I spent this past week in the desert of Nevada, slogging through heavy rains, watching strangely-dressed people run for their lives as floodwaters cascaded through dry, sandy gulches.
No I was not at Burning Man, but the rains caused some major flooding in Las Vegas, and the homeless population was on the run from the underpasses.
Also, I am slightly offended you would think I'd go to Burning Man.
IBJJF World Masters once again brought me to this desert shrine to mammon, as it has each year at this time for the past three years.
Time to go to work: Devotion co-founder Matthias W. prepares to take the mats at World Master IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Matthias would go on to take bronze.
Once to compete, last year, getting ousted on points in the quarterfinals as a blue belt, or as I have in years past and this year, to support my team, my family and of course, shoot as much video as possible.
Paul stayed behind for his son’s first birthday (He was born the morning I competed last year)
That left my two other brothers on the trip, along with the Devotion competition queen Elly H.
For years at Worlds we’ve come up empty as a crew - the one event all year that means the most, and gives the least.
Not satisfied: Matthias wins the first medal at World Masters for Devotion, but comes up short in his quest for a gold. He put the entire division on notice with three submissions and zero points scored against him.
Our walls at Devotion are adorned with dozens of Pans, International Masters, American Nationals and many more IBJJF medals, but no World Masters.
(Matthias won No-Gi Worlds at purple last year, the gi competition is World Masters)
Despite that, as my older brother admitted to me this year, the expectations placed on everyone in our group are simple. Go win.
Matthias’s run at blue and then back to back Pans titles, Elly and Tara’s gold medals at Pans, all gave us the confidence that we belong in the upper echelon of our divisions, but also the weight of those expectations when they aren't met.
Worlds is the best of the best. You can go win four gold medals at a local event or even an IBJJF Open and maybe win 8 matches all day, or fewer.
At worlds, be ready to win 5-6 matches just in your weight division to get that gold.
Everyone who travels to worlds, pays for flights and hotels - they all think they can win, otherwise they wouldn’t be here.
More than 10,000 people registered for the event, but only four in each division are getting a medal.
Winning here is the hardest thing in jiu-jitsu for competitors our age. That’s why it’s the world championships.
Floor seats: Elly H. waiting to warm up for her first match. She would go on to win 6-2 before falling on points in the second round.
Matthias kicked it off for the Devotion ULTRAS - his Worlds debut in the brown belt given to him on the podium following his Absolute Gold Medal at No-Gi Worlds last year.
He has rampaged through the IBJJF calendar this year, winning multiple gold medals seemingly every weekend on his way to a #4 ranking in his division.
The preparation showed, as he destroyed his first three opponents by submission without giving up a single point.
His semifinal matchup ended the run, getting submitted by armbar after a back and forth passing battle against a 4-stripe who looked every part the black belt on his way to a gold medal.
The only depressing thing about the run, was that he has never looked better, even in the final match his game was sharp, and his passing attempts were fast and chained together in a way I had never seen from him.
He ran into someone who was better on that day, in that moment.
It dampened the celebration for a while, but the performance netted our team its very first World Masters medal. It just isn’t the shade of yellow we wanted.
Elly, coming off a three win performance in her blue belt debut at worlds last year (coming up one match short of a medal), was confident she could make a podium run in ‘23.
After winning her first match on points, she would be matched up with the number #3 ranked female in the world in her division.
It was a tough match that came down to a sweep that Elly failed to secure the position, before being reversed during an aggressive attempt to go for a sub.
Every time I watch the video I count how long she was on top (three seconds is needed to score) and every time I want it to be three…and it’s definitely longer than two…but it came up short.
Three out of four aint bad: With my brothers after a long week in Las Vegas. Always a great time when I can see any of these guys.
Her run ends early and I know from our time near the bullpen after, that just like all losses at this level, it will keep a fire burning in her until next year.
My brother Joshua W. closed the show in his Worlds debut at blue belt, cutting from an already Greek god-like 242 pound physique, to a ridiculously peeled and jacked 222.
Like every year, he is not the only guy in that division who lifts weights and he ran into a very tough and game opponent in the first round.
In a match that once again showed off his incredible heart (He came back from being down 5-0 with 28 seconds left last year) he swept his opponent for the tie at the buzzer - but was actually one second short of establishing the top position…losing on points 2-0.
That’s Worlds. You train all year for it, and it comes down to one - one more second on top, one more second on the clock, one more inch this way, that way.
That is the margin at the top of the pack. That is what you sign up for at this level. To be judged by a standard of inches and seconds.
Even signing up is more than most will ever do. This standard intimidates them.
It motivates us, and it should you as well.