Jiu-jitsu takes Sunflower State Games by storm

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Patience is a virtue--especially in the sport of jiu-jitsu.

Nicole Feyh/WIBW Sports

"Of course patience and strategy plays huge into it," said Travis Conley, a black belt in jiu-jitsu and Sunflower State Games competitor. "Everybody has different games and plays different moves, so you have to be able to assert your moves and your game, and that's who's going to win."

With so many different forms of mixed martial arts, it can be hard to tell them apart. According to Conley, jiu-jitsu is like wrestling, but with submissions.

Jiu-jitsu also features grappling and takedowns, as well as the submissions made famous by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

But unlike the UFC, in jiu-jitsu there is no striking (punching, kicking, etc.) allowed. Athletes also wear the traditional gi, a type of kimono. And in jiu-jitsu, athletes are allowed to grab the gi during the action.

"That's the cool thing about jiu jitsu: it's about technique and leverage," Conley said. "Historically that's what it's always been about."

In this year's Sunflower State Games, the sport had its highest participation by far. Jiu-jitsu debuted in the 2011 Games with over 150 competitors, and has grown to nearly 300 in 2018--competitors of all shapes, sizes, genders and ages.

"My dad came and picked me up and was like we're going to take you to this thing called jiu jitsu and you're going to learn some self defense," said Aurora Wolfe, who competed in the junior division.

Aurora's interest in jiu-jitsu is what introduced her mother, Abby Bollig to the sport. That, and an interest in martial arts, as well.

"My daughter started, then, of course, my son saw her do it," Bollig said. "Then he started. And I tried it, and I loved it."

The popularity of live sporting events like the UFC has risen over the last few years as superstars, like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, develop and grow. As the interest in their sport peaks, so, too, does the interest in making their sport a hobby.

"Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, is what started it," Conley said. "Royce Gracie came out in a gi, and that's what propelled jiu-jitsu into the spotlight, and it's just kept going ever since."

Bollig recommends women try jiu-jitsu as it aids in self-confidence and the ability to protect oneself.

"It's great for self defense and great for women because your size doesn't matter," Bollig said.

And according to Wolfe, the effects are the same, no matter the age.

"I feel like I'm a little more self-confident now," Wolfe said. "I want to become a red belt, which is very far away, but since I've started so young i think i can do it. But I've got to stick with it."

In popular culture and in the Sunflower State Games, it seems jiu-jitsu is here to stay.