing in China be it summer or winter time. I was not prepared for this weather, haha.

While taking photos and video-ing the matches, it was not clear to me which event was the ADPJJ

The finals for the trial wrapped up at around 5-6pm but the China Open continued on even as awards were being handed out. Having been on my feet for nearly 9 hours straight, my back wasn't able to take much more. I don't think I've ever shot photos for this long and with no tripod I can see why the pros have those monopods. It's not cause they're lazy, it's cause the camera/lens is freakin' heavy! Because I had planned on competing I also brought with me my gi and such which then had to brought back to my friend's apartment, clean up and then head to the after-tournament dinner. 

Rodrigo & Taki laugh it up before the awards ceremony

Despite what hurdles may come with this being the first BJJ tournament of this scale produced in China, I still see tremendous potential to positively effect the scene and help it gain International attention. We want this to be viable and there is no shortage of resources to make this happen in Shanghai. I believe the folks here did a lot provide us a professional event space as they could but what may have fell short in is experience and execution on the day. It's a large thing to orchestrate and I believe they had several factors to their disadvantage.

The first time we do anything there's no way to prepare for all the variables that may come up. From my own experience problems of last year are resolved but then new ones take its place and this is a continual process of improvement. 

I would say from what I observed there were only a handful of volunteers/team-leaders that actually train BJJ and have a hand at what's involved or know what people expect. While many, the majority of staff were hired help through the school (event space) or employees. Each working on their specific job but perhaps not knowing the effect of what they had to the whole operation. More so on the organizational level of registration, weigh-ins and bracket-control and coordinating. The tables worked relativley well despite some technical glitches. A lot had been set up to make this all work properly like check-in desks with gi-testers (tool made of wood to check if your gi is legal) but then no one would use them and were just left there on the table.

Names were being called, announcements made but with certain accents it wasn't clear what was being said. This has been a problem not just at this event but many in Asia.

I can't say for sure to what degree having the TV crew effected the organization of the tournament or what took priority but there were instances where the event was operating not on its own time. The finals to the trials were televised and fighters were kept standing till give the OK from the head tv-guy to go ahead. This may have effected how they pushed for the black and brown-belts to compete so early in the day when typically they aren't on till after the lower belts finish their own brackets. 

No one can change the fact that its winter and that most of us Southeast Asian-ers are not accustomed to the cold, haha. And while it was a great bonus to have that heated room, I know it could not have been easy for the competitors to give their very best under those conditions. But we are athletes and everyone had to deal equally with the problems at hand so play-on.

Despite the issues people had, there were also good things that came with this event. (THE GOOD)

I would say for the majority of us traveling to Japan and competing against the 3rd largest community of competitors in the world is not going to grant the best opportunity to make it to Abu Dhabi so it's a unique and enviable chance. Without the support of WJAJC, this would not be possible. This takes a considerable commitment in time, resources and money and I can definitely appreciate the efforts of Yamada-san and his team in making this happen.  

With Prof Sid Jacintho in attendance leading the team of referees, there was little debate over the decisions made. Having spent the better part of the previous afternoon gave the team an added confidence to deal with the tough issues. I think a big thanks is in order for the crew that braved the cold and worked through the 9+ hour day. Makoto Ogasawara, Kei Kita, Taki-san, Kojima-san and Brad Ku.

I really see the event as a sign of good things to come. BJJ is gaining the support of people that can help connect our community to bigger events. 

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Shanghai and see how much things have changed for the local BJJ community there and know that bigger and better things are to come. No doubt the winners of this trial will represent well as they move forward but ultimately it's always a good time at tournaments for me. It's inspired me to ref at the next event so you may see my dawn the ref-shirt in Macao this January 2011. 

I want to thank the WJAJC team, Ms. Vivian, Masa-san, Prof Jacintho and of course Yamada-san. While I wasn't able to express my full appreciation to Yamada-san (my Japanese is not so good these days), his support has allowed for a lot to already happen and I hope to continue to support his efforts and events. 

To all my friends from the SEABJJ community, it's great to see you guys again and catch up. Philippines, Macao, Hong Kong, Taiwan I'm referring to you crazy guys. To Stanley and the gang at Shanghai BJJ, sorry I couldn't make it to for Sunday training but just didn't have it in me. Next time!

(l to r) Kei, Oga, Brad

1 comment:

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