Three youngsters from Vagabond Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy are heading to the Pan Kids IBJJF Jiu Jitsu Championship in Long Beach, Calif., Saturday.

The competition is Feb. 18 and is the largest event of its kind in the world, said Clay Hantz, owner of Vagabond. The Pan KIDS 2018 was open to athletes from all over the world and will include more than 1,000 athletes, the organization said in an email.

This is the first time Hantz has had students participate in the single-elimination tournament.

He noted that their fundraising went well and they had a “fantastic sponsor,” Triple M Oil Tools.

“These kids are the epitome of hard work,” Hantz said.

The three going to the tournament are 8-year-old Jameson Olliff and Damien Ortega and Jeremiah Olivas, both 14.

Jiu Jitsu is similar to wrestling, Hantz said.

“It is not an easy thing to do,” Hantz added. “On top of being a very physical sport, it’s also a very tough mentally sport.”

Having his students go to the tournament at so young an age is fantastic for their confidence. Hantz added that it’s just fun for the students to see a different culture.

“That’s something that jiu jitusu did for me. It’s taken me all over the place and I’ve been able to see a lot of things that I normally, if I’d stayed playing football or running track, I wouldn’t have seen. To expose these kids to that kind of thing is a really big plus for us,” Hantz said.

Ortega said he started Brazilian jiu jitsu four years ago. He started with karate first, but when he saw Vagabond, he wanted to try it.

“It’s fun,” said Ortega, who attends Bonham Middle School.

Olliff, 8, attends St. John’s Episcopal School and has been participating in jiu jitsu for two years.

“I saw this video on Facebook my dad showed me and I thought I wanted to do it,” Olliff said.

He added that it teaches you techniques to protect yourself, although he hasn’t had to try any yet.

Olliff said he is nervous, but confident he’ll do well at the tournament.

Josh Oliff, Jameson’s dad, said he thinks the tournament will be a good experience for his son.

“I’m really looking forward to him experiencing it. I thought he would be really good at it —something to help focus all that energy,” Josh Olliff said.

He added that the sport has helped Jameson with discipline at school and improve his ability in the other sports he’s involved in, football and basketball.

Olivas, a Bowie Middle School student, has been doing jiu jitsu for three years. He said he was picked on, so the sport gives him something to do and it’s fun.

Hantz has owned Vagabond for four years. He has trained in boxing and kickboxing and was a professional mixed martial artist for seven years.

Hantz added that he fought on pay-per view and live television.

“I won all my fights with Brazilian jiu jitsu,” he said. “It is the only sport that you can go 100 percent in all the time. If you go 100 percent in boxing all the time, every practice, you’re going to be a vegetable very quickly; same with kick boxing.”

He added that self-defense is built into the curriculum.

“Brazilian jiu jitsu is a sport where we’re not punching each other in the head, we’re not kicking each other in the face, we’re teaching kids how to control a body without that. If a fight ever does happen, then they’re able to use that also. I teach Brazilian jiu jitsu to kids specifically because I don’t want kids with brain damage. No. 2, it’s because it works,” he added.

Hantz said he has been doing Brazilian jiu jitsu for 13 years and still competes regularly.

“I was just kind of a knucklehead teenager. That’s the truth and I liked to fight and I found a place that reigned me in. …,” Hantz said.

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