LAS VEGAS, NV — Two members of the Alliance NEBJJ team, part of the larger Saratoga Academy of Martial Arts at Ndakinna Education Center, came up big at the 2023 World Master IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas.
Kristen LeClair won a gold medal in the Master 4 Blue Belt Light-Feather division, while Dan Ladd earned a bronze medal in the Master 1 Brown Belt Ultra-Heavy division.
The event was part of the larger Jiu-Jitsu CON, which gathered 11,000 attendees in total, becoming the largest jiu-jitsu event in history, according to a press release from IBJJF.
LeClair said the experience was “crazy.”
“That whole experience was really cool,” LeClair said. “Just the atmosphere was really energetic, and really cool to be there. That many mats lined up, and that many people competing, it was awesome.”
“It was truly an eye-opening experience,” Ladd added. “Especially the magnitude of talent that was there. Being a new brown (belt), I felt like I didn’t belong, but this whole tournament was eye-opening. … It was probably the best thing I’ve ever been around in a grappling sense.”
The World Masters are world championships for ages 30 and up, said Jim Bruchac, Saratoga Academy of Elite Martial Arts head instructor. Ladd, a brown belt, competed in the Master 1 division (ages 30-35), while LeClair, a blue belt at the time, competed in Master 4 (ages 45-50).
While LeClair’s division was small in numbers, it had no shortage of competition, including Angela Christene May, who entered the tournament ranked #1 in the division worldwide, Bruchac said.
LeClair advanced to the championship with a dominant 26-0 win in the semifinals, and beat Laura Elizabeth Kotcher 5-0 in the championship match to earn her gold medal. With the gold medal finish, she became the top-ranked competitor in her division worldwide, said Bruchac.
LeClair also did not allow an opponent to record even a single point against her between both the World Masters and the New York International Open, which was held in August, Bruchac said. In addition to the gold, she earned another prize, receiving a promotion to purple belt following the victory.
“We were going to schedule to test her,” said Bruchac. “Usually, Alliance, we test people. We have international curriculum, certain criteria for each rank.”
However, after the victory, LeClair received her purple belt at a celebration with fellow team members.
“I ended up doing the whole speech about how we’re testing people at the end of the month, and Alliance has these standards, we need to meet certain things for rank,” Bruchac said. “And obviously, we’re not going to test you unless you’re ready. And then I basically just said, ‘Sometimes, winning the Worlds is test enough.’”
Making the victory even more impressive was the fact that LeClair entered the tournament with a broken toe, which she said was taped.
Photo provided by Jim Bruchac.
For Ladd, he had been a purple belt for several years, but was promoted to brown belt roughly two and a half months before the World Masters, Bruchac said. Entering the tournament, he had not competed at an IBJJF tournament since he was a blue belt, a level below purple.
Ladd won his first match, 5-0, and earned a 6-4 victory in his second matchup. And while Ladd lost in the semifinals, his loss came against Nsima Abasi Inyang, the eventual champion in his division.
Bruchac referred to it as “a good loss,” noting that Inyang submitted all of his opponents leading up to the finals, and that Ladd had been a brown belt for a much shorter time than many of his opponents.
“Some of these guys have been brown belts for years, too, and have competed a ton more,” Bruchac said.
But competing wasn’t Ladd’s only role at the tournament. He also coached LeClair, helping her earn her gold-medal finish.
“He’s an awesome coach,” LeClair said.
“Talk about karma,” added Bruchac. “He ended up getting his well-deserved bronze, and he coached her to gold.”
Ladd’s coaching role is just another example of the community aspect of the Alliance team and the Saratoga Academy as a whole. LeClair and her husband, Ryan, who also trains with Alliance NEBJJ, helped sponsor Ladd and pay for his travels to the tournament, Bruchac said.
“This place is a family. It really is,” said Ladd. “I have made lifelong connections here.”
While LeClair was dominant at the World Masters, she credited the victory to the team as a whole.
“This accomplishment is definitely part of this team,” said LeClair. “(We have) the greatest coaches, the greatest teammates. I’m usually the oldest and the smallest on the mat, and they know exactly how to test me and push me.”
Ladd said his bronze-medal finish came with a feeling of “validation.”
“I feel like I can compete with most people as long as I’m in a good mindframe. It doesn’t matter the rank,” Ladd said. “I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for (LeClair and Bruchac). Not only being there financially … but supporting me on and off the mat.”
Alliance, which consists of teams around the world, captured the male team championship overall at the World Masters for the second year in a row, said Bruchac, and finished second in the female team championship.
And though this year was the first appearance at World Masters for both athletes, Ladd said it will not be their last. Bruchac noted that 11-year-old Raymond Melancon IV also competed in Jiu-Jitsu CON’s youth division, coming just short of earning a medal. Bruchac said they hope to bring more youth division competitors to the event in future years, and added that the pair of medalists have inspired him to return to the event as well.
“Yeah, definitely going to go back next year,” LeClair added. “Hopefully we’ll bring a good team.”
“As a team, I think we’re just going to continue to do what we do,” Ladd said. “We have a curriculum here that is based for success and proven track record, not only with just us, but with the system itself. I think the tournament team next year will be tremendous improvement in the sense of size and skill.”