Submission Wrestling League celebrates 10th anniversary

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Katie Howard looks for the rear naked choke while coach Sarah Oriza looks on. ©GIRLS Gym

I was at the event for five minutes when I heard the PA announce that any competitor who was not wearing their shoes when not on the mat would be asked to wash their feet before returning to the mat. You might think that this is the result of an obsessive compulsive disorder, but traditional wrestling associated infections such as staph and ringworm can be a nightmare to get rid of, so cleanliness is a must. Accordingly, the attention to detail at this tournament was impressive.

The Vanguard was on hand for one of two Submission League Championship qualifiers to decide who will compete for the overall Submission League championship in August. Competitors compete in a pair of qualifiers, and the standouts are invited to the championship. The event is centered on competitors using the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to defeat one another in a form of unarmed combat. Although all forms of grappling are incorporated, and it is not uncommon to see judo throws and wrestling take-downs incorporated into this dynamic art.

Martial artists can sometimes be dogmatic in their beliefs about the usage of certain techniques. For example: some view leg-locks as cheap and underhanded. However, Jiu Jitsu artists will generally incorporate anything that works into their game. In fact, many will take pride in successfully using a move they have learned from another discipline in a live match.

Unlike some tournaments which allow for a timed victory with the accumulation of points for obtaining and holding a dominant position, Sub League calls for a winner to be decided based on who can secure a winning and legal submission. A submission is secured by either securing and hyper-extending a limb, or by securing a choke. The referee can also declare a winner if they deem a scream or a shout of exertion as a verbal submission. As there are no points, it is not uncommon for a match to be declared a draw.

In the event of a tie in a final, there are judges positioned to observe and declare a winner based on who had the more effective submission attempts, displayed aggression and control of their opponent.

Sub League features two separate events consisting of gi (the standard martial arts outfit from the movies, although a little heavier than a karate gi as there is a lot of grabbing of the gi for control), and no-gi. No-gi competitors generally compete in shorts and a t-shirt or compression clothing. There was a sea of traditional white, black and blue gis. However, some chose to have fun with their outfits and used this as an opportunity to express themselves.

Perched above the competitors on the indoor track to get a better vantage point, and amid a sea of around 1,000 attendees, a competitor catches my eye. I notice a female competitor with platinum blond hair and a pink gi going at it tooth and nail with another gal. This person ended up being Sarah Neely of TNT Martial Arts in Hillsboro. I asked Sarah why she competes in a pink gi. Sarah, 34, says that girls should relish all the girly things they can, and that wearing a pink gi allows her to better express herself as a woman. Her daughter also wears a matching pink gi, so they are able to use their matching nonstandard gis as something to bond over.

When asked why she practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Sarah says that it is wonderful to know defensive arts and that there will always be a time when you will need it. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. Either way, I’d rather have the knowledge and not need it, than need it and not have it.” Sarah placed fourth, but we will see her at the championship in August.

Making a splash at the tournament was G.I.R.L.S Gym. Katie Howard, G.I.R.L.S. Gym standout and professional mixed martial artist, made an appearance. Howard, in a show of versatility, wrestled as a 120-pounder grappling in the women’s 141–152 pound division. Howard found herself in trouble early.

Caught in a series of submissions, Howard slowly established herself—coasting to several championships including women’s Blue Belt Absolute (Absolute is where the champions of different weights from an experience bracket compete to see who is the best at that experience level, irrespective of weight), as well as first in Women’s Advanced Absolute.

Also taking first in their respective divisions were Allie Szymoniak and Tracy Carlson. Szymoniak also placed third in Women’s Advanced No-Gi. G.I.R.L.S. Gym head trainer Sarah Oriza attributes their success to “hard work, dedication, open minds and [a] desire to constantly improve and understand what they are learning.” Sarah says that her team will be at the next qualifier on June 21, as well as the August 16 championship. The first leg of the championship is over and the next is set to begin, and Sarah believes her team’s success will only bolster their ranks for the next tournament.

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