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BJJ in Poland

 

Guest Contributor, Jaroslaw Chmiel

 

November 1, 2022

Has Poland lost its leading role in

popularisation and evolution of BJJ in Europe?

 

Unofficially, BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or to Brazilians simply Jiu Jitsu) entered the Polish scene in 1996 with Karol Matuszczak, who is regarded as the pioneer of the sport in Poland. Mariusz Linke, who sadly has recently passed away, was awarded the first black belt in Poland in 2006. Our country has long played a major part in combat sports such as Judo, boxing, Karate, freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, and so on. From the moment BJJ’s popularity kicked off after UFC 1 and IBJJF being established in 1993, it was just a matter of time until it reached Polish borders. Obviously, due to its success during first editions of UFC, BJJ and MMA were inseparable. It was not long before wrestlers and other grappling artists learned how to punch or strikers how to wrestle and fight on the ground.

Those who recognised its values and practical applications in real fighting, started looking for sources where knowledge of the art could be found. VHS Tapes, international seminars, martial arts magazines and soon renowned instructors were put into effect to upgrade the level of practitioners' skills in Poland. Previous grappling background definitely contributed tremendously to the spread of the new art in the country.

First tournaments started to appear on a regular basis and have been running ever since. The love for BJJ was evident among larger and larger groups of athletes who were dreaming to live the lifestyle of a jiu-jitsueiro and make a living off of it. The most dedicated made their dream come true and now spread the passion for BJJ earning reasonable wages. There are now clubs in every corner of Poland offering classes throughout the day and anyone interested can easily enroll and start their journey.  

IBJJF launched its first European Jiu Jitsu IBJJF Championship in 2004, and in 2006 it was evident that competitors from Poland were beginning to show their skills in winning their categories. “Polish” BJJ has stamped its mark in Europe and the world producing prominent athletes in Gi, No Gi or submission fighting - not to mention in MMA with two champions (Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Jan Błachowicz) in the most prestigious MMA organisation, namely UFC.

Naming those who succeeded or even those who contributed over the years would require a solid volume of a book, therefore we will concentrate on the level Polish BJJ is currently found at, with some issues it faces, and where it is headed.

As mentioned before, the number of clubs is still growing and as a result young generations are proving to be a promising prospect for the future. As those who train BJJ know, it is not only a sport but it is also or most of all a martial art with a heavy emphasis on self-defence. Again, this aspect of the discussion deserves more time spent on to be delved into, which can/will be done in a separate article, but taking into consideration the sport aspect of the art, there are a few concerns that are currently taking place in the field of BJJ in Poland.

Brazilians and Americans are in a battle for supremacy in the sport, although last ADCC Worlds (2022) was the first tournament where Americans medalled more than Brazilians, despite the fact there were more of the latter. But the third spot has always been up for grabs and there were times when Poland was a firm contender for it. However, nowadays looking at the numbers of athletes competing at international level, it is noticeable that there are fewer representatives of Poland . In the past there were at least two, sometimes more at ADCC Worlds. In the last edition there was only one, Matuesz Szczeciński who, despite his considerably good performance and undoubtedly top level skills, had only been invited from reserve list at the last minute (coming second and third in European trials/qualifiers). The same appears to be the case in IBJJF Worlds where our export “product” Adam Wardziński has been a regular for years. And for now that’s it! No more athletes.

What is the problem, then? Well, as always the issue is complex. First of all, BJJ is a private enterprise and it has its pros and cons. In Poland public funds are available for associations functioning as public benefit organisations and even those funds are limited. The real money is channelled to Olympic disciplines, and that creates more opportunities to implement systemic solutions to attract and train youngsters. Such solutions include working around school timetables to accommodate the desired sport within morning or pre afternoon school schedule. So far the vast majority, if not all of BJJ clubs offer only afternoon or evening kids classes. There have been attempts to create a sport faculty for BJJ at secondary (high) schools. However, even though slight improvements among the youth are visible, it is definitely not enough if we want to catch up with the best - AOJ or Dream Art Project being prime examples through their creation and encouragement of skilled kids and teenagers.  

Another way to improve one’s BJJ, arguably the best, is to find or organise tournaments with international athletes. Luckily ADCC seems to be doing well in Poland with two organised European qualifiers for the last ADCC Worlds (2022) and another soon to take place competition format, namely the 1st European ADCC Open Championship where athletes from around the world will be able to participate (it is known from unofficial sources that Brazilians and Americans are also considering participating).

In case of IBJJF tournaments or at least the ones with IBJJF rules it is slightly less impressive, yet still they exist and attract a large number of athletes both in Gi and No Gi (numbers vary between 1000 to 2000 competitors). However, the participants are mainly our countrymen with a few exceptions from our neighbouring countries. Poznań IBJJF Open Championship with its four editions may not be enough to draw top competitors from abroad, at least for now, but it is a good start.  

It seems we have everything that is required to produce top class athletes and yet we fall short by comparison to other European countries, let alone the very top ones from across the globe. So what is wrong? Is it money again?  

Let’s dissect the path of a kid (a boy for example) who is three years old. His parents decide to sign him up to BJJ classes that run twice a week. After a year the kid likes it and they upgrade him to three times a week classes. He starts competing and no matter the result he enjoys it. The time goes on and soon the schools starts but because of his passion for the sport he now trains five times a week plus weekend tournaments. This is about the time when his parents and coaches start thinking quite seriously about the kid’s future. The question is: is it worth it?

Being a professional athlete in any discipline is a demanding job, and not always financially rewarding enough, that requires a 24 hour regiment (physical exercises, diet, rest/sleep). Now what we are faced with here is a sport discipline which is relatively new to the community without any clear parameters for making money. The most prominent figures of the sport run their own clubs or classes, organise seminars and camps and sell instructionals. Very few of them have sponsors who provide them with enough income so they can concentrate solely on training and competing, provided they do well. Is such a future prospect attractive enough for a kid? Now imagine it is Poland and there is only a handful of such athletes. So are we, Polish people too pragmatic? Uninterested in the pursuit of greatness because of the high risk of not succeeding? Or is it something else ?

I sincerely hope it is just a short phase of a crisis in the sport. I strongly believe we can regain our stance and stand strong permanently beside all other nations.

 

(c) 2022, Jaroslaw Chmeil. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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