Martial Arts: Brazilian jiu-jitsu creates 'champions on the mat, but also in life'

Martial Arts: Brazilian jiu-jitsu creates 'champions on the mat, but also in life'
Justin Richardson, left, of Marriottsville, and Ricardo Guerra of Eldersburg celebrate one of Richardson's victories. Justin, 14, is having a successful Brazilian jiu jitsu career. (Courtesy of Candace Berger)

When Justin Richardson was younger, he would watch his father, Bobby, compete in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

The sport intrigued him — he wanted to try it, too.


Bobby Richardson was taking classes from Ricardo Guerra, a fourth-degree black belt in the sport, out of Tristar Martial Arts in Eldersburg. Justin eventually followed a month shy of his 13th birthday, about a year-and-a-half ago, and entered his first competition that June.

Justin, now 14, of Marriottsville, took first place in the 13th year division at Grappling Industries in Glenn Dale, near Bowie.

Grappling Industries tournaments follow a round-robin format where all adult competitors get four matches when they sign up for a division that fills up to five participants.

There are two forms of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, gi and NoGi. In gi competitors wear a gi, the traditional martial arts uniform, which they are allowed to grab. In NoGi competitors grapple without the traditional uniform and are not allowed to grab their opponent’s clothing.

Justin continued to improve after that first victory. He has won just about every one of his competitions in Maryland, both in gi and NoGi. Those who compete in both at Grappling Industries are given eight additional fights with the intent for the athlete to compete against different people.

“When I’m in my division — my weight class, my skill level and age group — I kind of dominate,” Justin said. “I have more control and more of my wins are in my bracket. … Most of my losses are from other divisions.”

Justin Richardson, 14, of Marriottsville has nine first-place finishes and two runner-ups on his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu resume.
Justin Richardson, 14, of Marriottsville has nine first-place finishes and two runner-ups on his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu resume. (Courtesy of Candace Berger)

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art and combat sport system that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. The sport is point based and a winner is decided based on technique, leverage, and taking the competitor to the ground. Individuals can also use joint locks and choke holds to defeat their opponent via submission.

When Justin first started training, he was shy and introspective, Guerra said via email. Now, he’s much more confident, friendly and is consistently willing to help train new students.

“With six months of training, he won his first competition and did not stop, winning in all his tournament categories,” Guerra said via email. “In addition, he took risks among the seniors and even adults and did very well. He is a source of pride for all of us and an inspiration for new students.”

Unlike in the United States where mothers often place their children in karate, Guerra said he was given the chance to compete in Brazilian jiu-jitsu at a young age. He came to the U.S. with 27 years of experience in the martial art with the intention to compete and teach seminars.

A friend and co-founder of START Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu invited him to work closely with the sport’s progress in Florida. An opportunity would soon arise for Guerra to bring the sport to the region and increase its presence.

Bobby Richardson said he had previously competed at other gyms and participated in classes here and there prior to being trained by Guerra, but said Guerra is the best instructor he and Justin have ever had the opportunity to train with.

Jiu-jitsu also gives father and son the chance to spend time together and the duo sometimes train in the family’s basement for extra practice.

“It’s amazing as a parent to be able to participate in a sport with your kid,” Bobby Richardson said. “I’m not trying to relive high school days, it’s a totally different sport, and I think it’s amazing to participate with him and see him go from barely being able to do anything, physically, to holding his own against myself and other adults.”


Justin participates in three to four classes a week to prepare for a tournament and he often trains with adults. That training translates to his performance on the mat — he’s been in six competitions and has nine first-place finishes and two second-place finishes on his resume.

“Once you make friends with people in the academy, it’s fun to play around and you learn a couple new moves,” Justin said. “Everyone is friends and no one is trying to hurt anybody. They’re there to learn the sport and get better at it and help other people improve, too.”

There’s a sense of team camaraderie surrounding the gym and people of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to join. Bobby Richardson said he hopes the sport expands across the county because it can provide an extra boost of confidence for those that compete.

“What I can say is that the benefits are many, both physically and mentally,” Guerra said via email. “Among them are self-esteem, discipline, confidence, respect, health, courage, focus and self-defense. With this, I believe that not only do we help form healthier people, but also better human beings — champions on the mat, but also in life.”