IBJJF Pan Ams 2022

One of the biggest international Jiu Jitsu competitions of the year, IBJJF Pan Ams,  took place in Kissimmee, Florida April 5-10. In years past, Professor Tony Casarez has traveled by himself or with one other student to compete. This year was the first time that Team Casarez sent a team of 5 competitors to the tournament.

Professor Tony Casarez competed in the Masters 2 Black Belt division. Milo and Ferny represented the team in the adult purple belt division. Riya competed in the juvenile blue belt division, and Caike competed in the juvenile white belt division. For three of the competitors, it was their first time experiencing a major Jiu Jitsu competition.

Competitors from all over the world come together to compete in this Gi tournament, from white to black belt. Because of this, it is a multi-day competition. Professor Tony, Ferny, and Milo competed on the Friday of the competition.

Competition Results

The day started with Ferny, who won his first match 2-0 after scoring a beautiful sweep. In his second match, he didn’t pull guard the way that he had planned to, which threw him off and cost him the match. Since it is such a big tournament, all brackets are single elimination.

The next competitor was Milo. This was his first tournament in a couple months after a knee injury early in the year. Nevertheless, he came out very strong, stuck to the game plan, and won his first two matches by submission. He won by kimura and then rear-naked choke. He advanced to the quarterfinals, where he lost by an armbar.

At the same time, Professor Tony was getting ready to compete on the other side of the mats. This was his third weekend in a row after competing in the IBJJF Charleston and then the ADCC in Las Vegas. For this tournament, he competed in the Masters 2 division. His match was going perfectly according to the game plan, with a clean guard pull and a textbook sweep. He was up 2-0, and in the middle of the match went for a suma gaeshi that was not successful and unfortunately gave up a sweep. The score was tied 2-2, and the ref awarded an advantage to his opponent in the final seconds for the pressure from half guard.

The next day, Riya and Caike took to the mats to compete for the first time at the IBJJF Pan Ams.

Riya competed first, and after scoring double gold at the IBJJF Charleston, she was ranked the #1 seed. She won her first match by points, scoring 10 on her opponent and having 0 scored against her. She passed twice and then was in mount for the rest of the match. She moved on to the finals match, where she fought Mia Funegra of AOJ. A second of hesitation to execute the guard pull game plan cost her the match, and she got 2nd place in the Juvenile Blue Belt division.

Caike closed out the day with his match. He executed the game plan and fought hard, but ultimately lost via points in the last couple seconds of the match.

Road to Gold… Only the Beginning

For Riya, Caike, and Ferny, this was their first IBJJF Pan Ams. In total, 5 competitors represented Team Casarez. This is exciting because it is the most competitors the team has ever brought to Pan Ams. While we did not get the gold medals that we wanted, we are building a competitive team that is driven and determined to return year after year, building on every performance as we go.

We expect the competition team at Team Casarez to continue growing year after year. The more we compete, the more experience we have to learn and grow. Gold medals are always the goal, so we will continue to build and show up again next year.

To get an inside look at the weight cuts, traveling, meal prep, and warm ups that take place in competition, check out the vlog on the YouTube Channel:

Yoga for Jiu Jitsu Athletes

The human body is designed to adapt to the positions and activities that it encounters most often. In Jiu Jitsu, the body experiences a constant contraction and compression of muscles. Whether it’s knees to your chest or elbows to your side, we all know that keeping our limbs close to our centerline is the best way to not get submitted in Jiu Jitsu. Over time, the body becomes accustomed to this consistent contraction and muscles and joints can become tight. This is the precursor to injury and soreness.  We want Jiu Jitsu to be a lifelong sport, which means that we need to take care of our muscles and joints as best as we can.

So, what can you do to counteract the contractions that the body experiences during Jiu Jitsu practice?

One of the best known practices to open up the muscles and joints of the body is yoga.

Yoga is an ancient practice that involves the connection of breath to movement. It is composed of specific asanas (or postures) that are sequenced together into a vinyasa (or flow). Yoga asanas are intended to lengthen and open the body, which helps to balance us out from the constant contraction we experience during Jiu Jitsu.

Jiu Jitsu athletes most commonly have very tight hips, backs, and shoulders. This is because the body has adapted to the common demand of contraction and compression. Lengthening and opening the body through yoga is a great way to balance out the body.


Here are some common yoga postures to practice at home to open up the back, shoulders, chest and hips:

Back/Low Back: Downward Facing Dog

This posture is a full-body posture, but you can use it to really focus on opening up and creating a long, open spine.

In this posture, start on your hands and knees and tuck the toes under.

Then, on your next inhale, push into all ten fingers as you send the hips up and back. Focus on opening up through your low back by pushing your hips up toward the sky. You can bend your knees as much as you need to in this posture to feel the release in your low back. At the same time, press through your shoulders to feel an opening in the upper back as well.

 

Shoulders: Puppy Pose

There are many postures that you can practice to open up the shoulders.

One of my favorites is puppy pose. You can move into this pose from downward facing dog by setting your knees on the ground, align your hips over knees, and then walk your hands forward. Send your chest towards the floor (it’s okay if it doesn’t reach) and rest your forehead on that mat if you can. This posture opens up the shoulders and the chest. You can counter this posture with a child’s pose, arms by the side. Send your hips back to your heels and let your arms rest by your side.

 

Hips: Supine Figure 4 or Pigeon Pose

This posture targets the outside hips, which can get very tight in Jiu Jitsu when opponents crush our legs to one side or we use our hips and knees to defend from getting passed.

Lay down on your back, bring one sole of the feet to the ground behind your hip, and extend the other leg high. From there, cross the extended leg ankle over the other leg’s knee. You can push the bent knee away, or pull the hamstring of the other leg toward you to deepen the stretch. If you don’t feel the stretch here, you can move into pigeon pose (pictured left). 

Chest: Cobra pose

Rounding of the upper back and shoulders is very common in Jiu Jitsu.

To counter this, you can do cobra pose. Lay on your stomach and bring your hands underneath your shoulders.

As you inhale, begin to pull your chest forward and up off of the ground. Avoid using your leg muscles, and instead use your back muscles to smile through your collar bones and shine your chest forward. Keep your gaze down.

 

 

 


These are just a couple of poses that you can use to open and lengthen the body. If possible, you can do these once a day, even for just 10 minutes, after class or when you get home from training.

Here are some important notes to keep in mind when practicing yoga:

  • Use the breath to deepen the posture. If you don’t feel the stretch, try breathing deeply through your nose and out your nose to see if you can feel it.
  • Do not push yourself past your limits (you do plenty of that in Jiu Jitsu!) Yoga is a time to listen to your body, and rest where it feels comfortable and where you can breathe.

Take a Yoga Class

If you are interested, Team Casarez is also offering yoga flows at the gym. Come try out a class to learn the postures and sequences so that you can ask questions and practice at home!

These classes are free and open to the public until March 26, 2022, so bring a friend or a family member who you think could benefit from yoga as well.

Wednesdays @ 10:30am – Mobility Flow (create more flexibility in the joints)
Fridays @ 1:30pm – Restorative Flow (rest and restore sore and tight muscles)
Saturdays @ 9:30am – Power Flow (create strength in the muscles to avoid injury)

If you have questions about yoga for Jiu Jitsu, send an email to casarezbjj@gmail.com and Mary Ketterhagen or Catherine Holland, the yoga instructors, can answer your questions.


Upcoming Events

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Advice to My White Belt Self

 

It took me over 10 years to get my black belt in Jiu Jitsu. During that time, I learned a lot of lessons. In the hopes that it will help some of you on your journey, here is some advice I wish I had been given when I was a white belt:

Consistency is Key

Prioritize consistent training over hard training. I would rather see you roll 4-5 days a week consistently, than 1-2 hard days. The problem with rolling hard every class is that the next day, you are beat up and exhausted, with little to no motivation to go back and train. If you do go back and train, you get run down and your motivation starts to take a hit. Instead of this approach, train consistently, without the pressure of training hard every day. Some days you should just drill, other days roll only with lower belts, other days roll lightly as best you can. Whatever you need to do to continue showing up multiple times a week and stay consistent.

Get Involved and Stay Committed to Other Arts

Do not quit the other arts. I trained judo, wrestling, and striking briefly when I was a white belt. My advice to myself then would be to keep up with these arts and incorporate them into my training. Whether that means once a week, once a month, or once every couple of months, I know that it would have significantly improved my jiu jitsu journey. If anything, I would have also been a black belt in judo by this time. Whether that means wrestling clubs at schools or in the community, anything you can do to get involved. If a competition is available in these arts, even better! Do it.

Create Healthy Diet and Recovery Habits

Habits take a long time to build, and I wish I had started prioritizing a healthy diet and lifestyle when I was a white belt. When you are young, you can get away with eating any food you want or getting little sleep, and showing up the next day ready to train. As you make your way to black belt, the years inevitably tick away. Getting older means you need to be watching what you are eating and your lifestyle habits. My advice would be to create habits now that will benefit your older (black belt) self in the future.

Do Not Stop Lifting Weights

A stronger version of you is a better version of you. Lifting weights improves jiu jitsu and also prevents injury in jiu jitsu, which means you can be more consistent. I lifted weights during the early years of my jiu jitsu career, but stopped on and off throughout the decade. My advice would be to keep lifting, and consider it a part of your training. It will benefit you in the future.

Learn How to Study Jiu Jitsu

It’s boring, and no one wants to sit in front of a computer when they can actually roll with friends, but it has to be done. Studying jiu jitsu online is one of the best ways to improve quickly and develop a greater understanding of how and why jiu jitsu works. Like the healthy diet and lifestyle, my advice would be to start learning how to study jiu jitsu as a white belt. Push yourself to incorporate this into your routine. I would tell myself that it is helpful and worth the time.

Travel When Possible to Learn from Others

I traveled a lot to compete, but sometimes I wish I had used those resources to go to seminars of world class black belts and learn different styles. Of course you learn a lot from tournaments, but every now and then, choose a seminar over a tournament to get a taste of different styles and improve your game outside of your home gym’s instruction.

Jiu Jitsu Can Be Your Career

For almost the entire decade that I trained, I was told by family members and friends that jiu jitsu was just a hobby, a past-time. I was told that I needed to focus on my career. I am proud of myself for going to university and getting my undergraduate and masters, but I wish I had been told that jiu jitsu could be more than a hobby. I always believed it for myself, but it was hard to stay motivated with outside pressure pushing me to be “successful” in society’s eyes. For a while, I was in denial of following my path. I would tell myself as a white belt that it is okay to commit to jiu jitsu. Don’t hold yourself back because of what other people expect or want from you. If you know it’s your path, then follow it.


Most of all, enjoy the journey. I hope that this advice is helpful. I would love to hear what advice you would tell yourself as a white belt, or even just as your younger self. Let me know in the comments on Instagram and Facebook.

Facebook: Tony Casarez
Instagram: @tonycasarez

US Grappling Charlotte and NY Pro Winners

Very proud of my students who competed, won and medaled. We had 4 students travel and compete at the US Grappling in Charlotte and all came back with 8 medals while another student traveled to New York for the IBJJF New York Pro and won Gold. A total of 9 medals: 4 Gold and 5 Silver medals. Happy to be living my dream and coaching these awesome men, women, and children in the wonderful art of jiu-jitsu. I’m very grateful to all the students who help push the training and help the competitors. We could not have done it without the team. Best part about the school is it’s our family. Great job team!

BethanyEarning silver in the no-gi and silver in the gi. She lost her matches by points and did not get submitted.

MiloEarning silver in the juvenile no-gi and silver in the juvenile gi division at the US Grappling in Charlotte

AndrewEarning gold in his weight gi division and silver in the open Class absolute gi division at the US Grappling Tournament in Charlotte.

SamWho is a student and assistant instructor Winning double gold! He won his blue belt gi division and the open Class blue belt gi division.

JedAt the IBJJF New York Pro. Jed got gold in the Lightweight Masters 1 division submitting all his opponents.