The 2017 European Jiu Jitsu IBJJF Championship is currently underway in Lisbon, Portugal. Over 4,000 competitors from across the world are competing in what is undoubtedly the most prestigious Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament on this side of the Atlantic. As I write (Friday, 20 January 2017), the competition is on day 4 of 6, with the elite black belts due to fight over the weekend.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is one of the fastest growing participant sports in the world and the growth of the European Championship reflects that. Especially welcome is the growth of women’s BJJ, something that the UK governing body for the sport, UKBJJA, is keen to promote through its Unstoppable Girl programme.
To show the rise of women’s BJJ at the European Championships, here are some facts and figures (thanks to Pippa Granger for compiling these stats):
- The first IBJJF European Championship in 2004 had 300 competitors in total across all divisions, of which 8 were women.
- There are 587 women entered this year, up from 444 in 2016.
- The 587 women this year include 47 Black Belts (up from 31 last year), 50 Brown Belts (up from 37), 101 Purple (up from 73), 230 Blue (up from 179), and 159 White (up from 124).
- While White Belt Men have always been able to enter the Europeans, White Belt Female categories were not introduced until 2007 after a successful petition to the IBJJF led by Christina Fraquelli from RGA London. Christina went on to win White Middle Heavy that year. Prior to 2007 women had to wait until they received their Blue Belt to enter.
- Blue Belt and above Adult Men have always had Absolute Divisions; Male Blue Juveniles have had Absolutes since the 2nd Euro Championships. Yet despite there consistently being over double the number of competitors for Adult Blue Women than Juvenile Blue Males, the first Absolutes for women were not held until 2009.
- Prices have always been the same for men and women.
- Originally Purple, Brown and Black Belt divisions were combined for the women (this was the same in other major IBJJF competitions too). In 2007 Purple Belts were separated from the Brown/Black category, but it took until 2009 for two athletes to face each other in the Brown/Black category (both Brown Belts). 2010 saw the first Black Belt women competing at the Euros.
- In 2011 a number of the top-ranked international female Black Belts of the day got together and competed at the Euros for the first time. These included the likes of Kyra Gracie, Leticia Riberio, Luana Alzuguir, Michelle Nicolini, Beatriz Mesquita, Marina Ribeiro and Gabby Garcia.
- In 2012 the Brown and Black Belts were separated for the first time. 6 Black Belt women entered.
- While there were Juvenile categories for the Boys from the first Euros, the first female Juvenile Fights did not happen until 2010. Prior to that Juvenile girls were allowed to enter the Adult divisions.
- While the men have always had full Masters (age 30+) Categories, a Masters 1 Category for women was introduced for the first time in 2013 for Blue Belts and up. Despite there being 159 women entered in the Adult White Categories in 2017 we still have NO Masters Categories AT ALL for White Belt women and no Masters 2 Categories for any other women.
In the UK, over 16,000 people now regularly train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in gyms across the country. It is suitable for all ages, both male and female. The governing body is the UKBJJA, which offers insurance, a club directory and a national ranking system for both adult and junior athletes. To find your local club and take part, visit www.ukbjja.org.
The 2017 IBJJF Jiu Jitsu European Championships run until Sunday, 22 January 2017. You can follow all the European Championship action live on flograppling.com.