For me it was an eye opener to think there was a martial arts scene outside of the "Big 3" (Being the United States, Brazil and Japan).
A few years ago I was sitting in the press section during a UFC and met a fellow by the name of Jim Burman. Jim is from England, and we got to talking about the martial arts scene across the world and specifically in his home country. For me it was an eye opener to think there was a martial arts scene outside of the "Big 3" (Being the United States, Brazil and Japan). Jim introduced me to the premiere website in the UK, www.sfuk.net  and so over the internet, and with the aid of reporters such as Jim and Carl Fisher I began trying to cover the UK and Europe as much as possible in an effort to expand my (and OntheMat`s audience) beyond my roaming territory and beyond the so called "big three". Apparently I wasn`t the only person who saw a lot of potential in the United Kingdom as soon afterwards the UFC held a show in the Royal Albert Hall which featured a number of English fighters and soon the whole world was aware of the scene that was shaping up in the United Kingdom. The scene doesn`t begin and end with the UFC naturally, and while that event hasn`t returned to Europe as of yet, the scene is still present and growing. While continuing to monitor the scene through the internet and through the reports of Burman and Fisher, I`ve always wanted to visit and see for myself how jiu -jitsu (besides, I`ve never been to Europe before). I had an invitation and was set to attend the Seni show back in 2003, this was before I realized that it fell on the same weekend as the Pan Ams. This year there was no such conflict of dates, and made arrangements with new promoter Marc Walder to attend this years show. Marc is a brown belt who has spent much time training and competing in both the United States and Brazill. Dedicated to furthering the art in his home country, Marc has successfully sought out the best elements from his travels in promoting the Gracie Invitational, which should emerge as one of the premiere Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournaments for all of Europe. The Gracie Invitational was held as part of the Seni04 show, which is the country`s largest martial arts show and expo. Marc and his academy picked me up in their caravan and it was off to Birmingham we went! Exhibitors from a variety of backgrounds and discipline showed up in booths and had demonstrations in traditional martial arts and strength. Later on that night I attended with some of my new friends the Pain and Glory show held at the arena adjutant to the expo and tournament. This show combined MMA (which featured UFC fighter Marc Weir in a victory) kickboxing, Muay Thai and K-1 style matches. Not being a very opportunistic journalist, I neglected to make much of a report of the show (I had originally planned on going to sleep in preparation on the day ahead as I was still adjusting to the time. The thing which was most striking to me as the general quietness of the crowd, which I first attributed to the fact that it was an English crowd, but later was told that this was definitely not the norm. The next morning we got up bright and early for the tournament. A large section of the convention (actually a hall separate from the main exhibitor hall) has set up with four large mats and bleachers for the competition. Around 200 competitors showed up from not only England, but from other countries such as Portugal and Israel came to compete. The competition was mainly white and blue belt divisions, and the competitors were both skilled and game. Many of the competitors also opted to enter the open divisions that had cash prizes in addition to the other accolades. Enrique Santana from Ze Marcello who previously won the lightweight division walked away with the blue belt Absolute Title, defeating the medium heavy champion Anthony Rode. The purple belts were divided into two weight categories, the light weight (under 75 kilogram) division which was won by Marcio Gomes and a heavyweight, which was won by Glen Brodrick, who later on won the Absolute division. Glen had a tough road to his titles however, including two matches against a very impressive Sergio Lopes from Portugal which forced Glen to showcase all of his technique, skill and heart to pull off the victory. Brown belt Jude Samuel won his match by default when his opponent no showed, and no one in the UK seemed to be willing to fight Roger Gracie. Overall the tournament was a resounding success and will set the standard for tournaments in Europe, and for the next year negotiations have already begun to bring in top talent from around the world to compete as the Gracie Invitational gathers recognition and momentum. Be ready! The question I was asked most frequently when in England (and upon my return home) was how the level of jiu-jitsu compared in England to the United States and Brazil. Truthfully, the state of the sport in England reminds me of how the United States was a few years ago, and currently there are maybe 30-40 home grown purple belts and four brown belts -however the English can draw comfort from the fact that their level of belts would stand up well to their counterparts around the world. The scene in the UK is exploding for many reasons. Firstly is the dedication of people like tournament promoter Marc Walder, who has traveled abroad for the sport but who is very dedicated to make it grow at home and sharing his knowledge and experiences with his fellow countrymen. Secondly is the enormous talent emigrating to England to teach including the highly regarded Maurico Gomez (one of the six black belts under the legendary Rolles Gracie and the principal innovator of the dreaded knee in the chest), his world champion son Roger Gracie, and Braulio Estima, who all showed their support by attending the tournament. Similar as to how America has a tradition in wrestling, England has a tradition in Judo and the British Judoka have largely embraced jiu-jitsu, as a matter of fact Roger Gracie teaches twice a week at the Budokwai, the oldest Judo Club in the country. Much thank to tournament sponsor Evolution FightWear and all of the new friends I made on this trip! Details on the rest of the trip, including visits to academies and a training report with be forthcoming. Results Gracie Invitational Europe 2004 White Belt Adult Super Feather 64kg 1st Spencer Hewitt GB UK 2nd Ian Malone Ze Marcello 3rd Mumtaz-Ur Rahman Luiz Tosta Rio Grappling Club Feather 70kg 1st Silvio Figueira Ze Marcello 2nd Steve Challener GB UK 3rd Stephen Newlove Hessle JJ Light 76kg 1st Jason Ball GB UK 2nd Gareth Neale GB UK 3rd Alan Edmondson GB UK Middle 82.30 kg 1st Tim Radcliff Ricardo De Silva 2nd Chris Wells Master/Alliance 3rd William Meehan Middle Heavy 88.30kg 1st Ben Mallows SBG 2nd Sam Bradley GB UK 3rd Steven May GB UK Heavy 94.30kg 1st Ian Elliott Rickson UK 2nd Rich Cody GB UK 3rd Aaron Goodman GB UK Super Heavy 100.50kg 1st Ross Point GB UK 2nd Sam Howey Master/Alliance 3rd Matt Diment Hull Sport JJ Super Super Heavy 100.50kg+ 1st Gregg Rogers GB UK 2nd Mark Bottom GB UK White Belt Master Feather 64 kg 1st Jim Kiely GB UK 2nd Ben Jones Ze Marcello 3rd Adrian Clarke Extreme JJ Middle Heavy 88.30 kg 1st Mel Leathley Hull Sport JJ 2nd David Iverson GB UK 3rd Mark Semmens GB UK Heavy 94.30 kg 1st Michael Pascal GB UK 2nd John Ward GB UK 3rd Karl Anderson Tony Bebbington JJ Juvenile Light 1st Samad Mohammed GB UK 2nd Rafael Tomarkin GB UK Juvenile Heavy 1st Ricky Turner GB UK 2nd Anthony Griffin Tony Bebbington JJ Junior 1st Tyrone Elliot GB UK 2nd Callum Clarke Womens 1st Melissa Leathley Hull Sport JJ 2nd Maria Hildyard Hull Sport JJ 3rd Mandpreet Sangha Hull Sport JJ Blue Belt Adults Feather 70 kg 1st Danny Batten Ze Marcello 2nd Steven Heyes St Helens BJJ 3rd Tim Joblin GB UK Light 76 kg 1st Enrique Santana Ze Marcello 2nd Rafael Fishett Ze Marcello 3rd Andy Roberts GB UK Middle 82.30 kg 1st Alex C Ferviller Rio Grappling Club 2nd Oliver Jones Master/Alliance 3rd Luc Lamude GB UK Middle Heavy 88.30 kg 1st Anthony Rode GB UK 2nd Steve Brand GB UK 3rd Terry Thomas GB UK Heavy 94.30 kg 1st Shane Smith GB UK 2nd David Fowler GB UK 3rd Kevin Vickers GB UK Super Heavy 100.50 kg 1st Elliott Chisholm Ze Marcello 2nd Chris Eastwood SBG 3rd Andy Crittenden GB UK Blue Belt Absolute Adult 1st Enrique Santana Ze Marcello 2nd Anthony Rode GB UK 3rd Shane Smith GB UK Blue Belt Master Feather 64.kg 1st Rob Lawlor 2nd Mick Shore GB UK 3rd Chris Brown GB UK Light 76.kg 1st Denis Kelly 2nd James Smart Dave Huntley JJ 3rd Chiu Kwong Man GB UK Middle 82.30 kg 1st John Kennedy GB UK 2nd Steve Cowan Norfolk BJJ 3rd Jules Brose GB UK Middle Heavy 88.30 kg 1st Simon Hayes 2nd Steve Finnan GB UK 3rd Anthony O`Halloran Ze Marcello Heavy 94.30 kg 1st Dave Coles GB UK 2nd Dickie Martin 3rd Haim Gozali Renzo Gracie Israel Super Heavy 100.50 kg 1st Lee Needham GB UK 2nd George Jones GB UK Super Super Heavy 1st Tony Bebbington Tony Bebbington JJ 2nd John Bow GB UK Blue Belt Open Masters 1st Dickie Martin 2nd Simon Hayes 3rd George Jones GB UK Purple Belt under 75 kg 1st Marcio Gomes GB UK 2nd Paul Bridges GB UK 3rd Ricardo Pereira GB Lisbon Purple Belt over 75 kg 1st Glenn Brodrick GB UK 2nd Sergio Lopes GB Lisbon 3rd Marcus Silva Marcus Silva JJ Purple Belt Absolute 1st Glenn Brodrick GB UK 2nd Ricardo Pereira GB Lisbon 3rd Sergio Lopes GB Lisbon Brown Belt Jude Samuel GB UK