HOHENFELS, Germany -- The Hohenfels Brazilian Jiu Jitsu team battled its way to a first place finish at the Bavaria Cup Grappling Games in Ansbach, recently.
"We had our biggest team turnout over all," said Jeremy Workman, HBJJ instructor. Forty-five members attended with 20 competitors, including nine children and four women.
"As a competitor, I can tell you there's not much more encouraging than cheers from family and friends on the sidelines," Workman said. "Sometimes the extra push a competitor needs comes only upon hearing a familiar voice reminding you that you're not only fighting for yourself, but for your team."
The Bavaria Cup was the first in a series of five tournaments in which teams will accumulate points throughout each contest for a final championship in June.
"We got a good start on the cup," said Workman. "We had a lot of first place wins, and in some cases we swept the bracket."
With more than 100 competitors, each Hohenfels combatant had at least two fights, and some as many as five. Opponents were matched by weight, sex and age. For many of the HBJJ team, such as Roberto Rodriguez, it was their first competition.
"It was amazing," said Rodriguez, who took first place in his division after five grueling fights. Rodriguez had only been training for six weeks before the tournament and gave much of the credit for his victory to Workman's instruction.
"Jeremy (Workman) is a great instructor and teaches at a nice, slow pace so you understand everything. A lot of the stuff he taught, I was able to utilize and work," he said.
Training for Rodriguez is a family affair, and his wife and two children are all part of the team. Robby Jr. also competed and brought home a third place medal.
"Since we started the kids' class it's been turning more and more family oriented," said Workman. "We've got about a dozen families, now. A lot of the parents want to be able to participate with their kids."
Workman said he plans to make the children's class 'parents optional,' where parents can attend and practice with their children if they wish.
"I love just wrestling around with my boys, and other parents want to be able to do that," he said.
Workman's oldest son, 8-year-old Jaiden, agrees. He's been training since he was 4 and said his favorite part of the sport is getting to spend time with his father.
He is also a committed martial artist, as evinced by his first place win in the Bavaria Cup. Jaiden explained that in order for a child to earn all 12 of the possible belt levels available to youths, they must start at 4. When asked if he intended to complete all levels, he answered with a resounding 'yes!'
Sayoko Patterson is one parent who joined the team because of her three children.
"I have a daughter, and there weren't enough women, so I got involved so she had someone to wrestle," Patterson said. But she stays for herself.
"I love the class," she said. "Jeremy is a wonderful, patient, knowledgeable instructor. I like how you learn to control your body, and joint manipulation I find fascinating."
Patterson's whole family competed at the tournament, bringing home three medals. Her daughter, 17-year-old Emiko Patterson, the youngest adult competitor there, took gold.
Emiko has been training in Tae Kwon Do for 11 years, but she says her TKD black belt didn't help at all in her first BJJ tournament.
"They're totally different," she said. "BJJ is a ground game."
Emiko said she really enjoys the sport and appreciates being able to spend time and share the mat with her whole family.
"And Jeremy is the best instructor I've ever had," she added.
Workman feels that competition allows BJJ participants a chance to truly test their abilities but believes character is more important than victories.
"We accept all challenges without complaint, we remain kind and respectful in victory and defeat, and we trust that our training and technique will prevail in the face of strength and aggression," said Workman.
The character of his team can be exemplified by Lindsay Wilke and Charlie Spond. Wilke attended the Bavaria Cup as a spectator, but agreed to compete in her first tournament to help fill out a thin bracket after other competitors dropped out at the last minute. Spond fought a much taller opponent two years his senior, who outweighed him by 30 pounds. Spond lost by a single point in overtime.
Despite the many victories, Workman insists it's not about medals.
"We fought a lot, we won a lot, and we lost a lot. But in the end, we went to Ansbach as a team, we fought as a team, and we learned as a team," said Workman.
HBJJ meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Building 47. Children's class runs from 5-6 p.m., adults 6-8 p.m. Children must be enrolled in CYS services to participate.