After driving past a jiu-jitsu studio on Quadra Street for over a year, Michael Simmons decided he wanted to stop in and try his hand at grappling.
Fast forward three years and Simmons, a 51-year-old portfolio manager with Odlum Brown Limited, won gold at the World Master International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation championships, a huge competition featuring over 3,000 athletes. He placed first in his division: Blue Belt, Master 5, ultra-heavy. In jiu-jitsu, belt levels run from white, blue, purple and brown to black.
“It’s such a cool event, there’s not a lot of animosity and you’re giving everyone hugs,” he said of the event, which ran Aug. 22 to 25 in Las Vegas. “I’ve been emailing the guy I beat in the finals, just chatting. It’s such a neat sport because it’s so friendly.”
World class jiu-jitsu athletes attended the event, which allowed him to meet stars like Bernardo Faria and Olympian Travis Stevens.
“It’s crazy that it’s such a big thing; I was being a total fan-boy and going up to say hello,” Simmons said.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu has risen in popularity since the Ultimate Fighting Championship took off, and in recent years has created mixed martial arts mega-stars like Connor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.
This has resulted in a rising number of young athletes in the competition.
“It’s an interesting scene, because there were only four people in my division. It’s rare for somebody to start doing jiu-jitsu at 48,” Simmons said, adding that in the purple belt category for men in their 30s, there were 54 competitors. “Six years down the line and there will be a million black belts!”
Another thing he found interesting was the amount of talent coming out of Victoria and Vancouver Island.
“It’s a bit of a crisis of confidence when you’re combating on a world stage and you’re just a little gym, and you tend to not compare to people from Brazil or California. But all the schools here competed and have done quite well. It adds legitimacy to Victoria’s jiu-jitsu scene.”
There are several prominent jiu-jitsu dojos and studios across Greater Victoria, but Simmons has practised at Fierce Studio, now located on Bay Street, from the start. He said that since day one he’s been hooked.
“People my age are slowing down and doing things that are more soft, but you don’t have to. You can still hold your own against the young guys,” he said, adding that he’s already preparing to compete in next year’s international competition. “I’ll go every year until they put me in a box.”