Last week, I had the honor to attend the World Professional Jiu Jitsu championships in Abu Dhabi. There are 2 ways to attend this tournament:
a) You can win one of the qualifier tournaments held around the world and earn an all expense paid trip to the tournament
b) You can just enter the tournament and pay for the trip yourself
Until now, I actually didn't know option B existed, but in a tournament of over 5,000 competitors, that's how most people get there. I tried to win the qualifier 3 times, on 3 different years, and finally won the New York qualifier this year to win the free trip. But I probably spent as much to attend the 3 qualifiers as it would have cost to directly book the Abu Dhabi trip, so I am not knocking option B.
Overall, this was the most international tournament that I have ever attended, attracting competitors from all over the world and a much higher percentage of non-Americans than the Mundials. (I was actually the only person from the US in my bracket. The rest were from Europe, Brazil, Australia, and the Middle East).
I can see why such a wide net of competitors is drawn to this tournament. Abu Dhabi itself is a beautiful and diverse city. There are some cultural differences in dress and social contact, but foreign visitors are welcomed with warm hospitality. Trial winners are taken care of in every way, from representatives meeting us to escort us through the airport, to a 24 hr training room in the host hotel, to laundry services to clean our dirty gis. But the biggest drawing point is that this tournament is a rare opportunity for jiu jitsu athletes to win serious prize money.
Overall, the trip was an amazing experience and I can't wait to go back one day. My only complaint is how far behind schedule both the NY trials and the World Pro ran. In tournaments where brackets are released days ahead of time, it is possible to produce a fairly accurate tournament schedule. In both tournaments, I had to be in the waiting area 1 hour before I was scheduled to compete but didn't actually go until almost 3 hours AFTER scheduled. That means I had to be on deck (mentally psyched up and ready to compete when called) for a total of 4 hours. That is mentally a very tough thing to do. (I also felt bad for my friends at home who woke up at 4:00 am to watch me compete, but didn't see me go until almost 3 hours later).
I ended up taking a silver medal in the 70+ kilos purple belt division. I did some things well and some things not so well. I learned a lot from my matches and hope to come back stronger next time!