Check out what is going on with the Arizona BJJ Scene

When many people think of high quality jiu jitsu in the United States, Southern California and New York immediately come to mind. While these places are undeniably hotbeds of jiu jitsu talent, Arizona is also home to amazingly talented instructors and competitors. What often separates one area from another in terms of the level of its jiu jitsu is the presence of high quality tournaments, as they challenge practitioners to continually strive to achieve better performance and results. The AZSBJJF and GD Events have been hosting top quality tournaments in Arizona for well over a decade. What started as a 40 person in house tournament in 2001 has expanded into annual competitions for adults, kids, and master level athletes. These tournaments include the AZ Open, The Copa Bella/Kid’s Cup, The AZ State Championships, the Southwest Classic, and the Master’s Cup. Just as the Arizona jiu jitsu scene has come a long way, so has my personal journey to the Grand Canyon State. My name is Danny O’Donnell and I moved to Arizona from Chicago in search of high level jiu jitsu instruction and competition. I will be contributing to the blog in an effort to bring you more awareness about the instructors, athletes, brands, and tournaments that make the Arizona jiu jitsu community so unique. This will include interviews, tournament recaps, seminar reviews, and any other news or information related to Arizona jiu jitsu. These blog entries should provide you with a better understanding of how special our community is and how it fits into the bigger picture of the growth of jiu jitsu in the U.S. Stay tuned and be sure to connect on Facebook and Instagram.

Jansen Azarias on Reaching a Higher Ground


By Danny O’Donnell

Higher Ground is an organization whose mission is to “empower one life at a time to reach, transform, and elevate the community through love and building character.” This is mainly accomplished through a series of programs designed to help young people grow and flourish so they can ultimately contribute to the community that they are a part of.  These programs are focused on developing social and emotional skills like self-control, grit, emotional management and growth mindset. The activities used to build these skills include grappling, boxing, dance, music, drumline, art, robotics, digital arts, computer coding, outside sports, and homework help. Higher Ground also functions as an alternative to detention for Pima County Juvenile Court Center. There are currently 10 school locations where the Community Schools Strategy is implemented to help students who are chronically absent.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple belt Jansen Azarias is the founder and Executive Director of Higher Ground. The organization started as Jansen was working through personal issues with his wife and son. He saw that teaching his son and tutoring him in school were having tremendous benefits and he eventually began helping his son’s friends using these same means. Jansen realized how powerful the lessons he was able to impart to these kids were and eventually began teaching about 60 of them in a church building. This started over 10 years ago.

Jansen’s journey into personal development began at a very young age. He started practicing martial arts at age 6. “I’ve done several of them including Eskrima, Aikido, Taekwondo, Kajukenbo, Boxing and many others. I first got introduced to Japanese Ju Jutsu in the Philippines and found it extremely enjoyable. I then got introduced to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu through a neighbor of mine, a purple belt who trained with his son in his garage and I enjoyed the handful of sessions I was able to go.” Jansen soon realized how important the lessons martial arts instilled were and how they could be beneficial to the youth. “When I started Higher Ground, several of the kids wanted to learn martial arts. I decided to teach them Japanese jujutsu.” After competing in a local grappling tournament and seeing positions on the ground he was not familiar with, Jansen decided to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He found David Reilly of Undisputed and began taking his kids there about 6 years ago.

The grappling program at Higher Ground is just one example of how the organization strives to give the youth a positive outlet and opportunity to grow. As the leader of the organization, Jansen is always evaluating what is being offered and how it will ultimately be of the most benefit. “I drive the vision and ensure that our organization stays focused on our mission. I am also the face of our organization and represent us to other organizations, donors, and partners. Additionally, the majority of the programs developed at Higher Ground are developed by me and my wife. I also mentor and life coach several students and am often involved in ensuring that they build the skills they need. Finally, I am also the coach of our grappling team that competes all around the country.”

Although Higher Ground has come a long way as an organization, Jansen has set aggressive strategic goals over the next 5 years. “The 1st one is that we will continue to build an organization that has high quality structure, skills, and capacities to support our programs and growth. The 2nd one is to double the amount of students we serve from 2,000 to 4,000 kids by utilizing our Community School Strategy to be in more schools. The 3rd one is to diversify our funding sources to ensure sustainability of our growth.” To learn more about Higher Ground and to get in touch with Jansen or its other leaders you can visit

Professor Mayko Araujo of Prodigy Jiu Jitsu Arizona

By Danny O’Donnell


When most high level Jiu Jitsu competitors talk about what motivates them to train, they usually cite major tournaments or the feeling of accomplishment that comes from competing. Although Professor Mayko Araujo is clearly driven by his competitive goals, he also realizes that there is more to Jiu Jitsu than just collecting medals. “What keeps me training is the passion, the will to always get better and the friends I’ve made on the mat.”  Mayko started training in Jiu Jitsu when he was 13 years old in his hometown in Brazil after watching the Gracie’s on TV. “Their fighting style was so unique that it made me want to train. There was a gym close to my home so I went and it was love at first sight.”

As Mayko worked his way through the ranks in Brazil, he started training with Leonardo Vieira, one of the leaders of team Checkmat. He was awarded his black belt from Vieira in December 2011. Mayko advanced through the ranks not only as a competitor but also as an instructor. As the Checkmat team grew, they began to expand their reach to the U.S, opening schools in Southern California. During this time Mayko was invited to assist with teaching classes. “Me and my wife, Karen Antunes, came to the U.S. to compete and our master Leo Vieira gave a few classes for me and Karen to teach.”

After spending more time in the U.S. Mayko realized that to take his competition and teaching career to a new level, a permanent move would open new doors. “I chose Phoenix because it reminds me of my hometown in Brazil. I love hot weather and Phoenix is also a big city with lots of opportunities. My wife and I want to offer high quality classes for kids, women, adults and competitors. The biggest goal is to teach real Jiu Jitsu and help to spread the art. The competition class will be optional and will focus on building confidence and self-esteem.”

Although Mayko and his wife Karen are very dedicated to the progress of their students, they have no plans to stop competing themselves. Karen most recently won gold at the 2018 Pan Ams while Mayko just competed under the ACBJJ banner in Barcelona, Spain. They will look to pass on the lessons learned from their competitions to their students at Prodigy Jiu Jitsu. There will be a grand opening seminar this Saturday, 3/17, open to all ages levels and schools. For more info you can email

Jordan Vaisman of Gracie Barra Arizona


By Danny O’Donnell


19-year-old Gracie Barra purple belt Jordan Vaisman has been training in martial arts since he was 4 years old. “I did judo from 4 to 11 years old. Then my family moved to a different neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.” Judo is a very popular sport in Brazil and Jordan was looking to further pursue his training. “In 2011, when I was 13, I found Gracie Barra Jacarepaguá, looking for judo classes. It was here that I met Jiu Jitsu professor Vinícius Coelho (Villeem) who invited me to try a Jiu Jitsu class. Since that first class and until this day I have totally dedicated myself to Jiu Jitsu.”

Part of Jordan’s dedication to Jiu Jitsu was driven by his desire to succeed in competitions. “I have been participating in competitions since I was 5 years old. When I was 14 I started competing in Jiu Jitsu as a white belt. Competing is something I’ve loved to do since I was a kid. Now at 19 years old, I believe that it helped build my character and become the person I am today. I learned a lot from competing, like how to deal with defeat. I learned from my own mistakes and I didn’t settle for victory. I also learned how to deal with fear and nervousness and to always respect my opponents because they are there to make me evolve and dedicate myself more and more.”

Jordan’s dedication to his training regimen shows in his competition results. “My greatest achievement was being the World Champion and the Brazilian Gi and No Gi Champion at blue belt. My goal is to repeat the same thing in the purple, brown and black divisions.” In order to achieve his goals as an athlete and instructor, Jordan relocated from Brazil to the U.S. “I moved to Arizona in December 2016. Here I have competition training led by Professor Flavio Almeida, and just as in Brazil I continue to evolve my Jiu Jitsu every day.”

In addition to training for competitions, Jordan is also instructing and learning the business aspect of operating a Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu academy. “Being a part of Gracie Barra is an honor for me. My idols are a part of the team and it’s the largest Jiu Jitsu school in the world. I am very proud to say that I am a Guardian of the Red Shield. As a Jiu Jitsu instructor I am learning a lot here in Arizona. When I have achieved my goals as an athlete, I intend to open my own school and form champions on the mats and in life. I would like to thank my professors Vinícius Coelho and Flávio Almeida for all of their instruction, my family that is still far away always supporting me, my training partners because without them I would not conquer what I am conquering today, and those who have always helped me in some way.”

You can find out more about Jordan by following him on Instagram @jordanvaismanjj. For more information on Gracie Barra head to!

AZ Women’s Spring Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Retreat

Attention AZ Jiu Jitsu Women!

Join us for a Jiu Jitsu filled weekend at the first ever AZ Women’s Spring Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Retreat!

DATES: April 13th – 15th 2018

LOCATION: This is an all-inclusive retreat to take place in Prescott Arizona at the UCYC.

For more information on the location and facilities see here: 


The head instructor is Sarah Black.

  • Silver Medalist Adult Black Belt World Championships
  • Adult Purple and Brown Belt World Champion
  • Master 1 Black Belt World Champion
  • BJJ Black Belt under Gustavo Dantas
  • Second-degree Judo Black belt
  • Women’s Team Coach at GD Jiu Jitsu Headquarters

More coaches to be announced!


The retreat is open to women 15 years and older. ALL belt levels welcome.


$224 until March 9th 2018

$249 until April 6th 2018  


  • Group cabin lodging (Bunks provided over 4 bedrooms with 4 private bathrooms and a spacious shared living area for connecting)
  • 3 days of Jiu Jitsu instruction and sparring
  • Meals
  • 2 hours of camp recreation activities (We can choose 2 activities from Rock Wall & Zip Line, Leap of Faith, Giant’s Ladder, Screamer Swing, Archery, Paintball)
  • Beautiful Prescott hiking
  • A relaxing nature filled setting
  • More to be announced!


Transportation is not provided. We will coordinate caravans and car pools via a Facebook Event page.

Come connect with other Jiu Jitsu women from across the state. Spots are limited and filling up fast.

Email to get your spot today!

Andre Quiles of Chute Boxe Academy/Checkmat AZ

Andre Quiles has been training martial arts for nearly 40 years, starting as a young boy in judo. During a trip to Rio de Janeiro with his father, Andre tried his first Jiu Jitsu class with Robson Gracie. Although he loved training on the ground, Andre was also training at Chute Boxe Brazil, home to many legendary MMA fighters including Anderson Silva, Pele, Shogun Rua and Wanderlei Silva. Chute Boxe was one of the first MMA academies to blend striking and grappling with tremendous success. This style intrigued Andre and led him to pursue MMA competition, accumulating several professional vale tudo fights while flying the Chute Boxe flag.

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What are the Most Transformative Benefits of Jiu Jitsu?

Photo by Chris Magic Photography
By Danny 

Anyone who has practiced Jiu Jitsu for a considerable amount of time can attest to its ability to transform lives. Whatever your goals are when getting into the art, you’ll soon start to notice the immense physical and mental benefits. For some this simply means getting in better shape while for others it completely changes the direction of their lives. Joseph Cruz is in the latter group. Since starting his training under Professor Carlos Farias in Mesa, he has competed and won gold medals at the AZ State Championships, the Southwest Classic and the UAEJJF Phoenix Pro and SJJIF Worlds in both gi and no-gi divisions. Despite his young age, Joseph has used his training and competition goals to help him overcome many challenges in life, including adapting to an unstable family life while going through the foster care system. The following are three of the biggest benefits Jiu Jitsu can provide anyone who practices regularly.

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Gerson Atoigue’s Roots BJJ & Fitness

By Danny O’Donnell

Roots BJJ and Fitness first opened its doors in Gilbert, AZ in October 2017 under co-owner and head instructor Gerson Atoigue. Growing up Guam, Gerson wanted to provide a family friendly environment similar to what he had experienced as a kid on the small island. “Family and respect were a huge part of our culture, and it radiates to our students. Many academies emphasize family and I’m very fortunate to actually have my family train with me. My girlfriend, son, brother, cousins, nieces and nephews are all on the mat training and learning together! I think it makes the training more enjoyable when you have a family member training alongside you. The students are very receptive towards my family being there and it makes for great family bonding on a nightly basis!”


After being introduced by a cousin to Jiu Jitsu while in high school, Gerson slowly began to transition away from more traditional sports so he could train Jiu Jitsu more often. “My cousin was already training a little over a year at Ruffhouse Jiu Jitsu under Arthur Ruff, a Rodrigo Medeiros black belt. He brought me in and I tried one class and instantly fell in love, like the majority of people that discover the gentle art. I continued to learn and train this beautiful art meeting so many great individuals along the way, and creating so many memories. I eventually received my black belt from my very first instructor, Arthur Ruff.”

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Arizona State BJJ Federation Ranking System


The GD Events in partnership with the AZSBJJF has been putting on the premier Jiu Jitsu tournaments in the state of Arizona since 2001. Part of establishing such a high standard for tournament promotion involves providing the highest level of service to the jiu-jitsu community. There will be a lot of exciting changes for the 2018 season starting at the AZ Masters Cup on December 2nd, 2017 with a new scoreboard system including TV’s and computers in each competition area and the creation of the AZSBJJF Individual Ranking System.


The AZSBJJF has been working diligently on an individual ranking system for the 2017 season for the adult and masters competitors from blue to black belt, where a first place finish earns 9 points, a second place 3 points and a third place 1 point. Points earned in the 2017 season are then multiplied by 3, a weighting for the current season that gives higher precedence to more recent podium finishes. Previous year points are multiplied by 2 and results earned 2 years ago are multiplied by 1. In addition to the year multiplier, there is also a tournament multiplier. The AZ State Championship is a 3 star tournament, the Southwest Classic and AZ International Open are 2 star tournaments, and the Copa Bella and Masters Cup are 1 star events.

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Arizona State BJJ Federation 2017 Kid’s Team Rankings

By Danny O’Donnell

The 2017 AZSBJJF competition season was a huge success as nearly 20 different schools from across the state were able to earn points towards the overall Kid’s Team Rankings. The top ten schools are listed below and accumulated points over four tournaments; The AZ International Open, the Kid’s Cup, the AZ State Championships and the Southwest BJJ Classic.

  1. One Jiu Jitsu – 647
  2. Maracaba – 512
  3. CTA – 409
  4. Lotus Club Jiu Jitsu – 345
  5. GD Jiu Jitsu/Horizons M.A. – 286
  6. GD Jiu Jitsu Academy – 250
  7. Carlos Farias Jiu Jitsu – 200
  8. Ares/Nava BJJ – 176
  9. Atos Jiu Jitsu – 164
  10. Gracie Barra – 160

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Carlos Farias on Overcoming Injury and His New Academy

The 2016/2017 IBJJF season was huge for Carlos Farias, an Ultra Heavyweight Roberto Traven black belt with a school in Mesa, AZ. In addition to becoming the #6 ranked overall adult competitor, Carlos was also in the midst of making plans to move his academy to a larger location. These accomplishments stand on their own as extremely impressive, but become even more impressive considering Carlos qualifies for the Masters 3 age division. With all of these positive competition results, Carlos decided to compete at the 2017 World Championships in June. During the event, Carlos suffered a major injury, tearing his triceps muscle. This injury would force Carlos into the operating room and off the competition mats.


One of the biggest challenges for competitive athletes is often knowing when to hit the brakes. This is why many athletes cite injuries as the most challenging aspects of their careers. “I tore my tricep at the IBJJF World Championship in June. At first it was a partial tear, but it worsened and my Doctor said that to continue competing and teaching at the level I want to, surgery was mandatory. It was my first major injury of my career. My surgery was in July. It was a complete replacement of the tendon. Recovery is going great, my physical therapy is helping a lot and I look forward to rolling again as soon as December.”

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