New Jersey Black Belt and gym owner Daniel Tavares won the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s BJJ Pan American Championship in Kissimmee, Florida, last month, while two of his blue belt students got gold medals in their respective divisions.
Tavares is a fourth-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who competes as a lightweight in the Masters 3 Division. His divisions of lightweight and Masters 3 have to do with his weight before a fight and his age. Tavares was under 168 pounds and under 45 years old.
He is the owner and instructor at the Daniel Tavares BJJ Academy in Sicklerville, where he met his two students, Marisa Kickbusch and Keakahiwalani (Aka) J. Landschoot, the latter a martial-arts gym owner himself.
“I met up with Daniel about four years ago,” Landschoot recalled. “I had been searching for a BJJ school to train at myself for a while, and I had been wanting to come train here for a while.
“(At the age we met), I was overweight, out of shape and working too much, not dedicating too much time to myself …” he added. “Coming here, it helped me out tremendously.”
Kickbusch did not start competitive training in BJJ until three years ago; before that, she was primarily a Crossfit athlete cheering for her husband on the sideline as he competed in events.
“I got into Jiu-Jitsu about a year after my husband,” she said. “We went to (Las) Vegas where he was competing and I thought, ‘This looks pretty cool,’ and he would practice some moves on me at home. So I wanted to learn the defense to make it a little more fair. There was just something about wanting to compete, the competition.”
Kickbusch and Landschoot appreciate the culture Tavares has nurtured at his gym and a level of competition they said made them want to compete in tournaments like the one where they took medals.
Tavares feels the same about his students; he said without their help, the Pan-Am championship would not be possible.
“This (tournament) was an amazing experience for me,” he said. “I have no words to really describe it. I was really emotional … It was all for my mother. I have been dreaming and chasing for that title since I was a white belt, for over 20 years. This title means a lot to me”
BJJ rankings have a lot to do with longevity and years of practice. Tavares’ 4th Degree black belt ranking was achieved through years of teaching and winning tournaments. While Landschoot and Kickbush are blue belts now, they will continue to work toward their black belts with tests and competitions.
“I received my blue belt about two years ago, so I’ll keep working from here to get purple, then brown, then eventually black,” said Landschoot.
“I went out to a competition in Vegas, got first place, and that is how I received my blue belt,” Kickbusch remembered.
Kickbusch says the variation in challenges from BJJ is what drew her to the sport and what drives her toward achieving her next belt. Landschoot has embraced the BJJ challenges and implemented them into his lifestyle.
“It’s never been about the belt,” he explained. “It’s more of a lifestyle. If you don’t have purpose in life, you end up just drifting … I look at this as a way to elevate myself emotionally and physically and spiritually. The only way you can do that is to set goals for yourself.”
Tavares has been a black belt since 2005, so some may wonder how he’s managed to stay motivated through the years competing at the highest level of BJJ. He called it easy and said he’s addicted to the competition and to helping his students.
“I will do this until I can’t anymore …” he revealed. “The gym is like my church.” .
Tavares encourages anyone interested in training and learning BJJ to take a sample class at his gym, where he offers a free trial for beginners and instruction for anyone who wants to increase their skills.
The gym’s full schedule and more information can be found at http://www.danieltavaresbjjacademy.com/