Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh 2011 Recap
Two thousand twelve is here! The past year went really fast for me so writing this was a nice way to reflect on all the good memories. Challenges overcome are always good memories so I’ll start with those. The toughest challenges were thrown at guys most of us respect. First, Lance Thompson had a very serious injury last December. I’ve heard that the number one reason purple belts don’t move up the ranks is due to injuries. This is understandable having had one myself. It is amazing how such an obstacle can change your mental state. Injuries give some people a powerful reason to quit something, even when it is positive for them. Lance underwent surgery and came back even better than when he left! Mike Wilkins faced a different kind of challenge. After establishing himself as one of the areas best amateur MMA fighters, he decided to step up a level and go professional against the advice of the armchair critics and other people involved in mixed martial arts. He finally got a fight in Costa Rica. He lost at the very end of the first round (which he dominated) to a submission. It was a difficult way to lose after spending almost a year on improving his grappling. The critics and naysayers were vindicated, right? Wrong. Mike came back and had a dominating win in his first official pro fight right here in Pennsylvania. Heather Wiederstein also came back from injuries and losses.
The members of Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh participated in many competitions. In MMA we saw Mike Wilkins make his pro debut. Sean Clair made his amateur debut with a decision win over a tough 2-0 jiu-jitsu fighter. Lucas Burdette returned to the cage, fighting in the NAAFS organization after a long layoff. He came back strong with one of the most inspiring victories I’ve seen in my years watching MMA.
Heather Wiederstein and Curt Uniatowski stepped in the cage for the first time and fought hard but dropped decisions. In jiu-jitsu competition, I surprised myself by placing third in the black belt adult division (middleweight) at the Nogi Pan-Ams and third in the Miami Open black belt absolute division (www.ibjjf.org). While these are not the best tournaments in jiu-jitsu/grappling (that would be the IBJJF Worlds and ADCC), they are certainly top-tier competitions that few Americans (and no one training out of Pittsburgh) have placed in before. I have to thank all my training partners at RGA for getting me ready to compete successfully at a world level, especially considering the limited time I have to spend on my own training. On a less happy note, I was invited to compete in the Kerberus Pro Absolute and lost by footlock so quickly that I made Atos’s highlight reel. As a team, we had a great showing at the Kumite Classic in Monroeville this past May. We dominated the white belt adult gi division. Individually we had many champs including Heather (gi and nogi), Jonas (gi and nogi), Phil, and Jarret Lewis (blue belt gi). We had several other place winners. At a local West Virginia tournament, Dave Ziegler took first place in blue belt gi and second in advanced nogi. Phil Norbeck took second in white belt gi. At the IBJJF New York Open, Dave took second in the blue belt division. He showed technical skill as well as toughness winning three matches in a tough, high-level event. Check out videos of the action on YouTube. We miss you, Dave! Jonas and Alex (youth division) also took first place finishes at Steel City’s tournament during the summer. I think everyone who competed learned something valuable.
Some good friends and training partners are no longer training at the academy. Hopefully some will be back in the new year. Our membership numbers doubled. Heather organized some women’s only training which brought women from other academies. Our kids program really took off in 2011. Jarret took the conditioning program to a new level. He continued his learning with a TRX certification and lots of hard training. Jarret also organized the David Clancy kettlebell seminar.
We had a world-class instructor from Brazil, Roger Ambrosi, join us for a few months. He brought a different perspective to classes and his championship technique to our school. He also did many private lessons and helped me with my training. I could not have competed at a high level in 2011 without training with Roger. Daniel Gracie awarded him his black belt in December at his home academy in Brazil. Roger and his wife Mel returned to Brazil not long ago so that he could undergo orthopedic surgery. We hope to see them back in Pittsburgh sometime in 2012.
We had plenty of social events and good times watching the UFC at bars and at our fellow members houses. Our year-end party was fun and lots of nice gear was won.
We hosted two seminars this year. The first was Igor Gracie. Since my son Jake was being born in Costa Rica, Logan helped organize the seminar. Everyone said Igor was an inspirational but down-to-earth guy and that they learned some valuable jiu-jitsu lessons. I think Mike Wilkins already dangerous guillotine got even meaner. I was really happy to bring my old teacher Shawn Williams to Pittsburgh and host his seminar. He showed us why he is such a respected teacher. We are still working on lots of the stuff he showed us.
Thanks to CPAMMA for attending the seminars and stopping by to train every now and then. We like having you! We have had many visitors who have added to our school by training with us and sharing technique. Will Durkee (adult purple belt pan nogi champ) and Garry Tonon (brown belt world gi and pan nogi champ) gave us great training and tips when they were in town.
We had many belt promotions in 2011. Here is a list:
- Brendan Lupetin and Jarret Lewis.
- Anthony Previte, Jason Coligan, Sean Clair, Chris Ripple, Casey Stapleton, Mike Mehalko, Doug Placko and Geoff Hogate.
Brendan and Jarret were the first purple belts I have given so they are extra special for me. Jarret got his blue from Jean Jacques Machado and Brendan got his from Renzo himself. Jason and Geoff started at Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh and are “home grown” (not in a Rastafarian way I don’t think).
Thank you for the great camaraderie, great workouts, and for being members of the Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh Academy. I sincerely thank all of you. Unless the Mayans and ancient Indian Vedas writers are correct and the world ends, we are going to continue to grow and get better in 2012!